I’m insanely excited. I’m soon attending the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular with the MSO. Woo Who indeed. So I thought it was timely to post this.
Of a Widow
I’m lying. I’m always lying, at least when I state categorically I will not post about the Dr Who Christmas episode. And then do so. I better warn you this is very long and I put off posting it because it needed a lot of thought. Although it’s problematic to identify and speak about the faults in things I love, I believe it’s important to try, not only on the off-chance that Someone May Read This and change how they write, but because it might change my own creative endeavours since, on a very small-scale, I am also both a critic and a creator.
So, having said that, I’ve been thinking and remembering and making connections. Just like that Rattigan kid and now stuff needs to blow up.
I loved The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe. Genuinely, it was heart warming and a bit silly and emotional. I wished there was more time with the forest harvesting extras. But there you go.
Yet the more I think about this episode the more I feel like it was striving to say something about the importance of families and love and the more I think this, the more it feels like it said something else and the more I resent the message.
Blessed Mind of Our Mother Madge?
The conceit of the episode is the strength of mothers. This seems to be a good thing. A woman is needed to save the day as she is stronger than the Doctor. And it’s another kind of miracle birth message – the winter story of the widow who single-handedly preserves the lives of a lot of forest spirit-y things. Very apt for Christmas. However, the argument for women is that women are useful only precisely because they bear the children. A bit like how Mary is a vessel, that some say Jesus popped in one ear and out the other of (really), Madge is also a vessel, one used by stronger and more amazing super beings (this time sentient trees and not a ‘Tribal Sky God’). In addition, the Doctor confirms it could have been any woman. So our Heroine is not the special Blessed Madge. Unlike Mary, who was deemed the only woman, nay, the only PERSON without sin on her world, this story is about Madge just being the nearest getaway vehicle with the appropriately developed equipment to ‘carry life’. All aboard!
Now this would be (almost) reasonable, except the Doctor becomes all sentimental and says things like ‘humany-woomany’. Worst. Line. Ever. I think the plan was to demonstrate how it’s safe to be sentimental at Christmas cos its about the women and life and feelings. Yeah. Actually no. Why is it that when Craig uses ‘love to blow up the Cybermen’ the Doctor goes into full Science Mode saying ‘that’s impossible. And also grossly sentimental and over-simplistic. You destroyed them because of the deeply ingrained hereditary human trait to protect one’s own genes’ and barely relents to finally agree with Craig. Also the fact it is Craig is crucial. It had to be Craig. But it could have been any woman in the Christmas episode. Both Craig and Madge, at crisis points as parents, use their emotions to save lives, but with Madge the Doctor rejoices in the sentiment, of course she is stronger! She’s a woman! He doesn’t ‘reduce it down to science’ as Jackie Tyler would say. Why not?
Paging Mr Pond
Speaking of emotions and men and women, where is the exploration of Rory’s grief at having lost his child? I get his role is offsider to the offsider, but why is it ok for Amy to have the emotions and revenge but not Rory? It is interesting to me too that often Rory is also the butt of jokes. He dresses up, he’s constantly dying, and easily confused by alien vampire fish. And he’s a nurse. Nurses are traditionally female, have been for always. Interesting how Rory is relegated to the role of the Fool, but to enhance it, make it funnier and also more tragic, he is also feminised. But because he is also not a woman, his Hero moments are about justice and authority: I mean how cool was he on the Cyberman ship? Madge, also fate’s Fool, gets her hero moment too, which was the imagining her house and husband to get them all back to earth. Very domestic. And not quite the same level of wow, is it?
For me there are emotions to be played out in the Pond/Williams/Song saga. Especially at Christmas! I wanted to know what their Yule get together looks like. To me this episode started when it ended. Do they all sit around with eggnog grumbling about the Doctor?
Song of Crime and Punishment
Although I continue to have high hopes for
Dr Indiana Jones Professor River Song as a smart, archaeologist-academic-adventurer, I lament the sacrifice of her remaining regenerations and also the focus on who she is/was married to. She has been fate’s Fool too, manipulated and kidnapped so who cares who she marries? She’s awesome in her own right, and would remain so if she’d never married the Doctor (which is maybe the case as it was in an alternate universe anyway). Then I remember she is DOOMED. In her first/last meeting with the Doctor in the Library she (again) sacrifices herself for him, making remarks about him not wanting her to have a career (what companion can have a career and go travelling with the Doctor) and ends up in an Afterlife/Hell/Heaven where she is a carer/mother to two digital kids. Great. She saves 4000 odd people and what does she get in return? An eternal domestic prison. We’re asked to accept that this intelligent, bold intellectual who roams most of time and space at will would be content to baby sit kids with stories about the Doctor inside a computer? What is this saying? Is domesticity a death/prison for adventurous women, or that a woman’s rightful place is at home with the kids (in life and in death)? Are all ‘bad’ women all on the road to prison? Are women who love (in any sense) the Doctor all doomed?
We are all Fate’s Fools
For once, can stories featuring women encompass more than their (yes amazing) abilities to give birth or be mothers? I get as a 1000 year old alien (invented in 1963) the Doctor may have some prejudices, but can women be more than Fools or be the butt of jokes about driving and making tea? This goes for Amy, Jackie, Madge or any character. Can’t women in New Who be defined in more ways than the fact they are women and all about the having of weddings and the babies and emotions? The Doctor even assumes Sarah Jane has had kids and for her spin-off show she gets ret-conned with one after years pining for The Doctor.
Nobility in comedy
Even Donna, as strong as she became in her travels, was always worried about being considered single, and when she was turned back into Old Donna, suddenly she only aspired to a big wedding and a husband (again). Her arc argues Old Donna was shallow and women who want things like weddings are as dumb and inane as she was and returned to being. However, if you are Doctor-Donna, you are somehow unfulfilled, manipulated and the butt of jokes about being single (see the Planet of the Ood episode). And if you end up having the kids, husband and nice house, pinch yourself because it’s all an impossible made up digital lifestyle.
Time for love Dr Jones?
As for Martha, the Rebound Companion, an intelligent career woman is portrayed as a daughter of a mother whose constant refrain is about losing her. The Jones’ are a toxic vortex of pain and recrimination. Francine Jones is the Scorned Woman, all ready to HATE the Doctor. And for a mother of a 25-year-old she is also pretty clingy. At the same time, escaping the kettle, Martha lands in the fire and gets burned by a Doctor grieving the loss of Rose. Thus, Martha is transformed into a sad-cakes yearny girl the Doctor only grudgingly trusts and in turn his attitude gets her thinking she’s not worthy. More of the pain vortex. So much for the high achiever career woman. Yes Doctor, you did ruin her life but her mother also didn’t do her any favours with her misplaced protectiveness and neither did her father and his vacuous ‘girl’ friend. Granted, the Jones family went through a lot and Martha’s choice to leave the Doctor and explain her love for him demonstrates her strength but it highlights too the pull of family, even a crazy mixed up one. Being a female doctor you see is about ‘caring,’ not about fixing health problems like the men do. And her karmic payoff? There was Unit, which the Doctor scorned as gun toting goons, then there was Torchwood, but the main point is she gets Tom Milligan and eventually marries Mickey Smith. But why? Why is it important she have anyone? Why can’t stories focus on her career? As a doctor? Instead her last story in Doctor Who is the fact she is NOT A DOCTOR, but a freelance alien hunter and married. Enter the Doctor who saves them both. Yawn. So much for all that study.
Mother of the…
Finally there are the Tylers. Yes there’s Rose’s love story. And it was tragic and wonderful. But I prefer Jackie Tyler. She showed how parents cope when their kids grow up (and move away with an ancient alien). In her moments of grief, sacrifice and honesty she was magnificent. As a mother, Jackie was right to question Rose’s future if she remained with the Doctor. Rose was immature and Jackie demonstrated it. Jackie never asked to revisit the past, Rose does. She doesn’t ask the Doctor for the lotto numbers or anything, except to always bring Rose back safe. But for all that Jackie and Alter-Jackie are never portrayed with much sympathy. They’re flirty or greedy or shrewish and always ignorant or just plain rude. And yet again the rewards for Jackie’s sacrifices are getting her husband Pete back – and having another little Tyler. Cos maybe she was not developed enough as a character for the audience to find out she always wanted to open her own business or go climbing or race fast cars or get an education? We’ll never know. She got her husband, his money and another baby. Apparently that’s all women like Jackie want?
A Very English Rose
Meanwhile Rose is too repressed – or perhaps too young or too British – to state what she wants outright very often, even when she confronts the Doctor, until right near the end when she chooses her half human Doctor. And the first time she meets Sarah Jane Smith they fight over him, then joke about how school girly they are. Because women only talk about the men. Rose is also useless with Mickey, he’s the one who works out she loves the Doctor as she never bothers to explain it to her him.
Karmic up shots
Rose and Jackie lose their entire world but are ok, because they have their men and baby Tyler. Donna loses her mind, but it’s ok, she found a replacement in her new husband. Martha had a bunch of bad experiences and lost an entire vocation, but it’s ok, she married Mickey, who’ll understand. Oh, and Francine gets her husband back. Amy and Rory lost their daughter but it’s ok because they are married and have each other and Amy’s new career as a MODEL. At least it was step up from Kissagram Girl. As for Sarah Jane, she may be a renowned journalist, but the important thing is she is happy because of her magic kid and got married or not or something.
I’m not against marriage or wanting marriage and kids. Just because it doesn’t work for 2/3s of married folk shouldn’t be a put off. And somebody should have the next generation. We can’t all regenerate. But women can and often do have other aspirations or additional aspirations. And when they do, they can be meaningful and amazing in their own right. They shouldn’t be punishments or second bests and shouldn’t have to be contingent on what they look like (Amy) or who they marry (Jackie and Rose, Martha, Donna, River).
Who’s left holding the baby?
In The Doctor Dances/ The Empty Child the cause of the crisis is something Captn Jack does. But the continuation of the problem is via a mother/son relationship. Nancy can only save the world by accepting her role of parent to her ‘brother’, otherwise they’re all gas-mask zombies. Yep, kids are scary, but motherhood comes to the rescue. Yay, she saves the world. The result for her: she gets to be a single mother in WWII during the London Blitz while also fostering other street kids through stealing. It’s just like Dickens but with bombs. Mothers have it hard, this program seems to say, and if it’s good then it’s a lie (like Madge to her kids) or not real (like Donna in the Library). What of Nancy then?
Not one for the damseling
Maybe I’m being harsh, I mean Steven Moffat, for one, promised fairy tales and a nice wedding at the end is the fairy tale ending. Even individually, all the happily ever after Companion stories are sweet and touching. RTD was especially concerned to wind things up karmically for each character. But as a string they so very White Picket Fencey, especially when compared to how others end up. Even one random man the Doctor met on the Titanic fared better, since he got a bunch of money and created the Mr Copper Foundation…that HELPED SAVE THE WORLD. Plus, there was no need to marry him off.
Maybe I’m jumping at shadows. Maybe it’s because Doctor Who is not the vision of a single person, but represents the work of a collection of writers and producers dealing with source material that dates back to the
unenlightened days of the ancient 1960s. Yes, the past is like a different world.
Agency and The Moffat factor
Yet there’s Sherlock and a lot has been written about agency and power relations in Mr Moffat’s version of Sherlock Holmes. And while I have loved this modern take I have also being doing the reading, notably here at this blog and also this one. It’s not to say I agree one way or another, or that it’s settled as there are still stories to be played out. And again, the source material for Holmes is even older, furthermore Sherlock says important stuff about the dignity and depth of friendship.
But the trigger was in the Christmas episode. I still love Doctor Who. Always did. Always will. Even those old episodes when Jon Pertwee’s Doctor was demanding Sarah Jane make tea. Yet times change, as do aspirations, for men and for women. Hopefully so can sub plots and writers.
Empowerment in TV?
And, in the end does it matter? In some parts of the world there are women who don’t know they have rights, let alone have access to TV, down time for leisure viewing. plus literacy and the ability to comment on it on their own blog. Should we not focus on giving all women power over their lives before wanting slightly more out of a beloved TV show? I think you can guess my answer.