COUNTDOWN TO BEACON: Pop Culture and Feminism

Hello all!

Today, as I count down to my campaign on Beacon (beginning March 3, I’m going to be offering subscriptions to my pop culture writing for $5/month), I thought I’d shine a spotlight on one of my more popular pieces over at Tor.com.

And when I say “popular,” I don’t necessarily mean in the best way.

In this piece, Moffat’s Women: Amy and her Skirt, I talk about how much I love the character of Amy Pond, and how much I hate the fact that in the Comic Relief videos, “Space” and “Time,” the TARDIS crashing is blamed on Amy’s choice to wear a short skirt (rather than on Rory’s lack of concentration while fixing it).

EXCERPT:

Rory being distracted by Amy in a short skirt (not to mention the idea of two of her) is understandable. After all, he knows what she looks like under the skirt, making it even more understandable in his case. This isn’t my problem with the minisodes. My problem is with the too-easy, dated, sexist humor they employ, especially in the second part. First, there’s the issue of Amy being a bad driver and Rory being allowed to “have a go” at driving the TARDIS. Bad woman driver, ha ha. Now, one of the things I love about Amy is the fact that she’s flawed. She’s a complex woman, so if being a bad driver is one of the many things that make her who she is, I can forgive that.

Less forgivable, however, is the final message at the end. Once the crisis is resolved, The Doctor says that they should be safe, but to prevent it from happening again, he says “Pond, put some trousers on.” So, let me get this straight: Rory gets distracted, Rory drops the coupling…and it’s Amy’s job to put some pants on? Yes, it’s just a joke. Yes, she rolls her eyes at The Doctor and gives Rory a glare…but the fact that Moffat chose to have The Doctor reprimand Amy at the end instead of, oh I don’t know, slapping Rory upside the head for not paying attention, soured the experience for me.

If you enjoy this piece, and want to see more like it, consider subscribing to me at Beacon, beginning March 3rd. I’d love to continue to bring you the in-depth pop culture discussion to which you’ve become accustomed! 🙂

The Doctor Who 50th: We’re All Just Whovians

This past week was Who-tastic! The BBC pulled out all the stops when celebrating the 50th Anniversary of everyone’s favorite Time Lord.

First, there was a new prequel short called “The Last Day”:

Then, there was the most badass Doctor Who prequel short EVER, called “The Night of the Doctor” (starring Paul McGann!):

Then, there was an (by all accounts) amazing biopic about the beginnings of Doctor Who called An Adventure in Space and Time (I’ll be watching it soon, and will buy it on iTunes):

Then, there was the wonderful 50th Anniversary special itself, “The Day of the Doctor,” which was simulcast all over the world, and has just gotten into the Guinness Book of World Records for largest simulcast of a TV drama ever, being shown in over 96 countries on 6 continents:

But if THAT weren’t enough, Saturday also saw the release of a hilarious short film called “The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot,” written and directed by the Fifth Doctor himself, Peter Davison, and starring him and too many other fabulous people to list (it’s half an hour long – and WELL worth the time, especially to discover John Barrowman’s secret shame).

I could talk about the joy of going to see a screening of the simulcast on Saturday morning, sitting in a room full of Whovians all dressed up and raring to go (I wore my K-9 shirt). I could talk about how fun the entire week was, as all of my friends did nothing but talk about Doctor Who for a good five days.

But what strikes me the most is the fact that Doctor Who has become a worldwide phenomenon in ways that would make Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert proud. Just looking at the sheer number of mediums used for the 50th Anniversary alone, it’s incredible to see how Doctor Who’s storytelling has evolved. It started on television, then there are the radio plays, audio plays, novels, the TV movie, then a new TV show, and stories from that series augmented by additional stories on the web. Oh, and the comics that never stopped.  And because of the genius premise of the show – that it takes place anywhere in space and time; that its main character regenerates and is centuries old – it’s a story that can go on and on and on and never get boring. It can expand forever, in any direction and in any medium, because there’s always something new to say, somewhere new to go, and some new angle at which to explore every facet of the universe. I can easily see Doctor Who going on another 50 years, and beyond!

And that fact made me think about the idea of “Classic” Who and “New” Who.

Whenever I’ve been asked to write or talk about Doctor Who, it’s always been from the perspective of my having started the show at the 2005 reboot. I didn’t grow up with the show the way many people did. Rather, I started watching the show on DVD in 2006-2007 and became immediately enraptured. Knowing that the show had a history going back to the 1960s, I sought out the older Doctors, and am still happily involved in watching all the old episodes with several Doctors and many companions yet unseen. However, I have friends who, when they’ve tried to watch the old episodes of the show don’t like them as much, and stick to the current incarnation.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

The beauty of a show with this kind of longevity is that there are always going to be new fans jumping onto the most current stories. They should definitely check out older stories if they can, as watching the evolution of the Doctor as played by twelve (soon thirteen!) different actors is a fascinating exercise.  There’s also the fact that, if you don’t like the older television stories, there might be something for you in the audio dramas, or the comics! However, sometimes you just want to stick with the stories that are most relevant to you, and that’s OK, too. Because fetishize them though many do, several of the older stories were downright BORING, with many of the six-part stories containing two parts devoted entirely to running (and nothing else). Then again, many of them aren’t, and you should treat the old show the way you treat any current show you enjoy – love the good episodes, bemoan the crappy ones, and keep watching.

Fifty years in, we’re all just Whovians. We each have our preferences in Doctors and companions and storylines, but the idea of being a “classic” Who fan vs a “new” Who fan is irrelevant. After all, many “classic” Who fans grew up with Tom Baker as “their” Doctor…but there are people who grew up with Hartnell and Troughton. There are people who grew up with Colin Baker. And there are people like me who never heard about Doctor Who until a friend lent me her DVDs of the Eccleston series and told me that this show would change my life.

It did.

Happy Anniversary, Doctor Who.  Here’s to many more!

Talking Doctor Who at Slate!

Doctor Who - The Bells of St. John

Hey there, kids!

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I did a chat with my friend, Mac Rogers, as part of a series of Doctor Who reviews he’ll be doing with prominent Whovians for Slate. Well, our chat about “The Bells of Saint John” has posted!

EXCERPT:

Mac: Fortunately the revelation of the identity of Miss Kizlet’s mysterious “client” was well within the episode proper. And how cool was it that the client was unveiled as the Great Intelligence, now having permanently assumed the always welcome appearance of Richard E. Grant? When it comes to recurring villains from the classic series, it’s hard to think of a deeper cut than the Great Intelligence, which menaced the Doctor in 1967’s “The Abominable Snowmen” and 1968’s “The Web of Fear” and made a surprise return in the this past December’s Christmas special, “The Snowmen.” It’s interesting, between Doctor Simeon in “The Snowmen” and now Miss Kizlet in “Saint John,” we’re seeing the Great Intelligence as an evil mirror of the Doctor, first visiting people in childhood and profoundly influencing the rest of their lives. What do you make of the often nostalgia-averse Moffat bringing back such an obscure villain? And do you think we’ll get to see some Yeti?

Teresa: I have to admit I rolled my eyes. Sorry! You say Moffat’s nostalgia-averse, and I’m like, “What?” All current Doctor Who seems to do (not just the Moffat era, but Davies, too) is rehash old villains from Classic Who: Daleks, Silurians, Sontarans, Cybermen. Moffat’s definitely been better about creating new threats: the Weeping Angels, the Vashta Nerada, the Silence, all genius and horribly frightening. But then he insists on going back to old stuff. For what? To appease the fans of Classic Who? It’s a huge universe. The Doctor could swing 50 cats and never hit another Cyberman again if he really didn’t want to. I long for one, just one season of Doctor Who with completely new aliens and monsters.

For the entire post, and to leave a comment, CLICK HERE.

And thanks, Mac, for a great chat! It was fun! (And if only people could read the stuff that was cut out! Hmmm….) 😉

DOCTOR WHO WEEK 2013: DOCTOR WHO WINS A PEABODY AWARD!

DOCTOR WHO SERIES 7 B

BREAKING NEWS! Doctor Who has been awarded an Institutional Peabody Award this year!

For those who don’t know, the Peabody is the world’s first and most prestigious award for broadcasting and electronic media. From the website:

The George Foster Peabody Awards recognize distinguished achievement and meritorious service by broadcasters, cable and Webcasters, producing organizations, and individuals. The awards program is administered by the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. Selection is made each spring by the Peabody Board, a 16-member panel of distinguished academics, television critics, industry practitioners and experts in culture and the arts.

Doctor Who (and BBC/Cymru Wales) has apparently won the award because:

Seemingly immortal, 50-years-old and still running, this engaging, imaginative sci-fi/fantasy series is awarded an Institutional Peabody for evolving with technology and the times like nothing else in the known television universe.

Or, you know the WHOLE Universe! 😉 Yeah, that sounds about right.

CONGRATULATIONS to Doctor Who, as well as to all the other Peabody winners this year! (especially Girls!)

Doctor Who Week 2013: Classic Doctor Who Was Kinda Racist

So, if you’re a follower of The Experience, and of my writing in general, you know that this past year I had an essay in an awesome Doctor Who anthology called Outside In: 160 New Perspectives on 160 Classic Doctor Who Stories by 160 Writers. It’s ambitious and unlike any other Doctor Who book you’ve ever read with reviews of Classic Who that take forms as diverse as recipes, angry letters to the BBC, flow charts, and Shakespeare plays. You should totally snag a copy, as these are not your grandparents’ Doctor Who reviews. 🙂

However, as it’s Doctor Who Week here at the blog, I thought I’d share my Outside In review with you today and give you a healthy dose of Classic Who as we march toward the premiere of Season 7.5 of the current series. I was very happy that I got to write about my favorite Classic Doctor – the Third Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee – and talk about an issue that, frankly, needs more talking about in Doctor Who fandom. Race (and racism). Check it out below!

The Interconnectedness of Tibetan and Gallifreyan Cultures. Sort Of.

“Planet of the Spiders” is an important Doctor Who story for two reasons. The first and most obvious is that it’s Jon Pertwee’s final appearance as the Doctor. Pertwee is my favorite classic Doctor, mostly because he had a tattoo that we got to see in “Spearhead From Space” when he was randomly shirtless (and pretty fine for an older gentleman!), but also because he had gravitas without losing the sheer fun of exploration. He was a Doctor I would’ve followed anywhere, because he seemed like someone who knew what he was doing, unlike other classic Doctors who often seemed to try things just for the hell of it. Also, the third Doctor and Liz Shaw were hot together. I don’t care what anyone says.

But back to “Planet of the Spiders.”

Mike Yates (Richard Franklin), who has been discharged from UNIT, has called Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) to investigate strange goings-on at a Tibetan monastery at which he’s been meditating. Meditation as a “thing” is already strange enough to him, but the secrecy and cryptic nature of the practitioners at the monastery lead him to believe that there’s more than just enlightenment going on. As they say, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. Yates’ suspicions are correct, and we see that the meditation has successfully brought forth a tyrannical race of intelligent spiders, or Eight-Legs who rule Metebilis Three. Several brainwashings, chases, and rescue missions later, the Doctor comes across the abbot of the monastery, K’anpo Rimpoche (George Cormack), who happens to be an elderly Time Lord who used to be the Doctor’s mentor. They work together to get rid of the Queen Spider and save everyone, but not before the Doctor is flooded by radiation, and killed. Sarah, having never experienced regeneration before, is sure that this is the end for the Doctor. It isn’t, of course, and the Doctor comes back as Tom Baker. K’anpo explains regeneration to Sarah, as he has himself regenerated into Cho-Je (Kevin Lindsay), whom we met earlier in the story and was apparently a projection of K’anpo’s soul. (Huh?) Anyway, they have squinting their eyes, bad makeup, and speaking in horrible Generic Asian accents in common, so Sarah knows that they are the same person, and so she knows that this “new” Doctor is the same Doctor she’d gotten to know.

I know what you might be thinking. Isn’t a Tibetan character being played by an English actor whilst squinting his eyes and talking in a ridiculous accent horribly racist? For that matter, isn’t co-opting meditation and Eastern traditions as a fad and not as something that some take very seriously horribly colonialist and ethnocentric? Furthermore, what of the fact that meditation and Eastern traditions were a real life fad in the 1960s-70s, particularly in England, with The Beatles as their white, non-threatening poster boys?

While these are all valid concerns, I think that they miss the greater point of “Planet of the Spiders,” and indeed, of the entire Doctor Who franchise. Doctor Who uses Asian culture to explore Gallifreyan culture.

I know what you’re thinking now. Whut?

Think about it. The Doctor is a being for whom all of time and space is knowable at once, which gives him a worldview in which he can see that we are all interconnected and important, and so each of our actions has an impact on someone else, sometimes beyond what we can see or understand. Also, there’s the matter of Time Lords being able to regenerate in the first place. The same spirit coming through in different bodies over the course of centuries? Sounds like reincarnation to me. If Doctor Who isn’t in part an homage to Buddhism and Hinduism, I don’t know what is!

The use of an Asian culture to explore the life and death and rebirth of Time Lords was an inspired choice, and allows the viewer to understand Gallifreyan culture through the prism of an Earth culture with which he/she might be more familiar. “Planet of the Spiders” is the first of many instances of Doctor Who using an Asian culture as a point of reference. “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” also uses white British actors to play Asian characters in order to show how interconnected human beings are to each other, as well as how interconnected human beings are to Time Lords…

Oh, who am I kidding? This shit is racist. It’s as racist as Mickey Rooney being cast as a Chinese dude in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Good Lord, what were they thinking? And they didn’t even have the decency to have additional Fake Asians in the meditation group! It was entirely made up of White people using bits and pieces of Asian religions and practices to satisfy their own trendy ends! At a “Tibetan” monastery! And it only gets worse from here! In “The Talons of Weng-Chang,” there’s absolutely no tie to Time Lords at all! One can’t even fake the argument that casting non-Asian actors to play Chinese has anything to do with anything thematically. They just…decided to do that. Why bother telling stories about cultures to which you have no access, and if you are going to bother, why not do it properly? Since when is telling a story more important than not alienating/exploiting/insulting an entire race of people? Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was 1974. Doesn’t mean I can’t be pissed off about it now, and it doesn’t mean I can’t or shouldn’t expect better. The thing is, it would be nice to think that this story was a purposeful reflection or an examination/critique of Britain’s real-life fascination with Eastern cultures, but it wasn’t self-aware enough to be that. You never get the feeling when watching this story that they see anything wrong with this co-opting of another culture. They just do it. It’s a reflection of their society, yes, but not a critical one.

When Doctor Who started out over ten years earlier in 1963, it had a female executive producer in Verity Lambert and a gay Indian director in Waris Hussein. It had a perfectly gender-balanced cast featuring two men and two women, and one of those women, Barbara, was not only brilliant and entirely competent, but also an older, unmarried woman with a career. It was subversive and diverse in so many ways right from the beginning. What’s interesting, however, is that while issues of feminism were always wrestled with, or at the very least paid lip service – they’d have Sarah Jane making pronouncements about Women’s Liberation, apparently as the only being in the Universe to have this sense of fairness (seriously, did they only go to the sexist planets?), or they had Leela being a warrior, while also being considered a “savage” and wearing skimpy outfits – issues of race were ignored altogether. With aliens being the go-to sci-fi stand-in for race, race wasn’t dealt with in a real way. When racial diversity was attempted, it was done horribly because it was never done consciously.  Race continued to be a blind spot on Doctor Who until 2005, when Mickey Smith (played by Noel Clarke) became the first black person to set foot in the TARDIS. It would be two years until the Doctor’s first black companion in Martha Jones.

Therefore, “Planet of the Spiders” marks not only Jon Pertwee’s departure, but it marks just how far Doctor Who had to go before it even started becoming truly representative of the universe.

DOCTOR WHO WEEK 2013: 5 THOUGHTS ABOUT “THE SNOWMEN”

Photo credit: BBC

While this coming Saturday is technically the beginning of the second half of Series 7 of Doctor Who, the second half really began with the 2012 Christmas Special, “The Snowmen.”

In it, the Doctor was all boo-hoo Amy and Rory and why do I suck?, and Madame Vastra & her Victorian Scooby Gang were all Dude, we need you, and the Doctor was all I don’t do this anymore, and Clara was all You will, too, ‘do this anymore,’ because I’m cute, and the Doctor was all help me fight some sentient snowmen, and Clara was all sure! and by the way, you’re hot, and the Doctor was all why are you so inexplicably amazing? Then, the Great Intelligence in a big snowglobe raises a dead governess from a frozen pond, the Doctor defeats it, Clara dies, and the Doctor realizes that Clara is THE SAME GIRL WHO WAS TRAPPED INSIDE A DALEK IN “ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS!”

Honestly, I wasn’t crazy about it for a couple of reasons – some small, some pretty major…

FIVE THOUGHTS ABOUT “THE SNOWMEN”

Matt Smith as the Doctor in the new TARDIS. Photo Credit: BBC

1) The New TARDIS Interior

BOOOOOOOOO-RRRRRRING. 🙂 Seriously. I feel like we’ve gone from a happy, colorful, bohemian jumble that was perfect for the eleventh Doctor to a drab interior that’s nothing more than a retread of classic Doctor interiors. ENOUGH OF THE CLASSIC FAN-WANKING, BBC! Come up with NEW ideas and stop with homages to the old. Classic Who knows it’s awesome. It doesn’t need its ego stroked anymore! Also…look at it. It’s just….blueish. And…mechanical-looking. Ugh.

Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara. Photo Credit: BBC

2) Clara

I loved, loved, LOVED Oswin Oswald when we first met her in “Asylum of the Daleks!” She was fiery, intelligent, and gave great banter. Also, while she loved verbally sparring with the Doctor, her primary interest was in getting out of her situation and helping the Doctor to get her out of there. Steven Moffat managed to make her really interesting in a brief amount of time, and because she was only in the one episode, souffles were enough.

Cut to “The Snowmen.” While Oswin and Clara are played by the same actress, and by the end of “The Snowmen” we know that they are, indeed, connected, when the episode starts, she is simply Clara the barmaid. Then….Clara…the governess? All we know about her is that she is inexplicably secretly working two jobs in Victorian times, she follows the Doctor and flirts with him immediately, and she’s…banter-y. Since we don’t know at first that she’s connected to the Oswin we’ve already met, or how, all we have to go on is Clara as a character. And upon first viewing, there isn’t much there. All she is is a puzzle. She’s not a person. And that bothered me. Yes, she’s Clever – Capital “C” – but as much as people complained that Amy Pond was a plot device, she was a well-rounded, complex human being. Love her or hate her, she was a person. In “The Snowmen,” Clara doesn’t get interesting until the end, but by then it’s too late. I spent 3/4 of the episode not caring about her, and then….she’s suddenly The Most Important Mystery On The Show This Season?

Mr. Moffat…you have some ‘splainin’ to do.

Um…I’ve got this stick with fire on the end of it. Done. Photo Credit: BBC

3) Snowmen Are Lame Villains

I know, I know. You read Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, love watching Frosty the Snowman or The Snowman every Christmas, and have a soft spot in your heart for snowmen come to life. Thing is, they’re not very threatening. I mean, look at them up there. Even with the sharp teeth, it’s like: Um…I’ve got this stick with fire on the end of it. Done. So, in addition to being pretty bored by Clara during “The Snowmen,” I was extremely bored by the snowmen themselves. You’d think if the Great Intelligence was really intelligent, it’d create, like, sentient rocks or something.

“Good evening. I’m a lizard woman from the Dawn of Time, and this is my wife.” Photo Credit: BBC

4) Madam Vastra and Jenny

I have mixed feelings about these two. On the one hand – yay, Victorian lesbians! On the other hand, SHE’S A LIZARD WOMAN. I do not buy that everyone would write off her being a LIZARD as a “skin condition.” On the other-other hand (if you’re an octopus), I love that Madam Vastra is pretty much Sherlock Holmes. Also, Vastra has the Best Line Ever when she says, “Good evening. I’m a lizard woman from the Dawn of Time. And this is my wife.” 🙂 But in writing them, Moffat veers a little too close to lesbianism for the sake of easy (male) titillation rather than actual increased representation. I dunno. Something about the way he presents them strikes me as a little off. What do you all think? One thing’s for sure, though…I would TOTALLY watch a spin-off devoted to these two.

The Doctor examines really scary snow. Photo Credit: BBC

5) The Doctor

I’m about to say something that might get me kicked in the face, but I’m gonna say it anyway. Because after all, there’s a formula to Doctor Who. The Doctor – and a COMPANION – fly around in the TARDIS having adventures. I get that. The thing is, for the past couple of regenerations we’ve revisited the whole Doctor Feeling Guilty About Involving Companions In Danger thing over and over (and over) again. Then the Doctor insists he’s not taking on another one…until the next time he takes on another one. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t wanna put Ms. Coleman out of a job! 🙂 I like her as an actress, and I’m sure she will make Clara interesting. But I love episodes like “The Lodger” or “Closing Time,” (or any of the Christmas specials that don’t involve a Future New Companion) where the Doctor might team up with someone for an adventure, but he’s essentially alone. These days, he kinda feels like a person who’d rather stay in a bad relationship than be alone, because being single is unknown and scary. And you wanna shake that person and be like “YOU NEED TO LEARN HOW TO BE WITH YOURSELF BEFORE YOU CAN BE WITH SOMEONE ELSE!”

C an someone get the Doctor a therapist?

So there you have it. My thoughts on “The Snowmen” in a nutshell. What did you all think? I look forward to hearing what you have to say in the comments below! 🙂

DOCTOR WHO WEEK AT THE EXPERIENCE!

Jenna-Louise Coleman and Matt Smith. Photo Credit: BBC

Jenna-Louise Coleman and Matt Smith. Photo Credit: BBC

As anyone reading this blog knows, I LOOOOOVES ME SOME DOCTOR WHO. 🙂 Thankfully the long wait for the second half of season 7 is just about over as BBC America will be airing the premiere this SATURDAY, MARCH 30TH at 8PM ET/7PM CT/6PM PT!

In honor of this happy occasion, I’ll be doing a lot of Doctor Who-related content this week including reviews, essays, and Songs of the Day that make me think of the Doctor.

So, grab your bow tie and fez and settle in! Doctor Who is returning!