Eruditorum Presscast: Rosa

(26 comments)

I'm joined this week by the legendary Kate Orman (along with two cute but really annoying dogs and an intermittent drilling sound that crash the party, though both mercifully say in the background) to talk about Rosa. 

Check it out here.

Comments

Robert 3 weeks, 5 days ago

Super keen to listen to both you and Kate's views on this! I felt pretty bad for you after reading some of the negative comments some people left on your blog after you reviewed Rosa. I mean jeez, people can be shocking when you say something that doesn't chime with their views! I've got transgender friends over in NZ ( I'm Irish and live in NZ) and I am so disgusted with what you may have to deal with under Trump. I am hoping that you stay brave and true and strong in this difficult time.

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Kate Orman 3 weeks, 5 days ago

Let's just hope I didn't say anything legendarily stupid. XD

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kevin merchant 3 weeks, 5 days ago

This is why I love Kate Orman as a writer and commentator

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TomeDeaf 3 weeks, 5 days ago

Fantastic discussion, thanks for this.

It might be a bit of a stretch, but I had the pseudo-intellectual newspaper-reading-man in the bar (at about 8:48 mins into the episode) down as one of these "cowardly white people" El mentions. It's a tiny tiny moment so not nowhere as prominent as you're asking for, but he does this little shifty eye movement while the TARDIS crew are being asked to leave as though he's profoundly uncomfortable with what's going on but sure as hell won't say anything about it.

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TomeDeaf 3 weeks, 5 days ago

*nowhere near, rather.

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Kate Orman 3 weeks, 4 days ago

I wonder if the worst character of all is the white woman who drops her glove. She was in a position to stop, or at least soften, her husband's abuse of Ryan. Instead IIRC she only watched. Was she too cowardly to intervene? Did she approve? Was she secretly pleased? Of course, she doesn't say anything because they can't afford another speaking part -- but what that says is that, when any of us could intervene and don't, we become non-speaking extras in someone's story, and in our own story.

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Przemek 3 weeks, 4 days ago

I LOVE that reading!

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liminal fruitbat 3 weeks, 5 days ago

Definitely worth listening to; thanks for this.

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im 3 weeks, 5 days ago

This was very interesting. On the discussion of the mismatch of the balance of numbers of Black and Asian characters to the UK population, I don't think that's anything drawing directly from the US or specific to Doctor Who. It matches to wider trends in UK TV (and entertainment generally) - see for example the figures here: https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2014/theatre-vs-tv-report-exposes-age-ethnicity-differences/

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Kate Orman 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Interesting! What is going on?

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Lambda 3 weeks, 4 days ago

I wonder if the success of Bollywood is significant here? Drawing British-south Asians towards a different media culture or something?

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Aylwin 3 weeks, 3 days ago

I think the extent or perceived extent of cultural difference is probably a significant issue here. For one thing, my unscientific personal impression is that the non-white characters we preponderantly get are not simply black, but ususally either explicitly or, more often, implicitly (as indicated by their traditionally-British names) of Afro-Caribbean rather than African ancestry. And if that's true, it offers a pointer to what's going on with the shortage of Asian characters.

Because that's a population which originally came from a society that was, due to the background of slavery, already very heavily influenced by Western culture, and because that greater initial cultural proximity has in turn contributed to a greater degree of cultural and social (if not economic) integration with the white population than other non-white immigrant groups of recent decades (perhaps fuelled also by the shared influence of Afriican-American culture on both groups).

That means that your white TV writer can write, say, a black (Mickey) Smith or (Martha) Jones who differs little if at all from any white Smith or Jones, except when that writer chooses (or is compelled by the logic of their scenario) to "do racism" with whatever large or small degree of prominence. Whereas with Asian characters there is perhaps a sense that these are people shaped by a different cultural background, which has to be engaged with if they are characters of any great importance, which means more effort and greater potential for getting things wrong. So unless those cultural aspects are something a writer or producer specifically wants to focus on, it's much easier just not to go there at all.

Certainly Asian actors have long complained not just of the shortage of roles but of the fact that what is available is usually the racism story or the terrorism story or the arranged-marriage story or what-have-you. That white writers are only interested in writing Asian characters as part of An Issue, drawn from a short list of Issues of interest to white people. Unless such things are a direct focus of the work, I think the sense of cultural difference often makes characters from an Asian (or African) background seem like too much hassle. They can do their bit for diversity by writing black characters who are just "people like us", or by casting black actors in roles originally written as default-white, in a way that feels odder with actors from other racial backgrounds.

And I think that sense of implicit cultural difference can carry over instinctively even into cases where it should not, rationally speaking, be at all relevant (such as fantasy-casting the Doctor), because from the white perspective other types of physical appearance tend to automatically carry distinct and distancing national/cultural associations of a sort that "black" does not.

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Aylwin 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Incidentally, I think the point about the most racially-interesting thing in the new series coming from Mark Gatiss of all people could make a lot of sense in terms of a degree of racial ... gaucheness? on his part. He can just casually throw something like that in there where a more circumspect white writer might shy away, for fear of doing something crass. Maybe.

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Kate Orman 3 weeks, 2 days ago

That's a really interesting analysis. I thought perhaps there was a difference in timing between the arrival of large numbers of Afro-Carribean and South Asian immigrants to the UK, so that the Black population had been around longer, but a cursory glance at Wikipedia tells me those waves of immigration overlap.

I still have a great regret about Anji in the BBC's Eighth Doctor Adventures. I found her character difficult to get a grip on. If I'd invested a little more time on homework, I might have been able to make more of her background: just a few details here and there to make her a bit more solid. (Of course, the homework would be a pushover today, with so much information so easily accessible. I'd read some blogs.)

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Christopher Brown 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Wanna see 12-year old El's usenet comment on the site :'(

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Kazin 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Ah, Kate Orman is just the best. Really enjoyed this episode.

I also want to shout out the TARBIS podcast (http://blackgirlscreate.org/tarbis/), which was absolutely fascinating - it's hosted entirely by black women, none of them have any time for Graham, and were not impressed at all by his reluctance to be complicit in getting Rosa arrested. They explain why better than I could summarize, so give it a listen :)

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Tim B. 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Re the focus on black as opposed to Asian characters in British pop culture and Doctor Who specifically there’s Dinosaurs on a Spaceship that Chibnall wrote with the incidental detail of the Indian Space Agency.

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Aylwin 3 weeks, 3 days ago

I was doing the washing-up and had the volume a bit too low, so I initially heard "donor" as "doughnut", so I was working up an interpretation of how this term was chosen because this is a character who is not in the centre, but is all around it...and yeah, no, that wasn't the word.

About which, no doubt there are wider structural comparisons to be drawn with less genre-y fiction, but as Kate said, the closest analogy seems to be the wizard-mentor figure. Which leads me to a back-of-a-fag-packet hypothesis about the shift in emphasis in the new series. (Well, post-Eccleston at least. I'd say the Ninth Doctor was in some ways even less protagonistic than the classic-series character, in terms of coaching other characters to do things rather than doing them himself.)

The wizardly sort of character has tended not to be the protagonist because they are too powerful, making it harder to set them truly formidable obstacles, and powerful in obscure and unfathomable ways, making it harder to have them overcome their problems in resonant, relatable ways. They also tend to be (notionally at least) too wise, making it harder to have them learn lessons, and have all sorts of arcane knowledge, which distances them from the audience. When you do have a Gandalf or Xavier or whatever, you generally have to come up with ways of taking them out of the action at critical points so that the protagonist(s) have to struggle through for themselves. (Though Doctor Who does not, of course, generally go that far in terms of the Doctor's non-protagonism.)

Soooo I'm thinking, could this be maybe partly a Harry Potter thing? Not in terms of mentoring, but in terms of having a wizard-protagonist. Not that it's unprecedented in that, but it is unusual, and it is a very conspicuous example that was very big before and during the early years of the new series. And as has often been remarked, there does seem to be a fairly blatant Potter influence on the new series regarding the sonic screwdriver's powers being upgraded into those of a magic wand, its perennial involvement as a problem-solver (creating that need to handwave explanations for not using it as one, and my personal furniture-smashing bugbear of using "NO SONIC!!!!" as the mark of a desperate situation), and its being fetishised as a part of the iconography of the series, to the extent of becoming about as prominent as the Tardis (someone should do a study of what proportion of publicity images show the Doctor not holding it). Did that pop-culture juggernaut make having a protagonist prone to overcoming threats by simply, as it were, declaiming "Doglatinus madeupium!" at them more in tune with the times?

Of course, there are much more persuasive reasons for the shift, such as the shorter story-format favouring perfunctory solutions, and this being reinforced by a diminished interest in the process of overcoming obstacles and defeating enemies as a central part of what a Doctor Who story is concerned with. So this has been a bit of a pointless ramble, but hey, it's the weekend.

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Kate Orman 3 weeks, 2 days ago

Doughnut *helpless cackling*

It's certainly true that the Doctor has long since moved closer to the centre of the action, with the companions sort of floating along in his wake; but I think with Ace the companion started to inhabit the centre of the story again. It would be nice to say that the role of protagonist was shared between Doctor and companion(s), but the Doctor will always have the upper hand as the most knowledgeable and powerful character; OTOH the Doctor exists in some sense out of time and therefore doesn't _have_ a story. Hmm.

Re the sonic, I'm happy for it to open doors and other trivial stuff, so that we don't have lengthy scenes of the Doctor trying to open a bloody door. Interesting to compare it to a Potterverse wand ("Doglatinus madeupium!", snort) -- the trick, of course, is to keep it as a tool for getting on with the adventure.

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elisi 2 weeks, 3 days ago

I would say that the Doctor has been a Trickster since day one (Trickster is the term/description you are looking for). If certain aspects of that get highlighted during different eras that's only to be expected.

(Late comment, so this will probably not be seen, but it took me forever to actually listen to the whole thing.)

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Kate Orman 1 week, 3 days ago

One day I would like to research and write something serious about the Doctors as Trickster -- the ways in which they do and don't line up with the mythological figures. The Doctors lack the enormous sexual and gustatory appetite of the Native American Trickster, for example, but have appetites of their own -- greed for knowledge, and for experience. Moreover, in some ways the Doctor is the weaker figure using cunning to defeat a stronger figure, but in other ways he or she *is* the stronger figure, with the authority, knowledge, and powers of a Time Lord. And so on.

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Aylwin 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Because it's the sort of thing I can't resist quibbling about, the AI figures released so far are very much on a par with the Capaldi era, which is to say rather lower than any previous season after the first (which was dragged down by low numbers for the first few episodes). What that actually means is another question (I have no idea what the wider trends in AIs might be, and there is the argument that they skew older than the audience because they only come from broadcast viewers (or at least they used to?), which might help account for the Capaldi-era drop), but they are not currently spectacular in terms of a superficial comparison with the form book, though of course they also do not show any decline.

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kevin merchant 3 weeks, 1 day ago

AI's can be lower when more people watch a program because they aren't necessarily watching it because they are strongly committed to it. eg. Very low viewing figures probably are committed fans. Of course Tennant and Smith got very good AI's with very good viewing figures as well

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5tephe 3 weeks ago

Great to hear yet more Aussie voices podcasting with El. Very good discussion, especially about the donor role of the Doctor. I like that a lot.

I'm going to take issue - or no, ask a question - about the "You Can't Change History" thing.

Yes: this is a classic Doctor Who Celebrity Historical, where the Doctor and pals end up defending earth history, rather than burn it down. But ...

...this is not based on the logic that you CAN'T change history, nor that you SHOULDN'T (in general). In fact, doesn't Facistface's plan revolve around the fact that you CAN change history? And that in this instance, the Doctor and her pals decide that No. In No Way should this moment in history be changed.

So isn't this a slightly different flavour of historical?

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