Fit to Lead the Life of a Dog (Planet of the Ood)

(62 comments)

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It doesn't taste anything like chicken!
It’s April 19th, 2008. Estelle remain at number one, and the only new entry into the charts at all is September with “Cry For You.” Chris Brown, who violently beat his partner, is also still in the charts. In news, Delta and Northwest agree to merge to become the world’s biggest airline, and Silvio Berlusconi starts his third stint as Prime Minister of Italy. 

On television, meanwhile, we have Planet of the Ood. It’s interesting that this is the second consecutive story to have a direct shout-out to the Hartnell era. But where The Fires of Pompeii was just a moment of arch-fannishness (albeit the most rawly fannish in-joke the series had produced to date, serving as it does no narrative function whatsoever), Planet of the Ood’s invocation of The Sensorites is a deliberate reference confirming something Davies had floated on Doctor Who Confidential when the Ood debuted. Davies, in other words, actively wants the Ood to be read in light of an obscure monster from a terribly unloved story in Doctor Who’s first season.

The Sensorites is an odd duck of a story. It suffers even more than most 1960s stories from its languid pacing, and to a modern eye seems terribly cliche. But it is in practice a story that is cliche because of how often it’s been imitated. Indeed, upon reflection it is the story that introduces the idea that the alien can be a sense of wonder instead of terror, as what appear to be terrible monsters at first are steadily revealed to be gentle, kindly, and even timid creatures. (Note how this is paralleled closely with Susan’s awed description of her homeworld - it’s not a side detail, it’s the entire point of The Sensorites)

This is useful background for Planet of the Ood, which begins by pretending to be a story about monsters and ends somewhere almost entirely different. At first we are led to believe that the story is as it was in The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit - a story about the Ood being taken over to go bad in some fashion. The iconography of the episode encourages this, with the problem afflicting the Ood being that their eyes turn red and they start killing things. Under standard Doctor Who iconography, this means possession, especially given that this is historically what the Ood are for.

So the story appears straightforward. And yet even from the start it’s clear that there’s going to be some sort of comeuppance for the evil corporation. For one thing, there’s an evil corporation, and standard Doctor Who logic draws conclusions from putting an evil corporation in the first act. More broadly, the Ood are a pointedly unanswered question. The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit raised the possibility that there was more to them than appeared, but also never quite rocked the boat. 

This tension underlies everything in Planet of the Ood. The plot consists, broadly speaking, of the Doctor working out a mystery, namely what’s up with the red-eye. But in this case the plot isn’t the bulk of what happens. The Doctor’s investigation provides our two main characters with motivation, sure, but the investigation isn’t what happens. What happens is that the Ood rise up and liberate themselves while the Doctor is investigating what is subtly the wrong mystery. Indeed, more than anywhere in the new series, the Doctor is a complete bystander here. His only role is to be called upon by Ood Sigma to bear witness to the final step of the revolution. Everything would have played out exactly the same if he’d never arrived.

Tellingly, then, all the clues the Doctor acquires are clues to the wrong mystery, and ones that steadily dismantle the previous assumptions about what the Ood are. The key moment in this regard is when the Doctor casually discards what had been one of the operating assumptions of the Ood, that they’re a race of natural servants. It’s telling that this is done as a sort of belated reasoning - a case of applying refrigerator logic to The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit and going “wait a moment, the science underlying this science fiction is crap.” The point, in other words, isn’t just about a misdirection within the story where one plot obscures the other. It’s a more fundamental issue - one in which the entire framework in which we consider the story turns out to be wrong.

And yet there’s only so far in this direction that we can go. After all, the framework we consider the story in is, ultimately, one in which the Doctor saves the day. But that has always introduced a problem, which is that it’s still always a narrative in which oppressed populations are saved by the noble intervention of an outsider. Specifically a white British dude. There’s no easy way to strip empire out of Doctor Who’s underpinnings. Even if the show rails against imperialism - and it usually does - it’s still a story about a well-heeled British man who travels and saves other people. The fantasy of empire can’t be stripped out of the Victorian adventurer tradition from which the Doctor hails.

This crystalizes in an oft talked about moment in the story, when the Doctor makes the swipe at Donna about the labor conditions from which her clothes originated. Let’s note a couple of things here. First, of course, on a level of basic factual correctness the Doctor is right. The labor conditions in the textiles industry are particularly egregious, and in a way that is consciously hidden from consumers. To rail against slavery while ignoring the fact that large swaths of the global economy are based on exploitative labor practices is, if not hypocritical, at least shortsighted in the extreme.

Second, however, as the esteemed Jack Graham points out, the Doctor is being a self-righteous prick here. For one thing, who does he think made his clothes? Even if we accept some argument that he meticulously ethically sourced them (and really, the Doctor seems much more likely to just grab something at a random stall on a random planet because it looks nice), that’s only a diegetic argument. The show can’t get away with this because we know full well that David Tennant himself is, in point of fact, wearing clothes that emerged out of the late capitalist economy of early 21st century Britain. And is made by the BBC in the same culture. To issue that critique from a position of authority is fundamentally wrong.

And this is the point of Planet of the Ood. The Doctor is complicit in the system, at least in part. He didn’t save the Ood in The Satan Pit - in fact, he made a conscious decision to prioritize saving the person who looked more like him. He didn’t question the conditions of their labor. However well-intentioned he may be, he’s merely an ally to an oppressed population. And the thing about allies is that they are always imperfect and compromised. They have always come to sympathy from a position of being an oppressor, however tacitly.

Which brings us around to the conclusion, where Ood Sigma converts Halpen into an Ood. This scene, however, requires a little further attention to the overall arc of the story. Over the backdrop of the Doctor’s investigation we see the Ood revolution progress steadily. In the course of this we also see Ood Operations revealed as what it is, the slick PR facade of the beginning falling away to reveal casual brutality of the most basic sort: sadistic thugs running security, grotesque torture and mutilation of the Ood, et cetera. None of this surprises, but it’s part of a meticulous buildup, as is Solana’s declined moment of redemption. 

Meanwhile, the true nature of the Ood is revealed, along with the full horror of their condition. We see the Ood not as cute and kind of funny aliens based on the disjunct between their tentacled faces and nicely asking if people would like a cup of tea, nor as monsters, but as scared and hurt creatures singing their song of captivity - a song so awful Donna asks for it to be taken away. 

So when the Ood finally rise up we find ourselves in a position where we are sympathetic to the sorts of things we are not normally inclined to be sympathetic towards. Scenes of the Ood slaughtering people are thrilling not just in the “well done action sequence” sense, but in a “punch the air because the bad guys are getting what’s coming to them” sense. We’re even led to a point where, when the Ood turn on their jailers and shove them into cages to be gassed in their place, we broadly sympathize with the Ood.

It’s important to recognize just how radical this switch is. The gassing is, of course, meant to invoke the Holocaust - it’s originally intended as a mass slaughter of the Ood. Even as it’s turned around so that only one guard is gassed, it’s still an image that’s supposed to be titanically unethical in the normal order of things. And yet the guard is so asininely sadistic (his decision to screw around with chasing the Doctor via crane is telling) and willing to slaughter thousands that we just don’t care. The gassing to death of a human being becomes a moment of triumph.

All of this builds to the final scene, where, confronted with the bizarre body horror of a person’s skin peeling off as they become an Ood, Donna admits that she can’t tell what’s right or wrong anymore, and the Doctor shrugs and decides, yep, he’s not judging this one. Because he has no place to. This isn’t his revolution. 

And that’s a brave moral statement for Doctor Who to make - arguably the bravest one of the new series. The privileged don’t get to set the rules by which the oppressed rebel. Not even the allies. They don’t get to make tedious speeches about men who never would. They don’t get to be the judges. They don’t get to set demands. They get to get shoved up against the wall like everybody else, and maybe the oppressed will believe them when they chant the slogans of oppression and plea that they’re friends. Or maybe not. Either way, their salvation doesn’t come from the particular moral tact they took. Nobody mourns the Friends of the Ood activist who gets killed in the end. Oppression is too systemic for that. That’s what the point of the whole “who made your clothes” line is - that there’s no way to get outside the system to make a moral judgment, and certainly not one about yourself. How many times did the Friends of the Ood activist take a cup of tea from an enslaved Ood, justifying it to himself that he’d free them one day? And how acceptable is that? The power to answer that is, in the end, given to the Ood alone.

There’s a totality to this argument that the new series, and indeed the classic series has been unwilling to go for. That, in fact, popular media in general usually shies from. (I was just talking to someone about how the history of the X-Men consists of middle class white men coming up with justifications for why a population that’s the target of attempted genocide shouldn’t violently rebel against their oppressors. I should write a book, really.) And of course it does. Dictating the conditions under which resistance is permitted is one of the most basic oppressive tactics in existence. See also the Chelsea Manning/Wikipedia posts. To give up that weapon is, in effect, to give up the entire war and concede that, no, actually, there’s no way out of oppression beyond accepting that oppressed populations are going to rise up overthrow you. And that this will probably not be pleasant, or, at least, not for you.

The secret of alchemy is material social progress. But the mechanism of alchemy is often putrefaction. Fair enough. Up against the wall, motherfuckers. 

Comments

wumbo 3 years, 3 months ago

I think you're right about everything you've written here, barring to some extent the violence. When does revolutionary violence go beyond self-defence? I think it's only right to use violence so long as you're doing it to prevent your oppressors using violence against you - do you think gassing the guard was their only option?

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dm 3 years, 3 months ago

Not really having the right to make these sorts of judgements is very much what this post was about...

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dm 3 years, 3 months ago

Fair enough. Up against the wall, motherfuckers.

Most Jack Graham influenced post so far?

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Roger Whitson 3 years, 3 months ago

I don't know. I think re: Phil's statement about middle-class white people dictating the morality of revolution in the X-Men, it's problematic to say what's right and wrong in a revolutionary situation -- especially since we aren't the Ood. We have the comfort of being able to say a certain revolutionary act is too violent, because we don't experience the levels of violence the Ood do every day - our frame of reference is profoundly different and thus our moral sentiment isn't up to the task. Maybe if I (privileged white person who grew up middle-class) suddenly found myself in the body of an Ood w/ all of the experiences of my former subject-position intact, I would find another option than gassing. But I'm not an Ood, even if I suddenly had the body of one.

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storiteller 3 years, 3 months ago

Scathing analysis, and a much more scathing message than I certainly got out of it the first time. Weirdly, I've actually seen people read the "white dude comes and saves everyone" message into this, which radically misses the point, as you point out.

This analysis seems particularly appropriate in the wake of the celebration of Rosa Parks. She was a radical lady, but our history of her focuses on the warm and fuzzy aspects rather than the ones people are uncomfortable with (like her association with the Black Panthers). This Santa Clausification of truly radical people in social justice movements is just another form of oppression that allows people to co-opt the experiences of the oppressed as their own, especially those that were never allies and would never be allies.

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David Anderson 3 years, 3 months ago

Let's hark back to the classic series, namely The Mutants. That's covering the same ground - an oppressed society achieve independence, and at the end the Doctor recognises that it's not his business to make ethical judgements on the process. It has all the flaws that come with being a six-part Pertwee story. But aside from those flaws, I'd say it's strictly superior.
The Marshal is the only outright evil human in The Mutants. The enquiry afterwards will probably say he was the one bad apple. But that's not true. The Administrator and the Investigator, who are ordinary decent humans, appalled by genocide, facilitate and enable him. The clearest and most cutting moment is when the Investigator, on the verge of condemning the Marshal for murder and genocide, panics because the a Mutt has arrived where it shouldn't be, and in panic reinstates the Marshal. The Inquisitor isn't explicitly thinking that putting a genocidal maniac is preferable to letting the natives wander where they like - but he's letting the system think for him and that's what the system thinks. It's a thorough take-down of the bad apple theory.

Whereas in Planet of the Ood all the humans except Ryder are thoroughly corrupt. It's not the fault of the system - it's the fault of evil people. They're all bad apples. Contrariwise, the Ood are depicted as entirely innocent victims who would be living lives of peace and harmony in the state of nature. (As if you forfeit your right to rebel if you can be shown to be at all tainted.) It's barely one step up from Avatar - which is setting the bar rather low for Doctor Who. The Doctor doesn't do anything to save the day - but it is Ryder who is responsible for loosening the restraints on the central brain, thus kicking the whole thing off. (Phil points out that Ryder must logically be ethically compromised, but that's Phil. The story does nothing to explore that.)

So the Doctor's line, that people who are certain what is right and what is wrong ending up like Halpen, doesn't come off as responsibly saying it's not our place to judge the oppressed rising up. It comes off as the authors saying it's not our place to ask awkward questions about the authors' story. The story is hardly asking us to give up moral certainty about slavery. It's putting the boot in again and again just in case we're not with it the first time. (They're an evil corporation; they have whips; they crate them like cattle; they're sadists; they lobotomise them!) It's hardly as if Halpen has shown any interest in questions of moral right and wrong - he's always just been greedy and sadistic. The whole point of the story is to clear out any moral uncertainty left by The Impossible Planet. The story is too black and white, and has been making too many judgements up to this point, to abdicate judgement now with any responsibility.

Finally, while the Doctor and Donna don't meaningfully affect the course of events, the story works to conceal that. (A man comes into town and changes nothing isn't a story.) The story we're told is one of how they investigate the evil corporation, revealing its dirty secrets. There's an outrageous amount of running and captures and escapes. It's all business as usual for Doctor Who. And at the end we have the business as usual scene where the Ood gratefully thank the Doctor for his help. The Doctor's lack of effect on the course of events is effaced. Along with Ryder.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 3 months ago

I've always liked this episode for reasons similar to what you've written today, Phil. It isn't technically true that the Doctor doesn't help at all; he's the decent person who had messed up in his first encounter with the Ood, but he and Donna are good-hearted people are who witness the uprising. They're the eyes that can see the Ood revolution at least at a partial remove from partisanship.

Of course almost everyone else in the story is evil: it takes place literally in the heart of the beast. Everyone involved is so invested and accustomed to Ood slavery that they couldn't possibly conceive of a universe with self-determining Ood populations. If the Doctor visits human civilization in the 44th century, he'll find the descendants of these people essentially acting as Confederacy romantics for Ood slavery.

The Doctor's role here actually reminds me of Revelation of the Daleks. He and his companion wander toward the complex where the plot is happening through the snow, ingratiate themselves as if they were ordinary customers, work out what's happening, and witness the collapse of the horror. All the plot machinery goes on without him. He and Donna are friends and commentators on that horror. Perhaps the Ood's song for Doctor-Donna acknowledges them not for any direct material contribution to their freedom, but simply for being their friends.

The story also demonstrates some changing attitudes Doctor Who seems to have about its own history. I noticed in the 2008 series that Davies and the other writers were becoming more comfortable with these little Easter Egg-ish comments to obscure bits of continuity. The Macra in Gridlock were still a generic CGI monster to threaten Martha and her friends. The Romans and The Sensorites weren't even stories with a striking monstrous image attached. Only superfans would understand these references for what they were. The references were trivial lines (nothing in the plots themselves relied on knowledge of any of this, in contrast to the continuity dependence of the Saward-Levine era), incidental details. I saw these little moments as a noticeable change with Doctor Who's comfort with its own classic era.

I also quite enjoyed The Sensorites the first time I saw it, I think because I watched it one episode per day, instead of all at once. When Canada's Space channel first started, they bought all the complete Hartnell and Troughton stories and ran them just in time for me to come home from high school, one episode every weekday. It became one of my personal favourite Hartnell stories precisely because it took that nuanced view on the alien.

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David Thiel 3 years, 3 months ago

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David Thiel 3 years, 3 months ago

I find the Ood troubling to contemplate. On one hand, they're obvious stand-ins for any number of oppressed peoples, and in their unaltered state are peaceful to a fault. (For a doubly-disturbing reason I'll get to in a moment.) Yet, their "shtick" is that they are the monsters who are possessed by other, even worse monsters. One might argue whether the Ood are natural servants, but they're undeniably natural conduits. Given the prevalence of formless evils from the dawn of time, one would be wise to steer clear of the Ood just in case.

And can we talk about how implausible (and icky) it is that they walk around with the secondary brain in their hand? I know that one doesn't come to "Doctor Who" expecting anything like actual science, but come on. What kind of effed-up evolution puts the most vital, vulnerable component of a biological entity on a three-foot extension cord? And what intelligent life form so cursed decides that the ideal solution is to devote one hand to holding it? I mean, really, at the very least some enterprising Ood should've invented a brain sling.

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Bennett 3 years, 3 months ago

"And can we talk about how implausible (and icky) it is that they walk around with the secondary brain in their hand?"

For me this comes to the fore during The End of Time - in that laughable moment where, in order to join hands in a circle, the Ood all plop their brains onto their laps.

(And come to think of it, there's no reason that a telepathically linked species who have evolved without two free hands would follow this human convention. The circle must be broken, not formed.)

Not that I usually have qualms about the scientific logic of any Doctor Who story....but as Phil mentioned Planet of the Ood invites it by building its premise on a "refrigerator logic" reading of another story.

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jane 3 years, 3 months ago

As violence is so often the means by which oppression is thrown off our backs, of course the oppressors want to compel us against its use.

The better question to ask is whether the employment of violence will actually be effective, and for what purpose. The Ood violently overthrow their oppressors. They have to; the oppressive system has systematically used violence to wield power, and won't hesitate to use violence to keep that power.

In every case the Ood use violence, they are justified and tactically advantaged. They have to use violence to overcome the men with guns, and disrupt all aspects of the enslaving operation. They use violence to pass judgment on the sadistic overseer. And they use violence to convert the honcho into Oodkind, cutting off the head of the corporation and also demonstrating the extent of their mercy -- for to be Ood, uncut from the forebrain, is to be in connection and empathy with others, which is precisely the experience honcho-man necessarily lacked to become an enslaver in the first place.

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Chadwick 3 years, 3 months ago

The Doctor and Donna function rather like Peter Norman at the 1968 Olympic Games. Whilst everyone remembers Tommy Smith and John Carlos for raising their fists in salute on the winner's podium as a sign of not tolerating discrimination and oppression, Norman...a white man...had to find his place as a sympathetic observer to bigger events going on around him. Smith and Carlos informed him of what was going to happen and he wore an anti-discrimination badge on his tracksuit but it wasn't his revolution. The memorial statue to the black power salute leaves Norman's place empty: The visitor is asked to stand on that spot. The Doctor and Donna, are being asked to stand on that spot.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 3 months ago

When I was in my final undergraduate year some of my friends shared a corridor with an Afghan student named Taj who late one night announced he was delighted when 9/11 happened, because countries like his had been oppressed by countries like mine for centuries, and since our Western democracies hadn't stopped doing it despite the people in charge being the people, those people were fully culpable for everything that had happened.

That was a really tough night.

One of the big advantages Planet of the Ood has is that the dividing line is so terribly bright and clear. Humans are oppressing the Ood. You either have a mass of tentacles, or you have a mouth smacking at the prospect of the next cup of char your devoted slave is bringing you.

The bombs that rocked London on the 7th of July whilst my then-girlfiend was working there didn't simply pick out the white cis men. People with strong claims to have been offered the shitty end of our societal stick died because one group of oppressed people concluded another group of oppressed people more properly belonged to the category of "oppressor".

(I thought of Taj that day. The only thing he wanted to see more than America hurt was Israel hurt. He harboured a hatred of Jews one could accurately describe as murderous.)

That the oppressor has no right to judge how the oppressed fights them strikes me as entirely reasonable, at least as a rhetorical position. As a middle-class white cis man, I realise that given almost any revolution I'm far more likely to hear "up against the wall" than "thanks for all those times you were a bit angry online about inequality in-between buying all your cheap crap sourced from Bangladesh". If the revolution ends up being affluent cis white men vs everyone else, I've got no problems, other than the obvious ones about staying alive or working on the chain gang with my asthma.

But the Venn diagrams of oppression contain an awful lot of people in an awful lot of intersections, which means as soon as the revolution becomes about more than fighting the most obvious and long-serving of this world's oppressors, the unassailable moral right to determine who lives and dies is handed to whomever cracks open the Morok armoury the quickest. That I have no right contribute to a discussion about how the blaster rounds be distributed does not mean that no-one does.

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Phil 3 years, 3 months ago

1) As I see it, to be human and do things and look at things at all is to be making moral judgments. All the time. Constantly. (Do I eat that sandwich, with its plastic wrap? Do I stop for that broken-down car? Do I show civility to this person I unfairly dislike?) Telling privileged people they don't get to make moral judgments about which actions of the oppressed they support, and which they don't, and why, is basically telling them not to be human. It's telling them not to think.

2) Endorsing "Up against the wall, motherfuckers" as an ethical position is suicidal. (Whoever you are, somebody wants you up against a wall. Especially if you live in a first-world country.) And that kind of internalized, privileged self-hatred has consequences, as any form of internalized self-hatred does. In my experience, it's the kind of logic that makes a privileged person pace the house all day, too paralyzed by anxiety and self-loathing to be of use to anyone--however privileged or oppressed they may be. Such positions were extremely characteristic of my experience of general anxiety disorder, back before I started taking care of myself. They nearly killed me. In fact, they oppressed me--which is why I take such strong exception to them now.

That's not a criticism of the Ood, by the way--who conduct their revolution with restraint, tactical intelligence, and mercy. As Matt Smith's Doctor once said, "I love an Ood." (Was he indulging in revolutionary chic? Was he being a privileged appropriator? Was that good ally behavior? Oh, boy, maybe we can get mired in those bogs next.)

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David Thiel 3 years, 3 months ago

I am picturing an Ood office drone typing away, one coaster on his desk for his coffee, another coaster for his brain.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 3 months ago

Not really having the right to make these sorts of judgements is very much what this post was about...

But if you believe there's a fact of the matter about right and wrong, then there is no such thing as anybody NOT having "the right to make these sorts of judgments." There is no such thing as a private truth for the oppressed that is inaccessible to outsiders.

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David Anderson 3 years, 3 months ago

It's not just contemporary postmodernists who think that passing judgement on other people is morally problematic. 'Do not judge that you may not be judged... Why do you see the speck in your neighbour's eye but do not notice the log in your own eye?' reads a text usually considered central to the European/ Middle Eastern/ Ethiopian traditions.
Or from the Enlightenment:

'O ye wha are sae guid yoursel,
Sae pious and sae holy,
Ye've nought to do but mark and tell
Your neebours' fauts and folly!

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David Anderson 3 years, 3 months ago

The authors of this story aren't sweat-shop labourers though. They're clothes buyers. This story is itself a co-option.

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Jack Graham 3 years, 3 months ago

It's only fair to point out that my own recent post about Planet of the Ood was influenced by a chat Phil and I had on twitter. So, *if* Phil was influenced by me, then it was reciprocal.

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storiteller 3 years, 3 months ago

Yes, but they are the ones with the power to author the story. Sweat-shop laborers don't have the power to write and air a story about oppression and revolution on BBC family television that is guaranteed millions of views. Is it co-option or good ally-hood to bring attention to issues of oppression if you have the privilege to be able to do so?

Personally, I don't have a problem with the story being about the issues at hand. Where it can get into dodgy territory is when the author pulls the "I'm an ally and therefore it is all about how awesome I am" card. (And even moreso when the author uses their supposed allyhood to justify morally bad behavior around the particular subject of oppression.) This comes up quite a bit around male bloggers and feminism. In my opinion, John Scalzi is one who does it right.

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storiteller 3 years, 3 months ago

The Ood design is definitely a cross between "rule of cool" and "metaphor made physical" that doesn't work once you think about it for a few minutes.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 3 months ago

Massively Jack Graham influenced, yes. :)

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Phil 3 years, 3 months ago

There is a bit of a difference between telling people not to be busybodied hypocrites and telling people not even to attempt to define for themselves the standards that would make concepts like "hypocrisy" intelligible.

Jesus' sudden appearance in this discussion is interesting, though. Here's a guy who really would line up against the wall on command. His doing so and his critique of the system that poses that demand, in fact, are inextricable from each other.

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Phil 3 years, 3 months ago

This is really thoughtful and eloquent, but:

1) When you mention chain gangs and blasters, aren't you invoking a system that has no more claim on anyone's loyalty than the one we live under? The one that's wantonly violent and incarcerates 1% of the population? (I realize your examples are Ood-related, but you get my point.)

2) Isn't there also economic oppression, and don't white cis males bear some of it (though rarely the worst of it)?

3) I think you always have the right to contribute to a discussion about whether you get to live or not. Everybody does. That seems like the grounds for any version of justice at all.

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Matthew Celestis 3 years, 3 months ago

I do find all this talk about revolution a bit frightening. I'm glad we have police and soldiers to stop that sort of thing happening in England.

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peeeeeeet 3 years, 3 months ago

Indeed. And even if it weren't so crude, the fact that it's so silly would undermine any message. Of the two Doctor Who stories whose climaxes involve a gigantic pulsating brain, only one then has the brain swallow someone whole. Never mind Avatar, this ain't even Time and the Rani...

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 3 months ago

The way I like to put it is "I may support your cause, but that doesn't mean I have to support you." Just because I may be an ally to a supposed cause does not mean that everything that they do is suddenly moral. No political belief can exist in a vacuum, and I believe firmly that everyone has the right to consider their own views on things before acting or supporting another. If I encountered a person from an oppressed population that told me that the only way for their people to be free was the eradication of another group (regardless of my involvement or sympathy with either) I certainly would not aid them in any way. If that makes me just another oppressor than so be it.

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Bob Dillon 3 years, 3 months ago

We don't have police and soliders, we have tutting.


Far more effective

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IG 3 years, 3 months ago

Or to put it another way, I supported the ANC. That doesn't mean I supported necklacing.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 3 months ago

1) Probably; those references were mainly there as flourishes. That said, it leads me to another point regarding the likelihood that the oppressors are to become oppressed following a revolution. I'm not suggesting it's inevitable, but nor is it impossible. And if the oppressors can become the oppressed, when do the former overlords get to regain their moral right to decide their own fate? The line post-revolution seems to me broad and grey of tone, which makes the assertion that all moral authority must lie in the oppressed exceptionally difficult, if not outright impossible.

Simply put, if my own particular bracket gets overthrown tomorrow morning and put at the bottom of the pile, for how long do we have to suffer that? And should anyone trust our opinion on that matter?

2) There most certainly is - and more than a few other forms of oppression are basically economic oppression in other clothes - which is why I said variously "middle-class" and "affluent". I also should have said "able bodied" as well, though that's arguably a loaded term.

This could go on for a while of course. Again, the need to keep flensing away to get to the indisputable oppressor makes it harder and harder to imagine any practical revolution where the enemy of the oppressed are inarguably oppressors in the way we discuss the term here.

3) Perhaps I should have said I have no right to contribute to it unless invited. I agree with your points elsewhere that it's utterly unworkable to suggest we can't even think about such issues. Just that there are very specific circumstances under which it can be volunteered

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deriksmith 3 years, 3 months ago

I have a few different responses to Planet of the Ood

1) The first is Extratextual. I think Keith Temple wrote this in response to The Satan Pit, to redress the wrongs done in that episode -- thus the Doctor's sheepish "I reckon I owe them one." in reference to his decision-not-to/failure-to save the Ood in that story.

2) The second is metatextual. The spaceship used by Ood Operations is an impractical 1950 cigar-and-fins type. This story transforms the implicit imperialism of 1950's sci-fi into explicit imperialism. The Doctor himself says "A great big empire built on slavery."

3) The third is subtext and relates to "Friends of the Ood" and the question of who constitutes 'innocent bystanders' in an uprising. The key element is how Halpen describes FoE; "Photoactivists." People who infiltrate, take photos of mistreatment and publish them back in society for people to tut-tut about until the practice ends by undercutting Ood Operations bottom line until they voluntarily stop slavery because it's not profitable anymore. Now I think photoactivism is important in exposing conditions and changing opinions... but photoactivism is ultimately tool that would win the Ood their freedom via the consent of their enslavers -- actually, not even the consent but the APATHY of slavers who can't be bothered to enslave them anymore. In a story about the right-to-revolution Photoactvists are simply a shadow-self of the root problem. By contrast the Doctor and Donna, thrust into this situation have the immediate reaction of "This is wrong, the entire system built on this is evil and corrupt and we need to do something to stop this directly." They repeatedly coice this in the presence of the (telepathic) Ood and keep asking what amounts to the 'right questions' at every opportunity. Their sincere status as "friends of the Ood" in reality-and-not-just-name is earned and was recognized by the circle of unprocessed elders who stopped the redeyed Ood from destroying them regardless whether the Doctor did anything or not.

4) On a purely textual level... the Doctor does do something in this story. Ood Sigma comes to him to unlock Warehouse 15. He also subsequently disarms the bombs and breaks the psychic dampener circle. The latter two took little effort and Sigma may have been able to do them himself (itself?) but if the Doctor had not sonic'd the door he could have not gotten to the Ood brain in time to disarm the bombs. A TINY contribution, but a real one.

5) As sidetext while the story calls what is done to the Ood 'lobotomies' (because that's what it is) did you notice that logo for the so-appropriately-named "Ood Operations" looks a lot like a pair of hanging testicles? Testicles which are snipped to make them docile and fit to be servants; eunuchs if you will. And Halpan's torment is hair loss; an 'unmanning' which our culture associates with a loss of virility.

6) The last is genre-based. The Ood exist in the intersection of Lovecraft and H.Rider Haggard; while the humans take them for primitives I think the Ood are more correctly portrayed as a -degenerate- culture, which is a Lovecraft thing. The remnants of a mighty culture which have essentially 'worn down' and slowly discarded the physical trappings of that more traditionally 'advanced' culture until only song and tradition remains. The humans, coming in at the end of this story, mistake a very old culture for a very young one, an uneasiness that lies at the heart of both Lovecraft and Haggard's work; the troubling feeling that there's something very old and powerful behind the opaque natives that are treated as savages and servants. Halpan's punishment speaks to the betrayal-from-within themes found in Lovecraft and on the ultimate level... Ood are humans, or at least the idea that the "Oodkind" is a unexpressed form of humanity, merely lacking exposure to the Ood brain's royal jelly.

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deriksmith 3 years, 3 months ago

Also: ;)

7) Finally on a personal level; I watched "The Sensorites" all in one god and it holds up fine. It's one of the first Hartnels to, as you say, change the premise/rules/stakes of the story every episode, and it gets quintuple points for dedicating so much time to the aliens talking to one another. Is there Betchel test for fair representation alien cultures?

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deriksmith 3 years, 3 months ago

One question; did you giggle the doctor shouting "Clara, where are you?" while he was looking for Donna?

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Spoilers Below 3 years, 3 months ago

There is no such thing as a private truth for the oppressed that is inaccessible to outsiders.

Could you expand on this a little more? Do you mean in a similar sense to Wittgenstein's "There is no such thing as private language"? I can absolutely see that no viewpoint is incomprehensible barring enough listening, question asking, and empathy, even if you disagree with it, and no judgement being beyond logical analysis if you apply, for example, Russell's ethical system to it (well, actually G.E. Moore's, but I'm more familiar with Russell's condensed version of it) (though which system is used can and should be discussed,and a good discussion is would be, too. The main point being that it is possible to have a standard).

Also relevant to today's discussion was this interesting article about how even academic discussions about structural racism can themselves lead to more structural racism... http://www.slate.com/articles/life/counter_narrative/2013/12/minneapolis_professor_shannon_gibney_reprimanded_for_talking_about_racism.html

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Galadriel 3 years, 3 months ago

Anytime we say that someone can't make a moral judgment about something, I get a little twitchy. That isn't to say that all judgments are equally informed, or that we shouldn't attempt to see things from other people's point of view, but I agree with Phil.

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David Anderson 3 years, 3 months ago

My feeling is that this story strays too far into the 'it is all about how awesome I am' side. There are many ideological and material issues of oppression that could be raised in regard to sweatshop conditions, but as far as I'm aware systematic lobotomy is not one of them. The story shows little to no interest in the material or ideological underpinnings of economic oppression, as opposed to cheap moral condemnation.

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David Anderson 3 years, 3 months ago

I can and ought to make moral judgements whenever I am responsible for acting upon them either directly or indirectly. Therefore, it seems to me, I ought to refrain from moral judgements when I am not responsible for acting upon them. There is a pleasure in making moral judgements when I'm not responsible - it confirms my sense of my own moral standing. Where it would be wrong to do something in response to my moral judgement, it is irresponsible to make the judgement in the first place. (So for example, to make moral judgements against the actions of an oppressed group where I'm closer to, or more responsible for, the privileged group.)

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Iain Coleman 3 years, 3 months ago

For me, the take-home message of this post is that oppressors should at all times ensure that they oppress so brutally and so completely that any subversive action by the oppressed is rendered utterly impossible. After all, oppressors want to stay alive as much as anyone else, and they're the ones with the power.

Which is to say, I don't think this argument has much engagement with actual practical politics, nor much applicability to real political situations. I can, however, see it finding an application as a line of justification for people being arseholes to each other on the internet.

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Triturus 3 years, 3 months ago

If the revolution ends up being affluent cis white men vs everyone else, I've got no problems

The affluent cis white male will not man the barricades alone. If there is ever a revolution, the affluent of all colours, genders and sexualities will stand shoulder to shoulder with their straight white male fellows. Behind an army of just-the-right-amount-above-minimum-wage soldiers.

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encyclops 3 years, 3 months ago

1. Anyone else get a "Magical Negro" (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MagicalNegro) vibe from the Ood, certainly starting with this story and really taking off in "The End of Time"? At least they're working to save themselves here, and they don't really save Tennant there, but exchanging "they're a servant race" for "they've got deep mystical insight" seems a little ripe.

2. I know when you say "we thrill to the violence in this story and don't care when the humans die" (my paraphrase, obv) you don't insist that "we" must include every single reader. But I'd like to explicitly disinclude myself.

3. I've always found the "ally" dilemma troubling. Maybe the answer is that I'm not an ally to specific groups -- who get to decide whether I meet their standards, and get to disparage me as second-class and suspect no matter what I might do or have done -- but to moral principles. This way one can object to and fight oppression, but not surrender the judgments about whether one is doing it "correctly" to someone else, even the oppressed, and one can also object to barbarism without being inconsistent or disloyal.

4. I would love to see a Doctor who wore only ethically sourced, undyed, organic clothing. Not because I think he would look good, but because they really do tend to look the same, don't they? Not that I want to see it, but why ISN'T there a straight-up hippie Doctor?

5. If you're putting me up against the wall, I don't care who you are or why you're doing it, I don't have to stand there and take it. ...motherfuckers.

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Ross 3 years, 3 months ago

My favorite comment about the physical design of the Ood is "Many long-time fans observed that the faces of the Ood bore a resemblance to female genitalia, which served to reinforce suspcitions that many long-time fans had never actually seen female genitalia"

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Ross 3 years, 3 months ago

What kind of effed-up evolution puts the most vital, vulnerable component of a biological entity on a three-foot extension cord?

I had a long think about this some time ago and it seems to me that you might just about be able to make an argument that if you're a hairless humanoid species that lives in an arctic wasteland, evolution might plausibly favor adaptations that make it physically impossible for anyone not to play nice with others.

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Nemo Thorx 3 years, 3 months ago

Actually, the 'create the circle' action should (arguably) have been done not by holding hands, but by sharing brain with the person next to them - (each Ood holds the brain of another Ood - the ultimate expression of trust?)

The only problem with this idea, is the inability for any non-Ood to join the circle.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 3 months ago

Quite unfortunately so, in my opinion. "Up against the wall" lost its cache the day Douglas Adams ripped on it.

I expected better from you, Phil; I'm disappointed.

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Scott 3 years, 3 months ago

One problem with the whole "the oppressors don't get to tell the oppressed how to fight their revolution" argument, though, is that when the oppressed are in a position to shove the motherfuckers against the wall, by that point they've usually ceased to be the oppressed and have become the motherfuckers.

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Spoilers Below 3 years, 3 months ago

The affluent cis white male will not man the barricades alone. If there is ever a revolution, the affluent of all colours, genders and sexualities will stand shoulder to shoulder with their straight white male fellows. Behind an army of just-the-right-amount-above-minimum-wage soldiers.

So, basically the situation that happened in every revolution the Western world has ever seen in the past 1000 or so years? So many things leap out once you turn on the "Marxist" setting on the tinted lenses you view history through...

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deriksmith 3 years, 3 months ago

Peter Capaldi will be an Angry Hippie. Just you wait.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 3 months ago

Looks kind of like a suit to me...
http://m.imgur.com/OAAUyZM

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The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca 3 years, 3 months ago

Yes. I've always hated this story myself. Rather than explore the uncomfortable issue raised in Impossible Planet, the idea of a genetic slave race and all that might entail, the story throws that out the window and instead makes it a tail about a normal species that was oppressed. This is not to say that stories about oppression are not worth telling - they are, adn are not explored often enough - but it means that Ood fails to do the original conception justice. And really, it's downright maudlin when it comes to portraying the Ood as angelic.

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Alan 3 years, 3 months ago

Weirdly, I've actually seen people read the "white dude comes and saves everyone" message into this, which radically misses the point, as you point out.

Guilty as charged. In prior comments about PotO, I was completely certain that the Doctor did something to insure that the Ood revolution succeeded though I couldn't remember offhand what it was. It was only upon rewatching it last week that I suddenly realized that the Doctor did absolutely nothing at all except run around and nearly get himself and Donna killed while the Ood were taking care of business. I suppose it says something about me that my faulty recollections led me to assign "the white dude" a role he did not actually play. "The memory cheats," as someone once said.

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Alan 3 years, 3 months ago

Agreed, I always thought the ethical implications of using a genetically engineered slave race that literally wanted to be enslaved was vastly more interesting than the story of how the mean humans enslaved the gentle peace-loving aliens who are gentle and peace-loving because they carry their brains around in their hands (and how in Darwin's name did natural evolution bring that absurdity about?!?)

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encyclops 3 years, 3 months ago

Sigh. I mean yeah, on the one hand you probably don't hire Peter Capaldi and not put him in a suit. But come on.

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Ozyman Jones 3 years, 3 months ago

Actually looks reminiscent of the 3rd Doctor in that shot...

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Alan 3 years, 3 months ago

To me, the most interesting aspect of the Doctor/Donna "who makes your shoes?" exchange wasn't the unspoken criticism of "I dunno, Doctor, who makes yours?" It was the actual spoken criticism of "is that why you carry humans around with you? so you'll have someone to look down on?" Certainly, it was an indictment of Ten's general arrogance and self-righteousness, but it also caused me to notice some intriguing things about the Doctor over the series' entire run.

To wit: The Doctor's companions can arguably be divided into two groups. First, there are the ones he actively invites to travel with him -- Susan,Vicki, Katarina, Dodo, Jamie, Victoria, Jo Grant, Sarah Jane, Peri, Ace, Rose, Amy, Rory, and Clara. Then, there are the ones who stowed away, who were otherwise forced on him by an outside force, or towards whom he an initial ambivalence about having as a companion -- Barbara, Ian, Steven, Sara Kingdom, Zoe, Liz Shaw, Leela, Romana, Adric, Nyssa, Teagan, Turlough, Jack, Martha and River. (We don't know the precise circumstances of how Ben, Polly, and Mel became companions, so I'm ignoring them for now,)

Now what's interesting to me about that breakdown is that group one (the invitees) consists of all the companions who are likely to be dazzled by the experience of traveling with the Doctor and by the Doctor himself. Not coincidentaly, these are the companions with whom the Doctor has established either a paternal or a semi-romantic relationship. Meanwhile group two (the interlopers) consists of all the companions who, whether through maturity, intellectual prowess or some other characteristic, develop a relationship with the Doctor that is, if not exactly equal, then at least better than awestruck groupie.

Donna stands astride these two groups. She turned down the initial invitation at a time when she would have probably fallen into group one. After growth and reflection, however, she aggressively plots to find the Doctor and, if necessary, force her way into the TARDIS, stopping only long enough to clarify that she doesn't consider him physically desirable and thinks anyone who does is mad. That puts her squarely in group two, and by the Metacrisis, she certainly comes as close to being the Doctor's equal as anyone has since Romana II.

Long story short, an argument can be made that the Doctor's preference in companions is for young, impressionable people over whom he can exert a sense of benevolent superiority, an argument that will be reinforced in The God Complex, when Eleven bluntly tells Amy that he's just a vain old man who brought her along so that he's have someone to impress with his cleverness. He can become fond of group two companions and usually does, but rarely as much as he does those companions accept his dominance. It is, perhaps, also not a coincidence that most of the popular companions are in group one, for whatever that's worth.

Or maybe I'm just rambling.

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Alan 3 years, 3 months ago

One final comment (for now). The X-Men reference is also apt because, as with that comic, my biggest complaint about Planet of the Ood is the cardboard villainy of the company personnel. If the strength of the X-Men franchise is its status as an allegory about the evils of bigotry, then it's weakness is how clumsy and ham-fisted the allegory is. In the latest issue of All-New X-men, they fought the Purifiers, which are basically Westboro Baptist Church if they had high-tech weapons reverse engineered from a genocidal robot from the future. A few years back, there was a story arc about Proposition X, a proposed referendum that would require the mandatory sterilization of all mutants. IOW, a total lack of subtlety, particularly when you consider that some mutants really are living weapons of mass destruction.

Planet of the Ood, to me, was just the same. The corporate drones on Oodsphere couldn't possibly be self-deluded fools who have persuaded themselves that somehow enslavement is better for the Ood than freedom or that enslavement is a necessary evil because the disruption of Ood services would somehow inflict a greater harm on more sentient beings. No, it's all moustache-twirling sadism. Boring.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 3 months ago

Absolutely. It's pretty common for instance that non-Jews critical of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians to be told they have no business passing comment because of the millennia of oppression Jews have faced in general (and still do to this day), and the horrific years of the Holocaust in particular. Not only is such commentary unwelcome, it's far from unheard of for it to be labelled anti-Semitic,

I don't really want to get into an argument about Isreal's behaviour in and of itself, but when two warring groups both insist they are the oppressed party (again, see American Right, endless whining of), I don't see any way for the idea the oppressed hold 100% of moral authority to decide what happens next can hold. It just becomes an argument for paralysis on the part of the outsider - who plenty in both groups claim are basically in hock to their opponents - which basically guarantees victory to the strong.

To return to the American Right, Glenn Beck and his cronies are pretty much the reductio ad absurdum here. These are people who claim socialist liberal (as he uses the terms) atheists with commitment to universal healthcare and Affirmative Action are their oppressors. That's a group that most certainly would include me (I may be off the hook by being European, because of course Republicans love us...), but I haven't the slightest hesitation telling them where they can cram their victim complex, and their ill-gotten wealth as well.


But if I can do that, why can't I do that in other cases? Where does the lines lie between transparent fantasy and genuine oppression? And, more importantly, at what point does my right to judge the boundaries of those lines disappear? It seems to me that there's some kind of non-increasing function of moral acceptability at play here. Which is fine, except of course that it isn't clear who gets to define that function, either.


(None of this is intended to exculpate myself of the role I play in oppressing others. I know how lucky I am and how that luck is paid for. As in my first comment on this thread, it's these ideas of intersectional and competing forms of oppression that I'm talking about. Nor am I suggesting oppression is frequently an internal illusion. I'm just saying it's not unknown for oppressors to justify their oppression by convincing themselves they are oppressed.)

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Alan 3 years, 3 months ago

Not that I want to see it, but why ISN'T there a straight-up hippie Doctor?

In costume, if not personality, that would be Six, whose outfit always evoked Godspell to me (especially in The Two Doctors when he ditched the coat in favor of what appeared to be a gypsy sash).

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Scott 3 years, 3 months ago

An interesting idea, although I'd suggest it's not quite as clear-cut as that -- if we wanted to be pedantic then Sarah Jane would technically start out as group two (she stows away in "The Time Warrior") before becoming group one in "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" while Martha would, in my view, be closer to group one -- the Doctor invites her along, albeit reluctantly, and for a good chunk of her travels with him "awestruck groupie", or at least "young, impressionable person", is not an entirely unfair way of describing her. Certainly, it's not really until she leaves that she takes a step towards finding equal terms with him.

And Rory is, by and large, quite skeptical of the Doctor for most of his time on the show -- he's the voice of sanity who points out that this is all insane and at several points calls out the Doctor for basically being a superior show-off who manages to put people at risk because they're so desperate to impress him that they'll throw themselves headlong into danger.

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David Anderson 3 years, 3 months ago

I don't think it's you. I think the story is structured pretty much exactly like the A-plot of, say, New Earth - the Doctor arrives at a not-at-all-sinister corporation, pokes around and finds out that it really is as sinister as the viewers expect, saves the day, says farewell and climbs back into the TARDIS. The saves the day scene has been omitted, but the rest of the script behaves exactly as if it's there.

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elvwood 3 years, 3 months ago

I know this is too late but I just wanted to say that this post and the following discussion made me think hard about the issues raised, which is always a good thing. Thanks everyone!

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Alan 3 years, 3 months ago

Then I suppose Rory is a group two companion. After all, the Doctor has no interest in inviting Rory along in The Eleventh Hour. In fact, the Doctor is completely disinterested in Rory until the end of the Angels two-parter and invites him because he is necessary to "sort [Amy] out."

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Daru 3 years, 3 months ago

Wow thanks Phil! And thanks to all posters for such a fab read!

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