Outside the Government: Greeks Bearing Gifts

(45 comments)

Well that's all a bit SHODAN.

It’s November 26th, 2006. “Smack That” has been unseated by Take That, with Emma Bunton, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, and Girls Aloud also charting. In news, Michael Richards has his racist meltdown at a comedy club, and Alexander Litvinenko died of polonium poisoning in London. Israel and Palestine declare a ceasefire over the Gaza Strip, and Augusto Pinochet accepts, in one of the greatest euphemistic hedges ever, “political” responsibility for everything that happened in Chile during his regime.

On television, meanwhile, we have Toby Whithouse’s second contribution to the world of Doctor Who, Greeks Bearing Gifts. Those who suspect Torchwood of largely being Joss Whedon’s Angel have their work cut out for them here. Technically the underlying plot here is actually nicked from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, specifically the third season episode “Earshot,” as Angel only ever did a demon who could read your thoughts if you were singing, but that’s largely beside the point: this is still the most Whedonesque episode of Torchwood to date.

The basic premise of either of Joss Whedon’s fantasy shows is that the horror is always a metaphor for something personal - in Buffy either for an aspect of high school, college, or early adulthood, in Angel, whatever puts it a few years ahead of Buffy at the time. In this model whatever supernatural goings-on there may be in an episode, the point is really for the supernatural to illustrate character development. Phrased this way, for all that the supernatural investigation team of five people, three male, two female, led by a mysterious immortal with a dark past is not actually the most original concept Russell T Davies has ever come up with, Torchwood can actually be seen as a reasonable advance of the Angel format, in that it moves from the comparatively narrow structure of the supernatural as a metaphor for individual experience and towards a story about the psychic relationships of various cultural spaces.

Greeks Bearing Gifts, on the other hand, is a perfectly competent episode of Angel with the Torchwood cast. Its central piece of supernatural technology, the mind-reading pendant, is strictly there to provide a metaphoric representation of Tosh’s isolation and awkwardness. Her ability to know what other people are thinking becomes a metaphoric contrast to her own social ineptitude and inability to express herself to her colleagues. This is not, prima facie, a bad approach - Buffy and Angel were great shows, and Tosh needed a focus episode, making this sort of approach a more tempting match than it might have been. We might also note that they hired Toby Whithouse for it, he having already written the Buffy homage School Reunion for Doctor Who this year.

But it feels slender for a Torchwood episode. Interestingly, it’s not slender in the way of Cyberwoman or Countrycide, which had reasonably nuanced premises that were then wedded to high-octane action episodes. No, Greeks Bearing Gifts is slender conceptually, offering very little to talk about in its themes. It’s a fairly by-numbers character focus using one of the standard tropes for genre television of this sort. Heroes had an entire character built out of this plot line. If we expand it to the slightly larger sub-subgenre of “shy/unpopular supporting cast member is given a magic power that gives her social superiority” episodes in post-Buffy shows we… basically realize that this is a formula, competently executed.

Where it’s enlivened, it’s enlivened by Toby Whithouse, who is a particularly talented writer. He has a calm aptitude for structure combined with versatility of tone that make him well-suited to a variety of briefs. Here he increases the basic narrative velocity by bringing in a second old standard of “shows like this” (which are actually secretly all just the plots of 80s children’s television), the evil tempter. So Tosh runs through two standards, and we get to simultaneously see how Tosh is virtuous and pure and how she doesn’t need magic powers because she’s good enough as she is. Neither of these are even remotely creative themes (Whithouse is almost never good at this, actually), but that’s not a problem in and of itself. Toby Whithouse is the classic example of the one-trick pony who’s trick is good enough that it doesn’t matter. He always does these almost classically modernist “no ideas but in things” plots where the high concept central premise is a metaphor for some facet of the characters’ interior lives.

And where he’s good is what we might call thematic exposition - the bits of the story where characters are basically relied upon to explain the ideas that Whithouse has successfully put into things. In this case, the scene at the end in which Tosh and Gwen talk about what has happened is particularly strong. Whithouse handles Gwen and Owen’s affair in this episode deftly, relying on the fact that the audience is opposed to it to make Gwen dislikable for the entire runtime. This tacitly builds tension around Gwen - she’s played against type. The sort of show Torchwood is depends on each character having one or more default modes in which they are hyper-competent and sexy. Jack is the charismatic camp action hero and the brooding magical hero. Tosh is the geek. Owen is the cocksure brat with a heart of gold. Ianto is the tireless one. And Gwen is the moral center, or, if we want to revert to the 80s children’s television nomenclature that underlies all of this, the heart. These characters in these modes are presented as pleasurable, usually by having them be funny when in those modes. So the audience wants the characters to return to these default states.

So throughout Greeks Bearing Gifts Whithouse keeps Gwen dislikable, meaning that we want her to return to the role of moral center. All very neat and tidy. And when Tosh has to come to Gwen for forgiveness for what she’s done all episode, Gwen is teed up perfectly to return to being the moral center and give a theme exposition about the episode. But, of course, for her the episode has been wall-to-wall nastiness, and so her return to being the moral center isn’t a discussion of why what Tosh did was understandable (which is what, structurally, we should expect here), but instead a discussion of why Gwen has been so horrible all episode. Gwen reclaims the moral high ground through an autocritique, and becomes a considerably more interesting character for doing so. This fits in with a deftness all season in the managing of Gwen’s character. Her story arc is very sharply drawn, and while the things around it aren’t always, the meticulousness with which each story picks her up and puts her down in a slightly new place is admirable.

Now for the problem. With Tosh being sapphically tempted and Gwen being made into the man-crazy “bitch” for thematic reasons, this episode ends up with a kind of horrible portrayal of women, with bonus use of a host of really unfortunate stereotypes about lesbian relationships. We may as well start with the obvious - the fact that all of the female characters need Jack’s paternalistic ability to tell when something’s wrong with Tosh in order to sort them and their crazy out. Then we should point out that there’s a longstanding stereotype of lesbian relationships as psychologically destructive, and lesbians as particularly crazy and irrational. So the “Tosh goes kinda evil because she’s shagging a woman” plot is terribly unfortunate, and the fact that Jack’s ability to sort it out with his magic gay man empathy only exacerbates the degree to which this feels like a specimen in a longstanding tension between the gay male and lesbian communities that feels not entirely unlike good old-fashioned misogyny.

And, look, it’s a small thing. I don’t think it’s deliberate at all. I do think it’s genuine, which is different - that is, I think this actually is kind of a misogynistic story that reflects quite badly on Whithouse and Davies, and I’m disappointed that nobody caught it during production. But I don’t think it was written out of any sort of conscious malice or intent. I think it’s a classic exhibition of unconscious and ingrained prejudices. They’re prejudices that are ingrained in the show, with its dashing and all-knowing male lead and his sexy female sidekick. And look, that’s just as ingrained in Doctor Who as it stands, so take this complaint in light of that for context. And there’s an explanation for all of it - none of it needs misogyny to explain how it got into the episode. It’s the path of least resistance for making a story with this structure that says the things it needs to say about Tosh and Gwen. The problem isn’t so much what the story does as the things it doesn’t make the effort not to do. Particularly maddening, it’s not actually the last time we’re going to see Whithouse end up with lazy misogyny.

And if we want we can build a general critique of the Davies era here, which is at times awfully about how the magic touch of a gay man can fix a poor dumpy straight woman right up. (This becomes especially true if you opt to, as is perfectly reasonable, read the asexuality of the Doctor as making him a broadly “queer” character.) And, to be clear, I don’t think this is some catastrophe that requires rejecting the entire Davies era. It’s no more damning than the tiresome mute black strongman in The Evil of the Daleks or virtually everything in The Talons of Weng-Chiang. All of them are reactionary and unfortunate. We should know better. In thirty years we’ll look back on Greeks Bearing Gifts as having a facepalming moment of misogyny, much as we look back on The Mind Robber and think “god that’s a gratuitous ass shot.” We probably wont’ look at it as a classic in other ways in the way we do The Talons of Weng Chiang or The Evil of the Daleks, but I suspect we’ll look at it as basically competent television that was rather unfortunately sexist.

The problem of sexism is not helped by a particularly dire portrayal of Mary by Daniela Denby-Ashe, who decides to play the dangerous and manipulative woman with no subtle touches whatsoever, thus making the stereotype particularly garrish. Nor by the overly singular focus of the episode. Where Owen’s character focus episode kept Owen intriguingly out of frame, and Ianto’s distracted itself from Ianto with lots of stuff that went boom, Tosh’s story ends up overwhelmingly based around Tosh. With Gwen and Owen having to be unsympathetic sex addicts and Jack off the table because telepathy would screw up his whole “man of mystery” shtick, there’s nobody left for the episode to focus on but Tosh. That Tosh’s plot line is based primarily around weakly acted stereotype does more damage to the episode than a weak actor elsewhere might have. To borrow an idiom, it’s a particularly bad day to have a bad day. Had Mary been done as something other than the vagina dentata incarnate and, say, Ed Morgan back in Ghost Machine not been played so brilliantly by Gareth Thomas, the two episodes might have looked very different. (Ironically, of course, back on Doctor Who proper it’s Toby Whithouse who has several more well-regarded stories to his name, while Helen Raynor gets stuck as the go-to writer for the naff early-season monster two-parter.)

We’re stuck in the rut of reviewing again, obviously, as if the most interesting thing about Torchwood is the week-to-week quality of its episodes. But in many ways it is; that’s first season television for you. You can find a lot more shows with growing pains than not, especially with a relatively large first season, as thirteen episodes is. At this point Torchwood is in something of a holding pattern - it’s demonstrated an ability to turn out reasonably good television at a reasonable rate. This is sufficient to justify its existence. Nevertheless, it’s also painfully clear that there’s a show with vast potential here, waiting to spring into action. This, perhaps, also creates a certain slide towards reviewing - as with the Saward era and much of the wilderness years, this is one of those things that comes so painfully close to working that one is desperately curious about what went wrong. Inevitably, the actual answer disappoints - it’s some minor detail like a weak actress or an unfortunate implication of plot structure. But then, it’s fitting that the explanation for a slightly disappointing show should be slightly disappointing.

Comments

mengu 3 years, 7 months ago

And then there's the only thing I know the episode for;
JACK: (starts walking down towards them slowly) Friend of mine - let's call him Vincent. That was his name, after all. Regular guy, girlfriend, likes his sport, likes a beer. He starts acting a little... strange, a little distracted. Suddenly he disappears for a couple of months. He comes back, and we've gotta start calling him Vanessa. Since then I've always been a little nervous when a friend behaves out of character.
(Transcript: http://beccaelizabeth.livejournal.com/830585.html)

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Iain Coleman 3 years, 7 months ago

we look back on The Mind Robber and think “god that’s a gratuitous ass shot.”

In fairness, it is possibly the finest gratuitous arse shot in TV history.

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elvwood 3 years, 7 months ago

Interesting. You articulated what I liked about the episode but hadn't pinned down in my head, and pointed out a problem I hadn't spotted (but should have).

One thought: while he's clearly set up as the male lead in terms of advertising and cool wide shots, Jack, so far, has not been acting as a lead, nor does he have the screen time dominance of, say, Mal Reynolds. He's like William Hartnell's Doctor in the first couple of serials: abrasive, mysterious and distant. Because we've seen him in the mother show we think he should be the leading man, just as people (like me) who came to Hartnell after long experience of later Doctors expected the same of him there. Instead he's the knowledge base and authority figure; I don't know Buffy very well (I've only ever seen one episode), but I think probably the Giles role. He's the irritated superior of the maverick cop, the primum mobile and deus ex machina. The Sphinx from most of the Mystery Men movie. Except for Small Worlds - the equivalent of a "character piece" for Jack - it's been effectively Gwen and Owen as the leads since Ghost Machine.

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sorrywehurtyourfield 3 years, 7 months ago

Urg really? That's horrendous, especially for show that's aiming for LGBT positive. And now I think of it, it's also Whithouse who gives us Susan the Horse, referred to as "he". Oh dear.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

Hmmmm...you could be onto something there. Especially there seems to be no romantic chemistry between Jack and his leading lady, or indeed any other member of the cast. It would be as if Giles started up a relationship with Xander.

Oh hang on...

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sorrywehurtyourfield 3 years, 7 months ago

I thought Buffy should have danced with Giles at the prom...

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Alex Antonijevic 3 years, 7 months ago

I know why I stopped reviewing or even commenting on the stuff I watch, read or play... because I don't notice any of this. And I really feel like I should be paying closer attention, but maybe the side-effect of that is I start enjoying things a lot less. As it is, I tend to like most of what I see. Something of a trade-off, I guess.

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elvwood 3 years, 7 months ago

Even I noticed that one! Missed the misogyny, but winced there.

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Arkadin 3 years, 7 months ago

It's really out of character for Jack, too. He comes from the 52nd century so that kind of thing should be completely normal to him--in fact, that's the entire point of the character originally. The fact that trans-ness is the thing that's officially too weird for Jack Harkness is really nasty

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John Voorhees 3 years, 7 months ago

Umm, did you confuse Evil of the Daleks with Tomb of the Cyberman, or is there ANOTHER tiresome mute black strongman I didn't know about?

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Aaron 3 years, 7 months ago

He's thinking of Kemal, who is a tiresome mute middle eastern strongman.

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

I always thought RTD would somehow explain or pay off the fact that the Captain Jack we get in Torchwood is almost nothing like the Captain Jack who was introduced in Doctor Who. I mean yes, on a surface level, there's the military great-coat and the omnisexuality but the actual character as written is almost totally different and although this doesn't seem to phase Barrowman who just does a Shatner with the character anyway (ie. camps it up but using his considerable acting skills, which in his case are musical theatre based rather than classical) It does rather destabilise any pre-concieved familiarity with the 'hero' on the part of the viewer coming to Torchwood expecting the DW spin-off it was sold as. Which may be a good thing. Even more confusingly he reverts to the original characterisation when next picked up in the parent show (In 'Utopia'). Now obviously this is done to distance the 'adult' show from the 'family entertainment' one but neither of the characterisations actually fit those templates. I was convinced there was going to be a diagetic reveal but all we got was the nonsense with Spike...whoops I mean James Marsters. I feel this leaves us with a protagonist who, rather than being enigmatic with secret knowledge and multiple personalities (like the Doctor) is merely a hollow signifier of an unclear message; hence the LGBT attitude ambiguity pointed out above.

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Aaron 3 years, 7 months ago

I've never understood this claim that Captain Jack isn't the same character in Torchwood that he is in Doctor Who- surely what your picking up on is a) that Jack no needs to be the lead, and thus has different narrative responsibilities. And b) tonally Torchwood is a bit more serious and dark than Who, so the character reflects these changes. But this isn't any different from Angel in Buffy and Angel in Angel, is it?

Can you point to places in Torchwood where Jack acts out of character with what we've seen thus far in Doctor Who? Preferably, specific points where Torchwood Jack makes a decision that Doctor Who Jack wouldn't have made?

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 7 months ago

I'm kind of surprised that didn't get a mention in the entry proper actually.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

Is that a euphemism for something?

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

To be fair, all of Jack's appearances in DW pre-Torchwood are also Jack pre-Bad Wolf. In other words he's still mortal. By the time we catch up with him in Torchwood he's already been around on Earth since the 19th Century, coming to terms with his new state of being. Character-wise I'd expect the Jack of Torchwood to be different to the Jack of Empty Child-Parting of the Ways. Miserable, cynical, and weary of the world and waiting around for the Doctor to show up.

By the time Utopia comes along he finally gets what he wants - the Doctor appears and not only gives him closure of sorts, but also a bit of a vacation from the weight of Torchwood. Yes you could argue that the events of Utopia/Drums/Last aren't exactly a picnic, but he doesn't have to continually worry about the possibility of his team of humans getting killed, and he returns to Cardiff more at peace with himself.

Of course there is the fact that Torchwood and DW are aimed at different audiences, and so JB does have to play Jack a bit differently in both cases, but still within the same broad parameters of the character. For example he mildly flirts in Utopia, but that's because although he's actually in a physical relationship it's with someone a billion years in the past.

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David Anderson 3 years, 7 months ago

The obvious decision that Torchwood Jack makes that Doctor Who Jack wouldn't is in the sixties helping Torchwood flog orphaned children off to aliens to use them as drugs. Yes, it's been a while, but it's not a while by the standards of ageless immortals. It's well within a late twentieth century UK human lifespan.

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Marionette 3 years, 7 months ago

This commentary on Torchwood inspired me to give the series a rewatch. Everything Changes was great, and I enjoyed it possibly more than the first time I saw it, but I completely stalled on Day One. By the first appearance of the sex monster I just lose the will to live.

Some faults that merely drag the story down a bit the first time you see it can be horrendously offputting in a rerun.

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Pen Name Pending 3 years, 7 months ago

But isn't Susan the Horse trans-positive?

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

Not when she's misgendered, no.

And I'm kind of surprised it didn't get a mention in the entry proper too. Must have spaced out at the scene and forgotten to get it into my notes. Will definitely make the book version.

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Pen Name Pending 3 years, 7 months ago

Oh...well, I haven't seen "Mercy" in a while, but I took the Doctor correcting the Western guys and calling Susan "he" embracing his(?) preferred gender. But not if he prefers to be female.

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Ross 3 years, 7 months ago

It's sort of typical Moffat well-meaning but ass-backward approach to this kind of thing; he tries to present the Doctor as trans-positive by correcting the locals and pushing them to accept Susan as she is, but because the creative team doesn't quite get it, the Doctor ends up misgendering her in the very sentence where he calls for her to be accepted for what she is.

I recently remarked somewhere else that the Moffat era has a sort of 80s american sitcom approach to gender and sexuality issues, where on the one hand they are very much about saying that we should be accepting and respectful of people whose gender and sexual identity we see as unusual, but at the same time, they're very much an "other" where we can point and laugh about how they're Not Like Us, in the same way as as we point and laugh at Cousin Balki with his ridiculous accent and comical misunderstandings of american culture and weird backward traditions.

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Tymothi 3 years, 7 months ago

I'm not sure gratuitous is the word I'd use for it. It could have been done a different way, sure, but it's integral to the scene the way it's shot. That's a deliberately movie poster-ish sexy pose she's in. Coming between her truly chilling screams, and before that final shot of the Doctor that she's freaking out about for no obvious reason, it's all to make the scene disconcerting. The TARDIS splits apart, then we get terror, sex, dislocation, and terror again, all of which sets us up to be disconcerted by a rather mundane shot of the Doctor. It's a trick Lynch, among others, has used often, combining sex and terror to make the mundane frightening.

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Ross 3 years, 7 months ago

To expand that a bit: If the Doctor had used the correct pronouns, it would have ruined the joke; it wouldn't have been a joke about a transgendered horse, it'd have been a joke about the sheriff somehow having missed the fact that his horse didn't have a penis.

And that's the core of what I think is wrong with the Moffat era's approach to gender and sexuality issues: the joke was more important than not misgendering Susan. (Susan is, of course, both a fictional character and a horse, and therefore may not mind. But still, the entire reason Susan exists at all is so that they could make a joke that relies on misgendering her.)

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Chicanery 3 years, 7 months ago

I think the intention of Susan is so clearly trans*-positive that I can overlook the terrible way the went about the message. It's not transphobic so much as well meaning but ignorant.

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Ross 3 years, 7 months ago

At the risk of spouting a cliche that ends in the words "Fucking magic", I'd say that the intention may be of only limited consolation to anyone who watched it and heard The Doctor, of all people, deliver a line that boiled down to "The fact that your perception of your own gender does not match the configuration of your reproductive organs is hilarious."

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Josh Marsfelder 3 years, 7 months ago

It would seem the difference between you and me is that I *do* find mute black strongmen and "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" damning.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 7 months ago

But Intention *IS* important. No it doesn't magically make it so what you did is ok, but if intention has no place in this discussion then someone like Whithouse belongs in the same boat as writers like Jud Apatow or Tim Allen. Yes Whithouse screwed up the joke he was trying to make. However the fact is that he obviously believes that Trans people are equal members of our society and are worth sticking up for.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

And yet in two attempts to handle trans issues he's ended up being offensive each time. In ways that are easy to avoid. So he believes that trans people are worth sticking up for, but apparently not that it's worth listening to them and learning what problems they face. (And Susan is particularly egregious, suggesting as it does that gender identity is a "lifestyle choice" deserving merely of respect and tolerance, which erases and ignores the material issues trans people actually face day-to-day.)

Mind you, with Jack in this episode it becomes inadvertently apt characterization. For all that Jack is written as pansexual, he's played as coming out of a particular version of gay culture - not coincidentally, the one that Davies and Barrowmen themselves come out of. And Jack's dialogue captures perfectly the default transphobic attitudes of a lot of that culture. As portrayed (as opposed to as in theory written), it's exactly the sort of comment someone like Jack would make.

Pity I don't buy the intent for a moment.

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Anna Wiggins 3 years, 7 months ago

Intent is worthless in practice here, though. Intent doesn't change the fact that both of these scenes propagate harmful attitudes towards trans people. The shit spouted by Jack should be self-evidently horrible. It amounts to saying "It's so *hard* to have to change what I call someone. How dare this person change in a way that requires the least bit of effort on my part. I'd better be careful not to have more friends like this in the future." Not to even *mention* the fact that he consistently misgenders the woman in question throughout the monologue. This scene *almost* made me stop watching Torchwood.

And the attitude "oh, it's a *lifestyle choice*", is actively harmful to trans people. It's at the core of health insurance policies that declare trans health care to be medically unnecessary and therefore not covered by insurance.

So, yeah. Intent isn't worth much.

And I'm not even sure the *intent* of Susan wasn't barbed. It felt a lot to me like it was trying to be a "political correctness / identity politics gone WAY TOO FAR" parody. But that, admittedly, may just be a result of having had too many of those aimed in my direction.

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Ross 3 years, 7 months ago

It's an understandable mistake, and it's clearly a non-malicious mistake. But it's still a harmful mistake, and bringing intent into the conversation makes it all about Moffat and Whitehouse and their culpability and their guilt and whether or not they should feel bad. Which may be academically interesting and all, but it brackets the matter of the mistake having a victim.

It's like if a car hits a pedestrian, and when the police show up, they concern themselves first and foremost with establishing whether or not the driver was at fault, rather than doing something to help the pedestrian who got run over.

Simply put, intent doesn't matter because it's not about whether Stephen Moffat and Toby Whitehouse are bad people or not

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

Thanks David, that saved me trawling for examples. It's not really about the decisions Jack makes as much as his general demeanor. I'm really talking about the way his dialogue is written and the acting choices Barrowman makes. Spacewarp I think you've pinned it. Clearly the ressurection and subsequent immortality would change a guy's personality. I'm just surprised how much RTD didn't play off that angle with Jack, but he was seemingly so determined to write the mystery wrapped in an enigma cliche that it might have worked better to have given that trope to another character.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 7 months ago

Well that got away from me in a hurry.

To prevent this from getting into a "thing" I'm going to be simple and direct:

I think Intention can be important. In the hypothetical person sense in Ross' comment: It likely doesn't. You are right and I am wrong. Period, full stop.

In terms of discussing Whithouse and his attitudes in his work: I would take his efforts for inclusion into consideration. From what I have seen of his work, and from following him on twitter, it seems like he's another one of these 40-something white privileged blokes that get it wrong but keep trying (Like Moffat). My grandparents say things (like calling Ertha kit "Negress") that make me turn red and that I would never condone in someone for my generation. However when they were growing up the KKK was still an active and powerful social force. They are not as liberal or sensitive to these things as I am: however I am proud that they are far more liberal than their contemporaries. In 30 years Whithouse, Moffat and all will be the same way: Not nearly as progressive as the tone of the day. Embarrassing at social functions, but still better than the vast majority of their contemporaries. His misteps are easy to avoid for people who are well educated in these matters: I sincerely doubt he is. He has had no reason to be.

It's an attitude that is not as enlightened as I would like from one of the major writers on Doctor Who; however it is eminently preferable to no mention or consideration at all. It is a necessary step that issues like this are making their way into blockbuster family television. Making it and the dialogue around it mainstream is an important step. When we make it relevant to everyone it stops being a matter for debate on a blog and starts being something on the news, something that is talked about in elections. It is the start of something more. This is not the step we would want to see but that doesn’t make it valueless.

Also: As someone who actively dislikes the vast majority of “Torchwood” there is a redemptive reading possible in that line. But that might be a bridge to far at this point in the dialogue.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

"Talons" may be damning now, but it wasn't when I first watched it, when I was 14 and we thought that racism was just being nasty to black people. Stereotypical Chinese people were still way off our 1970s radar, especially since that was the era of what we called Chop-socky. We would walk around school saying "Ah...glasshopper!" whilst leaping through the air in slow-motion, then go home and watch Alf Garnett and Jack Smethurst on the Telly. It was a strange time, when we were blind to the paradox of Skinheads hating West Indians whilst listening to reggae music...as were the Skinheads themselves.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 7 months ago

But... Kemal wasn't mute. :-/

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 7 months ago

Not to mention the racism inherent in, of all things, Monty Python's "Chinese" version of "Jerusalem"...

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Pen Name Pending 3 years, 7 months ago

I have a hard time buying that the shot was included because of terror or intended sex appeal. I doubt thee script or director said, "And as the TARDIS console is spinning around, we have a clear shot of Wendy Padbury's catsuited rear end." I feel like it was somewhere between accident and ignorance.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

Surprisingly I've not seen that. However I'm starting to have problems with the definition and usage of the term "racism" nowadays. My daughter is getting so indoctrinated at school that if you mention that you were speaking to someone who was black at work, she says "you can't say that, it's racist." I try and explain to her that just saying someone was black or Chinese or Polish isn't racist. Saying someone is stupid because they're black or Chinese is. She doesn't quite get it. As far as I understand it, racism is to do with implying that someone is inferior because of their race. Just pointing out their race, or an attribute of it, isn't.

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Tymothi 3 years, 7 months ago

This was a shot that took a fair amount of effort to set up. She's clearly the focus of the rotating shot, that's a long rotating pan over her body, the TARDIS console is incidental. We get a slow, loving pan over an attractive woman in a catsuit, there's nothing accidental about that. It's an 8 second rotating pan over her, than a 2 second cut to Jaimie's frightened face. David Maloney would have to be pretty ignorant indeed for that to have been accidental. "I was trying to shoot the TARDIS console, and Wendy Padbury went and got in the way!"

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Alan 3 years, 7 months ago

Neither was Toberman, IIRC.

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Marionette 3 years, 7 months ago

Unless there's a reason specific to the anecdote to specify the person's race, why is it relevant to mention it?

Perhaps she is concerned that you are singling the person out by race when it has no bearing on the subject.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

The fact that Talons was considered normal in the 1970s is, I think, the most comprehensive evidence available that racism existed. Racism exists in the unexamined norms of a culture. That's what it is and how it thrives. This also means that thinking about it requires that we stop treating it as the end of the discussion. Accepting that many things, when looked at, are going to be racist is an important step.

Talons is marvelous. So is Evil of the Daleks. Tomb of the Cybermen actually has its flaws, but the bits that are marvelous are stunningly so. They're also racist as fuck. Accepting both of these things in tandem is important. Equally important is realizing that allowing the discussion to end with "yup, racist, so quality doesn't matter" (or "quite good, so racism doesn't matter") is useless.

And I actually think the same of Greeks Bearing Gifts. It has some breathtakingly sour notes that are indicative of how fast standards are changing. It's also quite well-made television that effectively does its job and hits its desired tonal notes, which is actually something that Torchwood has trouble with more than it wants to in two of its four seasons. (Ooh, now there's a sentence I should drop in a blog post and watch people guess what the other one is.)

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Carey 3 years, 7 months ago

My redemptive reading of that passage, especially when placed within the context of the surrounding story, is that the problem was never that Vincent became Vanessa, but that nobody noticed that Vincent was going through this change (other than him "acting a little... strange, a little distracted.") and therefore nobody was there to help him/her. Which damns not Vincent/Vanessa, but Jack himself.

Unfortunately, as other have said, this is expressed in an incredibly clumsy fashion, in particular "He comes back, and we've gotta start calling him Vanessa," which would have been solved simply by the alteration of "we've gotta start calling him" to "and asks to be called."

The problem of Susan the Horse is there being no evidence that Susan wants to become female, merely that they identify as one. In short, Susan is a transvestite and should be viewed similarly to the artist Grayson Perry or the comedian/actor Eddie Izzard, both of whom identify and dress as women without wanting to physically become one (which is, in this context, a lifestyle choice).

However, please correct me if anyone thinks me wrong or wilfully naive.

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Iain Coleman 3 years, 7 months ago

Yes, I doubt it was in the script, but the direction is clearly deliberate. Much as the script for the following story has the Doctor and Jamie going up and down lots of ladders, and the director seizes the opportunity to have lots of upkilt shots of Frazer Hines.

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encyclops 2 years, 4 months ago

I've finally gotten around to watching this, so I've finally gotten round to reading this entry. The "Vincent/Vanessa" part seemed pretty uncomfortable to me too on just about every level. I'm not sure I see the rest of your objections as you do, though.

I didn't read much of Jack's behavior in this episode as deriving from "magic gay man" anything. I'm toward the end of the following episode now (gotta finish it tonight), but Jack's chatting about his old boyfriend (and his twin) took me by surprise, because Jack's supposed future bisexuality is so rarely touched on in season 1, so far at least.

I read his ability to pick up on what Tosh was up to as a sensitivity to being telepathically scanned (later he refers to feeling Tosh trying it, which is a big part of why he knows something's up). His solution to the problem relies not on empathy but on knowledge (working out where the alien came from and how to trick out her tech) and ruthlessness (willingness to kill her). I'll grant you it's unfortunate that Mary is a "psycho lesbian," and played so cartoonishly (I found myself thinking of Oz's werewolf lover on Buffy), but I think "kinda evil" isn't quite right about Tosh. One thing that really impressed me was how much integrity Tosh kept throughout, never quite letting her guard down, striving mightily to keep her chin up regardless of her dismay about what she read from Gwen and Owen, risking her life to use the telepathy for good, and only really starting to lose her shit when she's overwhelmed not by the evil lesbian alien but by the sordid stuff she was hearing in the human minds around her. I don't think she's any more "fixed" by the end, by Jack or anyone else; if anything, I think she's a little worse off. Which is a shame, because at this point in the series I find her just about the most sympathetic character available.

Anyway, that's just my mileage. Upshot is I don't think it's necessary to read this through a gay men vs. lesbian lens, nor do I feel it was quite as misogynistic as it easily could have been.

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