Pop Between Realities, Home in Time for Tea 80 (Grey's Anatomy)

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On October 6th, 2011, the American medical soap Grey’s Anatomy aired the fourth episode of its eighth season, entitled “What is it About Men.” The conceit of the episode was straightforward and clever: Grey’s Anatomy, normally a show dominated by and framed in terms of its female characters, did an episode in which the female characters were all pushed to the periphery and the focus was instead on the male characters. The voiceover narration that clumsily sets up the theme for a given episode, instead of, as normal, going to title character Meredith Grey or, as occasionally the case, going to a single other character, is instead split among all of the male characters, who opine about masculinity. 

This is, to be clear, a genuinely interesting take. Grey’s Anatomy is a heavily female-driven show, both for better and for worse. It passes the Bechdel test essentially every episode, which makes this episode’s unrepentant flunking of it an appreciably interesting thing. Because it is not as though this is suddenly an episode of Grey’s Anatomy that is envisioned as being “for” a male audience. This is still clearly conceptualized as women’s television, which is problematic in a number of ways, not least of all its existence as a category. All the same, the effect of “What is it About Men” is still interesting and worth highlighting: it provides a relatively rare cultural moment of the female gaze being applied to male bodies. It is first and foremost an episode about defining what masculinity is, and, crucially, defining a vision of masculinity that is desirable to women.

All of which is lead-up for the reason we care, which is that one of the major plot lines of “What is it About Men” concerns a crush at a sci-fi convention when five hundred people rushed the doors to try to be one of the first fifteen through them and thus to win a limited edition bit of Doctor Who merchandise (a plastic TARDIS signed by Russell T Davies). We should perhaps, because we are all anoraks of the most pathological sense, note that the actual TARDIS displayed was a perfectly ordinary and easily purchased toy that uses an electromagnet to make the TARDIS hover and spin over a base, and that the toy in question is clearly from the Moffat era, making the Davies signature an inexplicable anachronism. It is, in other words, seemingly written by someone who has looked Doctor Who up on the Internet as opposed to by a committed fan. (The episode also lands slightly astray on A Song of Ice and Fire, declaring a character to look like a Dothraki princess when that is at best a puzzling description, and then blithely overlooking some deeply inappropriate and stalkerish behavior in the course of that plot line. But then, valorizing completely inappropriate and abusive male behavior actually demonstrates a fairly thorough understanding of that fandom, doesn’t it?)

Nevertheless, there’s something of a cultural watershed here. If you told an American Doctor Who fan on October 6th, 2001 that a major piece of American network television would use the word “TARDIS” multiple times, it would have been unthinkable. Indeed, it would have been unthinkable in a way that nothing we’ve seen thus far in the new series quite is. It’s one thing for a Doctor Who revival to take off in the UK. But Doctor Who’s reputation in the US has never been that of a straightforward hit. This sort of cultural referencing is deeply strange. Or, at least, it would have been before 2011. But the arrival of Matt Smith and Steven Moffat led to a fundamental shift in how Doctor Who worked in the US. Specifically, it meant that Doctor Who had become something of a hit.

Part of this was simply a change in how the show was broadcast. The Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy) had broadcast seasons after they were over, sometimes months later. After an initial push that involved pairing Doctor Who with their big hit show (Battlestar Galactica), they began running it as obvious filler. It was, simply put, never a show that the Sci-Fi Channel seemed to have much faith in, and never really broke out as a result. And so when the rights to the show moved to BBC America, it was not a huge surprise that things got better, especially when BBC America started actually treating the show as a bit of serious business. For Series Five the gap between UK and US transmission fell to just two weeks, which was still long enough that Doctor Who fans who had gotten used to piracy didn’t stop. As of A Christmas Carol they actually began same-day transmission, which helped a lot. They also gave the show a solid promotional push, which, again, was quite a big thing - in fact, the first non-press screening of The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon took place in the US, at a New York City theater, where so many people were lined up for the event that they ended up turning over half the screens within the theater to a simulcast of the main theater where Moffat, Smith, Gillen, Darvill, and Kingston were doing a Q&A. All of which is to say that in 2011, Doctor Who was actually a bit of a sensation in the US. At long last, the much hoped for American breakthrough of the series had happened. 

The trouble is, it wasn’t anywhere near big enough to even begin to compare to Grey’s Anatomy. To give a sense of scale, “What is it About Men” did not do particularly well as episodes of Grey’s Anatomy go, only getting 8.7 million viewers. This, however, means that it got more viewers than every episode of Series Six save for “The Impossible Astronaut,” which only just edged it out. And it means that it got around eight times as many viewers as the actual episodes of Series Six got in the United States, where, on BBC America, the show is the network’s big hit with viewing figures that tended to hover around the one million mark.

So clearly the sort of referencing going on here is not entirely straightforward. A minority of the Grey’s Anatomy watching audience would have gotten the Doctor Who reference. And yet equally, enough would have that it was worth including in the first place. And it’s worth noting that for all that the geek culture references were handled in such a way as to flag the writers as not-we, so to speak, they pick the right two texts: Doctor Who and A Song of Ice and Fire, which are both texts from within male-dominated geek culture that actually do have sizable female fandoms.

Which is, in all of this, the significant point. It’s not just that Doctor Who broke out in the United States, but that it did so with a significant number of female fans. Again, this can’t entirely be chalked up to some simple claim like “Americans liked the Moffat era better than the Davies era,” although it is perhaps fair to say that Series Five is a bit more export-friendly than the intensely British Eccleston season was. Some of this was simply down to changing demographics in “geek culture” that had, by 2010, been under way for over a decade thanks to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, along with other shows - changes that meant that female geeks were a real and courtable audience in the first place.

But it’s also important to realize that female fandom was and is a tremendously contested thing. Even a little bit of Googling will reveal the absolutely vicious levels of misogyny that female fans suffer, from conventions with poorly (or nonexistently) enforced harassment policies, the “fake geek girl” meme, the denigration of cosplay as a form of engagement (or sexual harassment of cosplayers), and no end of other awful stuff. Which is to say that a text like Doctor Who that had, in the United States at least, not really caught on with male audiences a major part of geek culture and fandom was, in many ways, an appealing text to latch onto. 

But on top of that is the fact that the Moffat era has advantages for female fans that other eras don’t. Its female characters are foregrounded differently than in the past - they more often get the good lines or the big hero moments. Amy and River are both presented as confident and charismatic. And the series engages with feminist concerns in a direct way. Yes, there’s also been a strong vein of feminist critique of the Moffat era, but this doesn’t change the underlying fact that the Moffat era caught on with female audience in the US, and that this was a key aspect of the show’s breaking out in the US. And this, in turn, explains why it was used in Grey’s Anatomy: because while it may be a comparatively minor show in the US, it’s a reference that a reasonable portion of the Grey’s Anatomy audience could be expected to appreciate, and the episode isn’t really harmed if you don’t know anything about it.

Which brings us back around to what “What is it About Men” is doing, which is exploring the question of masculinity from a female perspective. The central thread of the episode, presented with tongue firmly in cheek, is that all of the male characters acquire a desperate psychological need to help build a deck because without the opportunity to engage in manly pleasures like construction work in tight shirts they simply go to pieces. Part of this is, of course, an excuse to have the entire male cast getting to be pleasantly buff and sweaty - there is, in other words, some good old-fashioned sexualization of the male body going on here. It’s also worth noting that pounding hard nails into the soft pliant wood of the deck is a handy replacement for just letting the whole thing turn to slash fiction, which is the medium through which negotiating pop culture questions of masculinity is more regularly worked out, especially among people who know what a Dothraki princess is supposed to look like.

But the deck is just one part of a larger exploration of masculinity - one that mixes expected tropes (one of the male leads gets to deck someone) with more unexpected ones (the male geeks all get happy endings that end up treating them with pleasant dignity instead of as objects of humor). There are cute bits of subversion, such as when the angry male demand that someone “get in the car” is directed at another male character who is being fought over by two senior doctors looking for a protege. And there are moments of quiet but satisfying triumph such as an impassioned speech about how a character is an abusive ass. 

Within this, there’s something appealing about Doctor Who getting referenced. The episode ends with the suggestion that the fundamental and defining aspect of masculinity, as an idealized thing, is a degree of flexibility: the ability to admit defeat and start over. It’s an overly pat wrap-up in many ways, but a useful one in an episode that has done a decent job of actually exploring multiple visions of what masculinity might be. Given this, defining masculinity in terms of flexibility and difference is appealing.

And this is particularly worth stressing in the gap between A Good Man Goes to War and Let’s Kill Hitler, given that these are the two episodes that are, in many regards, the most concerned with feminist issues, whether one takes that to be a positive or negative engagement. Inasmuch as Doctor Who is a masculine show, and with a male lead and entirely male writing staff, it’s a tough argument to say that it’s anything else, this does seem to be its vision of masculinity: an ability to change, to learn, to evolve, and get better, as the Doctor does over the course of A Good Man Goes to War when he finally changes from “go to war against the bad guys” to “help Amy heal.” 

But in many ways we’re only restating something that’s long been observed about Doctor Who: that in a world full of depictions of masculine heroes, Doctor Who stands out by virtue of having a different set of values than most. And changing everything and starting over has always been among them. No wonder “What is it About Men” features Doctor Who as a plot point. In the end, it decides that Doctor Who is what it thinks men should be. 


But this also serves as a useful transition for talking about American television and masculinity in another context…

Comments

Jarl 2 years, 9 months ago

I was just about to say that it seems like we should be hitting Miracle Day pretty soon, unless I'm misremembering. But that lead out...

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Chris 2 years, 9 months ago

"...the actual TARDIS displayed was a perfectly ordinary and easily purchased toy... clearly from the Moffat era, making the Davies signature an inexplicable anachronism. It is, in other words, seemingly written by someone who has looked Doctor Who up on the Internet as opposed to by a committed fan."

I've not seen this episode, so there may be something more that reveals the writer used Doctor Who without real knowledge, but the prop not matching the script points to the person who procured the prop, not the writer. Based on the presented evidence of the TARDIS toy alone, I don't think you can reasonably say the writer has no real knowledge of Doctor Who. There might be something more in the dialogue that supports this statement, but that is missing from today's entry.

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Frezno 2 years, 9 months ago

Ah yes, Doctor Who transmission on this side of the pond. We really do have it good with the Moffat era and the same-day broadcast. I've experienced the Davies era in a number of ways. Being from Canada, we got the episodes on the CBC (which I actually believe is listed in the credits of the Series One episodes)... only months later. As I had never heard of this Doctor Who thing before happening to catch a glimpse of a Slitheen in the spring of 2005, I wasn't affected much. The CBC didn't really care much. There was a month between The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit because of... Christmas cartoons. Imagine Doctor Who today getting pre-empted for a rerun of Charlie Brown or something. It would never happen.

To say nothing of how they handled the later series. They air Smith and Jones, and then realize "oh shit we never actually broadcasted The Runaway Bride, did we? UH PUT IT ON AFTER MIDNIGHT!". The last two episodes of Series 3 aired back-to-back because they needed that time slot for something. Didn't get a week to sit on the grim Toclafane cliffhanger. By Series 4 I was smart enough to be torrenting, and it's good that I did because I hear that the CBC edited the hell out of Journey's End to fit a 60-minute timeslot with commercials.

Then the rights in Canada went to Space, which is a nice little network that likes to air Stargate and Star Trek reruns, among other things. They pretty much follow the BBC America model, so two or three weeks between shows in Series 5 and then same day transmission at 9 EST for the rest. It's a lovely system, and Space even went hog wild for the 50th and aired every new series episode and all of those Doctor Who Revisited specials.

This was longwinded, but Doctor Who broadcasting in Canada was a hell of a thing.

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macrogers 2 years, 9 months ago

Building on the discussion of the Moffat-era use of the celebrity guest writer, as a moderate fan of Scandal (I haven't seen more than bits of Grey's) I feel like Shonda Rhimes would be a fantastic choice for the next one. Scandal revels in the accelerated storytelling that Moffat loves, and a Doctor Who story written in that style could slot in very nicely into a Moffat season as a variation on a theme rather than an outlier. Certainly Rhimes is used to working for vastly more money and having total creative control, but both of those things are true of Neil Gaiman, right? Rhimes is on record as being a big fan who tried to create a post-Who role for Gillan (http://insidetv.ew.com/2012/08/02/doctor-who-greys-anatomy/), so maybe writing a Season 9 story would be a pleasant diversion for her. I mean, okay, yeah, it'll never happen, but I persist in thinking it would be super-cool.

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storiteller 2 years, 9 months ago

One thing I would really like to see a Pop Between Realities on is the rise of crafting culture in relationship to Doctor Who, like the thousands of Doctor Who goods for sale on Etsy. Besides the fact that most of the folks making Doctor Who crafts are female, there's also the really interesting aspect that the BBC is not very protective of its trademark at all, at least not against fans. This is in contrast to Lucas and Star Wars, which cracks down on everything.

Also, I'm not a Gray's Anatomy or Scandal fan, I think having Shonda Rhimes write an episode would be really interesting.

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macrogers 2 years, 9 months ago

Right? I don't even think it would be that hard to tee up. Just go the whole Gaiman/Curtis/let-Bartlet-be-Bartlet route of having Who go to Rhimes rather than the other way round - like set it in the contemporary US and have all the characters other than the Doctor and the companion(s) be American. Obviously you couldn't have a Who-Scandal crossover, but I'd love to see the Doctor crash a Scandal-style corridors-of-power story.

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macrogers 2 years, 9 months ago

Oops, that should've been a reply to storiteller. Apparently I can't use teh internet.

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Richard Pugree 2 years, 9 months ago

"But in many ways we’re only restating something that’s long been observed about Doctor Who: that in a world full of depictions of masculine heroes, Doctor Who stands out by virtue of having a different set of values than most. And changing everything and starting over has always been among them. No wonder “What is it About Men” features Doctor Who as a plot point. In the end, it decides that Doctor Who is what it thinks men should be."

This, for me, is the interesting thing about the whole female doctor debate. When it happens (and I think it is 'when' as opposed to 'if' now), I hope it happens in the right hands.

While all the "but the doctor has ALWAYS been a man, he CAN'T be a woman, I'll stop watching, IT'S JUST NOT RIGHT" arguments are ridiculous, there is definitely something to be said for keeping Doctor Who as a much-needed mainstream alternative to normative hetromasculinity.

I suppose it would depend on whether the Doctor, as played by a female actor, is treated as "female representation", "male representation", "trans representation", "queer representation", "alien representation" and so on.

Of course, it should be all of these things and in the write hands, could be. It would be a shame if casting a woman led to the Doctor ceasing to (also) be a representation of alternative masculinity by becoming a "Strong Female Character".

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Spacewarp 2 years, 9 months ago

I do wonder whether the surge in Doctor Who appreciation in the US and Canada over the last few years isn't so much down to the improved quality of the series but very much down to the relative youth of the male leads. Does anyone have any information on the current (and past) Doctor Who demographic? Because I have a sneaking suspicion that there are a significant proportion of fanboys and girls who like it for Tennant and Smith. Certainly Matt seems to have had a bit of a celebrity status in the US caused in no small part by him being young and accessible, and this does seem to have coincided with the US boom in popularity.

There are 4 main things you can change with the Doctor: Gender, Sexual orientation, colour/race, and age. The 1st and 3rd are by far the most contentious in fan circles. The 3rd is largely kept at bay by keeping the Doctor aloof and (relatively) sexless. The 4th has been played with since Davison in the 80s. I wonder which of these would affect appreciation of Doctor Who in the US? The appointing of a black or female Doctor would probably (after the initial impact) be fairly well accepted in the UK, and quickly become the default norm. After all, the initial concern in fandom that Matt Smith was a far too young "emo" Doctor largely faded away after The Eleventh Hour.

But what about the US? From what I can gather only the UK still sees Doctor Who as family viewing, with kids being brought into the fold from the age of 7 onwards and watching with parents. The US seems to view the series as a more teenage upwards cult show. How would a female and/or non-white Doctor be received?

Well we can never know until it happens, but we've already seen what a young vibrant Doctor does to the US viewing figures, and in a couple of months we're going to see what the replacement by an older Pertwee-esque Doctor does. Does anyone think US appreciation will wane? Because I think it will.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 9 months ago

There are 4 main things you can change with the Doctor: Gender, Sexual orientation, colour/race, and age. The 1st and 3rd are by far the most contentious in fan circles. The 3rd is largely kept at bay by keeping the Doctor aloof and (relatively) sexless.

Did you accidentally switch 2 and 3? Because sexual orientation is surely more contentious than race; and because keeping the doctor aloof does not seem to address race.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 9 months ago

That interview you linked to does seem to cast doubt on Phil's assumption that the Grey's writers aren't genuine Who fans.

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encyclops 2 years, 9 months ago

But then, valorizing completely inappropriate and abusive male behavior actually demonstrates a fairly thorough understanding of that fandom, doesn’t it?

Give me a break.

Anyway, "What Is It About Men" is of course also the title of an Amy Winehouse song. It would be fun if it were about the female gaze appreciating men (you have to look to "Amy Amy Amy" for that) but it's more concerned with how her desire for men causes her (self-assessed) self-destructive and relationship-wrecking behavior.

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Spacewarp 2 years, 9 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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arcbeatle 2 years, 9 months ago

. "It is, in other words, seemingly written by someone who has looked Doctor Who up on the Internet as opposed to by a committed fan. "

That is a prop department error rather than a writing error, and though the episode was written by Stacy McKee, it should be said that Shonda Rhymes is an open and avid Whovian :)!

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John Seavey 2 years, 9 months ago

Any comments on the Doctor Who cosplay in 'Criminal Minds', or would that all generally fall under the same umbrella as the 'Grey's Anatomy' post?

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Spacewarp 2 years, 9 months ago

Doh! Yes I did mean 2.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 9 months ago

Um, so? Why shouldn't RTD (or Terrance Dicks or whomever) sign a piece of merchandise that came out after he'd left the show? It's still the TARDIS, after all - it's not like it's a photo of Amy Pond.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 9 months ago

There's an episode of Agents of SHIELD in which all the characters are asked what they would most want with them on a desert island,and Elizabeth Henstridge's character says "a TARDIS."

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Jesse 2 years, 9 months ago

I stopped watching after they killed off George.

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Pen Name Pending 2 years, 9 months ago

Ah yes, this I have experience with firsthand. Back in 2011 I had just seen Doctor Who pop up around the Internet and knew it had time travel of some sort, so I just tuned into the Series 6 premiere without knowing much beforehand (BBCA did air a special recapping series 5, so I knew the basics), and I loved it. I also expected the Doctor to be more of an older eccentric in the Doc Brown style, so age wasn't a factor for me, although I'm not really everybody. I remember thinking early on that I really liked hanging out with the characters, even though I wasn't necessarily liked all of them. I also liked the complexity and craziness of the storylines and wondered how they came up with new settings and plots for each week.

I do admit that I may not be the best source for insight into why female Americans are interested in the show, however, as I was almost 14 when I first watched it and it's always carried that childlike wonder for me, it was the first current scripted show I watched (previously I just watched reruns of Star Trek: TNG or something), and I didn't watch it in order like just another show on Netflix. Oh, and I never like a show because of attractive young actors, partially because it's such a cliché that I just avoided it, and also it's also just distasteful for me. I actually saw the Doctor, and Matt Smith's in particular, as more of a father or teacher future, and I could actually relate to Amy's storyline of not wanting to grow up at times (as well as the Doctor's of hurting people and guilt).

Doctor Who is very different in America though, as far as I can tell. First of all, BBCA isn't the most common channel, and most viewers come from Netflix, to the point it's believed the "correct" way to watch it is in order. (As for myself, I checked out the fifth series from the library just a few weeks after first watching, and watched BBCA reruns from "Rose" onwards when they began that summer.) As such, very few have lived through it the way I have, which I think makes it a totally different viewing experience. In America, most people watch it the same way as if it were a standard show (slow beginning, and get thrown if they haven't been warned when everything changes in Series 5, instead of viewing it as a collection of eras that are all different spins on the same concept. American fans seem generally interested in the classic series and may have watched a bit, too, but reactions to it vary. It usually isn't seen as necessary (or readily avaliable, which is part of the problem).

(That said, there is certainly the PBS crowd--of which my local librarian is a part--and others whose gateway was the TV Movie or the Syfy channel. I have focused on my generation.)

As far as I've seen, the popularity of the show has really taken off from 2011...back then I happened to know one person who was familiar with the show, and I got my best friend interested in it (who does not have BBCA or Netflix, so she would come over to watch what I had on DVR). Now, at least everyone of the high school/college age (or even below) is somewhat familiar with it, and a high school near where I live even has a club apparently. It isn't "mainstream," and a lot of fans do seem to be female, but that isn't unusual since the same is true of Supernatural and Sherlock, etc. People were watching the 50th anniversary who had never seen it before. My local library also had a pre-50th party...of which I was the only one aside from aforementioned librarian who knew who Carole Ann Ford was. But those high schoolers could tell you which previous Doctors would have come back for the 50th and that they SHOULD have.

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Pen Name Pending 2 years, 9 months ago

I think it might be a tad too cynical to suggest that the popularity will wan--I certainly will still be here, and online fandom and fans in general have still been enthusiastic. Rather, since the show is popular with the Netflix-obtaining youth, it's more likely that it caught on because of the youthful vibe rather than if it was someone older, but that can easily be transferred to Capaldi and the excitement for series 8 shows it. And besides, it doesn't look like Capaldi will have trouble running around or talking quickly.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 9 months ago

Nah, I'm going to stand by that, if only for the utter horror with which I watched the #gameofthrones hashtag on Twitter for the finale explode with people cheering on Tyrion for "choking the bitch."

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 9 months ago

Several people observed this, so I'll just make it as a reply here - fair criticism. Too big an error to fix with a quick rewrite, so it'll wait a few years and get fixed for the book, but yes, I was off base on that line of argument.

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encyclops 2 years, 9 months ago

I'm not sure watching a hashtag on Twitter counts as a "fairly thorough understanding of that fandom."

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John 2 years, 9 months ago

There certainly is a strain of Game of Thrones (and Song of Ice and Fire) fandom that is horrifyingly misogynistic. I don't think it's fair to cast the whole fandom in that light.

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John 2 years, 9 months ago

Shorter me: Not all Game of Thrones fans...

Sigh. (But, as Phil himself notes, GoT has a very large female fandom, which I think is important to keep in mind when making broad generalizations.)

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Ben 2 years, 9 months ago

Huh? What happened to my comment.

Short version is, I think the majority of anti-female Doctor fans are old schoolers back in the UK. It doesn't strike me as something that would be a dealbreaker in either country, but if anything less in the US.

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encyclops 2 years, 9 months ago

I'd bet good money that there's a section of GoT fandom that has problematic (misogynistic at the very least) attitudes, though I haven't seen much of it firsthand. Then again, I don't really spend much time in "fandoms" (apart from Doctor Who's, and even there this blog is probably the closest I get to participating), so if Philip told me he spent a lot of time in the GoT forums and that's the way they talked all the time, well, okay. Maybe I and pretty much everyone I've ever talked to about GoT in other settings are not part of "fandom." Fine by me.

But yeah, maybe in a discussion where female fandom is a significant topic, let's not marginalize the female fan perspective. A "thorough understanding" would include at least that, surely.

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Jarl 2 years, 9 months ago

All this talk about which particular TARDIS toy is being lusted after has nudged loose an idea that's been growing in my mind lately, one tied up in the idea of Doctor Who's American presence, both in how it's marketed and how it's presented. Bear with me as I try to hork up this hairball in something resembling a coherent fashion.

When I got back into Doctor Who in a big way at the start of Series 6, I decided I needed to have a TARDIS on my toy shelf. I'm a collector, a plastic addict, a semi-professional nerd, and I needed something with more heft and features than the simplistic papercraft designs I was seeing on the internet. I even tried designing one of my own, which was basically a disaster and would never have seen a drop of ink (I happen to like my papercraft arcade original designs, but I'm hardly objective on that). So, like anyone indulging in a merchandise fixation, I did some online research.

If you want a toy of the TARDIS, and here I mean a proper toy with lights and sounds and doodads, something you can have the Doctor leaning out of looking worried, what you want to get is a Flight Control TARDIS. At a proper toy store (or other nerd-indulgence vector, such as a Barnes and Noble, or a comic book shop), you'll be able to find the Eleventh Doctor's Flight Control TARDIS for around 30-40 dollars. It's got lights, it's got sounds, it has working doors and a phone hatch, it has something I'm pretty sure is just pretending to be an accelerometer so it knows when it's moving, it's scaled for the 5 inch toyline which has recently met its sad and merciful end, and it has an incredibly amusing “spinning flight mode” that lends it the otherwise mystifying name. If, like me, you need something on your shelf or desk for Loki to try and hijack, or a Predator to drag a T-Rex skull out of, or a Claptrap to be terribly confused by, I heartily suggest you get one.

All that said, let me be clear. If you go to a toy store, or an online shop, or some other reasonable place to purchase action figures and related toys, you will most likely be buying the eleventh Doctor's TARDIS. The other option is far less palatable: Collectibles.

There's no real hard and fast distinction between the two, I've come to accept. There are toys that are collectibles, there are collectibles that are toys, it's simply a venn diagram with a decently sized overlap. There are, however, a few guidelines I consider to be relevant, especially to the matter at hand, and it gets to the point that I've been drilling towards.

A collectible generally isn't as easy to purchase as a non-collectible, either due to rarity, geography, chronology, or cost. These three factors tangle together in a lot of really ugly ways, as anybody who's ever searched “mint in sealed box” on ebay can tell you. And the fact is, the versions of the Flight Control TARDIS that represent those piloted by the first, fourth, seventh, and tenth Doctors are collectibles, and the one piloted by the eleventh is not. If you go to a toy store for a TARDIS, you will be presented with the eleventh Doctor's TARDIS with its shiny blue paint and its St. John's Ambulance sticker, and that's all you'll get, because the Eleventh Doctor, in America, has toys, not collectibles.

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Jarl 2 years, 9 months ago

Toy distribution is a tricky business, and I neither know enough of it nor have room and time to really get into the meat and two veg of why the eleventh Doctor's TARDIS is the only one you can buy at a regular store, but the basic idea is that, to borrow from our gracious host's terminology, Doctor Who was a cult show until Matt Smith and Steven Moffat came to America. If you wanted to buy a Flight Control TARDIS representing one used by a past Doctor, even though it's basically the same toy, you'd have to import one, make use of a collectibles distributor, or purchase one on the secondary market, which is a long way of saying it's more expensive.

I won't get into whether it's worth the expense, since that would basically just be reviewing the toys, something probably better suited to another time or venue (or both), but the fact that the seventh Doctor's Flight Control TARDIS both costs more than the eleventh Doctor's and has fewer features speaks pretty strongly for itself, I think.

Ultimately, that's the level to which Doctor Who has invaded America. It may air on a cable channel and be produced and populated by people who spell things like “color” and “neighbor” strangely, but dammit, the kids love it. In terms of market penetration, Doctor Who is about even with, say, NECA's and McFarlane's action figure lines, so you won't find it at Walmart or Target just yet. But if you drop by Toys R Us, or an independent toy shop, you won't find the TARDIS and the Daleks and the incredibly disappointing action figures standing by those toys. They'll be at a kid's eye level, where the LIGHTS and SOUNDS and TRY ME action of the TARDIS is large as life.

If this level of engagement continues along this path, and with the way the 50th was celebrated and embraced here there's no reason to think it won't, then it's not unreasonable to see a future where the big hegemonies, should they still deign to stock toys in the grim darkness of the 21st century, would stock Doctor Who action figures, somewhere between Star Wars and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Which, by the way, have been really eating up shelf space as of late. It's not safe to assume sales and fan reaction based on shelf space, but it's very safe to assume retailer support and jesus christ, Walmart loves them some turtles. I guess that's where the money they aren't spending on Star Wars Black is going.

To bring us full circle, when I was researching the TARDIS toys way back then, I found something truly disheartening. By any standard short of “which color do you prefer” and “which interior is your favorite”, the tenth Doctor's TARDIS is by far the best one. It has the most lights, it has the most sounds, it has the most awesome. I did a lot of searching, and the prices I were seeing were all secondary market, which is a nice way of saying it was a hundred dollars shipped at best. So, because I ended up seeing one at a store, I settled for the eleventh Doctor's TARDIS, the one with fewer lights and fewer sounds (but, on the upside, with my preferred interior -_^). I still recommend it over the tenth Doctor's, though, because while those extra features are nice, they aren't 60-70 dollars worth of nice. And ultimately, that's what this has all been about: settling for the Moffat era TARDIS because you couldn't find an RTD era one. In a way, that single flub spoke to me more than anything else.

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TheSmilingStallionInn 2 years, 9 months ago

Personally, I think this post might be adequate enough to address or at least mention how Doctor Who is getting at least quite a few shout-outs on U.S. shows--it's also been mentioned on NCIS: Los Angeles and Big Bang Theory from what I gather. I was surprised to see Grey's Anatomy mentioned on here, but it makes sense as well given the context/content of the episode and storyline fitting in with Sandifer's blog and analysis. (And it's a significant enough part of the storyline that Sandifer can incorporate this episode into the analysis and build upon it, instead of the random, usually in passing, 'blink or you'll miss it' mentions of Doctor Who on other shows like Big Bang Theory, though it does happen on Big Bang every once in a while there.)

This really was a Pop Between Realities in terms of how Doctor Who is being recognized/perceived in the realms of U.S. television shows and dropped, for better or worse, into storylines or mentioned in passing as part of characters' lives. It's not normal in some ways in terms of US television. It's uncanny and strange enough that it deserves some mention or highlight in terms of the growing popularity/recognition of the show here for those who know about it or at least hear of it.

And the mentions themselves are usually posited as that--being strange and uncanny, usually coming from the 'geeky' characters of US television. It's not recognized as being normal and so here, we get an abnormal Pop Between Realities with Grey's Anatomy, nothing that I would have expected.

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Spacewarp 2 years, 9 months ago

I think it's important to stress that the overall popularity of Doctor Who isn't down to fans (or rather Fans). It's down to ordinary viewers. Doctor Who fandom does tend to continue watching the show no matter how it changes (regardless of those who say they no longer watch since Moffat etc took over), and since actual Fans (read Whovians if you like) are a very small subset of viewers, any drop in viewing figures is down to the Ordinary Viewing Public , not "Tha Fanz".

Online fans and fandom may well be enthusiastic about Capaldi & Series 8, but 90% of viewers could simply tune in and say "oh I don't like it now he's not young and fit anymore".

Just because I'm considering this a possibility doesn't make me cynical, any more than considering the opposite would make me unrealistically optimisticc. But I am genuinely curious as to why Doctor Who's stellar increase in US popularity has occurred, and why it happnes to have coincided with two very young and vibrant actors taking the role.

Doctor Who's popularity in the 60s and 70s with the very young may have had a lot to do with the reassurance factor of an older paternalistic Doctor. A 7 year old could feel very safe watching the confident Doctors portrayed by Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee and Tom Baker. However the elements of vulnerability and imperfection introduced with Davison and Colin may have contributed to their decline in popularity. It's easy to feel reassured by the 3rd or 4th Doctors since they are so supremely confident, but not so much by the 5th Doctor who so often seems in need of reassurance himself.

In an alternate 1980s where Doctor Who had a bigger presence in the US, I wonder if a similar increase in popularity would have greeted the more youthful and attractive Peter Davison as he took over the role.

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Spacewarp 2 years, 9 months ago

You've given me a lot of insight into the possible answers to my posts further up this thread. Everyone watches things for different reasons (my wife definitely doesn't watch Supernatural for the same reasons I do), but I'm always interested in the majority reason, because that's ultimately what provides the viewing figures.

Incidentally my wife avidly watched both Eccleston and Tennant with me and the kids, but then has watched no Smith at all, because she doesn't find him attractive. Much fickle, huh?

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Spacewarp 2 years, 9 months ago

You can find RTD era ones on eBay, and for reasonable prices so long as you don't mind out of the box. I picked one up for £10 earlier this year and I'm currently trying to convert it to a War Doctor TARDIS.

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Aylwin 2 years, 9 months ago

"Elizabeth Henstridge's character says "a TARDIS.""

Kirsty wouldn't stand for that.

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mengu 2 years, 9 months ago

The only problem with the sentence is the word 'that'.

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Katherine Sas 2 years, 9 months ago

How delightful that the signature is from one of the writers, and not one of the actors!

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storiteller 2 years, 9 months ago

What's fundamentally different about Doctor Who being mentioned on Gray's Anatomy rather than Agents of SHIELD or Big Bang Theory is that as TheSmilingStallionInn notes, the characters on the latter shows are definitively labeled nerds. Also, to some extent, the shows themselves are as well. Even though Big Bang Theory is incredibly popular and mainstream, people who aren't nerds I think still think of it as a "nerd" show - just one that they happen to like. Agents of SHIELD is inherently a nerd show by being a spin-off of what had been a fairly obscure comic book topic before all of the movies came out.

In contrast, I don't think I would ever hear anyone call Gray's Anatomy a "nerd" show. It would be about as likely as calling ER or Modern Family one. That's what makes it radically different from the other mentions. (Excepting the Criminal Minds one, but those shows love mentioning nerd things in the context of them being "weird." See every episode involving video games or virtual worlds ever.) But Gray's Anatomy brings Doctor Who into a similar space in America as it holds in Britain - a show that if you watch it, you aren't necessarily part of Fandom, and even if you don't watch it, you may recognize the iconography. It brings it out of being a "nerd-only" space.

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Robert Lloyd 2 years, 9 months ago

I also seem to recall both Nicholas Courtney and Sophie Alfred being asked to sign prop beverage cans from a story neither had appeared in...

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Pen Name Pending 2 years, 9 months ago

Yes you make good points, it's just so often that reaction is paired with the young female fans who fancy the Doctor, but I see you mean more than that. For me, though, Capaldi doesn't seem to be too much of a change.

A lot of Doctor Who viewers in America come from Netflix and BBCA isn't a very avaliable or popular channel, so to tell you the truth there may not be too many casual viewers, unless you count those who have seen a rerun or two or watch occasionally on Netflix.

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Pen Name Pending 2 years, 9 months ago

No problem--and certainly there are many male fans too. I think the main drive to watch it is because it's niche and cool and applies to that crowd who wants to understand all the in-jokes. A lot of the excitement comes from discovering it.

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TheSmilingStallionInn 2 years, 9 months ago

Paradise Towers? (I'm trying to think of a Red Kang/Blue Kang quote, especially in regards to those sodas they tried out...)

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storiteller 2 years, 9 months ago

I think you'll especially find a big rise in little kids liking Doctor Who as fans of my generation start to have kids. My little one isn't quite big enough - he's only one - but I'm eager to show Who with him when it's appropriate. He already has a TARDIS onsie. More than ever, nerds are getting together with other nerds and sharing their nerdy passions with their kids and I think that'll become even more obvious 10 years down the road.

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Leslie Lozada 2 years, 9 months ago

Well, just to throw my hand in, I (in 2011, about 15 or so, and was living in the U.S at the time) came into Doctor Who through a Comcast maraotho watching of series 5 and 6.1.

And, I didn't really 'fancy' the Doctor, at first. I admire his acting, from one of the kids to Michael Emerson powerful acting. Then, well, it just happened.


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