Their Little Groups (Love and Monsters)

(188 comments)

I've got your animated version of Shada right here, baby.

It’s June 17th, 2006. Nelly Furtado is at number one with “Maneater,” with Pink, Infernal, Baddiel, Skinner, and the Lightning Seeds, and Tony Christie also charting, the latter two with World Cup-focused songs. Over at the World Cup we’re still in the group stage, but England, having won their second game, are through to the knockout stages, albeit with a game against Sweden to deal with first. Other news is slow - a steady dribble of horrors out of the Iraq War, which has its 2500th US casualty this week, and a video of a marine singing a song about murdering Iraqi civilians.

So. Love and Monsters. Perhaps it was just the wrong story for a kind of cynical week. Perhaps that’s the only reason this plummeted to a 76% AI rating - the joint lowest the series ever attained (it was tied with The End of the World) - it was the wrong story on the wrong week. And surely can’t have been helped by being the Doctor-light story. So there you go. If you want, any negative reception this story has ever attained can be explained away straightforwardly.

Still, it’s not the usual explanation. “Too silly” is the usual explanation, which is perhaps a bit harsh for a story in which just about everybody dies horribly. Certainly it’s misleading to just call this a silly story as though that explains everything about it. It’s a story with a tremendous amount of silliness in its early acts, but one where the point is the abandonment of the silliness. Or, more accurately, the point is that the silliness has teeth. One of the key things about Peter Kay’s rendition of the Abzorbaloff is that it remains an absolutely ludicrous monster. No effort is made to disguise the monster’s status as a Blue Peter contest winner, and Peter Kay just leans into it completely with a gratuitously over the top performance that would be a train wreck if it weren’t contrasted perfectly with his intensely mannered Victor Kennedy performance. The garishly inappropriate scene of the Abzorbaloff chasing Elton down the street is in many ways the point - the inappropriately broad comedy being used to the same effect as the pit last episode, as something that marks the monster as fundamentally alien and not of this world.

Another way of looking at it is that the Abzorbaloff is perfectly sized for Elton’s tiny little world, in which his only two passions in life are an irritatingly catchy ELO song and his friends at LINDA. I mean, sure, and probably some of the other stuff he mentions, but we know Elton. We know that he’s just an ordinary person with an ordinary life that isn’t worth forty-five minutes of television, or, at least, doesn’t seem to be. Wouldn’t be, in fact, if it weren’t for the fact that he exists in the orbit of the Doctor. Again, the episode is leaning into its narrative constraints. Recognizing that the absence of the Doctor is going to create a tangible lack within the story, Davies picks a main character who will feed into that lack, making us want the Doctor. It’s not that Elton is unpleasant to watch - though it’s worth noting that Marc Warren plays “punchable” astonishingly well, and does wonders to make Elton a perfectly pitched mixture of irritating and sympathetic.

We all know Elton. The ever so slightly annoying person in a given social circle - who we want to be happy because he’s a good bloke, but who we would, if we’re being perfectly honest, rather someone else actually be tasked with the business of making him happy. And that’s most of LINDA, done in deft miniature. The last to get chosen. The afterthoughts of our world. Whether through awkwardness or strangeness or damage, the people who, left to their own devices, would probably be alone. Except they’re not, because they found each other.

It is, of course, a story about Doctor Who fandom - the crowning irony of its somewhat rocky reputation among that fandom. It’s a story about the freaks and weirdos who found community and life in the absurd thing that is Doctor Who. It’s about gay workaholics who learned the pleasures of unrequited love from it. It’s about clever Scottish jokesters who learned not to be an asshole. It’s about men who are slightly socially uncomfortable when not in a Victorian ghost story, about self-deprecating playwrights who rely on their honesty about their anxiety being read as a joke, about awkward feminist Anglicans with a pagan streak.

And more than that. It’s about overweight bloggers who washed out of academia, and queer midwestern middle-aged mystics. About trans Google engineers who worship Freija and bisexual Big Brother bloggers who read Avengers comics and pretend they’re about other things. Polyamorous hypnofetishists and southern anarchist philosophy professors. Weirdo visionaries who write about My Little Pony, David Bowie, Star Trek, and the Beach Boys. The entire community, from the cadre of people faithfully reading every day so they can snigger like schoolboys on tiny forums about how much they hate the blog, to the large number of people who only ever read the book versions and whose names I’ll never know.  It’s about all of us, and our strangeness, and our obsessions, and the holy and sacred mystery of getting out of bed every morning. And about weird lip-licking absorption monsters and sex with paving stones. Because that’s how it works.

The episode’s pleasures hinge entirely on the assumption that the audience is going to recognize this sort of love, and thus be moved when Victor Kennedy comes to destroy it all by giving everybody what they ostensibly want. Note how Kennedy’s surveillance tactics amount to what they all already know how to do without knowing that they know: make friends and meet people. And how Jackie, just by being herself, renders all of it irrelevant. Jackie is by this point the stand-in for complete normality in the show. And when LINDA has become an unhealthy, destructive, and, most importantly, not actually very fun organization it’s Jackie, and more to the point the fact that Elton hurts Jackie, and hurts her in a way his later good intentions cannot fix. (And note that the hurt is purely based on Elton’s disingenuity. “Cos it’s never me, is it?”) Enjoying the episode and deciding that it works requires that we invest ourselves in that mundane human interaction and its value - that we care about Jackie and Elton for their very ordinariness.

Contrasting this, both within and without the episode, is Doctor Who. And let’s be clear, the parallel fueling this contrast is consciously designed to be both within and without the episode. Jackie has always been a character the audience is meant to have complex opinions on, because she’s consciously designed both as an impediment to Doctor Who getting up to full speed and as a character who fundamentally rejects a swath of the values of Doctor Who. She doesn’t want a world of aliens and monsters and epic bombast; she wants the peace and quiet of the ordinary. As such, Doctor Who is fundamentally hostile to her. There’s no way to get over the central conflict she introduces to the series, which is that she wants Rose to stay home and neither Rose nor, more importantly, the viewing public agrees. Note how this series has kept her miles from the action as a result. Series One kept her out of things for a while - we didn’t actually see 2005-vintage Jackie at all between World War III and The Parting of the Ways. Here it’s actually starker - after The Christmas Invasion Jackie is reduced to one or two lines at the end of The Age of Steel. We haven’t actually seen her as Jackie Tyler living on the Powell Estates in the present day since then. Because Jackie is a problem for the series. Much like Elton is, as we noted - we know Elton is only on our screen to give Tennant and Piper a bit of a break.

But slowly, over time, the series has been trying to win us over with regards to Jackie. Even as far back as Aliens of London plots have hinged on the assumption that the audience is going to be sympathetic towards Jackie. To some extent this is just a case of faking it until you make it - you can get further than you’d expect by just taking a character and deciding to treat them as one that the audience is going to be sympathetic towards. So the series has mandated that the audience likes Jackie, and a reasonable portion of the audience followed suit. But this isn’t the whole story. An equally large part of it is that Doctor Who invested hard and vocally in EastPowellStreet and its values. This has been a show that has, at least in part, been about the sanctity and value of ordinary life just as much as it’s been about the epic sweep of its sci-fi premise. Jackie and Mickey kept getting fed good bits that established them in the eyes of a great number of viewers. And rightly so. “I’m the tin dog” or Jackie showing up with the truck are both marvelous scenes. And Elton is meant to fit quickly into this paradigm - to be a character we simultaneously recognize as extraneous to Doctor Who and as integral to real life.

It’s too simple, however, to suggest that Elton’s life is ruined when Doctor Who comes into it, since previously Elton’s life had been justified and made interesting by the presence of Doctor Who within it. Rather, it’s ruined when the epic - a concept always at least partially offset from Doctor Who itself - steps into it. This is the central divide of Love and Monsters. Death, monsters, and the epic exist in one realm. Love, humanity, and the personal exist in the other. Death is epic, and love is personal. This isn’t so much the central divide of Love and Monsters as it is the central divide of Doctor Who itself under Russell T Davies. But what’s key is that for the most part Doctor Who doesn’t fall on one side or the other. It’s simultaneously a vehicle for epic death monsters and the vehicle for the celebration of the small and intimate moments of life. Perhaps equally important, or even more important, this divide isn’t Davies’s invention. Davies established it as a central premise of Doctor Who forevermore by taking the idea to television and making a monster hit out of it, but the idea dates back to the Virgin era, and, really, to Andrew Cartmel. (If you really want you can date it back to Davison’s “well-prepared meal” speech in Earthshock, but Earthshock ultimately undercuts that by deciding that it really is about clanking robots killing people and not about flowers and well-prepared meals.)

In other words, it dates back to the same fandom Love and Monsters is about. And the central opposition between the ordinary friendships and meals and bad singing and the impersonal death offered by Victor Kennedy is the real divide within it. In essence, it’s the choice between the Doctor Who of Attack of the Cybermen and the Doctor Who of, well, this. It’s the choice between the absolute fixed monomyth of Whoniverse and Newton’s Sleep offered by Ian Levine and the possibility of both Doctor Who and the world as a weird and strange place. And ultimately, Davies is unsparingly vicious in this. Ian Levine is death. It’s that completely uncompromising. To embrace the world as Victor Kennedy sees it is not just to die, but to die in a way that destroys your entire identity and being. Love doesn’t exist on the epic scale.

Except for two stray details. Because Love and Monsters doesn’t reject the epic. It’s ultimately the desire for the epic that created LINDA in the first place. And the series is still predicated on the desire for the epic - the fact that we want to see, just to use a completely random example with no bearing on the future of the series, a big war between the Daleks and the Cybermen. Rather, Love and Monsters complicates the relationship between the two. First, note that its resolution consists of making the death of Elton’s mother personal and not epic. She may have died in one of the Doctor’s epic adventures, but the Doctor’s return to Elton’s life in this story means that he gets to grieve her personally and intimately. Doctor Who allows us to reclaim death from the realm of the epic.

Second there’s the saving of Ursula. This is, apparently, also controversial because of the throwaway line about Elton and Ursula having “a bit of a love life,” which is of course a joke about blowjobs. Let us pause for a moment to dispense with some of the more obvious things that could be said about this. First, it is not a joke about blowjobs that will even be noticed by anyone unaware of the basic concept of fellatio. “A bit of a love life,” to anyone unaware of the joke, just sounds like, OK, Elton has a relationship with a paving stone. That’s a bit weird. And anyway, in the unlikely event that some kid does learn about oral sex from Doctor Who, quite frankly, do you have a better place in mind? Everyone learns about it some day. Better Doctor Who than the schoolyard, surely. So the idea that it’s “inappropriate” for Doctor Who when it comes in the course of what is already one of the most adult episodes in terms of its basic concerns and interests is… strained.

Then there’s the idea that it’s somehow wrong. This troubles me more. There is perhaps arguably an issue to be had in that Ursula’s preservation as a paving stone is nonconsensual. This is, however, kind of missing the point. Certainly you could do a story about how horrible Ursula’s life is, but that’s not this one. This is a story where the Doctor is able to save one person, albeit through a terribly weird manner. Crucially, we see that Ursula is OK with this. She likes being alive. She’d probably like legs, but, you know, being alive is something. Having a lover is something. Having a life, even a weird one where terrible things have happened, is something. Actually, it’s everything, and that’s the entire point of the episode.

So death gets made personal, and love gets preserved through the intervention of the Doctor’s world of monsters and wonders. Because in the end that’s the thing. The Doctor represents the strange, whether it be the alienating strangeness of cosmic horror and death (represented in its fullest extent this season via the Beast) or the abiding strangeness of life. Doctor Who is the route through which the weird enters, within and without. To focus on life with no understanding of death is naive. To focus on death with no understanding of the gleeful hedonism of life is Ian Levine. Because in the end, death and the epic are the price we pay for a world where something as strange as the love between a man and his paving stone. A world that’s stranger, darker, madder.

Better.

Comments

Froborr 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm a weirdo visionary? Neat!

Overall I think this is a great article, but as I've said, I disagree with you about Ursula. The crux, I think, is this:

Crucially, we see that Ursula is OK with this.

If Ursula were a real person, that would be the end of the matter. But she's not. She's a fictional character, so Ursula isn't OK with it because Ursula doesn't exist. Somebody else--the implied author of the episode, who for convenience sake I will call RTD even though certainly there's the director and actor and myriads of other people involved in creating Ursula--is saying that Ursula *should* feel this way, and that's the implication I have a problem with.

This episode is Elton's story, and Ursula pretty much spends it on the margins. We never see from her point of view, so we never find out why she likes Elton; all we get is his subjective perspective, in which she is the object of his affections. So she starts, metaphorically speaking, as an object, and then ends as a literal object, a paving stone that dispenses blowjobs. Which ties directly into probably the second-most-common misogynistic view of women (the most common being baby-factory), which is as an object that dispenses sexual pleasure without requiring any in return.

Ursula, as a commenter pointed out yesterday, is more than disabled. She is a prisoner. If Elton takes her outside, if her existence becomes widely known, she will be in a Torchwood lab within the hour. She can't hold a job, can't do anything without Elton's assistance... she is, in short, an object that is entirely dependent on a man and has no apparent life beyond him, and no sexual activity other than pleasuring him.

My problem is thus an entirely extradiegetic one. I'm not saying that Ursula should choose to die or anything ridiculous like that, or that a real person in a terrible situation shouldn't try to find happiness in it. My problem is with the author of that situation, who chose to construct matters such that Ursula remains an object throughout the story and Elton's adventure ends with him getting a blowjob-dispensing paving block with Ursula's face and consciousness as his reward.

I love this episode. I think it's a brilliant love letter to the fans. I just think that it would have been a better episode with a different ending.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 9 months ago

This post may have convinced me that my exceptionally low opinion of the episode may be rooted in its execution rather than its conception. That said, I'm not sure it's coincidental that my general dislike of this season reached its nadir with an episode seemingly dedicated to Davies shivving Levine's approach whilst promoting his own. The end result is, to me at least, a strong argument that neither of the two work particularly well, for all that there's no sensible way to claim this story fails on as many levels as does "Warriors of the Deep". If "Love and Monsters" is asking "which of these do you really want", my answer is "Neither, please".


First, it is not a joke about blowjobs that will even be noticed by anyone unaware of the basic concept of fellatio...

Then there’s the idea that it’s somehow wrong.


As you say, you're dispensing with the most obvious objections, but I think it's worth outlining the more interesting point here, which springs from the common social assumption that women perform oral sex far more often than men in straight relationships. I have no idea whether this is actually true - I've certainly never come across any man who'll admit to this imbalance, but maybe that's just the people I hang around with - but it's frequently referenced. There's basically a whole Sopranos episode about it, for instance.

So the idea of a girlfriend who can only pleasure via fellatio and is physically incapable of receiving cunnilingus is an idea that has some baggage strikes me as potentially problematic. Indeed, this can be taken further; Ursula is a girlfriend who's sexual needs can be entirely discounted, but who can, as our boyfriend lets us know, still perform.

I'll freely admit I'm not remotely qualified to tackle all of that on any useful level, but intuitively it bothers me.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 9 months ago

Or; what Froborr said.

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Tim 3 years, 9 months ago

I almost wish I coud feel strongly enough about this episode to have the kind of strong opinion others have of it either positively or negatively, but I don't.

I merely thought it was ok; reasonably entertaining and amusing, but nothing special. I can live with Doctor Who doing this kind of thing at least once, but wouldn't really care to see it done again.

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David Anderson 3 years, 9 months ago

This is not a review blog. Because it's not a review blog, I'm not going to give the episode a 5/10. Especially not the sort of 5/10 that amounts to good bits mixed with bad bits.
Can we all agree that this is in almost every way better than The Power of Three? A rare example in my case of liking a Davies-era script more than a comparable Moffat-era script.

Phil has made the case for the good bits.

Despite the defences of the Ursula as paving slab business, I think it's still problematic. Suppose it had appeared in the Moffat-era. It would appear as exhibit A in the catalogue of examples of objectifying women. It's not a criticism of the Doctor's actions (saving a life is better than not). It's a criticism of the writer in setting it up and handling it the way that he does. Would it be better if Ursula had been paralysed from the neck down? Probably, because the ease with which Elton picks her up and shows her to the camera really does treat her as an object. Her only comment as a paving slab during the entire film is to ask Elton not to talk about something. (Where is she during the rest of Elton's film? Which way is she facing?)

The other off-note I find it Elton's moral at the end. It's a moral. That's a problem. There's two parts: the Doctor destroys what he touches, and the world is terrifying and wonderful. Neither really amounts to an adequate summary of the foregoing action. The first seems shoehorned in to foreshadow Rose's departure. The second is just a cliche. Ok - Elton as a person realistically wouldn't come up with something that isn't a cliche, but this isn't realism. Buffy regularly pulled off similar moments without trying. (Cp Storyteller, Buffy Season Seven.) Again, it feels as if that really is the moral Davies himself wants us to take away from the story, and that means Davies thinks his story can be summed up with a cliche.

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David Anderson 3 years, 9 months ago

Cross-posted with Froborr and SpaceSquid.

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Alan 3 years, 9 months ago

This is a story where the Doctor is able to save one person, albeit through a terribly weird manner. Crucially, we see that Ursula is OK with this. She likes being alive. She’d probably like legs, but, you know, being alive is something.

Nope. Sorry, but my mind simply rebels at this. I think if I were reduced to a face in a block of concrete, I would last all of three seconds before I started screaming endlessly, no matter how cute my girlfriend was and how much pleasure I could still give her by cunnilingus. At this precise moment, I can't even remember anyone in the history of DW suffering a fate as nightmarish as Ursula's "happy ending."

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Spacewarp 3 years, 9 months ago

Excellent post, and made me think about a lot of things that I now realise I already knew about the evolution of the secondary characters since 2005. Yes, Jackie started out as an East End cliche, an irritation to me, someone to make stupid comments simply for the Doctor to shoot down in flames, and to personify the life that Rose is escaping from. But then half way through Series 2 I suddenly realised I cared about her, I was glad to see her, and she wasn't a cliche, she was a well-written individual. But Jackie hadn't changed. My attitude towards, and acceptance of her, had.

I tend to judge stories (and not just in Doctor Who) by my "gut feeling" as it's progressing. And funnily enough my gut told me that the scene I disliked the most was Elton's flashback to finding the Doctor in his house when his mum dies. That wobbly-cam view of Tennant standing in the living room looking superior was the most "Doctorish" scene in "L&M" and as such it felt the most out of place to me. With all that was happening around it, this unusual, 180 degrees take on Doctor who, that scene felt unwelcome to me.

Whatever it's reputation, and the fact that some people do tend to lump it in with "Fear Her" as examples of "how Doctor Who should not be done", I get the feeling that it will be long remembered as an episode that stands out as being very different.

Because this is one of the funny things about how we as fans think about Doctor Who stories. When we're watching a series unfold we don't want anything too unusual. We want to know what to expect each week, and although we like to be surprised (here's looking at you, "Blink") we still like a bit of firm ground to stand on. There was very little firm ground in "L&M", regardless of how much fantastic new scenery there was around, and I think that unnerved a lot of fans. But give it a good decade and I think "L&M" will be re-evaluated as new younger viewers discover it for the first time.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 9 months ago

I think we can apply a common Gatiss critism over the Ursula issue, in that it seems like Davies came up with something he thought was cool/funny and didn't think it through any further. Certainly, the fact that Ursula the paving slab is literally a woman Elton can walk all over implies the entire idea is structured as a joke. Just one that's really difficult to find funny rather than disturbing.

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Alan 3 years, 9 months ago

Can we all agree that this is in almost every way better than The Power of Three?

IMO, no, because I don't remember anything in The Power of Three equivalent to the latent misogyny and disturbing body horror of the ending of Love & Monsters, nor the cartoonish elements that made the aforementioned body horror even more disturbing. The Power of Three was crushingly dull, but it neither offended me nor embarrassed me as a fan. YMMV.

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Darren K. 3 years, 9 months ago

I hate to be *that* guy, particularly on *this* story, but there very first line of the entry should be "Nelly Furtado IS at number one". She is a she, not a they. Sorry to be that guy.

And second, while I am writing, "Maneater" was number one? Huh.

And third, we are rapidly approaching a time/are at the beginning of the time, when the UK charts stop, for the most part, stop actually saying much about songs and popularity. At present, it is incredibly easy to never ever hear the song that is number one for this week and will disappear from the charts within the month. I would like to thank Daft Punk and Icona Pop for having good, proper number ones that actually exist outside of a chart run down and Radio 1 and are somewhat inescapable, the way good pop should be. It's just a bit sad that as the blog reaches the home stretch, one of the key identifers of the blog is dying away.

And I love Love and Monsters because it is funny in all the right ways, and sad in all the right ways, and if you find the ending a problem, how can you stand watching 21st Century Who at all, as the ending is always the problem, because the ending is not the point.

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Dave Shuttleworth 3 years, 9 months ago

Thanks for reminding me why Love and Monsters is wonderful. It's very tempting to sneak off work for 45 minutes to go and watch it right now...

It's fascinating how Ian Levine went from inspiring the name of a monster in Series One to providing material for a full on character assassination here. He embraced the family Slitheen but I'm not sure how he felt about Victor Kennedy.

Despite the vicious satire and bittersweet weirdness - or perhaps because of them - I've always felt this episode to be hugely life-affirming.

Something this brilliant was always going to polarise opinion but that just makes it even more interesting and loveable.

I wouldn't want Doctor Who to be like Love and Monsters every week but I wish it were like it more often.

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Llamastrangler 3 years, 9 months ago

Firstly, this is me de-lurking: I've been following and much enjoying this blog ever since I followed a link to the post on The Celestial Toymaker in the early days. I was one of those silent readers who could, potentially, have suddenly de-lurked by saying something profound and cool. Alas, this is the underwhelming reality.

About Ursula as a fellating paving stone... I'm not sure this entirely addresses all the concerns people have, but I always saw this bit as the final confirmation (hinted at throughout the episode) that Elton is an unreliable narrator, and thus rather clever. Yes, the thought of a woman's head kept on a slab for blowjobs on demand may be a rather disturbing concept, but it's supposed to be. It's all in Elton's head, like the chase scene at the start.

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Carey 3 years, 9 months ago

Two things regarding the ending:

Firstly, we don't know for sure that Ursula is turned into an animated paving slab. Throughout the episode we are told repeatedly that Elton is an unreliable narrator: through the "scooby doo" chase scene to the internet literally exploding. The only time we are invited to believe that what we are seeing is actually happening is when Elton records his story via camcorder. An crucially, we are only shown the back of a paving slab. We hear Ursula's voice, but she's off camera. Has she rejected Elton? Is he so mentally scarred that he sees his girlfriend as an object, not a real person any more? Or, using the logic of the fantastic (ie, Doctor Who as a tv series) has she been transformed into something other than she was?

Which leads to the second important redemptive reading of the story: if we take classic Doctor Who to task for its appalling treatment of ethnic minorities (step forward Tomb of the Cybermen and Talons of Weng Chiang) best justified by them being a (then) modern take on Victorian melodrama, then we must also take classic to task for an equally appalling attitude to disability and physical deformity. Robert Holmes in particular, for all he is one of the tree or four be classic series writers, is guilty of using the other Victorian melodrama idea of outward appearance matches the inner appearance through the creation (or co-creation) of characters such as the Wirrn, Davros, Morbius, the Deadly Assassin Master, Sharraz Jek and the Androgum. Even non villainous characters in classic Who are shown as deformed mentally (step forward Dortmun from Dalek Invasion of Earth: a bitter and twisted man desperate for revenge for his condition).

Ursula is the New Series redemption of this trend: the physically disabled able to continue her life and loved for who she is, not what she looks like.

And the complaints that the Doctor should never have allowed her to live in this condition seem t say more about the person saying it than what he did. the clue is in his name: he is the Doctor, a healer. There is no difference in his actions here than in a regular doctor who has to save a persons life by amputation. No, its not pleasant, but if the only way to save someone trapped beneath a building or in a crashed car is by removing parts of their body, then they will.

Which brings us to my biggest problem of small part of fandom: their inability to process metaphor. What is depicted is what is real (within the narrative). Unless they grew up reading The Making of Doctor Who and were told that the Daleks represented the Nazis, or the Cybermen transplant surgery run amok. But it was important that they were told at a time when they were open to those sort of ideas. Now they are adults, the metaphors are only processable when they remain the same (therefore a subsection of fandom cannot cope with the change of the metaphor of the Daleks in Parting of the Ways from Nazi to Fundamentalist).

I'm not Love & Monsters greatest fan (I don't know why, but there's something in the story that means I have too great a distance between myself and Elton that I can't love him as much as I'd like) but it by no means deserves the criticism it gets in places.

I remember the night it was broadcast I was staying with friends who had a 10 year old son and a 14 year old daughter, and he was a great Doctor Who fan and went off to watch Love & Monsters in his bedroom while we talked downstairs. I asked him later what he thought of the story, and he simply said: "It was strange, but I think I liked it."

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Alan 3 years, 9 months ago

Also, setting aside the issue of concrete fellatio, another problem I had with this story was the casting. We had Marc Warren, fresh off of Hustle. We had Shirley Henderson, who was at least recognizable if not well-known from the Harry Potter movies. And we had the ubiquitous Peter Kay, chomping down whole bits of scenery. Between that and Anthony Stewart Head showing up in School Reunion, I was put in mind of the old Batman TV series with its special guest villains every week.

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Carey 3 years, 9 months ago

Finally, I'll say this in advance of Friday's entry (although I'll probably repeat it then), but anyone who criticises Fear Her for any reason other than the misguided Olympic sequence will have to answer to me. Tragically, the 14 year old sister of the aforementioned 10 year old had been the victim of a sexual assault before the story was transmitted, and in her words, Fear Her was the best Doctor Who story ever.

Fear her isn't about fandom like Love & Monsters. It isn't even directed at the boys in the audience. It was directed at a growing subset in the audience, girls, and in particular, it was about her...

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm not sure the problem is an inability to process metaphor, so much as not seeing how Ursula's total reliance on the guy who happily discusses how she's still able to suck him off works as redeeming the show's attitude to disability. It strikes me that the reduction a woman to a literal object dispensing sexual favours should cause a problem for anyone wanting to argue Who fans should spend more time thinking though metaphors.

The unreliable narrator approach works far better, I think. Though if we embrace that, it would seem to lead to the idea that this is a story made up by an exceedingly creepy misogynist, which doesn't really make me any more excited about the idea of watching it again.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 9 months ago

Certainly, the fact that Ursula the paving slab is literally a woman Elton can walk all over implies the entire idea is structured as a joke.

Good God! How on earth did you come up with that angle?

The fact that Ursula ends up on a paving slab is simply a consequence of the Abzorbaloff splattering and ending up soaking into whatever the floor happens to be made of. If it had happened indoors she would have ended up as a carpet square or parquet flooring. Because liquids always end up on the floor when you drop them.

RTD for all his faults has never shown the slightest hint that he has a misogynistic bone in his body, and is the least likely person to have deliberately come up with a metaphor like that.

Gallifrey Base after this ep was full of such comments, each poster seeming to out-do the other with theories of how appalling this ending was in it's perceived treatment of a woman. Sometimes a line is just a line, and there isn't an agenda behind it. Sometimes we know the joke we want to tell will annoy some people, but since it will make the other 90% laugh we just can't pass up the opportunity, and we hope that the other 10% will be strong enough to take it, secure in the knowledge that when the next joke comes along, they'll be in the 90%.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 9 months ago

story made up by an exceedingly creepy misgynist

Not sure who you're referring to here, Elton or RTD?

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Carey 3 years, 9 months ago

So any severely disabled person who needs a carer to enable them to undertake even simplest of tasks (such as going to toilet) is being exploited? That anyone who loves someone who is severely disable must be treating that person as a literal object?

And why does the gender matter? If roles were reversed and Elton had been "slabbed" and Ursula had said "but we still have a love life" would the same criticism be made? Or is it only men who have sexual needs and gratification?

I'm deeply confused (and not a little concerned) regarding the objection to the last five minutes of Love & Monsters. Maybe I'm mistaken for putting it down to an inability to process metaphors, but there's definitely something up. People objecting to the disable having a sex life and being over-reliant on others should maybe read up on the life of Alison Lapper.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 9 months ago

Good God! How on earth did you come up with that angle?

It's the most obvious one that came to mind once I started rolling the whole scene around in my head.

The fact that Ursula ends up on a paving slab is simply a consequence of the Abzorbaloff splattering and ending up soaking into whatever the floor happens to be made of. If it had happened indoors she would have ended up as a carpet square or parquet flooring. Because liquids always end up on the floor when you drop them.

I'm perfectly willing to entertain the idea that this cigar is just a cigar, but since Davies wrote the scene where the Abzorbaloff splattered, the "it's just coincidence" argument can't possibly work.

RTD for all his faults has never shown the slightest hint that he has a misogynistic bone in his body, and is the least likely person to have deliberately come up with a metaphor like that.

OK, I should make clear that I'm not accusing Davies of being deliberately misogynist. I'm just noting Elton ended up with a girlfriend that according to the an exceedingly cynical reading of heterosexual men is perfect because she's totally unable to function independently, and that links in with what struck me as an obvious visual cue. Sure, maybe it's all coincidental, and even if not one could argue it's a swipe at a certain kind of heterosexual men, but which then backfires.

Gallifrey Base, this is not.

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mengu 3 years, 9 months ago

The first time I watched Love and Monsters, I absolutely loved it. Adored LINDA, waved away the less lovely bits, declared it my favourite episode of series 2. I suspect a large part of my reaction was sheer defiance.
The second time I watched Love and Monsters, I was really disappointed. The part I loved (LINDA being cute) was much shorter than I remembered, the bits I didn't like much longer. The Absorbaloff is gross and I don't want to have to look at it. The episode keeps acting like it's silly when all the characters I like are dying. Rose and the Doctor act like this is their job. The Jackie sequence lands more in 'excruciatingly awkward' than funny.
It's not awful. It's just kinda dull, and poorly done.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 9 months ago

@Spacewarp

Not sure who you're referring to here, Elton or RTD?.

Elton. Sorry, I though that followed directly from the assumption Elton is an unreliable narrator that I was accusing him of coming up with a creepy tale. Whatever we can conclude from Davies writing the scene, it seems inarguable that if Elton himself has invented Ursula's condition, that comes attached to a whole raft of problems.

@Carey

So any severely disabled person who needs a carer to enable them to undertake even simplest of tasks (such as going to toilet) is being exploited? That anyone who loves someone who is severely disable must be treating that person as a literal object?

Not at all. I wouldn't disagree with anything you've said above if not for two things. First, Elton has set the video up so that Ursula can only get involved if he allows her to - hence the idea of being treated as an object. Secondly, he only does so whilst describing what it is that she can do for him.

And why does the gender matter? If roles were reversed and Elton had been "slabbed" and Ursula had said "but we still have a love life" would the same criticism be made? Or is it only men who have sexual needs and gratification?

Well, as I've said, I'm not trying to pass myself off as an expert on gender relations. And I'm fully aware of the possibility that I'm reading too much into the scene. That said, it strikes me as entirely unhelpful to argue whether a scene that can be interpreted as having gender issues would still have issues were the genders reversed. That's just chopping away millennia of issues to make the narrowest point possible.

People objecting to the disable having a sex life and being over-reliant on others should maybe read up on the life of Alison Lapper.

I don't believe anyone is saying this. The problem is not Ursula's situation - or at least, there are specific problems with Ursula which don't translate into the disabled metaphor, so I'll happily put those aside - it's Elton's response to it. The only time Ursula talks is specifically to ask him to not act the way he's acting.

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

Well that was a relief! I've been worrying for weeks that you were going to pull a heel face turn and negatively deconstruct L&M, figuratively tearing off your perception filter/rubber mask to reveal the cackling visage of Ian Levine in a twist ending of post-modern proportions. I needn't have been concerned. Once again you've effortlesly articulated that which I've been unable to pin down. The issues touched on in this episode run so deep and so close to home it's no wonder much of fandom recoils.

The central premise of course takes the 'Yeti on the loo in Tooting Beck' to its absurdist conclusion. 'what if WE were the monsters?' The Doctor obsessives, the Doctor stalkers, the Doctor completists and yes the Doctor lovers. It sets up another warning sign for the tenth Doctor that his hubristic, matinee idol cum serial adventurer persona is going to cause him problems along the line. That his love of humanity's worship will become his death drive.

'Death is epic, and love is personal.' Indeed. That '...this isn’t so much the central divide of Love and Monsters as it is the central divide of Doctor Who itself under Russell T Davies.' is true and I would suggest that in fact this goes right back to 'An Unearthly Child' and The Problem of Susan. Isn't the conflict there between the Doctor as old grandfather hurtling through time and space toward his inevitable death, while playing the irascible monster to Ian and Barbara, while Susan represents the pubescent potentiality of life, with her love of 'John Smith and the Common Men' and 'England in the twentieth century'?

As to Ursula the paving slab, both RTD and Moffat are prone to throwing the odd risque joke in to stir up reaction. In the context of the complicated issues regarding fandom being explored here it works perfectly. Because KISSING in Doctor Who has always been a metaphor for SEX and here it is totally lampshaded with the predictable result that it divides and engenders endless debate in fandom. If one wanted to treat it diagetically, well, I don't know or care to imagine the precise biological details of how Ursula could pracically survive as a face on a slab (any more than Cassandra the human trampolene) but isn't it possible to imagine she might have some way of recieving sexual gratification? Elton does say 'WE' have a bit of a love life not 'I' and she doesn't contradict him.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 9 months ago

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 9 months ago

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Spacewarp 3 years, 9 months ago

I could kind of (just) get behind the idea of Ursula being the perfect girlfriend for a certain type of heterosexual man...if Elton had been written in any way as that type of heterosexual man. But from what I can see he isn't. He's a bit dopey and just wants a quiet life, but his scenes with Jackie show that he's not scared of being intimate with a woman who is totally capable of functioning independently. Plus he has no difficulty or hesitation in starting up a relationship with Ursula, and in fact is shown to be particularly devastated when Victor takes her away from him in the most horrible way possible.

I don't think there's any "maybe" about it. It is totally coincidental, and besides Elton says "love life", not "sex life" (although I don't think that's a phrase Elton would use anyway), which gives plenty of wiggle room.

I choose to assume that he means "kissing with tongues" as people in love do because the idea of Elton choosing to be fellated by a face in a paving stone is something I cannot see the character as written doing, let alone enjoying.

The phrase is meant as a double entendre, but one that exists in the mind of the viewer, not the mouth of the character. It's like Mrs Slocombe in the 1970s TV sitcom "Are You Being Served", who constantly refers to the trials and tribulations of "her pussy". We laugh because it sounds like she's referring to her vagina, but it's obvious that she isn't. Similarly we laugh (or cringe) because it sounds like Elton's telling us he has blowjobs, but perhaps like Mrs Slocombe he isn't.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 9 months ago

I could kind of (just) get behind the idea of Ursula being the perfect girlfriend for a certain type of heterosexual man...if Elton had been written in any way as that type of heterosexual man.

Which would make the joke one out of context, even if it were intended in the way I'm describing. I certainly agree it can't be being aimed at Elton.

The phrase is meant as a double entendre, but one that exists in the mind of the viewer, not the mouth of the character.

I'm not sure if I'd go with "meant as" as oppose to "functions as", but fair point.

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David Anderson 3 years, 9 months ago

I was wrong to say Ursula as paving slab only gets one line: she does say, she can't age.
With regards to whether this is better than The Power of Three. I do not get on with body horror either, but I don't think that makes body horror bad - it just means I don't like it. As regards the misogyny, I think that as Spacesquid says it's more a matter of Davies writing himself into a corner and not thinking through the implications a la Gatiss, rather than something deliberate. I can see someone writing fan fic about the relationship that writes it in a non-misogynistic way. So while I think it's problematic, I think it's a fault rather than a fatal flaw. Whereas, short of being unredeemably and unthinkingly morally wrong, being crushingly dull is the worst thing you can say about any work of fiction.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 9 months ago

I think ultimately it's the only way RTD could end the story on an upbeat note. Imagine it without that line and it's so depressing. A character has been rescued from one of the most horrible deaths imaginable (a sci-fi take on being eaten alive) but left in a state that is almost as bad. RTD attempts to soften the blow by showing that Ursula is in a kind of nirvana state and feels quite comfortable with her situation (which is damn lucky for her, or as Alan says, she'd end up screaming). But this isn't quite enough. Russell then tries to show that not only is Ursula ok with things, but Elton is as well, and they're both basically as happy as they can be under such circumstances. So he does this in the most economical way possible, with a joke. And it's a joke hardly anyone could resist making.

Unfortunately like a lot of the best jokes it does raise some unpleasant issues, but I can't see how else he could have ended that scene on a positive note. That doesn't make you wrong if it rubs you up the wrong way, it's just unfortunate. Perhaps if he'd spent a couple more days rewriting he might have come up with something better, but Russell's problem has always been that he runs so close to the deadline that he ends up grabbing at any resolution that'll work, just so he can finish the script on time. Which is where the accusation of lazy writing comes from. He's not lazy, he's just continually fuelled by nicotine, self-doubt, and panic.

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

I don't think there's any "maybe" about it. It is totally coincidental, and besides Elton says "love life", not "sex life" (although I don't think that's a phrase Elton would use anyway), which gives plenty of wiggle room.

I choose to assume that he means "kissing with tongues" as people in love do because the idea of Elton choosing to be fellated by a face in a paving stone is something I cannot see the character as written doing, let alone enjoying.


I absolutely agree with this reading. Elton's been very strongly coded with the "utterly sexless" nerd archetype for the whole episode. You're meant to read his line as "He means they can still kiss. Hey wait, that could also mean Fellatio! You don't suppose he means... No, of course not, he's a sexless nerd archetype; it would never even occur to him." It's not without reason that some people suggest that the subtle double-entendre that works on both levels is the fundamental particle of british humor.

That said, there's a weakness in how it's delivered and how it's framed that shuffles the wrong entendre to the forefront.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 9 months ago

I've been reminded up thread that Ursula doesn't only speak to tell Elton not to discuss their sex life; she mentions she can't age either.

Which does make one wonder what will happen to her when Elton dies or, if they split up.

I think ultimately it's the only way RTD could end the story on an upbeat note. Imagine it without that line and it's so depressing.

That's true, though really that just pushes the problem further up the chain. Of course, those who love the episode may find this an acceptable price to pay for the previous forty minutes; the fact I didn't like the episode at all is doubtless a factor here.

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Frankenollie 3 years, 9 months ago

A wonderful analysis, as always (I have been a bit of a 'lurker' for several recent weeks, and looked back at your previous essays on classic stories).

This is almost certainly my favourite episode of all time, because, firstly, it's a life-affirming story with pleasant moments, funny moments and heart-breaking moments. The only thing missing is that it lacks the frightening part of what you describe as "the epic" (although I would argue that the Abzorbaloff's leap after Elton is fairly startling). Nevertheless, I believe it is the most Who-esque of all DW episodes in the new series, at least in what it represents. I have always been puzzled by mainstream fandom's negative views towards it, when one would think it would be their perfect story: a story about them. Elton is the average fan: lonely, socially awkward, a bit strange under the surface. The fact that such a large section of fandom finds him irritating perhaps says more about them and their own feelings about themselves rather than the quality of Davies' writing, which is at its best in this story. Yet the most frustrating criticism is easily the criticism of Ursula's fate.

Arguing about the technicalities and the logistics is - and I know full well how condescending and supercilious this may sound - missing the point when it's a symbol, as well as a joke in an episode that is not meant to be taken too seriously or too literally. Ursula's fate is the symbol of difference. The root of people's problems with Ursula, I think, is the root of prejudices such as homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia in general: fear of the different, the strange, the unfamiliar. The fact that Doctor Who fans, of all people, have this fear is strange in itself. It's evidently a mutually consenting relationship, and one that both Elton and Ursula enjoy. But the xenophobic fans can't stand something that is different, even in a show that is all about glorifying the different (not just in the aliens, but in the strange, eccentric people of LINDA). And it's this fear that could destroy DW: fear of the different and the new, fear of progress, a fear that led to continuity porn and attempting to be what DW used to be like in the 1980s. Change is survival.

Which is why I think this is representative of DW as a whole. Because, in a strange, subtle way, Ursula is like the Doctor. The Doctor seems to die, but instead he changes into something else: something that is different, strange, unfamiliar. Ursula's fate is similar, except the strangeness is not shown by a change in personality, but a reference to strange, unfamiliar sexual acts. Like a regeneration, it's change, and as in all change, it's the entropy of something, but the birth of something new too.

That is what I think the episode is inherently about. More than just about fandom, although that is used to convey the themes and messages; it's a story about the wonders of the strange, the unfamiliar and the different, about how, as with regeneration and Ursula's fate, the different can be used to stop complete death. And of course, the way Elton's normal, everyday persona and lifestyle leads into the tongue-in-cheek insanity of the Abzorbaloff is similar to the classic story model DW uses as a foundation: going through the normal and familiar into something strange, bigger, and better. Through the wardrobe, through the police box.

Yet what I love the most is the message. It's OK to be different. It's OK to be a fan of a strange sci-fi show. It's OK to do things close-minded, probably insecure people will find disgusting and weird, and turn into Mary Whitehouse over. The strange is absolutely dangerous and frightening, but wholly beautiful. That's what DW is all about.

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Andre Salles 3 years, 9 months ago

I think my general problem with this outcome is that it is not Ursula's happy ending, it is Elton's. Very little thought has been given to how Ursula would feel in this situation. The script forces her to shut up and like it, because that is what is most convenient for Elton (and RTD).

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Ethan Iverson 3 years, 9 months ago

Enjoyed this episode and this analysis, thanks.

Compared to most who comment on this blog I'm an amateur of WHO...but in case there's someone else out there that needs help understanding the history of fandom I recommend an entertaining book that takes its title from this episode: Love and Monsters: The Doctor Who Experience, 1979 to the Present by Miles Booy.

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Froborr 3 years, 9 months ago

So, just to be clear, anyone who disagrees with your opinion on Love and Monsters hates disabled people, and anyone who disagrees with your opinion on Fear Her hates girls. And you assert this while outright stating that your opinion on Fear Her has nothing to do with the episode itself, but with your personal experiences exterior to the episode that none of the rest of us shared.

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Carey 3 years, 9 months ago

I should apologise here, SpaceSquid, as I'm probably misdirecting my opprobrium upon you here, when really it's meant for the general criticism directed toward the ending.

In regards to Elton as unreliable narrator I think it needs pointing out that whatever events he actually witnessed (and then filtered into the story we know as Love & Monsters) have scarred him to such an extent that he no longer functions in a way that can be called healthy. I have to admit it's a while since I've seen Love & Monsters* and I really can't recall if we actually hear Ursula's voice on the camcorder when Elton records post "slabbing." I seem to recall we only hear her off camera.

In my mind, Elton is a creature of sympathy not creepiness because I've always felt the only way for him to cope is to believe a paving slab in his possession contains the spirit of his dead girlfriend (or rather, almost girlfriend: if we are to believe the rest of the narrative, she was "taken" by the Absorbalof before they could in any way cement their relationship**).

I really can't understand many of the criticisms of the relationship when it's filtered through Ursula being a metaphor for the physically disabled. Yes, it does create a disturbing picture of Elton's psyche when filtered through the unreliable narrator viewpoint (which I believe I've dealt with above). But the "Elton, stop" line is delivered as embarrassment, not chastisement: all indications are that Elton isn't exploiting her, and they have an equal, consenual relationship (in as much as a man and a piece of talking cement can).

I think that there's a separate debate to be had regarding who takes what pleasure from certain sexual acts! Sometimes the giver can take pleasure simply in the knowledge that they are making someone happy, even though they are getting little to no physical pleasure themselves. Again, it comes down to whether you read the relationship between the two to be fully consensual: it has to be said that there is little in the story to indicate that Elton would take advantage of Ursula or anyone else, for that matter, without their permission.

But we are getting a tad to close to the Andrea Dworkin "all penetrative sexual acts are an expression of aggression" debate here. Which for me has always made me feel uncomfortable as that leads to the idea that any receiver of a penetrative sexual act must therefore be a victim. It criticises both, and considering traditional gender's and their roles during traditional sex, comes across as positively anti-female who must be either a victim, or complicit in being a victim. And that's even before we leave those so called traditional roles and include other couplings of same genders, changed genders, changed gender roles, et cetera.


*(on a side bar here, am I alone in continually typing Love & Rockets instead of Love & Monsters here?)

**(Please excuse the pun: my subconscious got the better of me and I only realised how apt that was after typing)

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Carey 3 years, 9 months ago

No, that there are other, extra-genre ways of viewing the next story. I probably would have added a smiley on a forum to show my post, for all that it contained things that were serious, was not meant to be taken entirely seriously.

Or maybe I've just had enough of reading criticism elseweher where something is rendered to "it's crap because I don't like it" and have decided to counter those criticisms in the same tone. Which, in retrospect, this may be the wrong place for, for which I apologise.

But in keeping with Dr Sandifer's previous post, I really have had enough of being told " I find the new series hateful in almost every department and wish the show had never come back. I like the odd episode, but overall, not worth the damage it's done" (a genuine quote from a Doctor Who fan forum).

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 9 months ago

Wow. A whole blog post without any mention of "unreliable narrator" til the comments. Colour me surprised!

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Carey 3 years, 9 months ago

Thank you. That is precisely what I've been trying to say above, but have proved unable to write it so eloquently.

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Assad K 3 years, 9 months ago

Well, having actually rewatched the episode before commenting (go me!)..

Let me say that for me - and it seems just for me - what seemed the most aggravating part of the episodes was that it really seems as if for all intents and purposes the Doctor waltzed out of young Eltons house, leaving a 4 year old alone with the cooling body of his mother. And that.. bothers me. Bothered me then and still bothered me. The thought that came to mind was that I've read stories where Batman runs across children whose families were victims of violence and he.. doesnt just swing off on his batline. He reassures. He follows them as Bruce Wayne. So.. maybe I interpreted things wrong. I dunno.
After seeing it again, and keeping the interpretation in mind that LINDA is 'good' Dr Who fandom and Victor Kennedy is 'bad' fandom - it's a little perturbing that while supposedly having become so close, LINDA really takes the complete disappearance of two members completely in stride, apparently taking Victor Kennedys word (who, um, really just appeared in their life) that Bliss has run off to get married, without contacting any of them. Him being the last person to see her evidently doesn't concern anyone - maybe they should watch more Law And Order: UK?
Also, we don't have a very well organized Dr Who group here (if we do, someone tell me!), but would Ian Levine really take it over so easily? And if, say, a Dr Who fan group decided to spend all its time playing music again, if someone thought that they could do something more Who-focused, like, say, make a fan film, is that person a villain?
I had forgotten about Ursula's line about never aging.. does that make her condition more worrying regarding her future? After all, Elton is never gonna have kids, unless he adopts.. so when he dies, is she just going to gather dust in his closet? Borusa got off lucky, clearly. I am not going to address the question of what happens to the, um, residue, after a paving slab provides fellatio.
I don't hate the episode - it has a lot of nice stuff (LINDA, the only time i have felt anything other than annoyance at Jackie, most of the runtime, really) but it does get let down by the NEED TO HAVE A MONSTER (of such things were born the magma beast of Androzani and the clams of Skaro) and a few niggling concerns. I am sure more of those concerns will come to mind from other peoples comments.

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Assad K 3 years, 9 months ago

Hang about.. are we lonely, socially awkward, a bit strange under the surface..? What, exactly, is an average Doctor Who fan?

Also, it's interesting that Ursulas change leads to something that will .. never change. She will not age. She cannot move on. She cannot do anything independent of Elton. God help her if Elton should find someone interesting who he can actually go to a restaurant or a movie with in a year or two or five. Let me hasten to add that I am not suggesting we smother all quadriplegics post haste.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 9 months ago

I'd say the immortality seekers in The Five Doctors had it worse. Turned to stone, but with no ELO.

OK I guess its debatable.

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

@Assad: you may not be suggesting it, but it's hard to avoid the implication; your argument seems to suggest that the key difference between Ursula and other sorts of severely physically disabled people is that other sorts of physically disabled people will eventually grow old and die. I mean, why "God help her if Elton should find someone interesting" but not "God help Mary Jones who is paralyzed from the neck down if her husband should find someone interesting"?

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Assad K 3 years, 9 months ago

Of course if we are to consider that Ursula is not in fact there and Elton is simply psychotic and just imagining she is in the paving slab... then that pretty muich destroys any spirit of optimism and happiness that this story could possibly generate, and could put the episode as a strong contendor for 'bleakest episode ever'! After all, everyone else already died pretty horribly.

As it happens, Ursula does deliver the 'Stop it' line while on camera... but you don't see her paving stone face on the camera, as Elton has it facing himself.. so .. hmmmmm...

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 9 months ago

I should apologise here, SpaceSquid, as I'm probably misdirecting my opprobrium upon you here, when really it's meant for the general criticism directed toward the ending.

No worries; I may not be expressing myself as well as I should in any case.

I think there's a potential confusion here originating from multiple theories. There's a) Elton as unreliable narrator, b) Ursula as a metaphor for disability, and c) both. In my mind, c) has serious limitations because we're now looking at Elton's view of what living with a disabled girlfriend would be like, which is harder for me to get my head around. So, whilst I admit there's some mileage in options a) and c) (and were I to subscribe to either, I think I'd find Elton sympathetic and creepy) it's b) that I've been focused on.

With that said, then, I think Froborr hits it on the head in the first comment to the post. There's no indication that Usrsula is perfectly fine with everything because that's the way she's written, which doesn't dig the episode out of whatever hole it may have fallen into. Your point about Elton seeming to be a perfectly nice bloke strikes me as much stronger, but again, the argument is not "he's clearly abusing her!", it's "the set-up presented here has unfortunate resonances". Obviously it's up for debate how significant or powerful those resonances are, and how they've ended up there, but they exist independently of the attitudes of the characters.

It also takes place independently of the fact that, as you say, it's entirely reasonable that two people might exist in a consensual relationship where only one partner receives sexual gratification, and it be nobody's damn business but their own. But there are self-evidently all kinds of behaviours within relationships which some might find desirable but which are far more commonly problematic, and the idea of a man being the focus of sexual attention seems to me to be clearly one of those.

In fact, I mentioned in my last comment that I'd keep some stuff out of this conversation since it didn't really fit in to a discussion about disability, but since we're branching out into consent, let me point out that, as others have mentioned, Ursula is utterly bollixed without Elton because she can't risk her condition becoming public knowledge. If she attempted to obtain another carer she could be beneath Canary Wharf within the hour. That puts some strain on the idea of mutual consent, I think.

All of which I think can be formulated without going anywhere near Dworkin, I think. One doesn't need to suggest sex is an aggressive act, one simply needs to note that a man who announces he still gets his end away even though his girlfriend is disabled feeds into larger problems.

(Oh, and actually, I loved your pun).

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Assad K 3 years, 9 months ago

Well, if we are to inject some more grim reality into this discussion - forget neck down, injuries that can affect mobility introduce a lot of strain into relationships, even ones that have been there for decades. Elton and Ursula knew each other for.. what, weeks? Months? They hadn't even had a date yet, really. And I still maintain, a paving slab with a face is a bit different than a human being (even a human being that one may point out functionally may as well be just a paving slab with a face).

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prandeamus 3 years, 9 months ago

Worse, perhaps. But there's a sense in which the immortality seekers "deserved" their fate, as a consequence of "poetic justice". Ursula is surely more of a bystander.

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

Sure; she's considerably more mobile and Elton doesn't have to worry about the biological issues that are a huge part of the strain on the caregivers to the severely disabled. He doesn't need to feed her, bathe her, treat bedsores, avoid blood clots, or make sure she doesn't choke on her own snot.

But if you want to argue that a person with a non-mobile but biological body is inherently better off just by virtue of having a physical body, you're going to have to actually make the argument and give some reasons. Because on the surface of it, it actually sounds more like Ursula's fate has been sanitized by taking all the unpleasant bits out

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Tom Dickinson 3 years, 9 months ago

Back in 2007 I was introducing my best friend to Doctor Who and his teenage brother wandered into the room just as we were starting this episode. When it was done the kid turned to me in a state of wide-eyed shock and said, "Tom, that was absolutely without a doubt the worst thing I have ever seen." For damage control purposes we had to put The Girl in The Fireplace.

I adore this episode but it's probably the worst first episode of Doctor Who ever produced in the new series.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

The first time I saw L&M I didn't like it at all, and my second viewing only confirmed the first. But on the third viewing, that began to change. Maybe it's because I'd been studying the art of storytelling at that point, and could see more of its underlying construction, which I could subsequently identify as pretty slick; in any case, the switch flipped and I love it.

I've seen it about ten or twelve times now, and I'll happily watch it again.

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Chris Schaeffer 3 years, 9 months ago

This actually was my first episode of Doctor Who. My fiance showed it to me, I thought it was ok, cute enough, then she showed me the "Family of Blood" two-parter and something about the spectrum of dramas encompassed between the two stories made me a lot more amenable to the show (which, up to that point, I had always thought was about a robot ship captain for some reason).

I think it's a fine first episode to see, if the person showing it to you is a big fan. It's kind of an apologia for the particular kind of enthusiasm Who brings out in people. As the essay says: "here's this thing we love, this sloppy, bizarre thing, we sloppy, bizarre, people." In a lot of ways its about the joys of excess that are an important part of this franchise-- especially the classis series-- and how to not be embarrassed by your love for something deeply imperfect. That, and its funny, of course.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

URSULA: It's really quite peaceful, you'd be surprised.

There's another metaphor to glean from Ursula's condition.

Ursula died. She was absorbed by a monster, had communion with her friends, and died heroically -- and not just heroically, but alchemically. The last thing they do "together" is "pull apart," which is a union of opposites, couched in self-sacrifice; it's also a principle of "reversing the polarity" of the monster itself.

URSULA: For God's sake, pull! If it's the last thing we ever do - Bliss! All of us together, come on, pull! LINDA united, pull!

And notice that it's "God" and "Bliss" who are invoked when she performs her magic trick. When she's reborn, she's literally a Circle in the Square, which is an esoteric symbol for ascension, and which becomes repeated over and over again in subsequent episodes with all those "head in a box" images, which, actually, begin with The Idiot Lantern.

"Deity, symbolized by the all-containing circle, has attained form and manifestation in a 'square' or human soul. It expresses the mystery of the Incarnation, accomplished within the personal soul." -- W.L. Wilmshurst, The Meaning of Masonry, 1922

Speaking of esoteric symbolism, the group meets in the basement of an abandoned library (the Akashic Records) which they reach by an elevator. In that space, there's a ladder, and in several shots it's Ursula who's positioned underneath it. This is, in a sense, her Ascension story.

Ursula's position in this small opera is much like Elton's -- she's the only other person to step behind the camera. But she's also a webmistress, and the gatekeeper who grants Elton the opportunity to meet like-minded people. She's a principle of connection, but as her name implies, she's also fierce, vehemently defending Elton from the verbal assault of Victor Kennedy.

And then there's the manner of Ursula becoming "Doctorish." It's more than superficial -- although it's cute that she's the one wearing a long scarf and coat in her first scene, and being the one to wear glasses, like the Doctor himself -- no, Ursula is clever. She figures out the monster's weakness, reading his thoughts. She's the one to express moral outrage. She's the one who tells Elton to "Run!" And the Doctor, of course, is the one who comes in a Box.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 9 months ago

Worth noting that L&M isn't designed to be a story which you use to introduce someone to the show.

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Pen Name Pending 3 years, 9 months ago

I know what you mean...and I quite like "Fear Her", actually.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

It puts an entirely new twist on "giving head."

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David Jones 3 years, 9 months ago

This is one story that I could never really decide upon. Was it was utterly appalling or quite good? (I tend to veer towards appalling). The story itself isn't horrendous and can be enjoyed as a sort of black comedy - although the Doctor and Rose (in smug mode) running through corridors with a bucket sequence and Peter Kay's Absorbalof is annoying.

The ending, however, has always left a bad taste in my mouth (so to speak). I just don't think it's something that I would want to sit down and watch with my Son and try to explain the joke.

We do get a fair amount of sexual innuendo in New Who that we didn't in Classic Who and I always find it slightly offputting.

It's a story that I probably need to rewatch, but I find it quite hard to go back through the Tennant era as a whole, because of the self-indulgent bits, like the above. There are some Tennant stories that I quite like (mainly involving Donna), but looking back on the reviews of this season so far, there are very few stories that I'd really want to revisit.

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John Voorhees 3 years, 9 months ago

"The ending is always the problem, because the ending is not the point."

I think I need a T-shirt of this. :)

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John Voorhees 3 years, 9 months ago

One of the best lines ever delivered by David Tennant as the 10th Doctor:

"ELTON! FETCH A SPADE!"

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

The conceit of the unreliable narrator doesn't necessarily mean it's all in Elton's head. If it was, then how did he know about Jackie? If we go down this road, it means he's watching the show on TV, just like us, in which case this is fan-fiction that's fed back into the show itself.

Which is actually an interesting reading, and supported by Blue Peter.

But extradiegetic concerns aside, Elton's not the only narrator. Ursula's voice can actually be heard in some of the "video" scenes, which means she too is a narrator. She's a part of the production crew, holding the camera, and providing off-camera commentary. And this makes her a co-conspirator in the story, including the final "joke." (Notice how he reaches behind the camera to bring the paving stone into view.)

Elton's not the only unreliable narrator in this story.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

Doesn't that read just kill any discussion of character? I mean taking it to the logical conclusion "X isn't real, they just acted as the implied author thinks they should" is kind of ridiculous. To take an example from your (excellent) blog, wouldn't the Dragonshy entry become:

"Fluttershy never overcomes her shyness. Fluttershy is a fictional character and so Fluttershy doesn't exist".

I mean if we're going to make that point and make it a battlefield Character analysis is done. It's all authorial criticism. Which is a lot less interesting.

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Spoilers Below 3 years, 9 months ago

And more than that. It’s about overweight bloggers who washed out of academia, and queer midwestern middle-aged mystics. About trans Google engineers who worship Freija and bisexual Big Brother bloggers who read Avengers comics and pretend they’re about other things. Polyamorous hypnofetishists and southern anarchist philosophy professors. Weirdo visionaries who write about My Little Pony, David Bowie, Star Trek, and the Beach Boys...

We love you too, Phil :)

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

So you admit that your dislike is based on personal preference and horror, on how you'd feel in the resolution?

Because to say no person could be happy disable is ableist. At the point it becomes "A life without a body isn't worth living" we're passing beyond what it is reasonable of us to say about how other people may be forced to live their lives.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

I don't know if I like Fear Her so much as I appreciate it.

I appreciate the metaphors, first and foremost. Chloe as the Isolus, and the father in the cupboard, and how this makes visible the way the traumas of childhood, or any other trauma that gets lodged in the subconscious, can be rendered through such "monsters" -- for monsters don't exist, and to take them literally is a mistake.

And then there's the continued Doctoring of Rose, being put in the position of figuring it all out; she too hides in a cupboard. And her reaction to learning that the Doctor was once a father -- all at once, she realizes that she doesn't know this man as well as she thought, which makes for some delicious foreshadowing of the finale.

Like many episodes of Who, it suffers on the production end. The television announcers spelling out the meaning of the Olympic Torch. The drab street. A lack of any kind of dynamic lighting. The hoarse half-whisper Agbaje uses to voice the Isolus. I really don't care for the aesthetics.

But then, this was the story that was specifically done to appeal to children, as well as being done on the cheap. In that respect, some of the decisions make sense -- like spelling out metaphors. And according to the AI figures, children really loved this episode. It kind of goes to show what Phil said earlier, that Who strives to reach the broadest audience possible by crafting each story with certain segments of the audience in mind, rather than trying to make every story appeal to everybody.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

I continue to admit that "Fear Her" might be an excellent piece of television for some people and especially children.

I will also continue to say that I find it the most Tedious and Cringeworthy episode of New Who, with Piper and Tennent at their worst, I would never recommend it and will not watch it again willingly.

Is that opinion ok? Under what authority do I have to answer to you?

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Adam B 3 years, 9 months ago

It's nice to see a reasonably level-headed discussion on disability and sexuality happening here, so as the resident disabled lurker, my two pence:

I acknowledge that there are some potentially problematic aspects to Elton and Ursula's relationship post-paving slab, especially the very valid points that U is basically stuck w Elton as her carer/lover. Beyond that, though, as long as their relationship is functional, any awkwardness folks may feel about their 'love life' does strike me as overly paternalistic and ableist. Doesn't mean you're bad if you feel that way, only that there may be some privileged assumptions about sex and disability you may need to check.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 9 months ago

Beyond that, though, as long as their relationship is functional, any awkwardness folks may feel about their 'love life' does strike me as overly paternalistic and ableist. Doesn't mean you're bad if you feel that way, only that there may be some privileged assumptions about sex and disability you may need to check.

But where is this awkwardness being expressed? I'd hate to think I've said anything that could be interpreted in that way. In my head this is about an able-bodied writer having an able-bodied character talk about his disabled girlfriend (who gets far less time to talk about herself, and only does so when he decides she can), and deciding it's worth mentioning he still gets gratification. It's not the idea that he does that's the problem, it's the desire to tell people about it.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 9 months ago

Sorry, to be clear; his desire to tell people about it without checking she's OK with it, and as part of a fairly short message. I'm not suggesting icky sex times are things better not discussed.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

Frankenollie that was excellent.

Assad: We have no idea if she will age or not do we? I don't recall the Doctor addressing that in the episode. Perhaps the energies keeping her form would break down or some such. Saying she won't age is about as supportable as that she will age and die at the same rate as Elton.

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Aaron 3 years, 9 months ago

RE: Ursula the paving slab- I just think everyone's missing the point on this ending, and not seeing the forest for the trees. Davies is showing how, sometimes, life becomes strange and not what we expected. Ursula would never have chosen the life of a paving slab for herself, and Elton would never have expected a relationship with her in this way. But sometimes tragedy happens, and we're left in a situation that no one could have predicted. And you know what? We make due. We find love, and we find happiness, despite the fact that the world might not have worked out the way we wanted to. That ending isn't a blowjob joke, or an example of treating women badly- it's an example of how people, in the face of adversity and tragedy, can find happiness. Which is the point of the episode, and, to me, beautiful.

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Adam B 3 years, 9 months ago

SpaceSquid, all very reasonably said, and I certainly wasn't directing my comments at anyone in particular. As a wheelchair user who depends on others for some of my personal care, I am pretty sensitive to the othering and neutering that disabled folks receive in some quarters. My partner is able-bodied, and sometimes has to function as a carer as well. This has complicated our relationship, including our sex life. At the same time, damaging self-internalized assumptions about disabled bodies and sexuality has made it difficult to develop fully realized relationships w other disabled people, and that has been frustrating.

But thank you for further clarifying your thoughts.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

It's not that he's making them focused on Who, it's that he's making it no longer about the fun that they had previously enjoyed.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

Damnit Aaron! You stole my post!

Well, what he said then. Hit's the nail right on the head.

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Alan 3 years, 9 months ago

Because to say no person could be happy disable is ableist. At the point it becomes "A life without a body isn't worth living" we're passing beyond what it is reasonable of us to say about how other people may be forced to live their lives.

I don't think we have enough information to know whether Ursula considers her life "worth living" or not since the story as a whole clearly views her as a possession of Elton's rather than having any agency of her own. I think I could probably adapt to becoming a paraplegic. I cannot imagine how anyone would adapt to becoming a face in a block of concrete, dependent on another not just for companionship but for all social interaction. I just can't do it. It's like watching the end of "Johnny Got His Gun" and thinking "well, maybe he'll adjust to his condition and live happily ever after."

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

I approve of this comment.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

Alan - I think you may be misusing the word "clearly."

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Spoilers Below 3 years, 9 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Spoilers Below 3 years, 9 months ago

Turned to stone, but with no ELO.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMmRyyU0SOo

Implication aside, I think it works pretty well as one last ELO joke...

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Alan 3 years, 9 months ago

Another reason why the ending bugged me: It's another example of Ten half-assing things. Ursula ended up as a face in a block of concrete as an indirect result of the Doctor's activities. I cannot believe that in an entire universe of impossibilities (including a Christmas planet where the trees evolved to produce their own Christmas decorations), there exists no technology that can retrieve Ursula's consciousness from said block of concrete and deposit it into a new body. I am left with the unpleasant perception that the Doctor simply wasn't interested in helping someone who'd been put into horrific circumstances as a byproduct of his adventures. It's emblematic of the callousness that defines the Tenth Doctor from moment he destroys Harriet Jones' career to the moment he seems to seriously consider letting Wilfrid die just so that he can continue on his merry adventures.

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Alan 3 years, 9 months ago

I think you may be misusing the word "clearly."

Fair enough. Replace "clearly" with "arguably."

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

Doesn't she say it isn't so bad? At the end?

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Assad K 3 years, 9 months ago

@Ross: Fair points! I do however maintain that a slab with a face would remain much more difficult to relate to than a biological body. I don't have any studies to cite, needless to say.. Perhaps I am adding on the additional factors that, as I have said elsewhere, in this unique case of the paving slab, Elton can't exactly have people over for dinner or a visit with his significant other, nor is it likely that Ursula would have a wider circle than Elton - as opposed to a human otherwise disabled.

Theonlyspiral: Well, can only go with what was said onscreen.

There's not much more I can say on the topic without going in circles, I think...

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Assad K 3 years, 9 months ago

@Adam: I can only apologize if I said anything that seemed callous. If so, it was due to poor expression.

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Ununnilium 3 years, 9 months ago

I seriously don't get this reading. Yes, it's a fucked-up state to be in, but every part of it implies "two people who are dealing with a fucked-up situation in the best way possible", and taking a horrifying view of it requires actively putting in the horror yourself.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

If we're only going with the episode than no statement is made as to her ability to age normally. Which means either reading seems equally valid.

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Ununnilium 3 years, 9 months ago

Yes, exactly definitely this.

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

I adore this episode, and I adore what you've written about it. The paragraph where you call out five new-series writers and fans...let's just say it's good that I'm not the crying type.

As for the paragraph after: I hope you wouldn't file me with the schoolboys. I read faithfully because I love this blog, and though I tend to post more often when I disagree or have some nit to pick (and this tendency of mine annoys me more than it annoys you, I can guarantee; working on it), I wouldn't be here if I hated it. I'm probably not even on your radar, really, but just so you know.

And that last full paragraph + the final word?

Fuck. Yes.

Bravo.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

The schoolboys are a reference to a very specific thread on a very specific forum that shows up in my referral logs occasionally. As it turns out, I am popular enough to have my very own Internet hatedom, and I treasure them dearly. :)

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

Also, you're most certainly on my radar as one of the commenters I know by handle, though not one I know well enough to work into the paragraph. :)

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm not southern, I just work here! :-)

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

It's kind of like Coraline: Too scary for Adults, just scary enough for children.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

But we are getting a tad to close to the Andrea Dworkin "all penetrative sexual acts are an expression of aggression" debate here.

Which she did not actually say. (And, FWIW, neither did MacKinnon.)

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landru 3 years, 9 months ago

OK, that was a nice deconstruction. The fandom aspect is all well and good, but like Adric, I don't want to watch a story about "us." LINDA in L&M is like the holodeck on ST:TNG ... I hated it because it was a metaphor for TV. I don't want to watch people essentially watching TV. Equally, since most of fandom and me don't get along (hell, even my 2 Doctor Who friends and I barely get along) it isn't very interesting to me on that level. We all know how horrible the forums are and I personally saw my local Dr. Who group fracture just because of an opinion I expressed.

But, really, I just hated this story. It was to me (checking watch/calendar) "When is Doctor Who on?"

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

Is it weird that I really really want to explore your hatedom now?

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Triturus 3 years, 9 months ago

the moment he seems to seriously consider letting Wilfrid die just so that he can continue on his merry adventures.

That would have been a good alternate ending to record for a DVD extra.

Wilf: No really, just leave me. I'm an old man, Doctor. I've had my time.

Doctor: Yeah, OK.

Cut to: The Doctor at a party doing the conga in a silly hat and clutching a bottle of Cava.

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Aaron 3 years, 9 months ago

I want this deleted scene so badly now.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

This was the first episode of NuWho that I saw too. I disliked it so much that not only did I not (for several years) watch any more, but I actually blanked my memory of it, so that when I caught "The Beast Below" while channel-surfing and got hooked, I sincerely thought that was the first episode I'd seen.

After watching a sampling of past episodes to get sort-of caught up ("The Eleventh Hour" as background for "The Beast Below"; "Blink," "Silence in the Library," and "Forest of the Dead" as background for the then-upcoming "The Time of Angels" and "Flesh and Stone"; "Dalek" to check out Eccleston, and because I'd seen the Monty Python version), I eventually began watching NuWho in order, and when I came to "Love and Monsters," the memory came back like a repressed trauma: oh shit, I remember this, this is why I didn't watch Doctor Who for so long.

And I've never been able to find my way to the redemption of this episode. The grossness of the Abzorbaloff, the callous pavingisation of Ursula -- it all seemed like gross, mean-spirited junior-high antics to me. At least the Slitheen were redeemed by "Boom Town."

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Spoilers Below 3 years, 9 months ago

Though perhaps it doesn't have the most evidence compared to other theories, one could easily read that last bit with the stone as a joke between the two of them. Ursula is either human or in some 3rd state off camera thanks to Doctory science-magic, but they've together decided to get in one last little joke at their audience's expense. As I mentioned above, "Turned to Stone" is one of ELO's hit singles, and is featured in the episode itself.

Because really, how could a paving stone operate a camera?

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Aaron 3 years, 9 months ago

I mean, she didn't say those words, but she kind does say that. Even this article you linked to grants that she thinks patriarchal society creates such intrusive power structures that nearly every time a woman and a man have sex, the woman is being coerced by societal pressures and cannot be said to have chosen to have that sex freely. Yes, she doesn't think that the actual biological act is rape, but she does think that the cultural context of the act makes it impossible to consent. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is basically the same thing.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

His hatedom is a hatedom in general, I think; they are quite possibly the very definition of "anorak" -- at least as Cornell used it in Timewyrm:Revelation.

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Frankenollie 3 years, 9 months ago

Assad: In my description of the average Whovian, I was specifically thinking about the fans of the show in the 1980s, when Levine/Kennedy began exerting control. And surely I'm correct in presuming that, even now, as both L&M and Phil suggest, the biggest fans are also strange, awkward individuals. Considering how strange the Doctor is, it would seem fitting that the people who love him and his show the most are those who are just as uniquely bizarre on a smaller scale.

As Carey theorised, it's possible that Ursula never became a sentient pavement slab at all, and Elton's mind had fully gone into the fantasy world. It's bittersweet & ambiguous, far more preferable than the notion of Ursula simply dying, whereupon the ending would struggle to create the mood of hope and happiness necessary for the closing lines.

And thank you Carey and Theonlyspiral.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

Ursula says, "Could be worse. At least I'll never age. And it really is quite peaceful, you'd be surprised."

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Assad K 3 years, 9 months ago

@Frankenollie: The deaths of all his friends leading to Elton having a complete psychotic break, that is clearly untreated, does not meet my definition of bittersweet. :)

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

Even this article you linked to grants that she thinks patriarchal society creates such intrusive power structures that nearly every time a woman and a man have sex, the woman is being coerced by societal pressures and cannot be said to have chosen to have that sex freely

Um, did we read the same thing? Because I don't find that claim in the article.

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

I love Jackie so much, and I'm not sure I ever love her more than in this episode. I'm not sure I could say enough about the transition she makes between the time Elton first meets her, and we think her role here is going to be largely comic, to the time when she gets furious at him and we see the utter seriousness of her relationship with Rose. It's just one part of what makes this episode so much more than a story about a man and his paving slab.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

"This episode is Elton's story, and Ursula pretty much spends it on the margins. We never see from her point of view, so we never find out why she likes Elton; all we get is his subjective perspective, in which she is the object of his affections."

Nope, not buying this argument. The entailment is that *everyone* in Elton's story is depersonalized, simply because he's the sole narrator -- we don't see from anyone's point of view.

Furthermore, Ursula isn't marginalized -- she gets more lines than anyone else other than Elton himself. She's a part of the storytelling, from holding the camera to making commentary. She's the one who admits Elton to the "inner sanctum," who stands up against Kennedy's threats of violence, who encourages the group to name itself, and keeps up on the group's romantic entanglements. She's the one who figures out how to defeat the monster.

So I don't think the critique of "Ursula's objectified the whole way through" stands up. Not unless you want to say that everyone else is as well, all because of the conceit of the single narrator. Which pretty much throws all first-person and single-character focused narration out the window.

But even if we do admit there's problems with this narrator in particular (and yes, there are problems with Elton) and not just the type of narration per se, it's not like the implied author lets him off the hook. The final scene with Jackie exposes how Elton can objectify people. His clumsy storytelling techniques are evident; he uses clichés. His hasty surrender to the monster is chastened by Ursula, he's chewed out by Rose, and the Doctor expresses a willingness to sacrifice him before turning the tables.

(Speaking of turning the tables, suppose we did find out why Ursula likes Elton: we could easy use this as proof of his own self-aggrandizement; Ursula would now exist to fluff up the narrator, furthering her "objectification.") But really, it's the critique that's objectifying -- because it glosses over all the wonderful things that Ursula's done, all the strong points of her characterization, and removes all her agency in the resolution, completely ignoring anything she has to say about it, all because of the implication of a sexual act.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

You're just saying that because they hate you even more than they hate me.

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Frankenollie 3 years, 9 months ago

He's happy and found closure on something that had caused him pain and confusion since childhood. Besides, my description of 'bittersweet' was referring more to the mood of the final scenes rather than the ambiguous, dubious content.

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Aaron 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm interpreting this statement (among others),

" (4) that (1)-(3) constitute a serious obstacle to women’s control over their own lives and identities that is both very intimate and very difficult to escape; (5) that intercourse as it’s actually practiced occurs in the social context of (1)-(3), and so intercourse as a real social institution and a real experience in individual women’s lives is shaped and constrained by political-cultural forces and not merely by individual choices; (6) that, therefore, drawing the ethical lines in regards to sexuality solely on the basis of individual formal consent rather than considering the cultural and material conditions under which sexuality and formal consent occur makes it hard for liberals and some feminists writing on sexuality to see the truth of (4)"

to corroborate my own reading of Dworkin which is that she believes social and cultural inequalities nearly always create a power inequality between men and women during sex, which means that women cannot consent freely to sex. However, examining the article closely, I think the author is reading Dworkin a little bit more weakly than I am. First, I think she reads Dworkin as being less interested in all encompassing power structures and more interested in legal and cultural practices, and I think she reads Dworkin as saying "social and cultural practices mean that we need to look at more than a woman's individual consent to see if something is rape" whereas I read Dworkin as saying that "social and cultural practices are so strong that they override a women's ability to consent."

So I guess there are different ways to understand Dworkin. But I stand by my reading of her.

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storiteller 3 years, 9 months ago

When considering issues of sexism and racism, I think it's helpful to keep in mind the difference between what the author wrote and what makes sense in story. I really like the labels of "Watsonian" and "Doylist" in particular, obviously referring to the quite fictional and "real" author of Sherlock Holmes. Watsonian critiques look at how the story makes sense or not (or has an impact or not) within its own narrative logic. It's very important for literary critique and reviews in terms of quality. Doylist critiques look at how the story reflects larger messages in society and reinforces those messages or not. It's useful when making critiques based on social justice aspects. A story (or an element of a story) can succeed or fail in one or both of these categories - an action may make perfect sense from a characterization point of view, but reveal something pretty nasty in the author's personal perspective, for example.

Generally, Doylist critiques are more about examining the broader culture surrounding the story than the story itself. For example, the Left Behind critiques on Slacktivist occasionally critique the books' story logic but are much more about the story reflects and shapes the fundamentalist evangelical Christian point of view. They do not necessarily say that the story is "bad" per say, although they can. It's more of an examination of problematic cultural issues than it is quality of the art.

I think the varying reactions to Ursula show this divide really well. From a Watsonian perspective, I think that she isn't objectified as a character and could be perfectly happy with the ending. From a Doylist point of view, it is telling that it is a female character who ends up permanently reliant on the male protagonist with a sex joke at the end. Even if it makes perfect sense within the story, it shares a common theme of women being disempowered within SF that rings wrong to me and others.

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David Thiel 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm thinking that I might have to take another pass at L&M. I'm not certain that I ever watched it more than once.

I won't echo the paving slab complaints (even if I do share the prevailing opinion), but my primary reaction to L&M was "what the f*** am I watching here?" I was fine with the metacommentary, and even the bucket--I get that the Doctor's exploits would seem inexplicable and insane to a normal person--but once the Absorbaloff showed up, I checked out.

The only other time I've had that reaction to nuWho was "The Rings of Akhaten," when Matt Smith was telling off a planet with a face. For a moment, it made me seriously question why I was even sitting in from of the TV.

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm perfectly content to be a non-paragraphed commenter. Just happy to be here. :) Although if you show up to Gally and speak on a panel anytime in the next few years -- and you should -- odds are I'll summon the nerve to say hi.

jane: I read a (really unpleasant) Hellblazer series recently about John Constantine's trenchcoat being animate through all the horrible magickal things he'd done while wearing it. I'm starting to imagine what conditions it would take to create an animate anorak, and what it would do if found by someone other than its owner....

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

I would like to try my hand at a convention or two next year, but travel is bloody expensive, so we'll see.

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Bill Reed 3 years, 9 months ago

I believe that line was downloadable from the Doctor Who website after this episode aired. I know I have it on mp3.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

I saw that as incredibly epic...he's telling off a Stargod. One man against the infinite.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

I would make it a priority to go to any Con you were appearing at. I would definitely book it across the border assuming it's somewhere that isn't insanely impossible to get to.

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elvwood 3 years, 9 months ago

Hm. Well, prompted by this blog entry (coming on top of a "L&M: Love it or Hate it" thread on GB), I decided to watch it again for the first time since 2006 (I think). At the time I really enjoyed it up until the reveal of the monster, after which it went rapidly downhill; and then we hit the coffee-splurt-inducing blowjob joke and it became WRONG WRONG WRONG. Was there some ableism involved? Probably; but I do believe the main thing was the sense of objectification described so well by Froborr and expanded upon by others here. I also felt that a monster designed for a Blue Peter competition should have been used in a context that was appropriate to Blue Peter viewers.

Later - much later - I calmed down and realised (reflecting on my children's lack of reaction to the joke) that it was appropriate to that age group. Just not to fortysomethings. But I still had no desire to rewatch it.

Now, watching it again all this time later, after the shock's worn off, the bits I enjoyed most seem much shorter and I still find the end problematic; but I do get more out of the rest. I sort-of picked up on the unreliable narration with the lovely Scooby Doo bit, but now I can see how it seeps through. I'd completely missed the fact that it was about Doctor Who fans (I wasn't one at the time, quite).

Hm, I don't think I've got very much else to add to the existing discussion - these days it takes more time for the trickier arguments to filter through enough to be able to contribute meaningfully - but darn it, I've written this much so I might as well post.

What's the betting it'll be absorbed by Blogger as I'm walking away?

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David Thiel 3 years, 9 months ago

Telling off a god? Fine. The Doctor does that twice before breakfast. It's when that god is made manifest as a planet with a face that I feel embarrassed to be a viewer. Frankly, it seems like condescension: that to sell the audience on the notion of a sentient world, one has to put a literal face on it, like some form of cosmic jack-o-lantern.

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

Considering how long I've been a fan, it's surprising to me to realize this, but apart from the one I tried to attend when I was about 12 which was cancelled when Troughton...couldn't be there, Gally 2013 is the only Doctor Who convention I've ever attended. So I can't compare it to anything, but I loved it and it was absolutely worth it. Expensive, though, yes, I totally understand. If you manage to swing it I think you'll be glad you did.

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landru 3 years, 9 months ago

p.s. the "bit of a love life" joke never bothered me, but by the time that occurred in the story, I was not interested.

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jsd 3 years, 9 months ago

I don't perceive this episode as celebrating our differences. The LINDA members are caricatures. The show is saying "look at the stupid nerds! aren't they stupid? laugh at them!" No better than Wizzkid in Greatest Show In The Galaxy really.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

I couldn't disagree more. Wizzkid is the production team lashing out at an annoying subset of fans that they clearly blame in part for the show's declining popularity. LINDA is Davies writing a loving caricature of his own past as a fan.

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Josiah Rowe 3 years, 9 months ago

Yes, this. Who knows what a sentient, animated paving stone might find pleasurable? Perhaps there's a bit of concrete that's particularly sensitive. It's only our assumption that the pleasure is one-sided.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 9 months ago

By the time I first read this post, the comment thread was already 50 deep. Now it's doubled, filled with a very tense discussion filled with accusations of ablism, misogyny, and sex slavery. That's the internet for you once it gets riled up and controversial about something.

My original reaction to Love & Monsters was mixed, though my evaluation has improved as I watched the episode a few more times. Living on a different continent and not being part of the major forums, I wasn't really attached or invested in the fan culture the episode was satirizing. I was following the production of the series, though, so I knew that it was produced as the first Doctor-lite episode, thanks to adjustments they made in the shooting schedule so the main cast wouldn't have a nervous breakdown. And I knew that it would be incorporate the Blue Peter contest winner (scads of material here about the para/meta/text relationship here). I just took it as an interesting experiment caused by circumstances the show had never really encountered before, which worked on some aspects and not so much on others.

Yet I do have one problem with the episode itself, which has nothing to do with its comments on fan culture, which I think — especially after following Phil through his long analysis of the JNT-Levine collaboration period — are spot on. No, what bugged me about this episode was its very dark treatment of the Doctor. When we get to Human Nature / Family of Blood, we'll see this even more deeply. Love & Monsters is the first time a character in a Doctor Who story who is the ostensible target of the Doctor's help openly says how frightening, terrifying, and terrible the Doctor is. But he's also wonderful.

I don't think Davies ever explored this paradox in his take on the character besides simply repeating it. It reminds me a little of the questions about the nature of superheroes that The Dark Knight film and many of the earlier comics stories explored: Yes, the inspiration of the Doctor inspires people to be better, but he also inspires villains who come after him and don't care (or else revel) in the collateral damage their pursuit of the Doctor causes. LINDA were a nice little group before Victor Kennedy showed up to turn this group into a task force to hunt the Doctor. If it wasn't for the Doctor, the gang wouldn't have gotten together. But if it wasn't for the malignant forces that the Doctor provokes into coming after him, the gang wouldn't all have been killed or permanently disabled.

There seems to be nothing in the story itself to indicate that the incredible risks are worth it except Elton's declaration that they are. It just about works here. But by the time we see it again in the 2007 and 2008 series, I don't think it can work anymore. The Doctor may have all the benevolent intentions in the world. But benevolent intentions don't count for anything when death and destruction that you fight against follow you and sweep up piles of unrelated bystanders in their wake.

Davies has opened up the possibility that the Doctor's adventures cause more harm than good, that the world might be better off without him. And I don't think he ever solidly addressed that problem during his era as showrunner.

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Peter McDonald 3 years, 9 months ago

To be honest, I was dense enough to have needed the supposed blowjobbyness of the ending pointed out to me even after I'd seen it 3 times. I had always just come to the above conclusion and read it as a life affirming way of finishing it. Two people are able to love each other - I definitely agree that's beautiful. Soppy old git that I am :)

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm starting to imagine what conditions it would take to create an animate anorak,

Well, there's the 1992 Documentary "Doctor Who: Resistance is Useless"

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

I really don't see how it's condescension. It just looks like a really epic visual to me.

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Peter McDonald 3 years, 9 months ago

I just remember seeing this for the first time and really being refreshed by a Doctor-lite story. I love the part-affectionate/part-satirical portrayal of fandom of course, but the thing I really enjoyed was seeing things from the show through the eyes of a 'Mr Average'. I guess it's a similar trick RTD pulled with Turn Left (which I also love), taking The Doctor out to see what's left. The difference being that in 'Turn Left' we see that the world badly needs The Doctor, whereas in 'L&M' there's a sense that even without him friendship and love can exist.

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Iain Coleman 3 years, 9 months ago

Absolutely.

And this is such a rare thing in heroic drama. Sympathetic characters usually survive intact against all the odds, or die quickly, generally in some noble sacrifice. To have a sympathetic character permanently and profoundly disabled is startling in itself. To have her still carry on, making a happy life with her loving and supportive partner, is inspiring.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 9 months ago

He probably hates me. :-P

(I hope not.)

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Iain Coleman 3 years, 9 months ago

“You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
? Winston Churchill

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Alan 3 years, 9 months ago

That kind of cries out for a follow-up to see if she still feels the same way in 500 years. Capt. Jack was deeply ambivalent about his immortality despite the fact that he was still gorgeous, led a life of excitement and danger, and could shag anything that he could get his hands on.

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Alan 3 years, 9 months ago

LINDA in L&M is like the holodeck on ST:TNG. Interesting you should mention TNG. The wiki page for this episode expressly compares it to the "Lower Decks" episode from TNG (which is about watching the main cast through the eyes of previously unmentioned ensigns) and "The Zeppo" from Buffy (which is about Xander having his own side quest that tangentially interacts with the "more important" storyline going on with the main cast).

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

Yeah, though they were explicit with Jack that it's not your standard "Wah! It's so hard to be immortal!" so much as "There's this second between when I die and when I come back that I think I see what happens to people when they die, and it's scary."

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

First, I think she reads Dworkin

RadGeek isn't a she.

my own reading of Dworkin which is that she believes social and cultural inequalities nearly always create a power inequality between men and women during sex, which means that women cannot consent freely to sex

When asked, "Several reviewers accused you of saying that all intercourse was rape," Dworkin responded, "No, I wasn't saying that and I didn't say that, then or ever." Doesn't seem cryptic to me.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

would we say "the world would be better off without policemen"?

Some of us do say that.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

And now the comment I was commenting on has been removed ....

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Assad K 3 years, 9 months ago

Chicago TARDIS is fun.. and smaller than Gally. Attended for the first time last year, definitely going back as many times as I can..

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

Not quickly enough, it seems.

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Aaron 3 years, 9 months ago

"RadGeek isn't a she."

Okay...I wasn't to know, so I apologise. I should have said "they," like I try to do normally. Mistype, if you will. :P

And yes, Dworkin says that, but if you keep reading the quote, Dworkin goes on to say,

"I also argued, based on a reading of our laws, that marriage mandated intercourse—it was compulsory, part of the marriage contract. Under the circumstances, I said, it was impossible to view sexual intercourse in marriage as the free act of a free woman. I said that when we look at sexual liberation and the law, we need to look not only at which sexual acts are forbidden, but which are compelled. The whole issue of intercourse as this culture’s penultimate expression of male dominance became more and more interesting to me,"

"Under the circumstances" of American laws, sex is not the "free act of a free woman," ie, it's rape. Which, while it isn't the words "all heterosexual sex is rape," is getting really close. She's basically saying "Many instances of heterosexual sex in our culture, given the inherent power inequalities of this culture, are not completely consensual," which, yes, is appreciably different. But a) this statement is already close enough to the statement that's she's been misattributed that I feel like it's pendantry to quibble about how strong we can read her statement as, and b) I've read some of her fiction, and her statements there point me to a stronger reading of this thesis, not the weaker version she tells Moorcock when she's trying to defend herself against mainstream attacks.

Maybe Dworkin thinks there's an appreciable difference between the statements, "all heterosexual sex is rape," and "sex in marriage cannot be considered the free actions of a free woman." I, personally, don't.

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

But thanks for posting that link. I'd decided I was wrong for a different reason, so this ended up being interesting reading I wouldn't have gotten to any other way.

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William Silvia 3 years, 9 months ago

I suppose you're right. We can all empathize with being a fan. Which is the problem. We're shown that our lives are dull and would make terrible television. We're shown that we would debase ourself with someone the show has done its best to make us lack any sort of interest in (remember the Doctor's revulsion at the very idea of intimacy with Jackie, whom we're shown will put out to anyone walking by?) for the sake of an in with the show. We're shown, through a throwaway line in Time Crash, that the showrunners have absolutely no respect for people that are associated with such a type of fandom. Except maybe for ones that live the rest of their lives as a fleshlight. There are no negative remarks about such people, possibly because... they're forced to live their lives as a fleshlight, so how much more insult is needed?

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

Maybe Dworkin thinks there's an appreciable difference between the statements, "all heterosexual sex is rape," and "sex in marriage cannot be considered the free actions of a free woman." I, personally, don't.

I think it's an enormous difference. As a legal point, if A is legally required to provide B with service C at B's request, then even if B wants to provide it, providing it is still not a legally free action -- just as if I put a gun to your head and order you to do something you'd like to do anyway, your doing it is not a free action. That's why contracts under duress are considered invalid. (That's also why we can't consent to the state even if we want to.)

Locke draws an interesting distinction here between doing something freely and doing it willingly or voluntarily:

"suppose a man be carried, while fast asleep, into a room, where is a person he longs to see and speak with, and be there locked fast in, beyond his power to get out, he awakes, and is glad to find himself in so desirable company, which he stays WILLINGLY in, i. e. prefers his stay to going away; I ask, is not this stay VOLUNTARY? I think nobody will doubt it; and yet, being locked fast in, it is evident he is not at LIBERTY not to stay, he has not FREEDOM to be gone."

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Jesse 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm not southern, I just work here! :-)

You're anarcho-southern.

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Jesse 3 years, 9 months ago

Not only is this one of my favorite Doctor Who stories, but the Scooby Doo chase is one of my favorite Doctor Who scenes. I would probably have a warm view of this episode even if I disliked everything else in it, just for that scene, in the same way that the Scissors Sisters scene redeems "Last of the Time Lords."

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

Now the Scissors Sister scene I like! (But the evil BBC America cuts that scene when they rerun the episode.)

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Aaron 3 years, 9 months ago

So, if I'm understanding your argument correctly, my argument is this:

1) Dworkin says that women cannot freely consent to sex,
2) Rape is defined as nonconsentual sex.
3) Therefore, Dworkin says that all sex is rape.

Which you say is invalid, because people can unfreely consent to things all the time. But what would you say about cases involving minors? Minors, by law, cannot consent to sex with an adult, because they cannot freely give that consent. Isn't this case analygous, if we are Dworkin?

Actually, I'm getting confused. Your first paragraph just seems to agree with me, while your example from Locke seems to make a case for them being different. All in all, I still feel like trying to hash out differences between unfree sex and rape is quibbling. If Dworkin says that all sex is unfree in the first place, then whether or not we can stretch her statement to call all sex rape seems pretty academic, given that's she's already on pretty bad ground.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

The notion that I could be on anyone's radar sufficiently to be hated just boggles me.

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jane 3 years, 9 months ago

The LINDA members aren't caricatures. They're each distinct, in several different ways, both in how they approach the Doctor and in what else interests them.

So, to start off, they each use different media to express their fannishness, and within those media they make different observations. Mr Skinner uses flip charts, and provides a quasi-academic take, noting the mythological qualities of the Doctor, combining the archetypes of fool, king, stranger, and thief; Skinner himself takes on the Professor archetype, rounding out the set.

Bridget takes a step up, technologically -- she uses slide shows, displaying historical and contemporary images of the TARDIS, including one that looks suspiciously like a fan-made Police Box, though it could simply be a different model. Bliss makes art, of course, combined with postmodern gobbledygook commentary. Ursula has a website devoted to sightings, and people's individual experiences. Elton, of course, films his own fan-fiction, documentary style.

But when they step away from the Doctor, we find out there's more to them than their fandom. Skinner's working on a book, and it's not a Doctor Who book. Bridget's searching for a daughter lost to drugs, and likes making food for the group. Bliss plays music. Elton likes Chinese food. Ursula tracks the relationships in the group, noting the budding romance between Bridget and Skinner; she's also a fierce defender of the group, standing up to Victor's initial threats of violence. Before Victor's arrival, they've transformed from a Doctor Who fanclub into something else, a group of friends with other interests; they're playing music together out of joy.

Finally, it's important to note that Elton mourns for his lost friends. Yes, they died horribly (and in the case of Bliss, ignominiously) but they also got to act heroically in the end, pulling together (well, apart) to defeat the monster. Elton rues their demise, and that moment is played straight, bittersweet.

In contrast, Whizzkid has only one characteristic, which is his fandom; even his outfit is completely cliché. He's murdered with no redemption or mourning. He has no relationships, and no role in the story other than to die. That is how you do a cynical caricature.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

Which you say is invalid, because people can unfreely consent to things all the time

Huh? No, the argument is valid, but the first premise is false (and the second premise is ambiguous, as per Locke).

But what would you say about cases involving minors?

What about them? I'm not sure what you're getting at.

Your first paragraph just seems to agree with me

How on earth does it agree with you?

If Dworkin says that all sex is unfree in the first place

But (one more time) she didn't say all sex is unfree. She said MARITAL sex, under LAWS THAT PERMIT (or don't recognise) MARITAL RAPE, is unfree.

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Wm Keith 3 years, 9 months ago

I watched GSITG on transmission and found Whizkid a profoundly embarrassing caricature of people like myself. I watched it again this year, and found that Whizkid (Who's kid) is sympathetic and tragic. He is wholly enthusiastic, and betrayed by those he trusts.

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elvwood 3 years, 9 months ago

What? Why would they cut it? Music rights issues?

(I agree it's definitely one of the better scenes.)

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

Frankly, it seems like condescension: that to sell the audience on the notion of a sentient world, one has to put a literal face on it,

Never read a Jack Kirby comic?

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

I didn't get mentioned specifically but I'll take 'polyamorous hypnofetishist'.

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Anton B 3 years, 9 months ago

Thanks Josiah I was beginning to think nobody read my post.

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David Anderson 3 years, 9 months ago

I think that - the Watson / Doyle distinction - is a good way of making a distinction between the criticisms that I agree don't really work and the criticisms that I think do.

What I think is clear is that Ursula as paving slab attracts a far stronger reaction than the space it gets in the story. Davies has written a story about how Elton loses the things he loves because he didn't realise what he loved while he had it. So Elton's loss of LINDA is figured as synecdoche by the loss of Ursula. Both are foreshadowed. But then Davies wants the story to have an upbeat ending. And so, he leaves the discovery that Ursula isn't dead or gone but transformed into a paving slab as a last minute final twist that seems supposed to satisfy our desire for an upbeat ending. There are a couple of lines of dialogue and then Ursula is dismissed in favour of the moral and the trailer and the credits. But Ursula's fate raises too many questions and emotional reactions to fit into that slot.
If Davies had had more time what he should have done is rewritten the script entirely so that we see Ursula as paving slab much earlier on, and that becomes much more the focus of the story. Or at least we should have a story in which the Doctor meets Ursula again in the future.

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Mark Patterson 3 years, 9 months ago

I'd go further, and suggest that th e Scissor Sisters scene is the single best thing any writer, or actor, has ever done with the character of the Master. Not in a glib "it's loads of fun" way, either - although it is, delightfully so - but in terms of what it says about the character, his relationship to the Doctor, and his role in the show as a whole. 'Last of the Time Lords' is massively flawed, but even allowing for the stuff that doesn't work at all, the bits that *do* work are great enough to make it possibly my favourite season finale in the shows history (it's a toss-up between it and 'The Parting of the Ways'), and one of Davies' greatest contributions to the series.

But further elaboration should probably wait a couple of weeks...

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David Thiel 3 years, 9 months ago

Yes. Yes, I have read a Jack Kirby comic.

It's a different medium. Things that look cool in a comic book don't necessarily translate well when being acted out by real, live people.

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Jesse 3 years, 9 months ago

I'd go further, and suggest that th e Scissor Sisters scene is the single best thing any writer, or actor, has ever done with the character of the Master.

I agree.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

I prefer the thought that the Police need reform rather than dismissal. Speaking as someone who's needed police assistance before, when they do their jobs it's greatly appreciated.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

Well all I can say is that it worked for me and I have never heard that criticism before reading it here.

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David Thiel 3 years, 9 months ago

Adam, you've hit on a problem that I've had off and on with nuWho: it frequently challenges the basic assumptions of the series to an extent that should shut the whole thing down, except that it can't, because this is a potentially endless franchise.

Calling out the Doctor on the destruction he leaves in his wake is an interesting commentary, yet it won't change anything next week or the week after, because for the show to seriously confront that, it would have to stop being a show about someone who travels the universe, defeating monsters and toppling governments. And few of us would want that.

Similarly, when we get convincing evidence that travelling with the Doctor isn't just dangerous, but inevitably damaging (the double-punch of "The Girl Who Waited" and "The God Complex"), it should put an end to his habit of picking up Pretty Young Things. But it didn't, and it won't, because that's what the show is, and anyway, we all know we'd jump at the chance to climb aboard the TARDIS.

And all of that isn't even getting into the cruelty demonstrated by the Doctor in "The Family of Blood," but I'll be complaining about that in a few weeks.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

Ok after pouring over the articles in question his is what I got from it:

While Dworkin intended it to mean that there can't be consensual sex in a society where there are legal exemptions for husbands from Rape, a reading of her text can provide that interpretation fairly easily. Her reading of Marriage laws comes with the idea of mandated intercourse, which means it's part of the contract. So from her point of view, based on her reading of the statutes regarding marriage, there can be no consensual sex within the bounds of a legal marriage.

Now whether or not her interpretation of the statutes is correct is another matter entirely.

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Triturus 3 years, 9 months ago

That scene was cut out of the version on Virgin cable TV On Demand in the UK as well. I rewatched this episode a month ago or so, and was proper miffed to find out it was missing.

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

Of course, life itself isn't just dangerous, but inevitably damaging.

I think the question that's raised is whether it's better to stay home and observe the universe at a distance, never becoming involved except in the direst of circumstances, never befriending or learning directly from or even allowing the presence of outsiders in one's life, or whether it's better to travel, to get involved, to right wrongs when you see them, and to spend time with people who aren't like you in order to enrich their lives and yours.

In other words, it's a choice between life on Gallifrey as a Time Lord (at least pre-"Deadly Assassin," if you want to be strict about it), or life in the TARDIS as the Doctor or one of his companions. The latter is dangerous, sure, absolutely -- just about anything truly worth doing is, a little bit. That's why we don't want the Doctor to let monsters kill whoever they want or leave cruel regimes in place, and that's why we'd jump at the chance to climb aboard the TARDIS: we care enough to take the risk (that we'll suffer or die, or that we'll create monsters in the course of defeating them), or we think we do.

In my opinion, I do more of the former and less of the latter than I ought to. Doctor Who is one of the reasons I see life that way, for better or for worse.

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David Thiel 3 years, 9 months ago

I think that's a good conclusion, but I don't think that it's supported by what's on-screen in the examples I gave. "The Girl Who Waited" and "The God Complex" both suggest (as I recall; it's been a while since I watched them) that the price of travelling with the Doctor is too high. Life is damaging, but it's not "36 years left alone fending off robots" damaging. That's (in a nutshell) why they leave the Doctor, and that's why it's so odd that they all seem to forgotten about it by the time Series 7.1 rolls around. Except, of course, for the fact that this is "Doctor Who" and companions are part and parcel.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 9 months ago

Except The God Complex doesn't end with Amy and Rory dumping the Doctor. Its ending is much worse for the show: the Doctor concludes that he will inevitably hurt and destroy everyone who matters to him if he lets them get too close. Of course, the arc of the 2011 series is something to discuss sometime in 2014 when we get to covering that season (ah, the coming mortality of the Eruditorum . . . I'll miss it).

Elton's comments imply more than the Doctor's life simply being high-risk. There's a more profound — dare I say sublime — terror in his words. And in Davies' formulations of the problem, is just adds attributes to a list: terrible and wonderful. But he never explores how terror and wonder can go together. He just mashes them together. That frustrates me, if only for philosophical reasons because I want this to be explored!

Thankfully, Steven Moffat's stories explored this idea in more detail. And I think Closing Time and The Wedding of River Song actively answer this problem and explore the paradox.

And here's another link that gives some good reason why we should either RADICALLY transform our police institutions or banish them altogether (though then we'd be left with psychologically broken ex-police officers with hair-trigger tempers and who have been trained to receive their most intense joy from beating political protesters and black youth to near death).
http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/police-militarization-an-interview-with-radley-balko

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encyclops 3 years, 9 months ago

David, yes, I do think I'm disagreeing with the New Series on this question. It's probably fair to say a life of constant mortal danger isn't any more desirable than a life of numb safe isolation, and for a companion eventually to question this is reasonable and probably inevitable. But in my opinion this doesn't stem from or lead to the idea that the Doctor is inherently and irresponsibly dangerous. I know the show wants us to consider this idea, and I don't accept it.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

Happily, a lot of those statutes have been changed since she wrote. But it took until the 90s (in u.s. and u.k.).

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

Theonlyspiral,

Speaking as someone who's needed police assistance before

Well, when an organisation forcibly shuts down all non-abusive alternatives to its own service provision, then sure, you're going to find yourself in situations when you need them.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 9 months ago

For BBC America, at least, I don't think it's rights issues. BBC America cuts all its reruns down just for length. If you're seeing a Doctor Who episode as a rerun on BBC America, you're almost certainly seeing an incomplete version. And they don't announce that they're doing it.

I saw "The Eleventh Hour" as a cut-down rerun first, and then the full thing. The cuts were especially deep (since that episode is longer than average).

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm pretty sure it is rights, actually - the iTunes version is cut down as well.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 9 months ago

What's the alternative though? No police? The system we have is hardly ideal it's better than the likely alternative.

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Daru 3 years, 9 months ago

Thanks Anton - with you on your post! I have not really wanted to be drawn on the abuse debate going on in threads above, think it misses the point perhaps. As you say "KISSING in Doctor Who has always been a metaphor for SEX" - and certainly for someone like Elton (yes, I was there and DID listen to ELO too!) could be seen to feel like the pinnacle of reachable sexy activity.

I love and adore this episode - thank you Philip and Anton!

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Daru 3 years, 9 months ago

Completely concur with this comment too! Beautiful.

I love the joy being shared - that is the point. I actually think people getting narked over the ending have been trolled by RTD (he started it before Moffat).

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Daru 3 years, 9 months ago

Wonderful comments - thank you Jane.

Also more Alchemical Transformations presented in joke format -

'Turn to Stone' ...... ?

Could only happen on our mad, superb little show.

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Daru 3 years, 9 months ago

I'll take the queer (Pictish) middle-aged mystics - am Scottish after all!

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Daru 3 years, 9 months ago

"Was there some ableism involved?" - What if Elton is not using her for his own devices, there are not blowjobs and he has skewed his whole life around supporting her and giving her company, rather than the other way round?

He does seem like quite a selfless guy and it would give him a reason never to leave his cosy room (like he needed one!) and easily he could run his own little internet business from same place.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 9 months ago

If Davies had had more time what he should have done is rewritten the script entirely so that we see Ursula as paving slab much earlier on, and that becomes much more the focus of the story.

Persobally, I think most or even all of my objections would disappear if Ursula had been placed on, say, an artist's easel facing the camera, and the two had given the final video as a couple. Make it clear the "love-life" gag is something they're both happy to talk about, and it's pretty much job done.

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Monicker 3 years, 9 months ago

One problem I tend to have about the attempts at comparisons with disabled people is that I don't think there are very strong grounds for such a comparison. Or, at any rate, that there are other fantasy-based options which are a closer fit.

Let's say, for example, that Ursula had ended up being transformed into a jamjar, which somehow had the ability to speak, and that this was all that was left of her human self.

Or say that there was nothing left of her but her nose or her mouth, with either having the power of speech, with Elton simply communicating with a talking nose, or a mouth mounted into a plaque.

Well, it would still be possible to compare that with someone who was forced to use a wheelchair, but there'd also be a great many differences still, and these continue to apply even with regard to the televised version.

She can't live a social life with anyone else other than Elton. She can't have carers. Oh, and she'll live forever in that state. Which itself means she's also landed with a additional burden of having to somehow find support for herself after Elton's death, despite being in hardly any kind of a position to do so. She can't make any claims for disability benefits, or work, or get a pension. She can't rely on any kind of social support services.

If you want an example of a relatively positive view of a disabled person, there's Gideon Pryke in Jonathan Creek, as played by Rik Mayall. Originally an able-bodied character, he recently returned in an episode where it transpired that he had been paralysed from the neck down, but although confined to a motorised wheelchair he was still able to function to the extent of doing his job, and was still able to be mobile, and play a full role in proceedings. His disability hadn't rendered him invisible, and he was still able to manage as good a quality of life as he could.

Virtually none of that applies to Ursula in this example. She's simply rushed on at the end for a quick and rather pat resolution in a way which feels at least partially like a joke, with any long term implications hurriedly avoided, and any possible analogy with being disabled is reliant on the people watching interpreting it as one, as it's not clear that anyone had one in mind at the time either.

The problem also stems partly from the fact that her condition is clearly impossible in the real world. Consider that with no heart, no lungs, no back half of the head, meaning a substantial amount of her brain must also have gone, it would, quite plainly, not be possible for someone to survive in that condition. Yet the episode presents her as doing so. The unnaturalness of the image, because impossible, and, I would suggest, to most people undesirable - by which I mean that I suspect most people would genuinely not want it to be physically possible for them to exist in that way - is what may be the most offputting thing about it.

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Monicker 3 years, 9 months ago

I would suspect therefore, that on occasions where anyone might have said she would be better of dead, what they are actually doing is putting themselves in her position and concluding that such a mode of existence would be so hideous that they they can't bear even the prospect of watching it represented in a fiction.

This does not apply to, for example, someone being confined to a wheelchair or an iron lung. Of course, nobody is going to want such a fate for themselves, nor would they like seeing it inflicted on a sympathetic fictional character, however, it is also a genuine possibility in the real world, so it is easier to accept on a fictive level. Hence, anyone watching the Creek episode would have been far less likely to have been horrified or revolted by Pryke's fate in the same way.

Had Davies actually written an ending in which Ursula was quadriplegic, or reliant on an iron lung, with Elton supporting her, it probably wouldn't be half as controversial. It would also have had the virtue of leaving no doubt about any possible morals concerning disablism. However, I think the gross-out nature of what was actually written and depicted, the repellant nature of the concept, is far too offputting for many, whether rightly or wrongly, and gets in the way of any kind of life-affirming quality it supposedly has.

For me, there is nothing in the least life-affirming about a writer going out of his way to invent a fictitious way in which someone can be abused and degraded, considering how many genuine ones there already are, and also the sheer unpleasant nature of the image in itself.
Also, I have said nothing about the arguments concerning sex or love lives because they're nothing to do with any misgivings I have about the scene. It doesn't matter to me whether or not Elton and Ursula have any kind of sex life, provided both are consenting. Nor does it really make any difference to my feelings whether or not they are happy with the arrangement themselves. Any writer can give their characters lines saying words to the effect of that they don't mind, or think it's alright. It doesn't make the idea any less unappealing.

That's the stumbling block for me really, concerning the scene. The concept is just too horrible and and repulsive, again for myself at least, for it to be ameliorated by anything the characters might say or do in response to it. If Davies wanted Ursula to be put into a state where she was somehow dependent on care and Elton was shown to be selflessly looking after her, and that this was a way she was managing to maintain a good quality of life... well, that's all his prerogative. But some other way of doing it would have worked better.

Still, perhaps it was all a practical joke on the part of them both after all...

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Seeing_I 3 years, 9 months ago

One thing I love about this episode is that it delineates two varieties of fandom - the creative, joyful and performative fandom of Elton and LINDA, who use the Doctor as a jumping-off point for creativity and human interaction,and the obsessive, facts & figures based fandom of Victor Kennedy who takes a proprietary attitude toward the Doctor and is quick to tell other fans they bare doing it wrong. When LINDA fall under his sway, they quickly disappear up his own backside!

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T. Hartwell 3 years, 9 months ago

"We're shown that our lives are dull and would make terrible television."

I don't really see how LINDA's lives are portrayed as dull...terrible television I can see, but let's face it, wouldn't most people's lives make for some terrible television?

Also, re: the line in Time Crash, there's nothing to indicate that the Fifth Doctor is a POV character for Moffat.

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Clay Hickman 3 years, 9 months ago

This is all fascinating. As a L&M fan I thought it might be interesting to put out there that the genesis of the story was a DWM comic strip Russell and I discussed that, for various reasons, never came to fruition.

And also I always saw the breakdown of LINDA (a name Russell reuses from his days writing kids show Why Don't You...? In the 80s) less as a critique of Doctor Who fandom and more the way that nice things get spoilt by selfish people in general life. Cos Russell never was one for conventions or local groups. He bought his DWM each month and that was it, really. To me it brought to mind the powerful kid at school who'd take over a group of kids having a nice time and bulldoze them cos he's louder and stronger. Happens in work too. In fact everywhere in life. And Russell told me Victor wasn't meant to be anyone specific - just that big mouthed bullying force that always like to spoil things for others.

Hope that's of some interest!
Clay Hickman

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Daru 3 years, 9 months ago

Cheers for that Clay - I loved the work Russell did on Why Don't You...? as a kid - even though I didn't know it was him at the time! Good bit of background - always love hearing a bit more though tidbits like this, and yes that bullying force can spoil it for others so easily.

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Andrew Bowman 2 years, 10 months ago

I doubt anyone will read this now, but I need to ask: what if it was the other way round? What if Ursula had been telling the story, and Elton had been turned into a paving slab? Would we still have fans up in arms about a "cunnilingus" gag, or would it be considered more acceptable? Would it, in fact, be worse because "women aren't supposed to enjoy those sorts of things"? I think the mysoginist card can be played a bit too heavily-handed at times.

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Andrew Bowman 2 years, 10 months ago

I feel like an infiltrator here, but surely it's Ursula's semi-gleeful line of "let's not go into that now" (or something like that) after Elton's "love life" line which creates the illusion of oral gratification, not the "love life" line itself. In any case, innuendo (as per the Mrs. Slocombe reference above) is a staple of British humour (rightly or wrongly) with saucy postcards and Carry On films and all manner of music hall comedy employing the same techniques. Personally, I roared with laughter when I heard that line: but then maybe I'm a bit odd! :)

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