They'd Take Some Adapting (The Shakespeare Code)

(112 comments)

Come on. I dare you. Shout "Freebird."

It’s April 7th, 2007. David Tennant remains very happy with the charts, or, at least, with the top of them. His feelings on Avril Lavigne, Gwen Stefani, Fray, Fergie, Take That, and Justin Timberlake are, to the best of my knowledge, undocumented. In news, Ukranian President Viktor Yushchenko dissolves parliament. The University of Florida unexpectedly wins the NCAA Basketball championship to the swelling pride of nobody whatsoever in Gainesville, Florida, a town that is known to bring trees down when it wins football. Three people are charged in the 2005 London bombings, and Iran releases fifteen British sailors captured back before Smith and Jones, proclaiming it a “gift.” And, the day this story airs, the 153rd University Boat Race takes place. Cambridge wins by one-and-a-half lengths.

While on television, The Shakespeare Code. Some time ago, I was having lunch with Jane, one of our regular commenters, and we were talking about the blog and the roles various commenters play within it. She mentioned Jack Graham and asked what role he played, and I, without a second thought, replied, “he’s the blog’s conscience.” Which is to say that Jack has a staggering 5,000 word piece on The Shakespeare Code that is the definitive account of it, and I’m humbly penning a brief follow-up sketch. Jack, for his part, savages The Shakespeare Code for what it’s not, which is to say, a story about traveling back and time and meeting Shakespeare. He is, of course, absolutely correct that this is not at all what the story is.

His dismissal of what the story actually is holds some water, and I’m certainly not going to be so foolish as to disagree with it, but equally, I’m not, in this case, as interested in the ethics of it as I am in the shape of it. Jack is ultimately making the same observation Tat Wood makes in About Time, which is that Doctor Who has moved to being about people in strange worlds to… ah, but here’s where things fog up. Whatever the ideological case for why this move represents the end of civilization as we know it, it’s not entirely clear what this new take on Doctor Who is.

Whatever it is, Gareth Roberts is surely the iconic example. Gareth Roberts is a writer with little interest in world-building. For Roberts, the point of Doctor Who is to provide cracked mirror reflections of middle class Britain. For him the pinnacle of the series is thus the Graham Williams era, where everything in the universe proved able to become Douglas Adams-esque banter. I said last week that Roberts only ever writes love letters, and this remains an important explanation for his writing. A Roberts script is only ever going to come out of a basic passion for its subject matter. This isn’t a problem - in fact, it’s what makes Roberts’s scripts so much fun. But it means that there’s not a desire to explore the pokey ends of concepts in the scripts.

All of which is to say that this is not a story about London in 1599 in any meaningful way. Nor is it really a story about history. It’s not even what we’ve previously (borrowing from Tat Wood) called theme park history, which suggests a simplified “from the history books” approach. This isn’t even from the history books - Elizabethan England is explicitly presented as no different from the present. The past is not a foreign country here. This is particularly striking given that this is Martha’s first trip in the TARDIS, and yet the entire story is configured to minimize the sense that being in 1599 is a particularly big deal.

Again, this highlights an important fact about Martha, which is that she is a Doctor Who character. This represents a fundamental change to how the series works. In truth, of course, Rose had been a Doctor Who character who drops into EastPowellStreet occasionally for the better part of Season Two, but the official line was still that she was an ordinary person. But Martha doesn’t need an introduction to Doctor Who, and this says something important about her character. She was visibly designed first in terms of her interactions with the Doctor, and then had a background grafted onto her. This is not a problem as such - it’s clearly how most companions were created. But it’s a marked change in the series, which is switching actively to being read on its own terms.

Which is why there’s that odd scene in the beginning in which Elizabethan England is explicitly treated as an extension of the modern day instead of as a place that might be at all strange, or, more to the point, racist. This scene, of course, frequently criticized, and in many ways rightly so. There is an erasure of history involved in treating Elizabethan England as a multiracial and inclusive paradise that’s troubling. To have the Doctor, a white male, tell a black woman that the solution to historical bigotry is to “walk around like you own the place” rather spectacularly misses the heart of the issue, which is that he looks like the people who do, and she doesn’t. It is a literal illustration of the concept of privilege, albeit, maddeningly, one that fails to actually notice what it’s doing. (A similar problem exists in Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks, where a story that’s about hardline racial purists and that is otherwise unusually fascinated with the material conditions of its time period inexplicably decides that the Great Depression was a multiracial celebration of diversity.)

But what’s at issue here is not simple historical erasure. Rather it’s a collision between the issue of depicting history and the Davies era’s strong ideological preference towards diversity, and, more to the point, towards a non-showy diversity. It’s the same thinking that led to the wishful thinking at the end of Captain Jack Harkness - the desire to not make diversity into a stunt and to just do it. This is admirable on its own terms, and is, let’s be honest, why we have a black companion in the first place. But the desire to have Doctor Who be an unfussy portrait of the diversity of modern Britain runs aground when faced with history. The problem here is the attempt to have it both ways - to acknowledge that Martha faces genuine peril that no other companion ever has when put into history, but also to maintain the show’s untroubled diversity. Having everybody ignore Martha’s race the same way they ignore the Doctor’s clothes would have worked. Having racism be something Martha regularly encounters would have worked. The middle ground of endlessly reiterating how beautifully non-racist the past is… does not really work.

But this problem is a slightly mispitched moment in a larger decision, which is to treat the past as essentially an extension of the present. Thus The Shakespeare Code is not about Shakespeare as a historical phenomenon, but about Shakespeare as another genre that Doctor Who can crash into. Shakespeare is thus positioned as something that continues to exist int he present day. Which, to be fair, he does. What we have is not really engagement with the historical Shakespeare but with Shakespeare as a still-popular author whose plays are regularly performed, occasionally in high-profile versions starring David Tennant.

Thus the basic touchstone for Shakespeare becomes J.K. Rowling, because the point of the exercise is that Shakespeare is a part of contemporary popular culture. (Hence the otherwise inscrutable title) The story is about Shakespeare’s writing as a site of play, with Shakespeare becoming a living text to be romped through. Notably this is the one celebrity historical that makes essentially no effort to have the historical figure look as expected. Instead Shakespeare is made sexy, youthful, and vigorous, rescuing him from history’s death. Shakespeare exists in this story as a textual phenomenon - the subject of literary jokes, pastiches, and words.

This isn’t theme park history, in other words, because it’s not history at all; it’s genre. And that’s consistent with a larger shift in Doctor Who, which hasn’t been about history as such in a very long time. There is a school of thought that blames this sort of thing on forty-five minute episodes, but that’s a stretch. Yes, it’s true that forty-five minute episodes are too short to do any significant world-building and that new series Doctor Who is dominated by accelerated plot development, but it’s not like world-building was a huge part of stories in the latter days of the classic series. Stories like Ghost Light or Delta and the Bannermen were just as much about genre as The Shakespeare Code is, functioning not through the movement of historical forces but through literary play. The forty-five minute episode may foreclose any alternative, but Doctor Who had picked a side in that debate long before Davies tinkered the format.

Indeed, the "the Doctor teams up with a historical celebrity and fights aliens" subgenre, which was invented by Pip and Jane Baker in 1984, has always been about treating history as a genre, its original version having consisted of dropping three Time Lords into early industrial Britain so they could bicker. The Mark of the Rani wasn’t a story about the industrial revolution to any meaningful extent. And this has been true of every journey into history since The Massacre or so. All have been about using history to set up particular genres in which the Doctor plays.

Which is the basic approach of Doctor Who in general. The fact that history is not so much a series of events as a set of stories is wholly in keeping with everything else in Doctor Who. It turns out that in fact you can rewrite lots and lots of lines of history so long as everybody can still tell what sort of story they’re in. And so we get a story where writing and rewriting flow freely around the basic rubric of Shakespeare as a pop culture icon, and, when that proves insufficient, where words from another icon can be filled in freely.

And yet there are occasional tensions. For all that The Shakespeare Code is ambivalent about historical representation, its treatment of Bedlam is both deft and chilling. It’s an isolated moment in a story that’s mostly playful, but it’s also a reminder that there is something alienating about history, and that the Shakespeare of popular culture, while a real thing, is still something that’s been laid over real history.

But in the end this is the story in which the idea that Doctor Who is simply there to be fun gets its most thorough airing. The dynamic of watching a scripted performance in a communal context - and BBC One is, let’s recall, a communal context - is treated as an act of sorcery. The very act of partaking in popular entertainment is treated as sacred and inherently valuable. And while the show pays lip service to other icons of popular culture, in the end it’s Doctor Who that’s the cultural touchstone being celebrated here, hence it getting the tacit endorsement of Shakespeare intuiting the series’ premises.

On the one hand, as we’ve said, there’s a theme of hubris here. The uncritical embrace of Doctor Who is eventually something the series is going to call into question. Even here the foundation of the critique is being set up, with the Doctor stressing the human quality of Shakespeare. But on the other, there’s only so far this critique can be taken in terms of The Shakespeare Code. Even Jack Graham, for all his vehemence, admits that the episode is terribly lush and pretty. And Roberts is never going to turn in an episode that doesn’t move along and have some good jokes in it. The Shakespeare Code may be a slender trifle to proper Shakespeare buffs (although there are some terribly obscure gags for them), but it is fun and entertaining.

And whatever later critique of the series’ hubris might be in order, that is the priority right now. Having changed dramatically over the course of two seasons, Doctor Who needed, at the start of Season Three, to do a set of stories that demonstrated what it could do. Celebrating what Doctor Who itself was, separate from Billie Piper or Christopher Eccleston or even David Tennant, was a necessary step. Once that’s done some discussion of the implications might be in order, but for now the series has to account for itself on its own terms. Given this, turning to Gareth Roberts borders on being the most obvious decision imaginable, and The Shakespeare Code is exactly the story you’d expect it to be.

Comments

Alex Wilcock 4 years, 2 months ago

I remember feeling almost guilty for not liking this story much, having expected so much from loving Gareth Roberts’ previous work (up to and including Invasion of the Bane). It’s partly for many of the reasons above that it jars, that it just tells us it’s too pleased with itself rather than showing us why: the climax falls incredibly flat. For a story about the power of words, the words at the end needed to be something really impressive (or, if they couldn’t think of any, in an old and ancient language) and make sense in context – instead, the Carrionites are banished via a string of numbers (which surely misses the point) and, um, er, any old stuff we can think of in hurry. And of all TV’s many steals from Mr Miles, this makes a dog’s breakfast of Christmas on a Rational Planet. Still, we liked the references to The Elephant and Millennium (albeit “of blood”).

It seemed like a story arc about vampires / the Great Vampires’ backstory was starting up, too, didn’t it, with the Racnoss / Plasmavores / Carrionites, but as it turned out the season’s theme was rather more interesting than that…

Now, I know you wrote about Pip and Jane Baker inventing the celebrity historical as pure fan-bait and sat back giggling for the reaction, but I can’t help myself rising to it. I did, after all, write a piece looking at Doctor Who and the Celebrity Historical before Gareth’s next story… On its own terms, the weird thing about The Mark of the Rani is that it’s not really about George Stephenson, either; the Doctor’s a fanboy for him, but in the same way that they clearly thought they were educating us about the Industrial Revolution and Luddites and really didn’t focus on either, either (but then, never mind the quality of their writing, I’ll never get my head around Pip and Jane’s intended themes: two self-proclaimed socialists who write stories in favour of aristocratic privilege and fascism). For a celebrity historical that does aim to be built around the celebrity author in the same period, look at Timelash

But, really, Phil, never mind all the famous historical figures that you’d expect to find in Hartnell stories and do, surely it was the very first ‘historical’ the series ever did that invented the ‘celebrity’ angle, with a famous writer rather than significant historical figure, with the Radio Times even choosing to put the celeb on its first Doctor Who front cover instead of the show’s co-stars, to boot?

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Alex Wilcock 4 years, 2 months ago

"old and ancient"? D'oh! So much for the power of my words. One of those two should obviously have been, say, "unknowable and untranslateable" ;^

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Carey 4 years, 2 months ago

I'm always fascinated that there's a tendency for the white middle class to criticise things for being, well, middle class and white. My memories of watching The Shakespear Code (indeed, all of series three) with my wife, who is of Caribbean origin, is that she had little to no problem with the depiction of race relations within it (although she did agree that it was to quickly dismissed in this story). The irony is that the episode she had the most problems with in the entire Davies era in regard to racism was Planet of the Ood-- an episode many, including the same Jack Graham mentioned above, congratulated for "pulling no punches." She thought it condescending bullshit that simplified the slave trade and had that biggest of cliches in the "to understand what it's like being black you have to become black" ending.

Meanwhile, I agree with much of your essay, but would categorise it further: Davies' vision of Doctor Who is exemplified by The Shakespeare Code in that it turns the programme into The Simpsons: brightly coloured adventures that look to speak of today, no matter what genre they are interacting with, and no matter how silly, surreal or far out the story may get, underlined with a strong emotional content. My favourite line in the entirety of however many series of the Simpsons is one from Homer to Lisa: "Just because I don't understand doesn't mean I don't care," and that could be Davies approach to many characters (especially parents) in the series.

Having said that, I'd also add that series three is Davies' love letter to comics: 2000ad last week and next, the pulps of the 30's in the Dalek two parter, and Kirby and Lee's Fantastic Four toward the end of the series. But more about that soon.

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Lewis Christian 4 years, 2 months ago

I out-and-out love this story. Flawless, it is not. Amazingly good fun, it is.

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Lewis Christian 4 years, 2 months ago

(And, as usual these days, I skimmed over the points where you get hung up on racism. Sorry.)

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Daibhid C 4 years, 2 months ago

Geniuine question: How racist was 1599? It's not like they even had modern concepts of race, which were invented in the 19th century. Yes, they could see people from Africa and some parts of Spain had darker skin, but did they care much? I don't know, but I do know it's easy to assume past = racism, when this is not necessarily the case. There's certainly references in the script to how things have changed; Shakespeare compliments Martha with terms that would be offensive if anyone used them today, but just because these are the terms he knows.

(I believe RTD used to tell a story of a BBC drama based on a true story, which was accused of politically correct history by casting a black man as a judge in Victorian England. The real person the character was based on was black.)

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Jack Graham 4 years, 2 months ago

This article is actually a fine corrective to some areas of short-sightedness in my own article (to which Phil kindly refers and links). Mine is quite an old piece. I stand by most of it, but I'd write it differently these days (the Planet of the Ood one too, by the way) taking into account the issue of genre which Phil concentrates on (and also the racefail, which Phil mentions and which I neglected). After all, I'd defend 'The Myth Makers' and 'The Gunfighters' on the grounds that they're journeys into story/genre rather than into history.

In my defence, I do say in the original piece that I'd be happy to see a Dr-meets-Shakespeare story that didn't try to be about 1599 as long as it was about something else interesting (which I don't think TSC is). I make a reference to 'I, Clavdivs' (TV version), which is as much about the mores of the 20th century English middle classes as it is about ancient Rome. And, of course, Shakespeare's own plays are really about Early Modern England, not about ancient Rome or the Wars of the Roses or Bohemia or Venice, etc.

Even so, Phil is right to say that I criticise the story for what it *isn't* (and doesn't try to be)... though I don't actually think that's an illegitimate angle to take, if your aim is polemical, and as long as the version in your head is plausible or reasonable and not a total non sequitur (i.e. it would be daft to criticise TSC for not being more like a Beckett play or a game show or an ice cream sundae).

I'm enormously flattered by the idea that I'm this blog's 'conscience', though even my towering narcissism doesn't allow me to accept the title... possibly because one working definition of 'conscience' might be 'boring, priggish, finger-wagging moraliser who dogs your footsteps and stops you having any fun'. (Don't mine me. I'm the kind of narcissist whose narcissism takes the form of insecurity, so I lap up praise and then start questioning it.)

In any case, Phil has a very well-functioning conscience of his own. I've learned from it myself, e.g. with regards Chelsea Manning. But thanks anyway Phil. I'm very touched.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 2 months ago

Yeah, I was wondering that myself - how much danger would Martha have realistically been in because of her race in such a time and place? (And would it have been more than because of her gender?)

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mengu 4 years, 2 months ago

I think that, having decided that racism should be addressed but not made into an enormous danger, they could have at least picked the path of reminding us that Medieval Europe wasn't all white. Instead of brushing of her worries about that and the effects of time travel in exactly the way they could have had the Doctor actually reassure her, actually listen to her. ("No, that would be a couple of hundred years in the future. Which is why we're here and not then. Promise. There are black people in Britain, have been since the Roman Empire. Scottish thanes and Moorish traders, Arthurian knights -- Othello."

That would actually let you have your cake and eat it too in that regard, so long as it was backed up in the episode. Are there any people of colour in TSC other than Martha? I don't recall; certainly no one major.

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Spacewarp 4 years, 2 months ago

I kind of know what you mean there Lewis. There's racism and there's fascism, and discrimination, and sexism, and ageism, and of course bullying. And they're all wrong. But in vastly varying degrees (e.g. making a light joke about someone's skin colour is not the same as hanging them from a tree).

We could ban all of them from drama right now...but then I can't get rid of the nagging suspicion that we still need small doses of them to remind us that they're wrong. And of course the problem that the Devil does have all the best tunes...

And before anyone flames me for this post, please realise that I'm not stating an opinion, I'm asking a question.

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Nick Smale 4 years, 2 months ago

Isn't it implied that Martha is the "dark lady" from the sonnets, or is that something I've constructed in my own head? (Sorry, it's years since I've seen the episode).

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Alexander 4 years, 2 months ago

Geohumouralist notions still popular into the seventeenth-century apprehended the etiology of darker complexions and the cultures of people from those regions as a combination of environmental and humoural factors - the sun had scorched the skin of once-white ancestors. This was generally considered a fall, a corruption.

The scorching sun had burned the humours of people from these regions adust, resulting in dyscratic conditions of excess melancholy. Humoural dyscrasia was considered to promote physiological, psychological, behavioural, intellectual, emotional and moral degradations, maladies and dysfunctions.

Combining factors of climate, biology, and psychology facilitated judgements on national and regional character. Racialist and racist dimensions were very present. Physiognomic factors were also considered in light of the doctrine of signatures - with prevalent constructions of racial physical otherness as "ugliness" being read to indicate intellectual and moral failings.

There is also an occasional Scriptural resort to speaking of the fall of the sons of Shem.

The comparison with gender is interesting although tricky. For all the expected inferiority of peoples of other (i.e. non-English) regions, the contributing humoural factors (climate, what we might call genetics, diet, etc) were considered to originate in degradation from a white male baseline. As opposed to gender, which was considered a cosmologically-encoded, inherent starting inferiority.

Both deal with a hierarchy of moral valuations about the white male ideal obviously.

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Ross 4 years, 2 months ago

One of my big reactions to this story -- indeed to the specific aspect of this story that the article focuses on -- was "Oh thank God." I'd been very worried that Martha's addition to the cast was going to nudge the show into being the "Gee, folks sure were racist in the past. We're so much better than them" show -- the perennial difficulty when you start diversifying your cast: how do we simultaneously avoid erasing the fact that some people have these radically different and less privileged life experiences while at the same time not turning them into a sideshow that exists for the purpose of morally instructing the straights. It's hard to imagine "Hey, it's been three minutes without a victorians-freaking-out-at-the-existence-of-lesbians joke" Moffat handing a character like Martha without running the show aground with "BECOZ IT'S THE PAST AND THEY'RE RACISTS, GET IT?" bits like clockwork.

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Darren K. 4 years, 2 months ago

For the child audience, the genius of this story is treating the past as NOW. I use it to introduce Shakespeare to eleven year olds, and it opens them up to Shakespeare (the genre) in a remarkable way. They can sense that the plays are about emotions and feelings, and those are the same today as they were when Shakespeare (the writer) wrote them. Shakespeare (the genre) doesn't have to be Worthy and Important and Dull, it can be alive and rich and exciting, and for a child audience, that is how Shakespeare is presented. It works a treat in an educational context, and in entertaining the kids as well.

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Ross 4 years, 2 months ago

It's tricky because these things aren't one dimensional; it's not like England 1599 has a racism score of 5, while the deep south of 1840 has a racism score of 8 and the writer's room at Captain Planet has a racism score of 7; these people were in some ways aliens to us. They would have been racist, yes, but the entire context of their society would make that mean a different thing. Probably the most importantly, the idea of "Treating some people as less fully human because of who they are" wasn't specifically racist for them: the same people who undoubtedly would have seen Martha as a kind of lesser lifeform that wasn't 100% human would also have seen, say, poor white folks as a kind of lesser lifeform that wasn't 100% human -- indeed, these are people for whom the idea that there was a natural hierarchy writ into the very fabric of the universe wasn't a moral judgment but a physical law, and it wouldn't be expressed as "White people good; black people bad," so much as "Saint > King > Noble > Landowner > Freeman > (Extremely long list of different sorts of people)." Martha would have faced different strictures from a hypothetical white companion, but it's not straightforward to say that the constraints on what she could get away with would be greater or harsher; the fact that you'd be punished severely for not "knowing your place" in that kind of society was largely true regardless of what your place actually was.

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C. 4 years, 2 months ago

I wouldn't say spending a paragraph on the racial aspects of this story is getting "hung up" on it. Phil aptly described the muddle on screen: the show acknowledges a black woman's concern about walking around in a landscape she might be threatened in, then has Tennant say "NAAAH--it's okay" (& if I recall there's then a cut to two black women happily walking on the street) and that's it. It's just a weird, half-assed resolution to a concern Roberts (or Davies) chose to bring up.

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David Anderson 4 years, 2 months ago

It's difficult to say. Partly because there's not that much evidence. And partly because one doesn't want to ever say that's not real racism - some of the attitudes do feed into modern racism.

There are decrees by Elizabeth I complaining that there are too many blackamoors in the kingdom. That appears to be bound up with a concern against the Spanish. (The main objects of xenophobic anxieties at the time are Jews and Jesuits.) Scholars have been researching racism in relation to Othello and Titus Andronicus; when I was reading up on it ten years ago they hadn't found any notable evidence of popular anxieties about race or racially motivated violence in say legal cases.
Aaron the Moor in Titus Andronicus is a black man who comments on his race and a machiavellian villain. Othello encounters taunts based on his race. Shakespeare seems to think that the audience will accept a white woman marrying a black man though; it's not until a hundred years later that people start complaining about this or claiming Shakespeare merely meant Othello was a bit dark skinned.

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Spacewarp 4 years, 2 months ago

This is very similar to the struggle that the Theory of Evolution had in breaking people's minds free of the old 19th Century Religious mindset that set Humans apart from the Animal Kingdom. If I recall correctly, the Negro (or Nubian, or Moor) would have been explicitly regarded as a part of the animal kingdom during the 16th Century, no matter how much contact was had with highly civilised dark skinned natives from the Middle-East and Orient. And of course as Ross points out, there would have been a similar natural-born hierarchy to humans themselves, with a Monarch appointed by God at the very top.

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David Anderson 4 years, 2 months ago

The obvious comparison is Shakespeare in Love, which flags up that it's about Shakespeare as icon not Shakespeare as historical figure. Gareth Roberts isn't quite as good as Tom Stoppard but he's alright.

Martha is quite good in the first half of this. She trails off into following the Doctor around later on - but to begin with she's clearly looking at things slightly at odds from him.

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Dave Workman 4 years, 2 months ago

I concur with Darren (this is my first comment ever despite having been reading for over a year now. Please don't hurt me).

I read TSC with my 'education' hat on so to speak, and as well as the positive spin it places on Shakespeare (i.e. his theatre is fun, bawdy, silly and emotional and for everyone), it also makes the case for all culture - high, low, popular - to occupy the same space and be equally as valid. Hence the episode references Shakespeare, JK Rowling, Back to the Future, Dylan Thomas, amongst others, without looking down on any of them for being 'inferior', and sees Shakespeare appropriating them in some cases. Obviously, that can also be seen as looking down on Elizabeth culture in itself, but I think this ties in to what Phil and others are saying about the confidence of the show at this point, and whilst I agree the hubris does start to have an adverse effect, here, by making Doctor Who and Shakespeare compatible and relatable, however absurd that seems in terms of their cultural and historical value/validity, it does a pretty good job of removing the stigma around Shakespeare. I think.

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Bennett 4 years, 2 months ago

I count only one instance of a "victorians-freaking-out-at-the-existence-of-lesbians joke", the one in The Snowmen when Vastra presents herself by saying "I'm a Lizard Woman from the Dawn of Time, and this is my wife".

I would appreciate it if you could illuminate me on the other occurrences (I suspected there may be one in The Crimson Horror but could not find it at a cursory glance).

If not, that would make it one joke in the 180 minutes of episodes featuring these characters, which is well below the one-every-three-minutes quota I was promised.

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David Anderson 4 years, 2 months ago

I don't believe that's correct. You see the beginnings of such ideas in this period in relation to some American peoples. But the idea that non-Europeans aren't humans doesn't seriously take root until the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, when slavery and Empire become economically important and yet people begin to feel that slavery is a moral anomaly that needs special justification. It tends to go along with the pseudo-evolutionary ideas that Gould looks at in The Mismeasure of Man.

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David Anderson 4 years, 2 months ago

The gentleman in Crimson Horror faints on several occasions, one of which is IIRC to do with lesbianism. That's written by Gatiss. But of course Moffat makes dolls of all his writers that he uses to turn them into his puppets and dictate their writing via witchcraft.

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bradluen 4 years, 2 months ago

The 1590s is the exact point where people of African descent start settling in England in enough numbers for it to be reasonable that a worldly person like Shakespeare wouldn't be shocked to see Martha turn up at the Globe. And yes, this coincides with the first demands for black people to get out. A quote from one of the proclamations that David Anderson mentioned:

"whereas the Queen's majesty, tendering the good and welfare of her own natural subjects greatly distressed in these hard times of dearth, is highly discontented to understand the great numbers of Negars and Blackamoors which as she is informed are crept into this realm since the troubles between Her Highness and the King of Spain, who are fostered and relieved here to the great annoyance of her own liege people that want the relief which those people consume; as also for that the most of them are infidels, having no understanding of Christ or his Gospel, hath given especial commandment that the said kind of people should be with all speed avoided and discharged out of her majesty's dominions."

And of course Elizabeth is the one who ends up hounding Martha out of the country. Note, though, the racial issue is tangled up with the more politically pressing religious issue. If Martha wanted to stick around (or if she got Susaned by a Doctor who decided Shakespeare liked the look of her), her best bet would have been to out-do Othello and not just declare her Christianity but be baptised into the Church of England. But really, even that's a longshot.

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Bennett 4 years, 2 months ago

@David - I double-checked that, and the three times Thursday faints are due to Vastra's appearance, Strax's appearance and the TARDIS's disappearance.

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Ross 4 years, 2 months ago

No, no; surely Moffat is a hapless dupe and it's just a giant coincidence that every creative work he's ever had a hand in treats any sexuality other than vanilla-babymaking-hetero as something to poke lighthearted fun at. Moffat is a blameless, holy creature, who has no creative control over his writers and totes has A Gay Friend.

@Bennett: "Victorian thinks Strax is turkish and Vastra has a skin condition but freaks out at Jenny being gay" is pretty much the entirety of the 'Vastra Investigates' prequel. The scene in The Snowmen where Simeon clearly recognizes Vastra as non-human but treats only the fact that she's a woman as scandalous is also clearly the same kind of joke.

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bradluen 4 years, 2 months ago

Ha, same here (well second comment actually, the first is above). Was going to start commenting once I caught up with the archives, but I've been catching up with the archive for a year and I'm still in New Adventures purgatory trying to work out what a Timewyrm is, and the Doctor Who/Shakespeare/race combination was irresistible.

Worth noting the major precedent for integrating Shakespeare with the fantastic to prove the power of (geek) stories is Sandman's A Midsummer Night's Dream. And it seems appropriate that while Gaiman tries to at least evoke Shakespeare's register, Roberts just has the Bard spout doggerel. Which shows that even stories as "badly" written as most genre fiction (the episode title pays tribute to Dan Brown!) can have power if a sufficiently large enough popular audience--say, seven million Britons watching the telly--decides that they do.

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Bennett 4 years, 2 months ago

"treats any sexuality other than vanilla-babymaking-hetero as something to poke lighthearted fun at"

But Moffat, perhaps because he's an ex-sitcom writer, treats everything as 'something to poke lighthearted fun at'.

Now if Vastra and Jenny's relationship was the target of any of these jokes (rather than the subject) I could take your point. However, I would still fail to see how gross hyperbole about Moffat's writing style belongs in the comment section of a reasoned critique of an episode he had no involvement with.

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landru 4 years, 2 months ago

I liked the article for pointing out the context of this being Doctor Who. Finally! Let's do Doctor Who! And, of course, at the time I wasn't very thrilled with the modern day references (The Shakespeare Code ... gimme a break!) I still enjoyed the story. Yes, it is a bit like history via Black Adder (and I still think Black Adder Goes Forth must have seen The War Games first few episodes.) Anyway, I liked it.

One of the things I think is missing might be the fact that Martha is part of the modern (Not We) audience for the show that will always be expecting the traditional romantic subplot. I've always said that RTD slowly weaned the audience off that expectation and Martha's unrequited love is a key part of that.

As for race and equality, well, Jack Graham's blog might be true (thanks for the link, I didn't know about it) and the discussion is very much up for grabs about entertainment in general to this day. For me, I never felt Martha's race was an issue until she was paired off with Mickey ('cause he's black ...) That stuck out to me. Otherwise, I'm not in the business of being PC about everything.

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Corpus Christi Music Scene 4 years, 2 months ago

We have no way of knowing that Martha was paired off with Mickey because he was black.They meet in "Journey's End" and we dont see them again until "The End of Time".

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BerserkRL 4 years, 2 months ago

The Shakespeare Code is not about Shakespeare as a historical phenomenon, but about Shakespeare as another genre that Doctor Who can crash into.

But they didn't have to choose between those two options. They pulled off both in "Vincent and the Doctor."

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BerserkRL 4 years, 2 months ago

the celebrity historical, which was invented by Pip and Jane Baker in 1984

Why doesn't "Marco Polo" count as a celebrity historical?

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 2 months ago

Yeah, complete brain freeze on that - I reached for a short description and ended up with a thoroughly wrong one. I've updated the article to an actually correct claim, which is that Pip 'n Jane created the subgenre of the Doctor and a Famous History Person fighting aliens.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 2 months ago

"Computer games like Final Fantasy are better than Shakespeare, because they're about themes like honour and revenge." -- actual teenager

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BerserkRL 4 years, 2 months ago

Yeah, but it does seem worrisome. Martha and Mickey both pine for unattainable white lovers but then get each other as consolation prizes while the unattainable white lovers fall for each other. I don't think there was racist intent, but there was at least negligence.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 2 months ago

Yes, because saying that Moffat is not completely in control of every joke made is exactly the same as saying he has no control whatsoever. sigh

While I can't say he's blameless, it really bothers me how quickly people jump to blame him.

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David Thiel 4 years, 2 months ago

The pairing of Martha and Mickey was odd in its abrupt introduction, but I didn't come away with the impression that it was because they were both black. They had a shared experience in terms of having traveled with the Doctor, and had last been seen walking off together. (Ostensibly to join up with Torchwood, which obviously didn't happen.) So, there was at least an in-universe connection which could be reasonably assumed to have grown during their absence from the screen.

If anything, biracial relationships seemed relatively common in the RTD era: Rose/Mickey, Martha/Tom, Donna/Lance, Owen/Tosh...granted, none of those quite worked out. (I vaguely recall that there were other examples among the guest characters, but nothing comes immediately to mind.)

My purely speculative theory is that Martha and Mickey were thrown together to award them both a "happy ending" for their brief reappearance, and perhaps because RTD wanted to double-down on the "Smith & Jones" reference.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 2 months ago

Darren: Excellent point.

Berserk: Did you mean: strawman teenager

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Ununnilium 4 years, 2 months ago

I assume it would have worked a lot better had we seen them as an actual couple in Torchwood.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 2 months ago

Yeah, but you're not going to hit that level of awesomeness every time.

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Ross 4 years, 2 months ago

I think it's mostly a matter of "They're the two that are left". Whether or not there's a racial element of why those two are left is another matter.

But it would be neither the first, last, nor most egregious example of "Doctor Who stumbles into really terribly racially awkward territory through negligence"

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Alex Wilcock 4 years, 2 months ago

That seems an overreaction - I genuinely thought you were stirring it for fun! And I'm sure the Annuals and probably comics had already done that subgenre, anyway...

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Alex Wilcock 4 years, 2 months ago

I raised that earlier, thinking Phil was having a bit of fun...

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Lewis Christian 4 years, 2 months ago

It's also, at its heart, a show for kids. And I'd never want to patronise kids or assume they're dumb. Never ever. But the show has its point, makes it, and continues. It doesn't want to get hung up in a debate or a long-winded chat about racism. The Doctor's flippance is, IMO, justified (he doesn't even see Martha's colour - she's just another woman - and if others have something to say, well, he'll also have something to say [as will she]) and the show is essentially saying "doesn't matter what colour or race or whatever you are, you're a person, so let's go!"

Granted, some see that as a quick brush-off or lazy or ignorance, but I'm fine with it. Does the job fine IMO. (In fact, Human Nature is the story they could've tackled it head on but they don't bother even then, in a story all about humans and identity etc.)

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Lewis Christian 4 years, 2 months ago

Martha and Mickey's pairing is racism?

This is why I'm now going to ignore the "R" word in these posts and comments. No offence guys - the discussion is interesting - but that one takes the biscuit in absurdity.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 2 months ago

No, this was said in sincerity to a teenager I know by a classmate of his.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 2 months ago

that one takes the biscuit in absurdity

Because?

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jane 4 years, 2 months ago

Shakespeare is a genre. Van Gogh is not.

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landru 4 years, 2 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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landru 4 years, 2 months ago

Yes, my issue is really that it was never developed, implied or anything else ... when it could have been all along. My point is that it ... stuck out. It's totally plausible.

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Froborr 4 years, 2 months ago

it would be daft to criticise TSC for not being more like... an ice cream sundae

I am SORELY tempted to make this next week's Whatever Wednesday.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 2 months ago

Shakespeare is a genre. Van Gogh is not.

No no, the line is: "Shakespeare was a genius. You, little madam, are definitely not."

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BerserkRL 4 years, 2 months ago

Yeah, I commented before reading the comments. That keeps biting me.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 2 months ago

But seriously, entering the world of Van Gogh's paintings is a bit of a genre; I'm thinking e.g. of the Scorsese vignette in Kurosawa's Dreams.

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Jack Graham 4 years, 2 months ago

They don't really crash Doctor Who into anything resembling the genre we call 'Shakespeare' either. As I tried to sketch out on my blog, even 'Duck Soup' has more in common with the genre 'Shakespeare' than does The Shakespeare Code.

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David Anderson 4 years, 2 months ago

The only way I find Vincent and the Doctor tolerable is to take it as having nothing to do with Van Gogh as a historical phenomenon.

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Adam Riggio 4 years, 2 months ago

We're probably going to get most into the discussion when we dive straight into the Moffatt era and the STFUMoffat crowd comes out of the woodwork. But there is a sensible attitude at why someone would consider Mickey and Martha getting together as racist. Here's that reaction, as uttered by a viewer watching that moment of The End of Time for the first time.

"So the two black companions hook up? Typical racism, saying the only legitimate romantic pairings must be of the same race!"

In other words, because it was so typical for so long to consider inter-ethnic romance forbidden, immoral, and horrible, now that we live in a society where this is acceptable, there's a tendency to react in the opposite direction when we see more traditional same-ethnicity pairings. Of course, such a reaction is mostly silly, whereas the usual opposition to there being any inter-ethnic romance at all is absolutely horrible.

I see this reaction as the heart of the STFUMoffat folks. For the first three years of his tenure as showrunner, the four leads were two straight couples (one couple was inter-species, but they both looked human and were straight, as well as all being the same ethnicity [even though an earlier incarnation of River was black, that's not the version we came to know best {that's some Sandiferian brackets there}]). The central story-arc of those three years was the love story of those two straight white couples. To someone who equates social progressiveness with the blossoming of inter-ethnic and non-straight romances in the media and in life, Doctor+River and Amy+Rory were retrograde. From this perspective, straight same-ethnicity romances in the media are part of the problem of continuing socially conservative norms on television.

The STFUMoffat partisan sees the validation of same-ethnicity romances in the media as socially conservative hetero-normativity. That partisan sees the relationships central to the narrative arc of Doctor Who from 2010 to 2012 as socially conservative hetero-normativity. Therefore, such a partisan sees Steven Moffat as having made Doctor Who socially conservative.

To STFUMoffat, Doctor Who is now run by the reincarnation of Mary Whitehouse.

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Alan 4 years, 2 months ago

I must confess, this episode is a big part of why I am reticent about the idea of an ethnic and/or female Doctor. To be blunt, I simply don't see how you could do a story about a black Doctor or a woman Doctor that was set on Earth at any point in its pre-21st century history without it touching on race or gender issues. Which, of course, means that EVERY story set on Earth prior to the 21st century would ultimately be about race or gender issues, and I don't trust the production staff to handle such issues with the sensitivity they deserve for a single story let alone the entire tenure of a Doctor. Also, the narrative structure of the show generally requires the Doctor to show up and take charge of the situation. If Martha Jones can't even get Joan Redfern to believe she's a med student without rattling off the bones of the hands, how is Patterson Joseph as the Doctor going to plausibly order 1970's era UNIT troops into battle, let alone get Victorian police to listen to him.

What they should have done starting in this very episode is establish definitively that most locals (by most, I mean those who don't see through it for plot reasons) simply ignore the fact that a given companion belongs to some subgroup that would normally be looked down upon in that society. An easy explanation is to attribute it to the same aspect of the TARDIS that allows the companion to speak the local language. In fact, it is likely that something like that does happen, since Martha spent this whole episode in fairly tight pants which is probably MORE shocking to Elizabethans than the fact that she's black. IIRC, no one other than Peri ever looked twice at Colin Baker's coat, so I don't see why either Martha or the Doctor being black should be an issue at all.

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encyclops 4 years, 2 months ago

We used to do an improvised Shakespeare show (will again, in a few months when the rotation comes back around again) and I had to lay down the law: "no farmers, no ghosts, no prophecies, no witches, no spells." Not because you can't find those things in Shakespeare (although: farmers?) but because they were leading players less familiar with Shakespeare into plots more suited to fairy tales or fantasy epics.

Or, apparently, Doctor Who.

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Ross 4 years, 2 months ago

I think it's more legitimate than "Two black people get paired off? Obvious racism!" insofar as until this point, we'd never seen Martha and Mickey say so much as a word to each other; there's a sense of their skin color being the only connection they share (I mean, okay, skin color and "are recurring characters in this show, and therefore are friends of the Doctor")

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 2 months ago

For me what's bothersome about the Mickey/Martha pairing is that they're also the only two companions to get squared away in a single sequence. There's no obvious reason for them to be together, and they're clearly just sort of being expediently dealt with. It feels like they're thrown together because they're black, and because it lets them get through things faster. That Mickey should get paired away with Martha so that we can throw in a callback to Human Nature - one that Davies and Gardner admit that, when the director tried to argue for its removal by showing them a cut with it taken out that they didn't even notice was missing - does feel odd.

I don't think it's some sort of sinister masterplan by a malevolent finger-steepling Russell T Davies, but it's still kinda crappy.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 2 months ago

At least you didn't say "no kings, no castles, no forests."

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BerserkRL 4 years, 2 months ago

how is Patterson Joseph as the Doctor going to plausibly order 1970's era UNIT troops into battle, let alone get Victorian police to listen to him.

Psychic paper?

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Prole Hole 4 years, 2 months ago

I have to say I had exactly the opposite reaction - the worst thing about this story is it treats the past as now. Now, admittedly I'm not a teenager and haven't been for a while, but one of the joys of Doctor Who when I was a teenager and one which remains now is that it opened up strange, wonderful, DIFFERENT worlds, whether they be the past or the future or something altogether stranger. To have the past just be like now but with fewer concrete buildings just seems to miss the point to me. How sad that an exploration of an entirely different time might as well be an exploration of... well, Perivale I guess. Even The Unquiet Dead succeeded more in helping viewers understand why its setting wasn't just now-but-with-big-Victorian-sideburns.

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Corpus Christi Music Scene 4 years, 2 months ago

By that reasoning , Leela and Andred "being thrown together" must be racist as well.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 2 months ago

It turns out there's a difference between real races and fictional ones when evaluating discriminatory impact.

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Prole Hole 4 years, 2 months ago

Eh, it's not Roberts' worst script but it's still pretty poor. My problem with his writing has always been that, whatever Doctor is on-screen, he always seems to be actually writing for Tom'n'Lalla, and that gets very frustrating after a while, and then eventually boring. There are one or two interesting ideas, one or two decent one-liners and that's about it - every script he churns out always ends up like that. Which is fine, if he's actually writing for Tom'n'Lalla but rather less so when writing for David'n'Freema (or whoever). In fact my favourite script of his (albeit co-written) is probably Invasion Of The Bane and it, tellingly, has a completely different lead front and centre.

Full disclosure time: I know, or rather knew, Gareth personally, we were at university together. If you've seen him on DVD extras, he's exactly what he appears to be - a big, cuddly, camp, enthusiastic bear of a man and quite lovely. So it gives me absolutely no pleasure to say he is, for me, one of the weakest writers of the new series. He never seems to adapt, and that's a great shame because I'm sure he has something really great inside him (hint: it's not The Unicorn And The Wasp).

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Corpus Christi Music Scene 4 years, 2 months ago

But the idea that two fictional black characters get together offscreen over a period of we dont know how long is not racist , anymore than putting two white ones together (Captain Jack /Alonso).

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Ross 4 years, 2 months ago

Right, because there's an equal weight of history to white characters being marginalized in television.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 2 months ago

the idea that two fictional black characters get together offscreen over a period of we dont know how long is not racist

Not as such, no. It's the context that makes it problematic: two lovelorn black characters, both rejected as not good enough for the two awesome white characters who dominate the show, end up with each other.

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mengu 4 years, 2 months ago

Of course if you treat three different jokes as one joke you're going to find they're much more common.

Also, what Ununnilium said. Because there is a huge middle ground.

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David Thiel 4 years, 2 months ago

@Alan: Agreed that they might've done well to establish that the TARDIS' translation ability also produces a vague perception filter effect. Not enough to disguise K-9 as a real dog or Rose as a Silurian, but perhaps enough to prevent the observer from noticing certain details about the Doctor and his companions, including but not limited to tight pants.

Like you, I'm reticent about a Doctor of Color or Time Lady. Not because I couldn't deal with either--"Doctor Who" is a show about change, after all--but because suddenly the show is about "the black Doctor" or "the female Doctor." And if the quite-reasonable people commenting on this blog find racially coded messages in the way the series treated Martha, that would be nothing compared to the s**tstorm that would ensue once the unwashed masses of the Interwebs weighed in on Paterson Joseph.

And then you have the backlash that would ensue if the next Doctor turned out to be a white male.

All terrible reasons for not doing it, of course. It's the same sort of thinking that resulted in us Americans taking 220 years to elect a non-white President.

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David Thiel 4 years, 2 months ago

Though this line of thinking also suggests that Martha and/or Mickey are something other than exceptional people in their own right. If "losing" means that you wind up married to Martha Jones, well...that in no way seems like a booby prize.

I do think the sudden pairing made for a "wha?" moment, but even calling it unintentional racism seems like a bit of a stretch within the greater context of the other relationships portrayed during the RTD era. I get where people are coming from on this, I just think that it's more of an "Andred and Leela" moment than anything else.

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Laurence Price 4 years, 2 months ago

Re. "the said kind of people should be with all speed avoided and discharged out of her majesty's dominions."- I imagine they wanted to put that on those Home Office vans, but there wasn't the room... Plus ca change.

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Iain Coleman 4 years, 2 months ago

The Mickey/Martha pairing is a bit out of nowhere, and doubtless mainly exists for the weak "Smith and Jones" gag, but my primary response to it was "Mickey Smith: you lucky bastard".

I thought it did make some sense in character terms, as David Thiel has outlined above. As for the racial angle, I see this criticism mainly, perhaps exclusively, from Americans.There are some weird issues in American culture around race and relationships that we don't really have in Britain, and this may be at the root of this dispute.

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Mike Russell 4 years, 2 months ago

Before The End of Time was broadcast, some fans complained very loudly about RTD supposedly writing too many interracial relationships. Then when he paired Mickey and Martha, he gets it in the neck for that, too.

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Ross 4 years, 2 months ago

I think "The TARDIS can make people think you're white" possibly has a hair too many unfortunate implications, but perhaps something along those lines could be done.

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David Thiel 4 years, 2 months ago

@Mike: It wasn't a complaint on my own part, but I do recall thinking at one point that under RTD, interracial relationships were the norm rather than the exception. Which, and I want to stress this, I do not have a problem with. It's just that it was at odds with my own experience. (Disclaimer: I'm an American, and I recognize that "Who" isn't intended to reflect my reality. Iain correctly points out that we have issues with race that charitably can be termed "complicated," and uncharitably termed "f**king bigoted.")

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Galadriel 4 years, 2 months ago

I saw a suggestion somewhere that Martha and Mickey ended up together partially because they were the two who were hurt most by Ten/Rose's relationship (Mickey rejected for the Doctor and Martha rejected for the ghost of Rose). Not sure how problematic that interpretation is.

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Galadriel 4 years, 2 months ago

To quote the Sound of Drums on the TARDIS key perception filter: "Doesn't make us invisible, just unnoticed."

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David Thiel 4 years, 2 months ago

Ha, yes, possibly. Even if it was presented as having the more general effect of allowing people to view the TARDIS crew as "not other," it would likely be taken by some exactly as you suggest.

That the premise of "Doctor Who" encompasses potentially infinite cultures can work against it. As with "Star Trek," one has to handwave away language barriers or else the show becomes one in which Our Heroes perpetually face insurmountable communication problems. So, along comes the TARDIS' Translation Matrix, which not only has you speaking fluent Italian even though you hear yourself in English, but presumably supplies culturally-appropriate idioms and perhaps even non-verbal cues.

Really, the best advice is probably the MST3K mantra, "Just repeat to yourself 'It's just a show, I should really just relax.'" But it's hard to do that when it comes to historically and politically-charged topics such as race and gender.

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encyclops 4 years, 2 months ago

David Thiel: You probably don't live in California. :)

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Nyq Only 4 years, 2 months ago

Also both Mickey and Martha had followed a largely off-screen career path into bad-ass defenders-of-the-earth. This occurred separately for both - Mickey in the parallel Earth and Martha via joining UNIT.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 2 months ago

Then when he paired Mickey and Martha, he gets it in the neck for that, too.

But not from the same people.

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David Anderson 4 years, 2 months ago

The problem isn't showing two characters of the same racial background pairing up, not as such. The problems are: firstly it implies that Martha and Mickey don't each deserve a scene of their own. Secondly, we last saw Martha apparently engaged to someone outside Doctor Who: so to see Martha now married to Mickey implies that all the character development we've seen of Martha isn't nearly as important as our desire to see her box ticked.

It's when we ask ourselves what Martha and Mickey have in common that they don't deserve separate farewell scenes but get packed off together that the unfortunate implications arise.

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Spacewarp 4 years, 2 months ago

I'm beginning to worry that 40 years after the somewhat racist 1970s, we've gone a too far the other way, and the Racist Meter has been set a bit too low.

The arguments here about the Mickey & Martha scene remind me of that bit in "Dances With Wolves" where Kicking Bird remarks that it makes sense for Dunbar & Stands With A Fist to get together since they're both white in a non-white society. Is he being racist? You could argue that. But what he's saying and what actually happens (they do get together) is harming no-one, and perpetuating no harmful stereotypes.

Similarly is the scene with Mickey and Martha harming anyone? Is it giving out a bad message? Only if you think it is and then tell everyone else that it is. The majority of viewers (i.e. children) probably wouldn't have even thought of the racist angle and just taken note of the fact that two of the Doctor's friends had finally got together and seemed to be happy. In the same way as Rory and Amy (two of the Doctor's friends) got together at the end of "The Big Bang" and were happy.

My friend used to be a DM, and his favourite trick was to put a large moss-covered rock in the centre of a dungeon chamber when his players entered. They would then spend hours trying to figure out what this rock was, casting spells, lifting it up, hitting it with all sorts of weapons; and this used to amuse him no end because it was just a moss-covered rock.

Sometimes things are just a moss-covered rock.

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Spacewarp 4 years, 2 months ago

I'm glad you mentioned Star Trek there, because Avery Brooks is the obvious example to be held up by Trekkies about how a non-white lead works fine. Forgetting of course that Sisko lives in a future society where race isn't an issue, so the colour of his skin isn't going to impact on any storylines, unless they're specifically about race. For example they land on a planet where the inhabitants have an issue with colour, or they time travel back to Mississippi int the early 20th Century.

But as you point out, with Doctor Who every time period you visit prior to the 21st Century is likely to have issues about colour or gender.

Whichever way you cut it while dealing with a black or female Doctor you run into problems. If you acknowledge the way locals are going to treat him/her in every story, as you say, you make every story about race or gender.

If you address it in passing (as in TSC) then you will face complaints that you're not addressing it enough, or you're being unrealistic. Completely ignoring it (a la 6th Doctor's coat) would probably be the safest course, but even then the fan community will accuse the show of racism in some form or other.

In fact you've only got to look at how dropping a black companion into another time-period has already caused so much discussion on this comments section. Now imagine that for every story. The issues for a female Doctor are different but just as problematic. Try dropping a female Doctor into any of the Classic series episodes and see how far you get. Yes you could argue that this is because of the stereotypical attitudes towards women in the 60s and 70s (so how could the Doctor realistically take charge of the situation, whilst still allowing Polly to make the coffee), but then you'll run into the same situation if you send a female Doctor back to the 60s or 70s.

It's increasing looking like the only way to protect the programme from having to deal with these issues every damn week is to have a white male Doctor.

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peeeeeeet 4 years, 2 months ago

"Adults dismissing Final Fantasy is almost as bad as teenagers dismissing Shakespeare." -- actual Peeet

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Sean Case 4 years, 2 months ago

I just feel sorry for Dr Milligan. What did he do to get dumped by Martha?

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Iain Coleman 4 years, 2 months ago

He was spending all his time hanging around with Miranda Hart, indulging himself with pratfalls and hilarious misunderstandings, while Martha was out all day saving the world. It couldn't last.

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David Thiel 4 years, 2 months ago

@encyclops: I live in Central Illinois, but it's a college town, so we actually have quite a bit of racial diversity. I've known people close to my fortysomething age who married someone of another race, and they apparently had to deal with a lot of bigotry. My perception is that things have improved, and that young Americans don't give much of a thought to it. Still, interracial pairings are a small percentage of married couples in the U.S.

@Spacewarp: Agreed, this seems like a moss-covered rock.

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Lewis Christian 4 years, 2 months ago

Ah, I love Roberts' scripts. Some of the best of the series, IMO :)

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David Thiel 4 years, 2 months ago

Exactly. We get the Doctor we deserve.

Regarding "Star Trek," another difference is that Avery Brooks wasn't playing Captain Kirk.

Here, we've got a character who regularly changes his physical appearance, but invariably--eleven times over a 50 year span--becomes a British (or occasionally Scottish) white male. By now, it's such a hidebound tradition that doing it any other way will inevitably be seen as MAKING A STATEMENT.

If, for example, the 5th Doctor had been Joanna Lumley, perhaps Paterson Joseph would be regenerating into Helena Bonham Carter this Christmas.

Of course, JNT and RTD didn't help things by teasing us with the possibility of a female Doctor shortly before casting another white male. And Moffat/Gaiman went a step further and established in-universe that cross-gender regenerations are possible. (I don't recall, have we ever seen a non-white Time Lord?)

My preference would be for the show to reintroduce Romana, or to cast Paterson Joseph* as the Corsair. That way you can have your awesome non-white, non-male Time Lords without getting into all of the bulls**t that would inevitably result from the Doctor himself changing race or gender.

Yes, it sucks, but again, we get the Doctor we deserve.

*By the way, I have no idea who Paterson Joseph is, except that he and Idris Elba are the only ones who ever come up when discussing black Doctors. And Idris Elba is busy being a movie star.

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Ross 4 years, 2 months ago

(I don't recall, have we ever seen a non-white Time Lord?)

I believe the first one was one of the Time Lords who presented the young Master to the Schism. Pretty sure there was one in Rassilon's retinue as well. Don't think there's been one in a speaking part

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Jenda 4 years, 2 months ago

(I don't recall, have we ever seen a non-white Time Lord?)

Does Professor River Song count?

:)

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encyclops 4 years, 2 months ago

Spacewarp: how could the Doctor realistically take charge of the situation, whilst still allowing Polly to make the coffee

Well, someone's got to make the coffee, and Polly is the assistant, regardless of the Doctor's gender. It's almost better for that dynamic if the Doctor is female, because the relationship between them stops being overshadowed by male/female and goes to professor/intern.

I think it's probably possible to make a female Doctor or a Doctor of color work without having the entire show become a minefield of never pleasing anyone. Not every story is set in a racist past, and even in the ones that are, in the long history of the show it's pretty unusual for the Doctor to be immediately granted authority and trusted. "Thrown in jail right away" is more the norm, at least as far as my cheating memory recalls. The Doctor typically has had to earn trust, and seeing that happen naturally and legitimately could be convincing in most cases, unless the Doctor has dropped into a Klan rally or something.

But I think you've laid out the problems pretty comprehensively. I don't hate Moffat, but I'm not sure he's the showrunner to tackle them. I hope a future one does.

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Spacewarp 4 years, 2 months ago

If you can get hold of a copy of Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere" TV Series from the 90s, Paterson Joseph plays the Marquis of Carabas, in a role that is very Doctoresque (even more so after the relatively young Tennant and Smith) and is probably the main reason why he's always mooted by fans for the role.

He also plays Roderick in the "Weakest Link" game show in "Bad Wolf", which is probably your easiest way to see him. Although he plays a very unpleasant and therefore un-Doctor-like character there.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 2 months ago

The best way to do a black Doctor, to be perfectly honest, would be to not mention it. At all. Ever. Which would have been fine with Martha as well, to be honest. I mean, what really jumps out in The Shakespeare Code is that Martha points out that she's black, but makes no mention whatsoever of the fact that both she and the Doctor are absolutely ludicrously dressed for the time. Race was brought up specifically to deal with it, which is why the method of dealing with it is so jarringly silly.

There's certainly scads of interesting stuff to be written about the idea of people of color traveling through time. For the most part Doctor Who makes a poor vehicle for it, though, for the simple reason that it would, as a general rule, . To say that this is a reason not to have black companions or Doctors is, however, going a bit too far for me. To my mind, a show that went seven years without anyone having the first reaction of "don't you think that scarf's a bit much?" can safely carry on with the unwritten rule that the Doctor and his companions blend in except when they don't.

Which solves the "doing it to make a statement' problem nicely as well. Just don't. Don't do it to be smugly self-satisfied about how you've finally corrected over fifty years of institutionalized discrimination. Just cast a non-white Doctor and get on with it.

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David Thiel 4 years, 2 months ago

@Spacewarp: Ah, I'm familiar with "Neverwhere." I aired it when it was first marketed to U.S. public TV stations. And yes, he was good in that. It's just funny that he and Idris Elba are the only names I ever hear as potential Doctors of Color.

@Philip: It took fourteen years for the show to address why everyone spoke English, and even then the fact that Sarah Jane even asked was viewed as a clue that she had been hypnotized. So sure, you can handwave it within the show. That's what I was getting at with the perception filter thing.

My contention, however, is that the perception filter doesn't extend to the audience, and that's where the problem will come. You can say "it's an unwritten rule" as much as you want, and it won't stop people from wringing their hands over any instance in which race could conceivably come into play.

As a corollary, you don't have to make a statement to be perceived as making a statement. (I'm sure that we all recall the "gay agenda.") You can't control that any more than you control the furor that would result if a black and/or female Doctor were to regenerate into another white male. We are, as a species, ready to see everything as an affront.

Again, I didn't say that it was a good reason.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 2 months ago

Yes. There are certainly people who will suddenly decide that while nobody commenting on the Colin Baker coat is made sense, somehow a black Doctor doesn't.

They should be ignored utterly, I tend to think.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 2 months ago

Okay. I didn't dismiss Final Fantasy though.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 2 months ago

he and Idris Elba are the only ones who ever come up when discussing black Doctors

Chiwetel Ejiofor's name has been raised a lot more prominently than either Idris Elba or Paterson Joseph. (Since the claim is that he was actually offered the role.)

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Spacewarp 4 years, 2 months ago

"The best way to do a black Doctor, to be perfectly honest, would be to not mention it. At all. Ever."

Yup this is about the best way to go. Except you wouldn't manage it. As soon as he was cast the fan community and the Press would be all over it like a rash. "Doctor Black!" would be the headlines the next day all over the UK, and they wouldn't stop going on about it for months.

And then when the first episode aired it would get incredible viewing figures because everyone would be tuning in to see the Black Doctor, and then...when the story played it really straight and the companion didn't say "But Doctor...you're black!", then we'd get the Backlash.

The BBC would be accused of wasting an opportunity, of stunt-casting, of bowing to fan pressure, of political correctness gone mad, and the papers would be full of it again.

I've lived in this damn country too long and I've seen it all.

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David Thiel 4 years, 2 months ago

Durr...forgot Chiwetel Ejiofor, mostly because I've no idea how to spell or pronounce his name.

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David Anderson 4 years, 2 months ago

I am told, only having seen the episodes that still move, that Polly is asked to make the coffee less often than people remember, and gets to make constructive suggestions that defeat the cybermen more often.
In fact, what I've seen of sixties Doctor Who is far more gender equal than seventies or early eighties Doctor Who. Zoe is allowed to be the Doctor's intellectual equal in many ways without any overt attempts to put her in her place; Romana is not.

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Spacewarp 4 years, 2 months ago

I think you're right about the 60s, although a lot of that is to do with the dynamic between Zoe and her Doctor. Troughton was more than willing to give anyone intellectual breathing space, male or female. But as for the 70s, you pair Zoe with Pertwee and see how far you get before he slaps her down.

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Mark Patterson 4 years, 2 months ago

I honestly can't think of many Doctor Who plot templates more archetypal than "the Doctor arrives in a new location, where something terrible starts happening/is already going on. The authorities/locals distrust the Doctor, who has to overcome their scepticism and establish his authority through sheer strength of personality before he helps them/inspires them to overcome the problem."

With particular emphasis on the initial scepticism and the overcoming thereof...how exactly is introducing a non-white Doctor into a historical setting going to get in the way of telling 99% of the stories Doctor Who would ever be likely to tell using that setting anyway?

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Ross 4 years, 2 months ago

The dynamics are different on that side of the pond, but if a black Doctor arrived in, say, the deep south in the 1950s, the locals would almost certainly rather let the aliens destroy the planet than take orders from a (Epithet).

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Spacewarp 4 years, 2 months ago

Yes, think "In The Heat of the Night" with the gorgeous Sidney Poitier. Yes he wins the respect of the rednecks, but it takes the whole film to do it, and his doing so completely overshadows the murder plot, turning the film into one about race.

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5tephe 4 years, 2 months ago

But, hang on Prole Hole - isn't Human Nature the one where the do tackle race and sexism head on? At least for a moment?

Nurse What'sHerName dismisses Martha's claim that she is from the future wig the line that some day in the far future a woman might study to be a doctor, but certainly not one of Martha's "background".

To which Martha recites the homes of the hand. When challenged that she "just read that in some book." Martha replies "Yeah - to pass my exams!"

I think that is a brilliant scene. Granted - it is just another example of the Davies philosophy of "just walk around like you own the place" and she'll be right, but for a man who praised The Doctor Dances in such glowing (and justified) terms for presenting kids with a moral that they should forget fear, drop moral-sexual judgement, and 'dance' into humanity's glorious future, Phil's frowning at this one for presenting a simplistic and naive way to deal with prejudice and racism seems a little harsh.

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encyclops 4 years, 2 months ago

My recollection (possibly flawed) is that the Fourth Doctor allowed Romana as much intellectual equality as he allowed anyone, male or female. I can recall offhand more instances where the script painted Romana as his equal or even superior than I can instances where she was "put in her place." They had the "book learnin'" vs. "school of hard knocks" dynamic going, sure, but even that wasn't a one-sided fight.

That said, I love Zoe -- she'd probably be in my top 5 companions, especially if there were more moving episodes -- and I agree that the dynamic she seemed to have with the Second Doctor was especially pleasant.

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Froborr 4 years, 2 months ago

Let it never be said that I am one to resist temptation.

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