Where's Mother: The Doctor's Revisited (Colin Baker)

(81 comments)

There are two observations about this special that strike me as getting to the heart of it. The first is that, more than ever, Steven Moffat is the most interesting thing on display here. I've been making snarky jokes here and there about it nearing the 20th anniversary of his great "slag off most of Doctor Who" drunken performance piece at a con, but it's here we have to admit that Steven Moffat has, at the very least, played two different characters in his life when it comes to commenting on the classic series. Which one is the authentic Steven Moffat is of course a matter for debate, and if you think the answer is either of them you're a fool, but nevertheless, we all know he's capable of a devastating and scathing review of this era that outdoes any other.

So it's fundamentally interesting to see him relied upon so heavily to offer a defense of this era. It is, to be sure, not hard to reconcile the positions. His praise is based on the daringness of the ideas in the Baker era, which has always been the thing you can praise about it. It would have been easy to keep Doctor Who around as wallpaper, and by god it didn't. But it's easy to imagine a lengthy amount of unused footage in which he points out that absolutely none of these lofty ideas play out. Nevertheless, those with a fondness for literary biography are spoiled for choice in arguing that the inspiration for the Capaldi era came from trying to redemptively read the Colin Baker era.

This brings us neatly to the second observation, which is that it gives a surprisingly thorough sense of the turmoil of this era without ever speaking the names "John Nathan-Turner," "Eric Saward," or "Ian Levine." Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant are both visibly at the edge of saying that there were some major problems with the era. Baker, at times, seems at pains to be much more soft-spoken, and to highlight the degree to which his Doctor was a performance.

But more to the point, there's no attempt to shy away from The Twin Dilemma. The strangling scene is there and acknowledged. Defended by Bryant, yes, and unfortunately, but there in all its upsetting glory. Nobody quite tries to defend the coat so much as explain it. You can tell this is a problematic era, even though the program is basically positive.

And it has to be said, it makes good points. Its acknowledgment of how Baker was allowed to improve his performance in his second season is a nice touch, but I was genuinely surprised to see them make the case that the nature of his improvement was set up in The Twin Dilemma. And Moffat's end-of-episode plug of Vengeance on Varos is an enormously emphatic thing that's based on a tremendous respect for it as a serious piece of television. The fact that he takes the time to highlight the presence of a serious writer on Doctor Who is enormously appealing, simply because it is such a Moffat thing to focus upon.

And in the end, its positioning of the Sixth Doctor era is, I think, fair progress in our discourse about it. Its blanket defense/explanation is essentially "look, it was the 80s," which is remarkably sound. The point that the clashing colors of the coat and the excessive brashness were very much of the 1980s is the same point that was so visibly lacking in the Pertwee special with regards to the 1970s. And it's an effective defense, because it's tremendously clever in what points it concedes. Ultimately, it's the observation that a Thatcher-era Doctor Who was always going to have to exist, and be kind of awful, and here it is, but at least it's interesting. Which is all true, just less interested in the "kind of awful" than most people historically have been.

But that's still the best defense of the era anyone has mustered to date. And given that Moffat ultimately used the 50th Anniversary to symbolically remove the wound in Doctor Who's history that's normally blamed on this era, it's a good defense.

In this regard, Vengeance on Varos is blatantly the best choice they've made for stories to show. They set the viewer up for all the necessary allowances, and then let the story's numerous and genuine virtues shine through. The only problem it ends up with is one it's under no obligation to solve, which is that unless you know about Big Finish, there's nowhere good to go after it.

Comments

Christopher Miles 2 years, 6 months ago

“…given that Moffat ultimately used the 50th Anniversary to symbolically remove the wound in Doctor Who's history that's normally blamed on this era…” Curious to know what you mean by this.

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Daru 2 years, 6 months ago

Yes it is a shame in that it took all the time up until Big Finish for Colin's Doctor to have the breathing room he deserved as an actor - great also that it happened! It was unfortunate at the time for Colin that he was along with the show-runners boxed into a situation that made running the show hard to manage. There was a great series of articles on JNT in Doctor Who magazine (sorry can't recall the issues) that explored and revisited the stories told about him. It was fascinating that we did get the problems of the show explored through the show itself being put on trial along with the Doctor.

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William Whyte 2 years, 6 months ago

"it's the observation that a Thatcher-era Doctor Who was always going to have to exist, and be kind of awful, and here it is," -- isn't this a bit overdeterministic? Wasn't McCoy in the Thatcher era too?

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Seeing_I 2 years, 6 months ago

He means the wound of cancellation, which in his reading "The Time War" was basically a metaphorical stand-in for.

Unless he really meant the wound of "Doctor in Distress" which to my knowledge has never healed.

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Scott 2 years, 6 months ago

I'm assuming that it refers to the Time War and the Doctor's guilt and trauma over destroying Gallifrey, which is often seen as a metaphor for the cancellation of the show at the end of the eighties. The cancellation, in turn, is generally blamed on the downturn in public opinion the show suffered during (roughly) the Colin Baker era, and the mid-eighties hiatus of the show.

Phil's made the argument that throughout the revival of the show, there's been a tangible anxiety about the prospect of a future cancellation, but by this point it's widely seen as a phenomenal success that's received popular and critical acclaim. The 'trauma' (such as it is) of the cancellation can now start to heal, which is symbolically represented in the show in "The Day of the Doctor" when the Doctor changes history to ensure that rather than the Time War ending with him destroying Gallifrey, it ends with him actually saving Gallifrey instead.

I think Phil has actually raised this in a few posts, though I can't remember off the top of my head which ones at present.

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Anthony Strand 2 years, 6 months ago

For one, his Tennant-era post on "Day of the Doctor" itself.

http://www.philipsandifer.com/2014/03/time-can-be-rewritten-final-day-of.html

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Edward Azad 2 years, 6 months ago

I like to seek out positive reviews of the Sixth Doctor era. My favorite is Doc Oho's blog ('He'd still be the Doctor today' and 'I want to marry Colin Baker', I believe were his words).

I actually prefer the original Series 21-23 Six... The Fourth doctor began as a lazy undergrad, but when the pedantic Bidmead took over, Four changed to suit his tastes. Seven retained the "killer clown" element whilst becoming a more thoughtful and dignified character. Six, on the other hand, is unrecognizable as the lovable old Santa Claus (I compare the televised Six to Klaus Kinski in space). As a result, his audios are pretty samey despite Colin's best attempts to make them work.

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Nyq Only 2 years, 6 months ago

...and part of Tom Baker's time (2 seasons) and all of Peter Davidson's time. The Thatcher era went on for a long time.

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Alex 2 years, 6 months ago

We're still in it now!

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gatchamandave 2 years, 6 months ago

How about, in this New Year of 2015, and as this experiment winds down to a close, Dr Sandifer, you stop referring to people who have a different view of Dr Who as it currently stands, and Stephen Moffat in particular, as "fools", or "have(ing) pudding for brains" or "third year undergraduate minds"? Honestly, it's disappointing that such a nuanced, skilled reader of the programme, someone who's books I prize, finds it necessary to resort to such aggressive language. Mr Moffat is big enough to look after himself, I'd suggest.

Please, I find such things painful. Could you show some restraint ?

Thanks.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 6 months ago

Given that I did none of these things in the post you're replying to, making this gratuitous trolling as opposed to any sort of sincere attempt at dialogue, take your foolish third year undergraduate pudding brain and fuck off, asshole.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 6 months ago

I still think in "Last of the Time Lords" Martha should have gotten the entire human race singing "Doctor in Distress."

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BerserkRL 2 years, 6 months ago

Given that I did none of these things in the post you're replying to

Well, you did say "if you think the answer is either of them you're a fool."

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BerserkRL 2 years, 6 months ago

Do you know something about gatchamandave I don't that would explain your rather surprising response?

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 6 months ago

No, I just found the non-sequitur tone policing staggeringly rude.

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5tephe 2 years, 6 months ago

Wow, Phil. That's pretty harsh, and seems unlike you. You did say that anyone who thought Moffat held only one of his publicly expressed viewpoints was a "fool".

That's the least offensive of the listed quotes, but perhaps gatchamandave is just a lurker who had been made uncomfortable before, and took that off hand moment in your post to bring the topic up.

You however, seem a little touchy about it.

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5tephe 2 years, 6 months ago

And then BeserkerRL was a lot more succinct than me. Didn't mean to harp on about it.

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Jarl 2 years, 6 months ago

Phil's turned heel! He's becoming the Valeyard!

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 6 months ago

No, it's fine. I will admit, I missed the use of "fool," having done a search for the plural instead to see if I'd used the word. And that did lead to me being a bit harsher than I would have been had I realized I'd used a variation of one of the terms in question.

To offer a more dispassionate explanation, while there are obviously things I do on this blog that are unlike other Doctor Who blogs and commentary, I also do put this blog in the existing tradition of Doctor Who fandom. It's fan-writing. It's hyperbolic, and relishes taking slightly extreme positions for the sake of stirring up arguments. And so the reason for the aggressive language is not that it is necessary, but because I genuinely believe there is a pleasure to writing in that style. It's always been a part of TARDIS Eruditorum. (It's perhaps worth noting that Last War in Albion is far, far less likely to go that route, because it goes for a slightly detached tone that doesn't really facilitate that. But TARDIS Eruditorum has always relished overplaying its hand slightly.)


Nevertheless, I found and find the comment condescending tone policing that was far ruder than identifying a hypothetical position as foolish. And while, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being a full-on flame, gone for more of a 7 or 8 than the 9 I actually did go for in responding to gatchamandave, I stand by the general sentiment.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 6 months ago

Ironically, my initial reaction to gatchamandave's post was to roll my eyes at his over-sensitivity, but your reply is definitely one of a bully and an asshole. Which I am pretty sure you're not. So let's put this whole thing down to some "Twin Dilemma" style regenerative trauma and agree that perhaps, if one takes an intentionally intemperate tone in order to stir things up, one might exercise a bit of forbearance towards those who find that style abrasive.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 6 months ago

Don't be ridiculous.

I'm absolutely an asshole.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 6 months ago

Well, carry on, then.

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Prandeamus 2 years, 6 months ago

Behold, the catharsis of spurious morality!

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encyclops 2 years, 6 months ago

I had been about to point out to gatchamandave that your use of "fool" in this instance was not about "if you don't {like, agree with} this, then [hyperbole]" but about "if you think Moffat is going to be caught in public expressing an opinion that's not slyly spun from his true feelings one way or another, then you're a fool," which I think is completely different and quite correct (rule 1, Moffat lies, and all that).

But then I felt the door, and it was hot, so I crawled on my hands and knees to the window, climbed out, and waited for the fire trucks to arrive.

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encyclops 2 years, 6 months ago

Is there a place to read/hear/experience the content if not the form of Moffat's devastating and scathing review of this era? Or even, one dares to hope, said performance piece? Or have the Time Lords purged the information from the Matrix?

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BerserkRL 2 years, 6 months ago

The text is here.

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John Seavey 2 years, 6 months ago

I think that Gatchamandave was actually talking about the "Last Christmas" review, in which you did refer to anyone who had issues with Moffat and feminism as "completely idiotic", with a "third year undergraduate realization". The word "fools", however, was not used there.

Personally, I wouldn't have phrased it that way, both because I consider it one of my duties as an ally to be very careful about the way I phrase disagreement with actual women about their priorities and perceptions of sexism since, well, they live it and I don't...and because I'm acutely aware that I post under my own name and I do conventions, and I don't want to have someone come up to me someday and say, "Hi! I'm the complete idiot with a third-year undergraduate understanding of feminism in media, pleased to meet you!" But it's not my blog and it's not my place to tell anyone how to write it, and I agree that Gatchamandave's comment was out of line.

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Dan 2 years, 6 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Dan 2 years, 6 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Dan 2 years, 6 months ago

Does anyone knows if the the phenomenon of that sensation of entirely different cultural events occuring within the same time period seeming to "belong together" with regards to that time period - as if it could not have been any other way - has been written about and well-covered anywhere? I and I'm sure certain others have had the feeling about eighties Who, which Phil alludes to, even since that time - Baker's tenure just being the high point (although Colin is marvellous) of a consanguinuity between yuppie selfdom and the flashy superficiality within 80s BBC SF. Something of it can even be seen with Blakes 7. The change of title sequence is emblematic of this and the same producer throughout the Thatcher era simplifies the matter, even if no causal connection may be identifiable there.

(My original, much better written post, was lost.)

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Jarl 2 years, 6 months ago

I believe this is, broadly speaking, what psychochronography is all about.

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gatchamandave 2 years, 6 months ago

Oh dear.

Actually, I'm not a troll. I'm a long term customer of yours who has bought all five of your volumes on Dr Who, plus your book on Wonder Woman, thoroughly enjoyed them and even recommended them to other people.

My request was indeed motivated by a growing discomfort with what I had discerned as a growing, and I thought - hoped indeed - was an unconscious reaction on the part of you, Dr Sandifer, to admittedly unpleasant behaviour on the part of many of the anti-Moffat brigade. I felt it was unnecessary - you might have likened it to someone asking someone else to perhaps, if they wouldn't mind, stopping being so aggressive.

However I see that despite all that, and despite putting it as politely as I could, I have offended you to such an extent that you have turned your invective on me to a degree I consider to be unnecessary and, frankly, really disappointing.

You may remember, Philip, that you once mused on how delightful it was that you had so many people supporting your work across the world including if I recall correctly,whoever it was in Central Scotland who kept buying your books on Amazon ?

Well, that person was me.

I won't be doing so again. And, you may be glad to know, the volumes of yours that I do own will be parcelled up and donated to a charity shop where they may finally do some good. I just hope the person that buys them does not make the mistake I did, and seek out the writer on line.

So you knowing not a troll,

Yours sincerely,

David Moran BA(Hons), DipSurv,MRICS
Kirkcaldy,
Fife,
Scotland

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Froborr 2 years, 6 months ago

Blah, blah, #notallmoffathaters, whine whine, "take my ball and go home"

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 6 months ago

I take no pleasure in losing you as a reader, but if you stand by your initial comment that adamantly, it does seem for the best.

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Adam Riggio 2 years, 6 months ago

Both of you were pretty damn rude in my assessment, but you did start it, Dave. That tone police comment was uncalled for.

I, for one, found that comment in Last Christmas to be a quite appropriate reaction to the sentiment. I find it extremely frustrating being a fan of Moffat's Doctor Who and having to defend it in conversations from critiques that are frankly juvenile. I don't seek these people out; they simply appear when I speak with people (more usually in real life) and it's as if the brick wall is running toward my head and I can't dodge it.

The fanbase of Moffat-era Doctor Who has grown the most with women. Yet in my experience, many women who became fans of the show in the Davies era are the biggest critics of the current style, and give the blandest critiques. I've heard many times that "Moffat can't write women," and responded that he does so quite well, and most of his female protagonists are variations on the dominatrix. I've heard that "Moffat can't write characters," and responded that his experience is mostly in sitcom writing, so he designs characters in broad strokes and makes plot and performance the engine of characterization.

More than this, his female characters (esp. in the Smith era) often include an arc that's compatible with a very traditional feminism. They're the more sensible, ethically advanced people in a family or a friendship whose enlightenment drags a man they care about (who is more debased and blind to his own idiocy because he's a man) to spiritual uplift that approaches, if not genuinely achieves, her own level.

I want to shake these interlocutors sometimes for their television illiteracy and refusal to reconsider any of their conclusions in the light of a perspective they hadn't heard before. The notion that it is somehow misogynist for the Doctor to begin adventuring again with a young, able-bodied Clara who is the same age as the actress who plays her and would not require hours of time-consuming and expensive makeup before every shoot is genuinely stupid. And I can do nothing when I hear of such idiotic so-called criticism but hang my head in sadness and pity for such weak thought.

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encyclops 2 years, 6 months ago

Thanks so much!

And wow, that's definitely right up there with Alan Moore's "they're all pedophiles after Hartnell" remark. On the other hand, he's not entirely wrong. Sixties Who IS often difficult to sit through, at least for me. Davison IS quite good in the role, though I'm not sure he was THAT much "better than all the other ones." The real unassailable classic stories ARE rather fewer and far between than we'd like to admit. And although I adore Blake's 7, it really IS a harder sell to someone not already acclimated to the idiosyncrasies of the era than most Doctor Who would be. And most of all, I agree that the premise of the show is what hooks us, the endless possibilities, probably far more than most of the stories themselves. It's easy to imagine some of the energy and the daring of Moffat's Who being born of sentiments like these, even if they're booze-born.

I don't know that I agree with him about pacing, even as it pertains to Shakespeare. And I still think the stuff about the rat is overstated. I just watched "Horror of Fang Rock" yesterday and I'd forgotten how godawful the effects are -- surely "giant rat in the sewer" is no more misjudged than "glowing slime balloon crawling up the side of a lighthouse." Rewatching that story, which I think is above average but maybe quite a bit overrated, also finally convinced me (it's taken a while) that maybe, just maybe, 45 minutes is a good length for a Doctor Who story after all.

I'm a little bummed there wasn't any of the Sixth Doctor era slamming in there, but given the tone of the rest of it, I can't imagine how much worse it could get.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 6 months ago

I should perhaps clarify that I have absolutely no problem with anyone who wants to disagree with my aesthetic choices regarding tone on this blog, or who wants to ask questions about why I approach a topic in the way that I do. By all means, go ahead.

It's the off-topic post I minded.

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Kit Power 2 years, 6 months ago

I thought the comment about pacing was laugh-out-loud funny, actually. I'd be mildly surprised if he meant it at the time ,and positively astonished if he stood by it now. Absolute sense of pacing my entire arse. :)

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Seeing_I 2 years, 6 months ago

"But Dr. Sandifer, you used to be so sweet!"
"Sweet? SWEET? Effete!"

Or words to that effect.

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Daru 2 years, 6 months ago

Don't you mean "Sweet? Sweet?! SWEET?!!" ;)

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Seeing_I 2 years, 6 months ago

The Colin Baker era holds a special, awkward place in my heart. I discovered Doctor Who in 1984, so Colin's was the first "new" Who I was ever really aware of. I was 14 years old or so and heaven help me I adored his brash, in-your-face, no-fucks-given style. I even had a replica of his costume made by a nice lady from church. Yes, he was the perfect Doctor for a teenage misfit who's trying way too hard.

Which is, of course, partly why his era is so dreadfully embarrassing to revist. What was I thinking? At least I can take refuge in knowing I was at least right that "Revelation of the Daleks" was the very best thing on offer there. "Vengeance on Varos" really was punching above its weight and Sil needs to be brought back to the show RIGHT NOW, but I find the direction so utterly dull, and those "chases" through corridors on slow-moving vehicles are just excruciating. I have a fondness for "Mindwarp" and "The Ultimate Foe" but it's the same way I remember loving Meat Loaf's mid-80s output.

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John Seavey 2 years, 6 months ago

@Adam Riggio: I have no problems with people who feel that Moffat is a feminist writer, and are ready/willing/able to assert that. There is merit to that statement. I'd just say that to me, personally, as a white male, I would say that there is at least some wisdom in the idea that you should be polite to women who are feminists while telling them what they can and can't be feminist about, because the simple act of doing that has been used so often as a weapon to shut women up when they are bringing up legitimate complaints that it just sounds bad even when you're right. But as I said before, that's not what Gatchamandave did, which is why I think it was right to call him out for "tone policing" even if he did have a good point buried in there.

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William Silvia 2 years, 6 months ago

We're still in it now!
I'm fairly certain that Thatcher is no longer Prime Minister.

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Daniel Tessier 2 years, 6 months ago

Joe Ford (Doc Oho) has long been a champion of the sixth Doctor. Interestingly, I recently did a very informal poll on Facebook concerning favourite Doctors and there was a great deal of love for Sixey, from a variety of age groups and both BF and telly-only fans.

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elvwood 2 years, 6 months ago

I can see in Gatchamandave's original comment the attempt to be polite. It fails, because it comes across as "you are self-evidently wrong to do this and it's beneath you, please stop" rather than "I don't like what you are doing, please consider whether it is important to you to carry on," but the attempt is there. I've made similar errors, either through making assumptions that I ideally shouldn't or through a failure to find the right words.

The response felt like the traditional bazooka flyswatter - something more along the lines of "actually you don't get to tell me what tone to take in my blog" would have been quite strong enough IMO. OK, so we all overreact sometimes; but the fact that Dr. Sandifer has stood by it, despite being wrong about the thing that supposedly made him angry in the first place, is off-putting.

(And yes, I am aware of the irony of effectively tone-policing a response to a tone-policing comment - I almost said nothing because of that. Sins of commission and omission, you takes yer pick.)

Right, having probably pissed off both sides of the conflict, I'm picking up my pudding-brain and going to lie down for a bit...

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Adam Riggio 2 years, 6 months ago

John, you remind me of a wonderful exchange in Seinfeld, when Jerry talks with a Catholic priest in a confessional booth about his suspicion of Tim Whatley's motives for converting to Judaism, that he joined the faith solely so he could make fun of Jewish culture with impunity. For once in his life, he's so worried about voicing his concerns publicly that he goes to someone he knows is bound by oaths of confidentiality.

Jerry: "I think Tim Whatley converted to Judaism for the jokes."
Priest: "And this offends you as a Jewish person?"
Jerry: "No, it offends me as a comedian!"

I can't speak for Phil's own motives on the allegation of misogyny in the Doctor's not taking elderly Clara with him on the TARDIS. But I can speak for my own. This particular misdirected feminist critique doesn't offend me as a woman (it can't, since I'm a man), but it offends me as a theorist and philosopher, part of my professional identity.

It's a petty point that's totally unrealistic. It's plainly someone looking for something in Steven Moffat's writing to offend them, and grasping at straws when nothing in Last Christmas really fit the bill. No one really learns anything from an accusation that Moffat only cares about female actresses when they're young and sexy because he didn't think it was sensible to spend an entire season of shooting putting four hours per day of aging makeup on a 28 year old lead actress.

I think having a companion actress about the same age as Peter Capaldi would be a smashing idea. I can just imagine her premiere story. She'd express some reservations that she might be too old for adventures in time and space. "You think you're old?" the Doctor says, "I turned 2,000 last century. The government may send you a pension check, but as far as I'm concerned, you're barely out of diapers!"

Evelyn Smythe was excellent on audio, so let's have someone a decade or so past Jacqueline Hill (34 in 1964), Catherine Tate (40 in 2008), or Alex Kingston (50 in 2013) on the show in the late 2010s. But having that person be Jenna Coleman is ridiculous. And saying that Moffat runs Doctor Who be sexist principles because such a person is not Jenna Coleman going into the 2015 season is empty rage that pays no attention to the real material conditions of the problems that older actresses face in their careers.

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Alex 2 years, 6 months ago

You'd be entirely correct.

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Adam Riggio 2 years, 6 months ago

* "Saying that Moffat runs Doctor Who on sexist principles"

Bloody edits.

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liminal fruitbat 2 years, 6 months ago

I've heard many times that "Moffat can't write women," and responded that he does so quite well, and most of his female protagonists are variations on the dominatrix.

Small point, but if most of his female protagonists are variations on "the" dominatrix, the phrase "he can't write women (plural)" seems at worst a justifiable exaggeration for effect, no?

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Froborr 2 years, 6 months ago

I mean, they would never, ever, ever be able to get her, or to afford her if they had her, but Judy Dench as an Evelyn Smythe-style companion to Capaldi's Six-style Doctor would be fantastic. Or Maggie Smith, but she's similarly impossible.

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John Seavey 2 years, 6 months ago

@Adam Riggio: Okay, I know that this is treading dangerously close to "I can't sleep now, someone is wrong on the Internet!" territory, but pointing out that Jenna Coleman for out-of-story reasons can't be a companion in heavy makeup does not actually count as an explanation for why the Doctor wouldn't accept an elderly Clara as a companion. Because Moffat, as a writer, has any number of explanations he can give for that. He can have Clara say, "Oh, thank you for the offer, Doctor, but my traveling days are done." He can have Clara say, "I'm afraid I've got too many responsibilities now as Prime Minister of Britain." He can have Clara say, "I'm afraid my heart might--AAACK!" **THUD** Simply pointing out that the production logistics make it impractical would not excuse Moffat for writing a scene where the Doctor says, "Sorry, but you're too old now to travel in the TARDIS" when Clara clearly wants to.

Now, if you want to constructively engage with the idea, you can point out that Clara doesn't seem to express any interest in traveling in the TARDIS in that scene, and that there seems to be a mutual unspoken understanding that the opportunity has passed. That's a valid critique of the argument, although again I think you can say it without resorting to terms like "complete idiocy" and "third-year undergraduate understanding". But to simply dodge it with a, "Well, they can't put her in the old age makeup each week?" That's an obvious dodge.

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encyclops 2 years, 6 months ago

He can have Clara say, "I'm afraid my heart might--AAACK!" **THUD**

Hey, now I know what I want to see in 2017: Cathy and Irving on the TARDIS! ...wait, where are you going?

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Adam Riggio 2 years, 6 months ago

I know this thread is getting insanely long, but I do think there's an appropriate point in some conversations about art and philosophy when you just have to throw up your hands at someone and say "For fuck's sake, what you just said is ridiculous!"

Here are Laurie Penny's tweets that upset Phil on Xmas, and when I looked back at them after reading his review, they upset me too.

Why couldn't the Doctor take Old Clara in the Tardis? Same reason he couldn't take Old Amy. Only young hot chicks allowed. #DrWhochristmas
https://twitter.com/PennyRed/status/548195888032931840

Basically, women, if you're not young and beautiful, you can forget about Time and Space. #drwho #DrWhochristmas
https://twitter.com/PennyRed/status/548196148289503233

Penny snarkily concluded that the only reason why Karen Gillan in heavy aging makeup and Jenna Coleman in heavy aging makeup couldn't join the TARDIS crew was not any of the good reasons we've discussed, or any other reason rooted in the situations of the characters in those narratives. It's only because Steven Moffat is a pig and only wants young hot women on the TARDIS.

Those tweets are stupid, juvenile snark. Just like the thoughtless knee-jerk dickishness that populates too much internet discourse.

We've had some great ideas in this thread for what and who an older female companion could be. A lot of the regular commenters at the Eruditorum have each offered intelligent, thoughtful commentary and criticism of cultural products and political ideas it discusses. Sometimes, you can only handle such empty-headed snark as Penny's tweets and Dave's initial comment with a curt, sharp, shut-down that explicitly identifies its obvious vapidity.

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Kit Power 2 years, 6 months ago

Well, it's called 'Twitter', not 'forum for in-depth and nuanced presentation of ideas' for a reason. Given Penny's previous record as a thoughtful and intelligent critic of the show, I'm quite willing to give the benefit of the doubt here and assume she's boiling down a more complex point/argument into 140 characters at the expense of nuance and at risk of misinterpretation (the way Twitter all but forces us to, if we choose to engage with it at all).

Because I distinctly recall Moffat in a to camera interview (I think on the casting announcement of Jenna Coleman, but possibly not) saying something very like 'for a guy [The Doctor] who's supposedly above all that kind of stuff... blimey, he does know how to pick 'em, doesn't he?' , referring to the physical beauty of Amy and Clara.

It was an uncomfortable moment for me, and remains uncomfortable, and in that context, I personally find Penny's comments to form a part of that IMO valid criticism - namely that the 'something for the dads' mentality seems to still be a concern for Moffat in terms of companion selection.

Because ultimately, of course, it's not 'The Doctor' picking 'em - it's Moffat.

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peeeeeeet 2 years, 6 months ago

Well, it's called 'Twitter', not 'forum for in-depth and nuanced presentation of ideas' for a reason.

Not to mention the tweets were from the evening of December 25th - who the hell is at their most intellectually rigorous then? I could barely stand up.

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UrsulaL 2 years, 6 months ago

Penny does have a point.

The show has had several grey-haired men in lead/regular roles. But it has never made room for a grey-haired woman in a lead/regular role.

And the only times that they've even bothered to have a woman in a lead/regular role look as if they had grey hair, it has been in stories where they are, in the end, judged too old to travel, and their younger version has been brought back.

And in Last Christmas, it is particularly troublesome, as you have a grey-haired man assuming that a grey-haired woman is too old to travel with him. At the very least, he could have asked, instead of assuming.

And it is symptomatic of a larger problem in television and movies, in that there are far fewer good roles for older women than there are for older men.

There have been a large number of people, men and women, in lead/regular roles for the show in its long history. You can easily make a case for de facto discrimination against older women as leads/regulars.

There is no reason why a woman in her 50s or 60s couldn't be a regular companion. Someone who has lived a full life, had a career, her kids are grown and on their own, and she's ready for something new and exciting in her life. (I've seen a few wonderful crossover fanfics with post-Cryoburn Cordelia Vorkosigan as a companion.) Heck, my dad and stepmom are in their mid-70s, and still travel regularly.

Tweets like this aren't isolated statements. They're part of a long, and frustrating conversation about the exclusion of older women from entertainment.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 6 months ago

A couple of responses.

elvwood - A couple days on, and thinking further about the comment, I still basically stand by it, and by my explanation that the objection was to the thread derailing. Which is the heart of it. Regardless of gatchamandave's intent, his comment was textbook trolling in structure and effect. The bazooka flyswatter, as you put it, was chosen with deliberateness, so as to leave no ambiguity that this was well outside the sort of discussion I was inclined to permit on my comments section. And I stand by that - deliberate thread derailing with a post that is primarily about one's objections to a two week old blog entry is unacceptable. I've done Internet discussion enough to know what destructive trolling looks like. It looks like gatchamandave's comment. The bazooka flyswatter seemed like an effective way to unequivocally establish that this was over the line. And it does not seem that anyone has been left with ambiguity over that point.

Kit and peeeeet - Laurie Penny has over a hundred thousand Twitter followers and is both a respected media critic and an advocate of social media based activism. She not only wields genuine and appreciable power on Twitter, she is someone who is largely aware of the way in which Twitter drives cultural dialogue, and of the influence that early reaction tweets can have on media's reception. I have zero doubt she meant to employ that influence.

Which is to say, she doesn't get off days on Twitter. If she is using that platform, as peeeet suggests, for drunken first reactions without flagging them as such, she's being irresponsible with her social media platform.

I'd also note that I picked her with some deliberateness. Finding people being wrong on the Internet in the wake of Doctor Who airing is a trivial task. I reserve the ire of this blog for people who should reasonably be expected to do better.

Ursula - Here, however, I think the nature of Twitter does work against Penny, because the larger conversation, though significant, is necessarily cut in the drive for 140 characters. So the result was that Penny selected a deeply flawed hill on which to fight this battle, both in that we aren't talking about a woman in her 50s or 60s, but a visibly frail woman in her mid-to-late 80s (I forget Clara's established age, but it's somewhere in her 20s, I believe) played by a 28-year-old woman under massive amounts of latex, in a scene that is, among other things, a callback to a scene the previous year, and in an episode with a lovely role for an older actress in which her character is called the "sexy one," a line that may have its own set of problems, but that clearly cuts against the exact sort of age discrimination in question. Which brings us to my observation, and why I used the description "third year undergraduate" to describe it - because it is a feminist critique with seemingly no attention paid to the suitability of the target. If Penny's intention was to make a point in the course of the conversation about older women in entertainment, she could have made just as effective a point, and indeed probably a more effective one by saying "Loved Maureen Beattie's part in Last Christmas. We need more characters like her." Instead of by seemingly demanding the impossible prospect of slathering Jenna Coleman in latex every week.

Perhaps the most revealing thing here is Penny's utter silence in the face of Russell Crowe's appallingly sexist comments on the subject of older female actors a few days ago. Because it strongly suggests that's not the conversation she's interested in - she's interested in the "let's jump on the bandwagon of criticism of Moffat" conversation, and she's all too willing to engage in shoddy criticism to do it. Bypassing a myriad of moments in which the episode was striking active blows for feminism in favor of a poorly thought through critique is, I think, bad work deserving of criticism.

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quislibet 2 years, 6 months ago

This is pretty much true for me (I was also 14 in 1984, for example; I didn't have a replica costume, but I did -- in fact, still DO -- have a garish 80s multi-colored plaid shirt that was purchased with the Doctor in mind). Now as an adult, I always want to like 6th-Doctor-era stories more than I do.

Fortunately, there's Big Finish.

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quislibet 2 years, 6 months ago

(Sadly, the shirt no longer fits.)

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Kit Power 2 years, 6 months ago

Having read that a couple of times, I'm not sure you've engaged substantively with any of the points I raised, to be honest. There ware any number of ways around the (extratextual) issue about not taking elderly Clara that could have been dealt with in a line or two - indeed the more I think about it, the more incongruous it seems, given the Doctor's apparent inability to perceive Clara's aging. "So, you coming or what?" Smile. "I don't think so, Doctor. I've grown fond of this place." (only well written, obviously). I suppose the cracker scene was supposed to be the stand-in for such dialogue, which fair enough, but it clearly didn't do the job for everyone.

I think inferring a strong suggestion from an absence of tweets on a related news topic is reaching, frankly - in that I can think of many plausible reasons why one may decide that doesn't warrant a response in the same way. Like, just off the top of my head, who expects better from Russel Crowe, as opposed to Doctor Who? Inferring motive from silence as 'perhaps the most revealing thing' I find problematic, even in the way you contextualized it.

It's also troubling to me that you describe a feminist critique of Moffat (third level undergraduate or otherwise) as bandwagon jumping. How on earth could you know that? Is it not possible Penny came by her feelings/opinions on the subject entirely honestly? Feels close to ad homniem to me.

And as regards to this: "If Penny's intention was to make a point in the course of the conversation about older women in entertainment, she could have made just as effective a point, and indeed probably a more effective one by saying "Loved Maureen Beattie's part in Last Christmas." - I don't think this would address the concern that the vast majority of the Doctor's female companions, particularly under Moffat, fit the 'young hot chicks' paradigm (Penny's phrase) a little too snugly for comfort - an issue that goes way beyond simple ageism and into a whole mess of other stereotypes which your counterexample would not touch on with anything like the same depth.

Greatly appreciate the engagement, as ever.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 6 months ago

It may not have done the job for everyone, but I'd argue it's not the text's problem if you missed that particular image, as it could hardly have been more blatant. I flatly reject the idea that conveying information through dialogue is in some way superior. The cracker scene, with its callback to Time of the Doctor, does the job more beautifully than any line of dialogue could. Anyone who missed it, that's their failure, not the text's.

More broadly, the problem I have is that there exists a tradition of "feminist" (the scare quotes are wholly deserved) criticism of Moffat's work that is based on sloppy readings, selective quotes, and, at its worst, outright slander. (Or is it libel? I can never remember which is written.) It's a tradition that is destructive to both feminism and Moffat, and which I think deserves moral condemnation for the sheer frequency of intellectual dishonesty within it. But it's been shockingly influential, due to the number of lazy journalists who are happy to plagiarize people's Tumblr posts for cheap headlines. Such that "Moffat is sexist" has become a sort of accepted-without-question premise, with numerous critics who really should be smarter than that simply engaging in shameless confirmation bias.

Penny's tweets contribute to that tradition of shoddy readings of Moffat's work that seem to exist mostly for point-scoring. Between the lack of any engagement with an actual blatant issue of the same sort of sexism, the sloppy engagement with Last Christmas, and the way in which she raced to Moffat's self-evident sexism as the obvious explanation without considering others, at the very least, makes this a very duck-shaped, quacky sort of thing, as it were.

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John Seavey 2 years, 6 months ago

But here's the thing, Phil: I don't think you can legitimately say, "the problem I have is that there exists a tradition of "feminist" (the scare quotes are wholly deserved) criticism of Moffat's work that is based on sloppy readings, selective quotes, and, at its worst, outright slander" in the exact same thread that you say that your own posting is "hyperbolic, and relishes taking slightly extreme positions for the sake of stirring up arguments" and that "I'm absolutely an asshole" without coming in for some well-deserved criticism. You're expecting other people to extend you an understanding that you don't literally mean everything you say, and that your positions are meant to be hyperbolic exaggerations designed to provoke interesting discussions, while treating the statements of a female critic as literal and deserving of nothing but contempt for their exaggerated and slapdash treatment of a serious subject.

Now, we know each other well enough for me to say with confidence that you're in no way, shape or form a sexist. You're a profoundly strong ally to feminism, and you walk the walk as well as talk the talk. But you have to admit, that does look a bit awkward to outside observers. :)

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Ombund 2 years, 6 months ago

”Because ultimately, of course, it's not 'The Doctor' picking 'em - it's Moffat”.

…and Casting Director Andy Pryor, and the other Executive Producers (who at the time of Jenna Coleman’s casting would have presumably been Caroline Skinner and Piers Wenger) and no doubt the BBC bigwigs have a bit of a say too.

I have to say that while Laurie Penny is a good political commentator she’s not much cop when it comes to Doctor Who. It took me a long time to pay attention to anything else she wrote because unfortunately the first thing of hers I read was a terribly-reasoned demolition job on Moffat-era Who. If she’s so wrong on something I know a lot about, how can I trust her on things I don’t?! But I was able to get over it and came to see her as the usually pretty astute commentator she is on many other subjects, I’ve just learnt that she has a bit of a blind spot when it comes to Doctor Who and particularly Steven Moffat.

She wrote a hilarious piece about Sherlock where she defends the references to fan-fiction and fan culture in series 3 but realises 3/4s of the way through that she’s getting perilously close to praising Moffat for referencing them, so there’s this sudden gear change in the last quarter where she says fan fiction is great because it gives people who aren’t misogynistic white Scotsmen a chance to write Doctor Who (which is sort of correct, except for the using it to bash Moffat and call him a misogynist bit).

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jane 2 years, 6 months ago

My only problem with all this is that it's rather denigrating to 3rd-year undergrads, who in my experience aren't nearly so pudding-brained as the typical "hater" who's just going for cheap shots in the name of feminism.

@John Seavey: The difference between Sandifer's hyperbolism, though, is that it's not based in a shoddy reading of the texts in question. Whereas the hyperbole coming from the other quarters he lambastes is in lieu of substantive analysis.

@Ursula & Kit: The issue with elderly Clara isn't that she looks old, that she has gray hair, but that she's visibly frail. She can't even open a Christmas cracker. (She even uses a chair lift to ascend the chairs.) And I think the choice of imagery is quite telling, precisely because it harkens back to Time of the Doctor, to a Doctor who is visibly frail, who can barely climb the stairs, and who has obviously given up on travel and adventure due to his age-related failing health.

The other thing to keep in mind is that Bill Hartnell was replaced for similar reasons; his fitness (both physical and mental) made it difficult for him to continue the work that was expected of him -- even he was basically the same age that Capaldi is now. Capaldi has gray hair, but he's obviously not frail. And he can't be. Doctor Who is a very physically demanding show to work on. The hours are long, for, what, eight or nine months in a row? Even someone as young and fit as Matt Smith found it exhausting. So there are demonstrably real-world production issues that have to be considered when it comes to casting long-term roles, just as there is when it comes old-age prosthetic makeup.

Not to say that a woman in her 50s or 60s couldn't take on those demands as a companion or even the Doctor. But, like any other performer, she'd have to have the strength and endurance to make it through the production schedule. The color of hair would have nothing to do with it.

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Terry 2 years, 6 months ago

That reminds me so much of the quote "If the shirt fits, wear it" that I can't help but immediately think that there's some deeper metaphor or philosophical something you're trying to get at.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 6 months ago

The bazooka flyswatter seemed like an effective way to unequivocally establish that this was over the line. And it does not seem that anyone has been left with ambiguity over that point.

The fact that something is the most effective strategy to achieve one's ends doesn't mean it isn't morally problematic -- particularly when the fly in question is a human being. I mean, jeez.

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peeeeeeet 2 years, 6 months ago

And I think the choice of imagery is quite telling, precisely because it harkens back to Time of the Doctor, to a Doctor who is visibly frail, who can barely climb the stairs, and who has obviously given up on travel and adventure due to his age-related failing health.

Well, except that that's not what happens in Time of the Doctor. The Doctor gives up travel long before being old and frail, and when he is old and frail still has enough adventure left in him - with Clara and the Time Lords' help, of course - to save the day. So reading those moments - sweet as they are - as metaphors for each other raises more issues than it solves.

(I sound like I'm on the other side of the argument - I'm really not. I think it's entirely reasonable that old Clara wasn't considered as a companion. I just find the given defences a bit weak)

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John Seavey 2 years, 6 months ago

@jane: I have no problems with pointing out the flaws in her analysis. But frankly, Phil didn't do that. As I said before, pointing out that it would be difficult to keep the actress in old-age makeup each week is a dodge, not an explanation. It's a glib assertion in lieu of substantively engaging with the flaws in the argument, exactly what Phil accuses Penny of doing, and as I said before, it opens up the question of, "If these flaws in her analysis are so vast and the reading is so shoddy, why is this the best defense you came up with and why are you being so aggressive in trying to shut the conversation down?" I know Phil, and he loves a good argument. It's really weird that he's trying to shut one down here. :)

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Bob Dillon 2 years, 6 months ago

So this wondefully self aware meta-fiction has managed to throw our wonderful blog into a hatefilled backbiting sesion with
everyone blaming everyone else. Who would have thought that would
have happend in a review of the sixth doctor era.

I assume that this is why the Eruditorm has gone on "hiatus"?


Bob

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 6 months ago

Bob - I've gone on hiatus? This is news to me.

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Bob Dillon 2 years, 6 months ago

Possibly I was being facetious. I thought there was supposed to be a post today?

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 6 months ago

Ah, yes, I see. No, I've moved Last War in Albion to Thursdays, on the advice of I forget who, who pointed out that now that I was running comics reviews when I finished them instead of Thursday morning, I was stepping on the time Last War had in the limelight.

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Bob Dillon 2 years, 6 months ago

oh:that is dissappointing. I was hoping that this little spat was all planned.

Bob

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BerserkRL 2 years, 6 months ago

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAf0QnLFS7Q

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Jarl 2 years, 6 months ago

He doesn't have adventure left in him at the end of Time of the Doctor, he's planning on going up to the bell tower to die. It's a fixed point in time, as far as he knows. Funny enough, in a way, that's what happens. He just didn't expect to walk away afterwards.

An old companion would be cool, I think. Ooh, ooh, how about this: A homicide detective who, like all detectives, was forced to retire at 60. However, she's not ready to give up solving mysteries and stopping bad guys, and after the typical first adventure, she's all stoked for a ride through all of time and space. Get S. Epatha Merkerson, since that's basically who I had in mind when I pictured "60+ female who could be a companion". She's got the chops, just a shame about her terrible drawback: being American.

I've wanted a female detective for a companion for a while. My original idea was the Doctor getting arrested after regeneration left him wandering the streets in a daze. He's left in the drunk tank in the station house, and the detective sees him doing his usual post-regeneration nonsense and just assumes he's some tweaker. Unfortunately, her partner hasn't shown up at the station. She goes looking for him, it turns out he's been killed by the monster of the week. She gets super bummed out and then super mad, and decides she's gonna go find out who -- or what did this to her partner. The Doctor overhears the description of the wounds or whatever, and between the psychic paper and his old UNIT credentials he's able to convince her that he's an expert in whatever, and they go solve the mystery. She's thinking about quitting the force because of the usual "So much evil in the world, what can one person do" thing that afflicts detectives in television, and the Doctor convinces her to go on some adventures in time and space to clear up that mood, she eventually departs the TARDIS deciding that she's going to save the world one closed case at a time.

Basically, I took to heart what someone here said about Martha's character arc not really working because she had no really good reason to go off with the madman in a box other than "I wonder what else is out there". Their suggestion was that she could have been written as being on the verge of burnout, wondering why she ever wanted to be a doctor, and that traveling with the Doctor would have convinced her that she was on the right path and she should finish her exams and get her license. I liked that idea, and it works even better with a TV detective, who are all hilariously pathos-ridden.

... What was that you said about subject derailing?

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Jarl 2 years, 6 months ago

Politicians don't retire, they just regenerate.

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encyclops 2 years, 6 months ago

Jarl, I really love your comments lately. About your idea I'll just say it's perfectly OK for a companion to be American, especially in 2015, as long as s/he gets American dialogue to speak. And knows that "been" rhymes with a container and not a legume. It's only the Doctor that cannot have an American accent. (Weirdly, just about ANYTHING else could work.)

About this general point: I think we won't get an older companion again till we get a younger Doctor again. I think the best reason for this isn't sexism or ageism (though of course those are always in play in show biz, it's a given), but contrast.

First of all, we've always got to have a woman in the TARDIS, and until that's the Doctor, it's got to be a companion. In the classic series we've only ever really had a start-to-finish TARDIS sausagefest on two occasions: "The Deadly Assassin" and "The Keeper of Traken," and even the latter doesn't count if you think of it as Nyssa's first story. In the new series we've really only had the specials, especially if you count Jackson Lake and Wilf as pseudocompanions. And as much as I would like to see the dynamic of the Doctor plus one solo male companion, clearly it has the distinct disadvantage of cutting out a female lead role. We don't want to do that. So since the Doctor's a dude for the foreseeable future, we need a female companion.

That same contrast applies to the young/old dynamic, too. The Doctors of whom people tend to say "oh, he works so well with older women" skew younger: Five/Todd, Ten/Donna/Adelaide, Eleven/River. Four/Ducat/Rumford is maybe pushing it, but still, there's clearly a contrast there, n'est-ce pas? Six/Evelyn is about the only combination I can think of where even though she's apparently older they seem more like peers. And I think there's a good reason for that -- the contrast is aesthetically and dramatically pleasing and interesting. It feels more complete, more balanced, with more possibilities.

That's just my opinion, obviously. The simplest way to argue the opposite is to point out to me that Four/Romana (either one) is my favorite Doctor and my favorite companion and they work like crazy, even though there's probably as little contrast between them as there's ever been in age/demeanor (until you get to Ten/Rose, which is a different story). So I dunno, I might be full of shit, but it's interesting to think about.

What this means, of course, is that our next Doctor should either be a young woman with an older male companion or an older woman with a younger male companion. I think the latter would be totally rad. I'm not holding my breath, but can you imagine?

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storiteller 2 years, 6 months ago

Their suggestion was that she could have been written as being on the verge of burnout, wondering why she ever wanted to be a doctor, and that traveling with the Doctor would have convinced her that she was on the right path and she should finish her exams and get her license. I liked that idea, and it works even better with a TV detective, who are all hilariously pathos-ridden.

That was me! And I do think it works even better with a TV detective. Perhaps they could get the woman who played Kima on The Wire to do it. She's brilliant and you'd also add racial diversity.

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Monicker 2 years, 6 months ago

'In the classic series we've only ever really had a start-to-finish TARDIS sausagefest on two occasions: "The Deadly Assassin" and "The Keeper of Traken," and even the latter doesn't count if you think of it as Nyssa's first story.'

You could perhaps also count The Massacre, where Dodo is only introduced right at the end, unless you think of Anne as filling the role.

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Daru 2 years, 6 months ago

Could it be that the casting choices of younger female actors in the role of companion is also considering those roles as identification figures for the younger female teen/girl watchers of the show - who were perhaps less considered in previous incarnations of the show? After all the show isn't just for adults?

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Spacewarp 2 years, 6 months ago

"I take no pleasure in losing you as a reader, but if you stand by your initial comment that adamantly, it does seem for the best. Plus I get to keep your money."

Fixed that for you!

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