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We stared into the untempered schism and all we saw was this dodgy CSO effect

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Jack Graham

Jack Graham wrote about Doctor Who and Marxism, often at the same time. These days he co-hosts the I Don't Speak German podcast with Daniel Harper.Support Jack on Patreon.

25 Comments

  1. evilsoup
    August 24, 2014 @ 11:17 am

    While I mostly liked the episode, thank you for putting my vague feelings into words. I do find the amusement park version of history we always get on Doctor Who really irritating, but I've never been bothered or able to put my thoughts about it into writing. 'In the name of the British Empire!' God-damn steampunk shite.

    And… yeah, the Vastra/Jenny relationship does seem pretty fucking dodgy. I've seen people refer to it as kinky, as if that actually makes things any less creepy. It would be nice if they could go more than two minutes without turning to the screen and shouting LOOK AT US WE'RE MARRIED WE ARE WE'RE LESBIANS AND WE'RE MARRIED.

    You're right in your conclusion, too, I think: ahistorical narratives cannot be progressive, they can at best be less bad than other ahistorical narratives.

    Soo… I guess this is just a roundabout way of saying that I agree with everything you've written here.

    Reply

  2. Matthew Celestis
    August 24, 2014 @ 11:36 am

    Oh, those Victorian tropes are so tiresome. I groaned when I heard we were getting another story set in the Victorian era.

    Reply

  3. Lucy McGough
    August 24, 2014 @ 11:45 am

    I agree.

    Reply

  4. Lucy McGough
    August 24, 2014 @ 12:32 pm

    And another thing that makes it mind-meltingly wrong is that Vastra and Jenny (I'm not calling her Madam Vastra unless Jenny gets an indicator of upper-classness too) wouldn't even be able to get married in Victorian England! They'd have to hitch a ride to 2014 in the Tardis, 'cos apparently Queen Victoria didn't even believe lesbianism existed, and male homosexuality was illegal.

    Jenny pours the tea because of her accent, of course. Which means she literally gets objectified — treated as an object — in the scene where she has to hold an uncomfortable pose in daft clothes because she makes the room look prettier, or something, while the upper-class woman does the brain-work.

    Reply

  5. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 24, 2014 @ 2:11 pm

    The thing about the Victorian era, though, is that it's where the tropes and structures of adventure fiction originate. I don't know that British adventure fiction can avoid Victoriana, because at the end of the day British adventure fiction is a genre that only exists to service the propaganda needs of the empire.

    Reply

  6. Jim Smith
    August 24, 2014 @ 2:12 pm

    Hi Jack, (if that IS your real name?)

    I obviously don't agree with almost anything I just read, apart from that London's prominence in the show actually is indicative of class/social elitism, albeit of a different order than the one usually portrayed in the media.

    Your 'Strax, you see, is essentially a funny foreigner' argument can surely be applied to absolutely any non-human comedy character in the history of the show? Roy Batty, or Data off of Star Trek, would feel the same if they saw K9's endless moronic behaviour, as it largely stems from his nature as a sentient AI. However, as neither sentient AI or Sontarans actually exist, I think writers should possibly feel free to not mind offending them?

    In fact, K9 is worse, because sentient AI WILL exist one day. Hundreds of years from now, a perfectly genial robot man will watch K9, and cry. Cry, cry, cry.

    Cry.

    Yours,

    James Sucellus

    Reply

  7. Jack Graham
    August 24, 2014 @ 3:26 pm

    Jack IS my real name.

    Well… actually my name is James, but everyone calls me Jack.

    So I suppose Jack ISN'T my real name.

    Umm…

    Reply

  8. Jack Graham
    August 24, 2014 @ 3:27 pm

    Just as all novels are forever doomed to reiterate Cervantes, and all fiction to reiterate Homer, or perhaps the Epic of Gilgamesh.

    Reply

  9. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 24, 2014 @ 3:34 pm

    You can support a claim that fiction is bizarrely prone to reiterating Greek thought about the nature of heroism, to be fair.

    More broadly, I really do think adventure fiction's basic model of how travel works is inseparable from theories of empire. You can't take empire out of adventure stories any more than you can take a yearning for fascism out of superheroes.

    Reply

  10. Jack Graham
    August 24, 2014 @ 3:42 pm

    You can't take it out, true, but that doesn't mean you have to assiduously make up the best bedroom for it, serve it a lavish dinner and sit at its feet fanning it with a palm frond.

    Reply

  11. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 24, 2014 @ 3:51 pm

    Sure. I think there's a pretty solid case that Doctor Who serves up as strange and cracked mirror a view of the Victorian era as can be managed while still doing adventure fiction, though. (I'd certainly argue it does a better job than League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, for instance, which comes infuriatingly close to suggesting that it's all been downhill since the empire ended on a regular basis. Whereas Doctor Who seems pleasantly fixated on queering the hell out of Victoriana, which feels to me like the best you can reasonably hope for from the genre.)

    Reply

  12. Jack Graham
    August 24, 2014 @ 3:57 pm

    Ooh, I like that. Please elaborate on "queering the hell out of Victoriana". BTW, I wasn't really meaning to single out Moffat or the ep especially. I mean, I think Deep Breath just demonstrated a much bigger trend, that's all. I certainly didn't mean to suggest that Moffat has just injected these problems into a previously pristine artefact.

    Reply

  13. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 24, 2014 @ 4:20 pm

    Well, on a basic level there's the existence of the Paternoster Gang, which seems to me to be an extended joke about the vast spaces offered within the Victoriana Pyramid for queer existence. (I should also note that I suspect the Jenny/Vastra relationship to have a conscious BDSM aspect to it, given Moffat's demonstrated familiarity with that. Certainly Jenny's snark about "pretense" reminded me of any number of lifestyle BDSM couples I've known. Now, of course, the relationship between BDSM and class is a massive and undertheorized one, but again, there's some queering going on there.)

    But more broadly, the barbed comment about vegetarianism, the spin of the Dark Satanic Mills wanting to be human, and the conscious decision to move the Doctor through the class spectrum all feel to me like acknowledgments that the Pyramid is built out of nothing but iconography, and is best treated as a playground, an approach that seems to me to drain as much of the ideology from the thing as possible.

    Especially, of course, given that Doctor Who does plenty of other things as well. If it were all Victoriana, that would be one thing, but the playground of Victoriana is just one of many things the series can do, and when it gets out of the playground it tends to interrogate adventure fiction in new and interesting ways.

    Reply

  14. Jack Graham
    August 24, 2014 @ 6:48 pm

    Sounds like queering Victoriana just makes it look more flexible and fun, with loads of space for individual freedom.

    I also notice that the barbed comment about vegetarianism took the form of a condescending put-down, and that the Doctor's movement through the class spectrum completely skipped the proletariat, and was an upward movement from tramp to gentleman.

    Reply

  15. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 24, 2014 @ 7:44 pm

    Is Vastra really a demonstration of individual freedom though? I mean, the focus seems to me less on individual freedom and more on the complex nature of her partial assimilation into the society. The veil metaphor in particular.

    Reply

  16. Anonymous
    August 24, 2014 @ 9:06 pm

    Your real name is Jack Shabogan.

    Reply

  17. Anonymous
    August 24, 2014 @ 9:09 pm

    Victoriana is brown derby-wearing police inspectors (probably called Lestrade)

    Gregson, actually.

    Reply

  18. Brightcoat
    August 24, 2014 @ 11:42 pm

    "getting married" and "being married" aren't necessarily correlated. What's to stop a committed queer couple from self-identifying as married in an oppressive society.

    Reply

  19. Jack Graham
    August 25, 2014 @ 3:32 am

    Is that character actually called Gregson… because, y'know, I was just joking about Lestrade, but Gregson is actually the name of one of the other Scotland Yard coppers from the Holmes stories.

    Reply

  20. Jack Graham
    August 25, 2014 @ 3:33 am

    Oh yes, the veil she wears as a judgement. Hmmm. Of course, supposedly partially assimilated people wearing veils is rather a loaded issue these days.

    Reply

  21. Jack Graham
    August 25, 2014 @ 3:33 am

    Jack Graham is my real name. Really, it is.

    Reply

  22. Dominic
    August 25, 2014 @ 4:54 am

    My thoughts exactly:

    http://www.codepoetics.com/blog/2014/08/24/who/

    "Just because Strax is a Sontaran doesn’t mean he’s not also a comedy ethnic minority sidekick, even (and perhaps especially) if the actor playing him is white…the running joke is that he’s a foreigner from a campily-militaristic empire of swarthy barbarians who tries but often amusingly fails to understand how civilised people do things, and isn’t it just hilarious to dress him as a butler?"

    Reply

  23. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 25, 2014 @ 2:02 pm

    I find little to complain about if I read Vastra's veil as a metaphor for the hijab.

    Reply

  24. Anonymous
    August 28, 2014 @ 2:39 pm

    Strax seems played extremely, perhaps mockingly, British? to me. Just put him in a red army coat.

    Although this may just be the Terry-Thomas gap working allusional magic.

    Reply

  25. Anonymous
    August 30, 2014 @ 7:02 am

    Actually female marriage did exist in Victorian britain, look it up. 🙂

    Reply

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