Incremental progress meets Zeno’s Paradox

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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Daru
    January 19, 2015 @ 3:57 am

    Beautiful writing and post, thank you Anna.


  2. Daniel Tessier
    January 19, 2015 @ 5:18 am

    "The right body… at last!"


  3. BerserkRL
    January 19, 2015 @ 8:16 am

    what, are they going to call a female version of the Doctor the Nurse?

    I seem to recall a couple of nurses on the show already: Rory and Strax.


  4. Seeing_I
    January 19, 2015 @ 8:34 am

    What irked about the "Doctor's Wife" dialog?

    My only question would be, if the Time Lords are able to genderswap at will, what cause would any of them have to ever feel dysphoria? Or even to have a "true" internal gender (which I dam not convinced we humans even have, but that's another story) to conform their outer bodies to? Unless the regenerative process is a true crap-shoot they are not able to control, which the show seems to indicate is not the case (though perhaps you have to be very, very disciplined to exercise that kind of control, which neither Doctor nor Mistress ever were).


  5. Jarl
    January 19, 2015 @ 8:58 am

    The Master always seemed to have more control over it, though I say that on the strength of literally one on-screen regeneration. Though the fact he felt qualified to try and break the 12-limit speaks volumes.
    I actually do agree with that idea, though, that Time Lords are… well, to paraphrase Moffat, they don't really understand the concept of gender dysphoria, since if their biological sex and internal gender don't match up, they can regenerate. And that's leaving aside more convenient options such as hyper-advanced nano-genetic medical procedures. Coincidentally, I've actually written a lot on this topic in the past… being cis, though, I don't really have anything valid or important to add, mostly just nerdy ramblings.


  6. 5tephe
    January 19, 2015 @ 10:11 am

    Beautiful reading and beautifully written post, Anna.

    Thanks for the personal story, but also thanks for the reading. Your head canon makes for a wonderful viewing of the Mistress. I only hope that not to many cis-gendered homosexual fans of the classic episodes take umbrage.

    I wouldn't think so, but then that's the beauty of head canons. You can cherry pick. Personally, I think I'll adopt yours.


  7. Seeing_I
    January 19, 2015 @ 10:42 am

    I am a cis-gendered homosexual fan of the classic series. What am I supposed to be taking umbrage at?


  8. Seeing_I
    January 19, 2015 @ 12:08 pm

    How dare you bring your nerdy ramblings to a Doctor Who blog! The very idea.

    Of course, I always thought the slash notion that the Master was always secretly in lurve with the Doctor to be tedious in the extreme. As if that was the only thing that could possibly explain the connection. But, it works for some people, so have at it, I say.

    “After decades of sexual tension between the Doctor and the Mistress, why is it that there is no acknowledgment of this until they become a heterosexual pairing?” Well, because the sexual tension was something entirely imposed by fan-readings, not anything supported by the text itself. But even so…RTD wrote a very cheeky nod toward that very slash tradition in "The Sound of Drums." So it HAS been acknowledged before.

    "I had a friend once. We ran together when I was little. And I thought we were the same. But when we grew up, we weren't." That's exactly how I always read the Doctor/Master relationship – they were friends, best friends, who mistook one another's genius and rebelliousness for kinship, when really their interior aims and motives are diametrically opposed, but the pain of losing that special understanding still lingers. It's happened to me, so maybe that's why I prefer this reading.


  9. Steven
    January 19, 2015 @ 12:43 pm

    Closing lines, teared up.


  10. William Silvia
    January 19, 2015 @ 7:50 pm

    I don't know if it's impossible to watch "The Five Doctors" without a slash reading.

    That said, Time Lords don't have control over their regenerations, but they have influence. Romana was able to cycle through a number of bodies, even if she wasn't able to just pick a final appearance and keep it, except for one that was extremely clear in her mind. River Song put a significant amount of concentration into selecting a general body shape, as did the Master in choosing a physical age. I think a Time Lord putting all of their concentration into a sex would be able to choose that.

    Of course, the fact that they aren't supposed to have genitals, despite what readings of 9/10 and Rose would tell us, helps.


  11. William Silvia
    January 19, 2015 @ 7:51 pm

    I think the discussion is to whether the Master was gay, bi, trans, etc, etc in the '70s and '80s.


  12. TheOncomingHurricane
    January 19, 2015 @ 9:50 pm

    @William Silvia If they aren't supposed to have genitals, I would think Clara's gran's reaction to a naked 11 in The Time of the Doctor would have been slightly different to to what it was!


  13. Daru
    January 19, 2015 @ 10:54 pm

    I really want to thank you for sharing some your own journey, I found this genuinely, deeply moving. And I really feel that the reading you give above is perfect for me. When I saw Missy for the first time in Deep Breath I shouted with glee at the mention of the word 'boyfriend' and went "yes!" inside and to my partner, at her absolutely being the Master.

    I saw online a lot of the vitriol poured out at the idea of a gender change for the Master, one thing I particularly adored was that there appeared to be hardly any freaking out at the idea of her being the Doctor's boyfriend. Love it.


  14. TheOncomingHurricane
    January 19, 2015 @ 11:03 pm

    Wow. This was powerful.

    It is the end of summer, 1998. I don’t want to be alive any more. In a couple of weeks, I will try to kill myself. I will slip outside in the middle of the night, walk several miles into the woods down trails only I know about, to a clearing I spend a lot of time hiding in. I will take the razor blade on my swiss army knife and try to cut my wrist open. But the blade won’t be sharp enough, and the pain and shock of seeing my own blood will stop me before I go too far.

    I sort of went through this a few months ago, after realising that I was trans and I'd been repressing it for several years in August last. One night in late October/early November, I was at my lowest ebb, feeling like I had no way out. I had sleeping pills there and I seriously considered taking all of them, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I've experienced the same feeling of cowardice on bad days.

    I felt the same about Missy as well (although I'm not sure whether I stand on genderfluid vs. female all along) regarding pronouns and that. I've written a yet to be published article on DW and Transphobia for Doctor Who TV very recently where I've expressed a similar wish regarding regeneration and questioning the logic of Time Lords experiencing dysphoria:

    'if Time Lords can completely control their regenerations when they aren’t dying, as implied by Romana in Destiny of the Daleks, I don’t see why they wouldn’t use up a regeneration purely to get rid of dysphoria if they experienced it. I would. Even if the change was completely random I’d probably risk it a couple of times'

    Because I view my body as something I'd throw away if I could only get a different one, your last lines really affected me:

    And the truth is, we can regenerate. It takes longer, but sometimes, when the pain is twisting and cracking us, we can change our bodies until they begin to feel alright. It doesn’t undo the damage, but it can keep us from breaking completely. Time Lord technology, right here on Earth.

    You had me tearing up there. If that's the case, I await the first golden glow of light with anticipation.

    Thank you, Anna. You've helped so much.


  15. elvwood
    January 19, 2015 @ 11:08 pm

    Yes, very moving, and clearly put. Thank you.


  16. ferret
    January 20, 2015 @ 12:38 am

    plus both River Song and Martha Jones have doctorates – it's like these people don't watch the show, they just troll on messageboards.


  17. William Whyte
    January 20, 2015 @ 1:03 am

    Just a fantastic article. Thank you.


  18. peeeeeeet
    January 20, 2015 @ 3:22 am

    Perception filter. Everyone sees Time Lords as their own species, just as everyone hears Time Lords talking their own language. (And yes, I realise this is almost certainly contradicted a hundred times)


  19. Seeing_I
    January 20, 2015 @ 3:23 am

    I always thought that well-trained and very disciplined Time Lords would have a great deal of control over their regenerations, especially when they live their whole lives on Gallifrey and regenerate out of old age. In that case, I imagine, it's more of a meditative or tantric process with a great deal of control, as we saw when Romana did it. Her "bodies" were either due to the (retconned) "still regenerating" time frame mentioned in "The Christmas Invasion," or else were avatars as seen in "Planet of the Spiders."

    In the case of the Doctor, the Mistress, and River, in each case we see their regenerations happen because of injury and other traumatic circumstances, in which case it's more of an emergency measure and thus the results are much more random. In my head, anyway.


  20. encyclops
    January 20, 2015 @ 10:12 am

    I don't know if it's impossible to watch "The Five Doctors" without a slash reading.

    I watched it without one when I was nine.

    "The Mark of the Rani," on the other hand…


  21. encyclops
    January 20, 2015 @ 10:24 am

    That said, I'm entirely aligned with Seeing_I on every sentence of this:

    Of course, I always thought the slash notion that the Master was always secretly in lurve with the Doctor to be tedious in the extreme. As if that was the only thing that could possibly explain the connection. But, it works for some people, so have at it, I say.

    I think part of it for me is that the dynamics of slash have nothing at all to do with the dynamics of any relationship I've ever had with another guy, or even any attraction I've felt for a guy I didn't have a relationship with. I think most of the time it's a straight person's idea of what ignites and drives male/male romantic relationships, but probably people who are much more interested in slash than I am have analyzed the phenomenon to death. That said, "have at it" is my sentiment too; it doesn't bother me at all, it just baffles me sometimes.

    Of course, I know we all know that the question of whether the Master is in love with the Doctor is distinct from whether the Master has always felt that she ought to be the Mistress. Regarding that second question, I will predict now that at some point in the future — perhaps when Gatiss takes over — we'll see the Mistress become the Master again. Either way is fine with me, I'm just saying it's going to happen and if I were inclined to theorize about it I'd take that into account.

    For Anna's sake, though, I hope it's a long way off. Thanks for an interesting and movingly vulnerable guest post.


  22. FlexFantastic
    January 20, 2015 @ 10:51 am

    This entry is exceptional.


  23. J. du Bois
    January 22, 2015 @ 7:34 pm

    A great piece here. I really appreciate Dr. Sandifer and Anna for sharing this! I am trans myself, and know and have felt many similar things. I suppose another reason why I liked Doctor Who was the idea of regeneration, which we ALL can do, but us trans folk can do more externally. So, time to start my own regeneration…


  24. Daru
    January 23, 2015 @ 12:30 am

    Lovely point J. du Bois, I am not trans myself but have always experienced and inner gender fluidity, and I love the way you phrase it as Trans folk can enact the change externally also. The concept of regeneration as shown through Doctor Who has always given me a sense of joy – whilst also showing that the transition from one state to another can be at times painful, but when it comes it's really needed and the way the process has been presented over the decades gives a picture of such amazing life and vitality.


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