The Politics of Your Piffling Little Planet (The Caretaker)
|Its gender really is basically attack helicopter|
It’s September 27th, 2014. Sigma and Paloma Faith are at number one with “Changing,” while Professor Green, Script, George Ezra, and Taylor Swift also chart. In news, the United States began intervening in the Syrian Civil War, coming in emphatically on the side of dropping bombs on a country that was already blowing itself up, while Mark Reckless, a Tory MP, times his defection to UKIP to coincide with the start of the Conservative Party’s annual conference in a fairly spectacular moment of utter dickishness.
Speaking of utter dickishness, The Caretaker. Actually, let’s pause for a moment. Because I should probably stress up front that I’ve known what I’m going to say in this entry for a while. I’ve been actively thinking about it since September. I’ve literally made major life decisions based in part on the timing of this essay. And though events in the last couple of weeks have shifted the approach slightly, it’s a matter of degree. All the main points are ones I decided on a while ago. I don’t know whether this fact matters, or if it should; nevertheless, it is a fact.
Anyway. The Caretaker is probably the last Doctor Who contribution from my friend Gareth Roberts. I am not so much being sarcastic there as I am layering a preposterous quantity of irony into a single word. I’d say “he was a friend once,” but that starts getting into Doctor/Missy territory, and honestly it’s just not that cool. But for quite a while, Gareth was vocally supportive of TARDIS Eruditorum, including very generously granting an interview for the Graham Williams book. I got along even better with Clayton Hickman, who for a while I was chatting with often enough that Jill took to calling him my Internet boyfriend. These days, they’ve both blocked me on Twitter, Clayton back in January, Gareth a couple weeks ago. Clayton blocked me (after calling me a “pompous arse”) because I used Gareth as an example in a tweet defending enjoying art made by problematic people; Gareth after I tweeted that I was torn between two jokes I could make in this essay about something he said on Twitter. (I worked them both in, for what it’s worth.)
“Problematic people.” “Something he said on Twitter.” Look at me dancing around the issue. Here. Let’s just go ahead and quote the tweets. “I ❤️ how trannies choose names like Munroe, Paris and Chelsea. It’s never Julie or Bev is it? It’s almost like a clueless gayboy’s idea of a glamorous lady. But of course it’s definitely not that.” Yeah. About the best thing you can say about that is that J.K. Rowling hasn’t hit like on it. It’s ignorant, spiteful garbage of the highest order. A clueless gayboy? I mean, I’m a lesbian, so yeah, apparently pretty fucking clueless. And this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of transphobic bilge he regularly tweets these days. Which, to answer Clayton at least, yeah, is a bit of a problem for me.
Those tweets were on September 3rd of last year, right in the white-hot heat of when I was realizing I wanted to transition. In the midst of that, I got a Tumblr ask about the quotes. You can read my answer here, but the long and short of it was that, given that he’d been consistently supportive of my work, in the interests of not being a jerk I was inclined to leave his politics for other people to criticize unless they actively seeped into his writing. Even at the time, I must have realized this was at least partially a lie. TARDIS Eruditorum has always had an autobiographical thread, and the idea that I was going to write about The Caretaker when I got to it without addressing the fact of Roberts’s politics was ridiculous. Hell, it was implausible that I wouldn’t have felt the need to address them even if I’d been cis, which it was rapidly becoming clear I wasn’t. Especially because they go well beyond some transphobic comments. To make a comparison he won’t be nearly as bothered by as he should be, he’s increasingly the Morrissey of Doctor Who writers. He’s a Brexit-supporting, islamophobic reactionary. On top of that, he’s a bully, having more than once been involved in aggroing Twitter mobs on trans people. By the time of the tweets quoted above he’d been drifting rightwards for a couple years, in ways that had gotten gradually harder, and eventually impossible to defend.
Even beyond the fact that I knew full well I was probably going to have to address it, though, there was a cowardice to my position. One should call out broken stairs, and one certainly shouldn’t let the perks of chumminess with a mild celebrity blind one to those obligations. And that would be one thing if Roberts’s descent into bigotry were unknown. But it was being widely commented on. Within fandom, consternation about Roberts’s politics was de rigueur, and numerous pop culture news outlets had already picked up on his transphobic comments. And what I said in that Tumblr post was true: nobody is obligated to die on every hill. The fact that there’s a political thread to TARDIS Eruditorum was never a promise on my part to chase down every bit of shit politics in Doctor Who; it was just one aspect of a multifaceted approach to the series. And, if I may be so arrogant as to defend myself at a moment when I was, to say the least, dealing with some pretty intense shit, I pointedly didn’t speak up for Roberts or vouch for his character; I just declined to join the already deafening chorus of condemnation against someone who had praised my work in spite of what were surely equally vehement political objections. I don’t regret that. You can’t live your life with the dial turned to eleven all the time. You have to let some things go; friendship and the confusion of a budding transition are both better reasons than most to do so.
I suppose the thing that depresses me the most, then, is that being kind turned out not to be an option. Ultimately, there was no level of “being fine with it” that proved acceptable to Gareth and Clayton short of expressing no objections to it whatsoever. This is, of course, a familiar tactic on the right. It’s the same logic that says that Anita Sarkeesian criticizing video games on feminist grounds constitutes an attempt to censor them. It’s the logic that lets Kevin Williamson take to the Wall Street Journal and say that he’s being silenced because there are places that don’t want to hire him given his belief that women who get abortions should be executed. It’s the pathetic, thin-skinned lie that says that any pushback whatsoever against them is a restriction of free speech even as they spew far worse at the people they don’t like while repeatedly turning a blind eye to actual governmental efforts to censor them. Because when it comes to criticizing bigotry, somehow nothing is ever mild and reasonable enough. Never mind if it’s your friends, your family, or, fuck, you that’s being laughed at and called slurs. Even planning to make a joke about it or saying you have a problem with it is unacceptable. So much for the tolerant right.
None of this, of course, has anything to do with The Caretaker. It’s funny; way back in 2014 I e-mailed him the draft of the Lodger essay and told him to let me know if I’d gotten anything wrong, while cautioning that I couldn’t promise to change anything. His reply was gracious, telling me, “Please don’t feel cowed into treading softly around any of my stuff that’s coming up though! You must preserve the integrity of the Eruditorum,” before noting “that sounds like something Davros might say.” And I wasn’t cowed. I mean, it was easy because I genuinely liked most of his stories, but I gave them what I think was a fair and reasonable look instead of sucking up to someone who is, at least within the niche world we’re talking about here, had a significant amount of power and clout. And now, for all my righteous contempt, I have the same problem in reverse. I have to watch The Caretaker and write about what’s on the screen even though the man who wrote it called me a confused gayboy two weeks before I came out to my wife.
It’s not that I couldn’t shred it. It’s got some serious issues around race. Coal Hill is portrayed a majority white school, but the three most prominent students to be branded troublemakers are all black. And, of course, there’s the running gag of the Doctor refusing to believe that a black man could be anything other than a P.E. teacher, a joke whose ugliness is in no way completely eliminated by the nominal reason being Danny’s military service. Nor are its gender politics much better; this is at its heart a story in which Clara is treated as a possession to be fought over by two men. Danny and the Doctor repeatedly display behavior that runs from emotionally manipulative to outright abusive, and though the story avoids praising this, it certainly doesn’t bother to hold it up to any serious critique or suggest that Danny or the Doctor are less heroic for it.
But those critiques, though not inaccurate, are ultimately misleading. One of the three troublemakers, after all, is Courtney, who’s one of the most delightful characters of the era. And it would be strange to decide to finally prosecute Moffat’s debt to romantic comedy in a Gareth Roberts episode. The politics of this episode are dodgy, but it’s no Talons of Weng-Chiang, and making too much out of them would flagrantly amount to finding an excuse to shank the episode over Roberts’s transphobia. And in the end, that doesn’t work. Roberts isn’t using Doctor Who as a vehicle for his abhorrent politics; his utter contempt for my basic identity doesn’t play into this story, and there’s no honest way to attack it on those grounds.
And yet I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed it much on the rewatch. I mean, that could be anger and how much I’ve been loathing having to write this. But I think the larger problem is the same thing that undermined Time Heist: it’s a Matt Smith throwback episode that comes past the point where such a thing is needed. With Time Heist I suggested the problem was coming after Listen, and certainly that’s the story that made throwbacks obsolete, but there’s a larger problem too. I’ve generally not been rereading my old reviews of these stories when writing the Eruditorum posts, but I made an exception for this one just to remind myself of how and why I’d liked it way back when. And the thing that struck me was how much I focused the review on the then-mysterious back half of the season, which had a bunch of new writers we’d never heard of and a bunch of stories it was much less clear from the promotions what was going on with. Even at the time, this story seemed to demand to be read as a transition to the half of the series that was actually going to try new things; once you’ve seen that half of the season watching the show spin its wheels with a Series Five remake is markedly less compelling.
But Time Heist was poorly constructed and imitating the Matt Smith era’s worst instincts. The Lodger, on the other hand, worked. And more broadly, Gareth Roberts is a competent writer in a way Steve Thompson just isn’t. So this isn’t a tedious disaster per se. Rather, it’s a more classic sort of failed throwback: a perfectly good effort at something that has run its course and doesn’t really work anymore. The Lodger ended up quietly defining Matt Smith’s Doctor as he’d be going forward, associating him with a very particular sort of barmy excess. But when Roberts attempts the same sorts of jokes here, they fall blandly flat. “Never lose your temper in the middle of a door sign” is rooted in Smith’s performance, albeit with a concession towards the crankiness everyone saddles Capaldi with this season, but like the long brown coat he’s wearing all episode it just doesn’t look right on him. It’s obviously not that Capaldi can’t do comedy, but this turns out to be the wrong sort of comedy. As, ironically, is the “the Doctor is a cranky asshole” comedy that is Robetrts’s other main stop, which, while obviously existing due to his portrayal of Malcolm Tucker, never quite works with Capaldi’s take on the Doctor.
And yet this too isn’t really Roberts’s fault. He was hired to redo The Lodger with Peter Capaldi, and he’s not to blame for the fact that it was a bad idea. Capaldi would eventually nail doing comedy in Doctor Who, but in hindsight it’s obvious that he wasn’t going to do that by mimicking either his immediate predecessor or his previous big role, and the attempt was always going to be at best a dead end and at worse an active impediment to him figuring out what he actually wanted to do. For a fundamentally misbegotten episode, this is remarkably pleasant and inoffensive, flailing about at the “never quite getting it together” level instead of the “actually going wrong” level. That is, in its way, an accomplishment.
It’s something of a TARDIS Eruditorum tradition that when a writer who’s been a significant presence in the narrative makes their departure from it they get a bit of a moment and a reflection on their contribution to the series. And here I must grudgingly extend the courtesy to Roberts if I’m to go on. Which was inevitable, really. I mean, I first wrote about him more than seven years ago when I covered The Plotters as a Time Can Be Rewitten essay during the Hartnell era. (And man, for a good time travel back in time and try to explain this essay’s existence to 2011 me.) He literally has the longest span between first and last essays in the project, even if his actual Doctor Who career only spanned from the Wilderness Years to the dawn of the Capaldi era. And anyway, that’s still twenty-one years, longer than either Robert Holmes or Terry Nation. Of course he gets a summing up.
The thing is, more than almost any other major writer, he comes prepackaged with one. He writes the funny ones. In the Virgin era, he stood out against the grimdark cyberpunk reputation by writing light comedy novels, eventually finding a niche doing Fourth Doctor/Romana II novels. And when he got picked up as a new series writer, he maintained the reputation, getting commissioned by Davies to write a pair of celebrity historical romps and the first draft of “the last time the Tenth Doctor gets to have fun,” and then getting hired by Moffat to rewrite the same comic strip three times. But there was always more to Roberts than that, as a look at almost any of his actual contributions would show. He’s perfectly capable of sad and scary and exciting and all the other tones Doctor Who is supposed to hit. And yet he’s been overwhelmingly typecast as the guy you turn to for a comedy episode. This, more than anything, is what goes wrong with The Caretaker; having Roberts write an early Capaldi episode is a fine idea, but he should have been allowed to actually write one instead of being asked to do a fourth version of the same story.
So what would Roberts be if freed from his pigeonhole? Obviously that’s a difficult question to answer given two decades of him being trapped there. But I’d suggest the obvious place to start looking is in the Doctor Who he loves, namely the Graham Williams era. He wrote an essay about it back in 1993 that we’ve talked about before called “Tom the Second,” in which he lays out what it is he loves about the era, and while humor is certainly a part of it, it’s not the whole. He also talks about the way in which supporting characters are generally painted with a degree of depth unseen in other eras, with histories and relationships that are not strictly relevant to the sci-fi—and indeed, a look through his work shows a consistent focus on that. And he talks about the way in which the greatest evil is people who have lost the ability to laugh at themselves, which, OK, that’s actually kind of weird given what he blocked me for, but sure.
But the most striking moment of the essay comes near the start, in the transition between the first two sections. In the first, Roberts considers several perspectives on the Williams era before concluding that the real truth of things is that “the Doctor Who stories of the late seventies are hugely, magnificently and squarely entertaining.” And then, at the start of the second, directly off of that sentence, he notes that “the universe of the Williams era is entirely middle class.” This is not issued as unqualified praise; the paragraph that begins that way ends with an “and yet” statement. Nevertheless, it is an astonishing transition. The middle class nature of the Williams era is clearly not a problem to Roberts; he uses an entirely different tone when offering an apologia for the special effects. The “and yet” serves to acknowledge the possibility that middle classness might be a surprising virtue, but Roberts clearly sees it as one.
Certainly it’s a trait shared with his own Doctor Who work, from making Shakespeare mostly about J.K. Rowling through to, really, every iteration of The Lodger. Roberts’s entire universe is middle class Britain. And that’s always been fairly evident about him. Indeed, I suspect it’s essentially at the heart of his toxic politics: at the end of the day, he just doesn’t care about any part of culture that don’t plausibly lead to Blake’s 7. And fair play to him, it’s true that trans culture, Islam, and the European Union are all basically irrelevant to the creation of Servalan.
The thing is, that’s not actually entirely a problem when you’re writing Doctor Who. There are myopias very close to it that are—we need only think back to Ian Levine, who is only slightly more blinkered than Roberts in his interests, but in a way that leads him to completely and catastrophically misunderstand essentially everything about Doctor Who. But middle class Britain is actually an interesting and generative topic. Like any topic, things are excluded from it, but it’s big and contradictory in the way that interesting things are, full of good parts and bad. And more to the point, it’s one that’s enormously bound up in what Doctor Who is. Because the truth is that it’s always been a pretty middle class concern. It’s a show whose initial idea of everypeople for the audience to invest in were schoolteachers, and as Roberts points out, even when it went as far afield from that as alien savages they were middle class. Middle class Britain has always been at the core of the show.
Which is the central irony we can’t entirely evade. Roberts’s politics are horrifying. He’s become a petty, small-minded bully. But he still understands Doctor Who. Including its love of subversiveness (and, less related to the drably straight Caretaker but enormously relevant to this post, queerness), which, as we’ve pointed out throughout this project, has always been a part of middle class Britain’s cultural mix. For all that Courtney is a stereotype, Roberts understands that she’s the Doctor’s kind of human. The “disruptive influence” exchange is pure delight. More to the point, it’s pure delight in a way that depends on Courtney being a stereotype; its impact is specifically because the Doctor instinctively finding kinship with a young black girl who’s been labeled a disruptive influence is a great idea that hasn’t happened before in the show. That he doesn’t understand the screamingly obvious political implications of this fact is both puzzling and distressing, but it doesn’t actually make his Doctor Who worse.
On the other hand, it’s not as though his episodes lack a conservative streak. The regressive gender politics of The Caretaker are surely inflamed by Moffat’s predilection for sitcom romance, but it’s not as though the same basic stuff isn’t going on in The Lodger and Closing Time between Craig and Sophie. And if we’re going to wonder what would happen if Roberts were let off the leash in terms of always writing the funny ones, we can’t exactly decline to imagine what would happen if his politics were given free expression within the show. And yet it’s hard to say this would be an entirely bad thing. There is, after all, plenty of right-wing art I like and find fascinating. Within Doctor Who, there are clear right-wing streaks to both Terrence Dicks and Robert Holmes, and I have a profound regard for both of them. There’s no convincing reason why Roberts couldn’t be similar. As a thought experiment, consider a Gareth Roberts penned The Lie of the Land. One can easily imagine a story in which the Monks are a metaphor for “SJW censorship” or something. But it would actually be about something. And in the course of being about something it would be funnier and scarier and more interesting and all around better. It would be worth hating instead of just dull and pointless.
Would that be better? Yes. I mean, I’d still rip into it. But I don’t have to like all of Doctor Who. There are shows where my love for them is rooted in a sense of consistent love; where I want one thing from them, and they are valued only inasmuch as they provide it. But that’s not Doctor Who. I demand imperfection from it; there need to be bits that infuriate me and bits that I despise. But ultimately, that’s not what Roberts ever gave us. Instead he was placed in his “the light funny ones” box and kept there, writing a total of six actual episodes none of which ever had the chance to be more than entertaining romps, and several of which actually managed it. And so all the fascinated fury I might have mustered remains mere imagination.
What follows from this? There’s a lot of possibilities. I could imagine some other alternative in which a Gareth Roberts who never got pigeonholed was able to develop a wide and varied career and never became a bitter old Twitter troll in the first place. I could wax poetic about the contributions he did make, and maybe end by quoting myself from way back in The Plotters episode where I talked about how “a man who embodied many of the worst qualities of his times could still help build the character of a man who embodies the best qualities of all of time.” I could just decide to move on and talk about Clara and Danny, and how much effort and fuss was expended getting to the seemingly straightforward status quo of “Clara has a boyfriend and the Doctor’s not wild about him.” (Although that wouldn’t be entirely fair; the Moffat-penned scenes of Clara and Danny talking through the revelation that she travels through space and time having adventures are doing and setting up more than just that.) I could do any of those things, and when I was thinking about this essay back in February, I was considering all of them.
But no. I said in September that I don’t have to die on every single political hill in Doctor Who. And I really don’t. But I don’t have to redeem every single failure either. Gareth Roberts unrepentantly spewed toxic and malicious lies about women like me. And he keeps doing it. He’s not sorry. He’s not even willing to be laughed at for his ignorance and foolishness, which are really the only way to describe calling trans women confused gay men. He’s cruel and he’s cowardly. And that’s all true before you factor in my sense of betrayal or the timing of his tweets with regard to my life. That doesn’t get to have a redemptive reading. Honestly, I kind of wish it didn’t get to have any reading at all. I wish I didn’t have to deal with it. I wish I hadn’t had to write this. So if there’s something I’m to say before he departs our tale, it would simply be this: go fuck yourself, Gareth.
May 7, 2018 @ 9:20 am
A measured send-off of the Roberts era, Elizabeth Sandifer. Sorry about that crappy stuff that Gareth said, and the way you were treated.
May 7, 2018 @ 9:29 am
The patriarchal way that Twelve deals with Clara’s relationship is problematic. It seems like it’s a repositioning of the Doctor’s relationship from “boyfriend” to “Dad” (although 12 thinking that Clara’s choosing an 11 lookalike confuses it a bit). But the rest of Series 8 and 9 basically treats 12 and Clara as equals or “teacher/student”, so Gareth’s treatment seems like a throwback, like you said.
May 7, 2018 @ 10:01 am
“Apprentice” seems like a more fitting way to describe their relationship in the later seasons, considering what she ends up doing after.
May 7, 2018 @ 10:15 am
Apprentice was closer to what I meant. I’m a bit tired.
May 7, 2018 @ 10:34 am
Actually, that “father/daughter” of Caretaker vs “apprenticeship” relationship of everything else sort of made me realize–this ep is probably the most “patriarchal” of Series 8-10, in terms of how the Doctor’s treated, huh? I mean the whole “father figure”, “saving her is just the start of being good enough”, “you haven’t told ME about him”, as well as the “officer” critique from Danny, the whole episode is putting the Doctor in a paternal role. It works because it’s Peter Capaldi as a grumpy Scot Dad, but I think it’s something that could only work in Series 8. Frankly, it only works until the Doctor starts wearing hoodies and sonic sunglasses.
Also, the “officer” critique from Danny starts a trend in Capaldi’s era of people delineating what the Doctor is or isn’t, which troubles me.
May 7, 2018 @ 10:38 am
Are there any examples that you can think of of such delineation in series 9 or 10? I can only recall 8 and in that series it leads quite nicely in my opinion to Death in Heaven and the Doctor rejecting all the externally imposed descriptions in favour of his own.
May 7, 2018 @ 11:01 am
The entirety of the “Where is the Doctor? Doctor would be in the loudest place” scene in the beginning of Magician’s Apprentice, any remarks Clara makes about how the Doctor is, and the “I’m the Doctor. Just accept it” scene in Witch’s Familiar (I love that scene, btw).
(So maybe just the Series 9 initial 2-parter?)
I don’t necessarily dislike these scenes. They perfectly describe the Twelfth Doctor, and are usually in-character. But they threaten to constrain who the Doctor is, and possibly affect how future writers will make the Doctor. For example, if all future showrunners think “all Doctors are arrogant leading people of action”, then you might never make the Fifth Doctor, who was a perfectly good Doctor but somewhat reactive, or the book Eighth Doctor, who was a great Doctor but scatterbrained occasionally. Everytime someone says “the Doctor’s always more interested in machines than relationships”, that might be true, but it precludes the creation of a more peopl-oriented Doctor. Or, “the Doctor must always be very alien”, which ignores the Tenth Doctor, or “the Doctor should dress well”, which ignores the Sixth Doctor, or “the Doctor should never dress fabulously”, which ignores the Sixth Doctor.
A lot of NuWho has these statements, but I noticed them even moreso in Series 8-10, which was concerned with these labels in a lot of places, for good reason. It’s done well, but when these labels are thrown out, I’m concerned in the back of my head that these labels may end up becoming rules on what the Doctor is, rather than just guidelines.
May 7, 2018 @ 11:35 am
Okay, yeah, they’re definitely there (I think Moffat in particular has a predilection towards these grand statements about the nature of the Doctor) and I see why you’re concerned about them – personally I think treating such things as gospel is a fannish impulse and the creators (whoever they might be at any particular point) are too eager to present their own vision of who the Doctor is to be beholden to past ideas.
May 7, 2018 @ 2:41 pm
I think to some extent this is an inevitable product of the degreee to which the new series makes the Doctor and companions a central part of its storytelling and takes a serious interest in their psychology and character development. That’s harder to do without specific assertions, whereas,in the classic series the focus was on the situation of the individual story, so that the Doctor featured in the story essentially just as someone who considered a situation and acted upon it, being revealed almost entirely by the implications of words, manner and actions rather than by being talked about.
(Incidentally, that shift was the thing I found hardest to digest about the new series when it started, not in itself but because of how the new series both problematises and explicitly glorifies the Doctor in an unprecedented fashion. I found it jarring how season 1 especially seemed full of speeches gushing about how thoroughly marvellous the Doctor was, while at the same time making him persistently and conspicuously fallible.)
I think if the tendency to explicit description increases in the Capaldi era, that may in part be to do with how its first two seasons involve Clara becoming Doctor-like. For Clara’s growing similarity to the Doctor to be a prominent theme, it becomes more necessary to be specific and explicit about elements of what the Doctor is like.
Mind you, some of the specifics are not actually a response to those requirements, especially of course after Clara’s exit, but it’s a tendency which perhaps shifts the way the Doctor is written about in particular directions, setting habits which can then find expression in other ways.
May 7, 2018 @ 3:12 pm
I think the “Doctor as father figure” thing comes out of the episode’s riffing on the Tempest – it’s mentioned explicitly by the matt smith-esque english teacher, and casting the Doctor as Prospero is a very intriguing idea that almostworks here. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really end up adding anything and the fact that the arc is still unresolved at the end of the episode means the script can’t have a tempest-y reconciliation in it.
May 12, 2018 @ 9:15 pm
The 11 lookalike is weird as all hell. 12 signals his approval of Clara dating this man, but that seems solely on the basis of his sporting a bow tie. He’s a nonentity, and it’s obvious that the Doctor really has more in common with Danny. In good ways and, if you look closely, bad ones as well.
May 7, 2018 @ 9:49 am
My takeaway, from a Watson point of view, for being the mid point of the series, I rather enjoyed Courtney.
The whole ‘The Doctor thinks Danny is a P.E teacher’ does look bad in hindsight. And it really can’t be excused with regeneration sickness, it’s been half the season already.
I did like the opening scene with Clara jumping around with the Doctor and Danny, and as much as I love Clara as a character, this started the trend of episodes that had the arc of her being Doctor-like towards the end of the series.
Initially, I disliked the way she was headed. I thought it was going to be another Rose situation, Which started pretty much around Tooth and Claw, so Clara was a bit ahead. But, with time, I can appreciate the way she grew.
I do love Danny in this episode. Like he’s brave all on his own,Ade me wish he could of had more episodes centered on him.
May 7, 2018 @ 9:52 am
I think the idea behind the “Danny the P.E.” worked. It’s a reflection on how the Twelfth Doctor had a bias against soldiers, because he can’t accept his own war crimes (in his view). The execution was weird, but the idea was sound, and worked for the resolution in Series 8 finale.
May 7, 2018 @ 2:34 pm
Yeah, the idea might’ve been sound but the execution is awkward at best. It’s that tone deafness that plagues many writers who try to tackle issues and themes they don’t quite get and then fail to adequately think about what they’re writing. All it would take to fix that one is for Roberts to consult with someone who’s a little more sensitive than himself. But given what this essay tells us about him, I guess that wasn’t really an option.
May 7, 2018 @ 3:16 pm
With no intention of defending Roberts’ bullying and shitty politics, I think it’s a fair question of whether Danny and Courtney were cast by the “race-blind” process used in the RTD and earlier Moffat eras. The PE thing would come across a lot differently if Danny weren’t black.
May 7, 2018 @ 3:29 pm
I know Courtney was; I assume Danny was as well. (Although I question how blind the casting for Courtney actually was, given that she ended up a stereotype)
But like, once you do the casting you need to make sure the writing doesn’t introduce any problems.
February 9, 2022 @ 4:54 am
I don’t know if you went to school in the UK, but certainly when I was at school here in the ’80s, there seemed to be a rich tradition of male PE teachers having come from a background in the army or the police force. On that basis, the nickname “PE” seemed funny and culturally in-keeping with the collective memory of school sports lessons in the period that Roberts/Moffat/Capaldi were at school. Also, whilst things are by no means anywhere near perfect in the UK, I believe we tend not to register the colour of a person’s skin and attach that colour to ugly stereotypes. I think we tend to focus on character when watching drama, not colour; and neither one informs the other. It seems to me – and I am happy to be corrected – that this is very different in the US, where anxieties over school matters are – rightly – more keenly felt.
February 9, 2022 @ 4:55 am
On ’70s/’80s PE teachers, think Sgt Patterson in “Survival”.
February 9, 2022 @ 4:56 am
“SUCH matters” not “school matters”
May 7, 2018 @ 9:54 am
My fiancé loved this, thanks!
May 7, 2018 @ 9:56 am
This is a fantastic essay, though I am sorry that you had to write it. And I very much look forward to next week, which I am sure will be even better.
As for The Caretaker, I have a complicated relationship with it (as with series 8 as a whole). When I watched it for the first time, it made me quit the show in frustration, as I just couldn’t stand the cranky asshole Doctor. (I caught up eventually and the second half of series 8 was much better in general.) About a year ago I re-watched it and it jumped into top 3 of the series. I guess I decided to accept the difficult, spiky Doctor (I had no problem with loving an often difficult, spiky, and flawed Clara) for what he was and the argument in the TARDIS blew my away. It’s one of the few moments in the Moffat era where a criticism is made of the Doctor that (in my opinion) actually had substance.
After finding out about Roberts’ trans- and Islamophobia I had to do a re-evaluation and I honestly think that it doesn’t deserve the spot I gave it. Mummy is better and that scene that I loved was probably written by Moffat anyway.
May 7, 2018 @ 10:14 am
The argument with the Twelfth Doctor in the TARDIS is good, but I have 2 niggles with it, namely that Danny snuck and invaded the Doctor’s home right before then, so his critique ends up feeling more like an unfair attack than it should, and the argument “Doctor is an officer who uses companion as soldiers” both ignores the companions’ agency, and usually ignores the Doctor’s own liminality between patriarchy as chaotic (Pythian?) energy.
May 7, 2018 @ 10:29 am
You’re quite right, there are responses to Danny’s argument, but for me it is substantive because it actually requires a response, rather than a mere dismissal (like, for example, Davros’s assertions that he and the Doctor are the same in Stolen Earth/Journey’s End). Even if the criticism comes from Danny’s own experiences and an officer is not all the Doctor is, there are still aspects of him that fit that description (his calculatedness when it comes to death in Into the Dalek comes to mind) that he has to grapple with (and that he will ultimately reject in Death in Heaven). In this light, the patriarchal attitude he displays towards Clara in this episode is quite fitting for me (it also fits because of the shift from boyfriend to a mentor that you mention above; here he still hasn’t quite let go of the possessiveness he would feel towards a romantic prospect, so he aimed on friend, but accidentally landed on Dad).
May 7, 2018 @ 10:44 am
As part of the series 8, I think the Caretaker works like you said. And I think it works better as a part of Clara’s development, even moreso than it does for 12. It’s Clara who holds the cards in both relationships, and it’s her fears and expectations, and eventually regrets, that decides how the 12/Danny/Clara group relationship ultimately ends.
(Also, it’s funny how you can argue that Twelve doesn’t answer Danny’s critique fully until his “where I stand” speech in The Doctor Falls, where he dies as a soldier in the battlefield and not as an officer.)
Actually, holy crap. Twelve, the soldier-hater, died as a soldier on a battlefield! That’s pretty major! I never realized that before.
May 7, 2018 @ 11:35 am
I never noticed that, either! What a great observation!
May 7, 2018 @ 2:23 pm
That’s awesome. Thank you for pointing that out.
May 7, 2018 @ 12:31 pm
I’ve never got on as well with the Lodger and Closing Time as other parts of fandom with similar tastes have. In any case here, I think I agree: aside from the ‘disruptive influence’ scene the Doctor here is completely unlikeable. Instead of the Doctor invading a sitcom we have here the Doctor being taken over by the sitcom. In sitcoms characters can inadvertently reveal what they are thinking free of inhibition without long-term consequences for their relationships with other people. But here the Doctor acts in ways that are bound up with the sitcom logic but which go on to have consequences for the relationship between him, Clara, and Danny through the rest of the series. It’s a bad note.
I still think the idea that a romantic relationship between the Doctor and companion is an explicit possibility is one of the poor long-term choices of the Davies-era.
The Doctor gets his companions killed critique is I think also a poor long-term legacy of the Davies-era. It doesn’t exactly apply to Rory and Amy. (Rory could have died any time he went to New York on holiday.)
May 7, 2018 @ 1:13 pm
To be fair, Danny’s critique is a bit more nuanced than that. It isn’t just “the Doctor makes people into soldiers”, it’s “the Doctor’s influence makes people want to become soldiers.” It’s a critique that points out that, even when people are working of their own free will, the power dynamics of the situation leads the companions to do dangerous things. Although the actual critique probably doesn’t work for every companion, or necessarily even Clara (Clara and 12 exert power dynamics over each other in odd ways, to the point I could call Clara the dominant in certain ways), it’s still a criticism that’s harder to stop.
May 7, 2018 @ 1:24 pm
I would also expand that criticism to guest characters (although Danny might not necessarily mean them, because he doesn’t really know how the Doctor operates, I think it applies to them as well).
May 10, 2018 @ 11:36 am
Aside from the way Amy and Rory died, the rest of the major Moffat companions died, but live all the same.
(I’ve only just realized that Ten, in order to save River into the library, had to use the Sonic Twelve provided for her, the same face of a man Ten saved in that series. Hmm….)
May 14, 2018 @ 8:03 am
I still think it’s complete bollocks. The companions become soldier-like purely due to the writers and the demands of the genre. There’s nothing about the Doctor’s influence which makes them strangely unworried that one of the people shooting at them might be able to aim properly, or that something might happen after the nick of time. It’s just one of those things the genre demands you ignore, like it demands you ignore, say, the fact that that “2000AD” on Earth can correspond to a range of five million years of different dates in the Andromeda galaxy, depending on your velocity.
Any critique of it should attack the genre itself, it’s glorification of combat capabilities etc. rather than putting all the blame on the Doctor for some reason.
May 7, 2018 @ 2:00 pm
Aside from what Gallifrey_Immigrant said, I don’t see how the Doctor getting his companions killed is a legacy of the Davies era. He didn’t (permanently) kill a single companion that I can think of. Sure, his Doctors inspired a lot of one-off characters to sacrifice themselves for the greater good but that’s hardly the same thing (and anyway, he’s always been kinda reckless/careless like that). The Doctor got more companions killed in Classic Who…
As for the possibility of a romantic relationship between the Doctor and companion – I think ignoring this possibility like in Classic Who would be way worse. The less artificial constraints on what stories can be told about such a mercurial character, the better. And it’s not like the writers are just automatically going for the Doctor-companion romance now. Donna was never interested, Amy briefly wanted to shag him but then quickly settled on “best friend”, Clara never really responded to Eleven’s vague flirting and Bill was gay. We can have more complex, more interesting Doctor-companion interactions now, not less, and that’s always good in my book.
May 8, 2018 @ 12:49 pm
Astrid and Adelaide were officially companions. There are a number of potential-companions who would have been invited onto the TARDIS but get killed. (Maybe not that many if you count them but enough that it feels like a thing.) Rose’s departure is explicitly presented as being as close to death as a family show will allow; and the Donna we know is erased by David Tennant’s Doctor. (On which subject, by coincidence Hell Bent, which addresses that came out two weeks after Jessica Jones, which seems to me to play off that in its casting.)
And then the Doctor’s angst about it is an emotional theme in the Tennant-era.
The question about Doctor-companion romance is whether or not there are relationships that are easier to tell stories about if the romantic relationship is off the table from the start, and whether or not Doctor Who is inherently a better fit for them both absolutely and relative to everything else in the televisual environment. I think a clear yes to the second part, and I think The Caretaker is evidence for the first part.
May 11, 2018 @ 9:34 am
The Doctor did not get Adelaide killed, though. In fact, it’s quite the opposite — she killed herself to defeat the Doctor’s extreme efforts to ensure that she lived.
May 7, 2018 @ 10:05 am
Really loved this analysis, going to show this to my wife and her trans son to see what they think
May 7, 2018 @ 10:33 am
Go fuck yourself, Gareth.
May 7, 2018 @ 11:39 am
“Roberts isn’t using Doctor Who as a vehicle for his abhorrent politics; his utter contempt for my basic identity doesn’t play into this story, and there’s no honest way to attack it on those grounds.”
I wish you’d got to this point a lot quicker. I’m much more interested in your views on Doctor Who than your views on Gareth Roberts. Especially as the latter are entirely predictable. The second part of the essay, where you actually had a lot to say that was new and interesting, I much preferred.
May 7, 2018 @ 11:58 am
Personally, I appreciated the opening part of the essay, and feel it was important and necessary groundwork for the points El makes in the back half of the essay.
But never mind that. It seems to me that writing this post the way she did was something El clearly feels is necessary to do to work through her understandably complex feelings about her professional and personal relationship with Roberts. And I feel like there’s a way of expressing your dislike of the opening of the essay that isn’t nearly as dismissive of that fact as your comment is.
May 7, 2018 @ 1:27 pm
You cannot possibly imagine how few fucks I give.
May 7, 2018 @ 4:15 pm
Then write your own damned essay. This isn’t constructive criticism. It’s barely even criticism at all, beyond “only write what I like.” This essay is clearly important to El, and it’s not even especially out of touch with past TARDIS Eruditorum entries: this isn’t the first time she’s framed an essay with her own experiences. For what it’s worth, I appreciate it quite a bit, but, even if I didn’t, I can’t fathom what would possess me to respond to such an obviously emotional work for an author with such an obnoxious dismissal.
May 7, 2018 @ 9:48 pm
Exactly Sean, dammit this is great writing by El – and so much thanks for it! I have found it really cathartic reading and really enlightening as I had only been a little aware of Roberts’ views. No fucks given – exactly!
May 7, 2018 @ 12:07 pm
This essay is a doozie. Thank you for writing it, and I’m sorry you had to write it. <3.
May 7, 2018 @ 12:11 pm
This would be a fine essay in any circumstances. In the specific circumstances it’s particularly good, and I appreciated the delicate balance involved in critiquing the show while having to also deal (interestingly, as it happens) with all the background shit.
I particularly liked the comparison of Roberts and Morrissey, having recently wrestled a little with whether I want to listen to his music (Morrissey’s, not Roberts’s), and come to the conclusion that the Smiths is OK, but anything after that is not worth holding my nose for anyway. Or, to put it another way, the Smiths isn’t just Morrissey, in the same way as the Roberts episodes of Doctor Who aren’t just Roberts.
May 7, 2018 @ 12:14 pm
Looking at my published comment, I worry that ‘background shit’ may be taken in a way I don’t intend. So I’ll clarify: I mean Roberts politics, and his (and Hickman’s) behaviour towards you.
May 7, 2018 @ 7:32 pm
Ooh, the Morrissey thing accidentally got tricky for me a few months ago. I hadn’t listened to any of his solo stuff for ages, and listened to 2017’s ‘Low in High School’ precisely because all his bad public choices made me curious what sort of shitshow it would be. And … it’s my favorite album of his career.
I do for one thing mean that musically. But more to the point, it’s very political, and it makes critiques (of war, of the corporate media, of the tendency to reduce entire countries to the decisions made by their government) that I’m inclined to identify as brave, well-phrased, and left-wing. We know for a fact that he’s UKIP, and there’s a couple of songs that allow ugly subtexts because we know that (and the subtexts are, one assumes, intended) … but there’s nothing one has to dislike, and a lot to applaud vigorously.
Except the public character of the man who wrote the songs. Which is very bad indeed.
May 7, 2018 @ 11:54 pm
Damn. I’m going to have to give that a listen now…
May 7, 2018 @ 12:53 pm
I am really sorry you had to write this and deal with this, Elizabeth. But we are all the better for it – this is top-notch level Eruditorum, full of honesty and bravery and insight, and like the best of your writing it makes the world better by its presence. It’s good to have the Eruditorum back. Long may it continue.
May 7, 2018 @ 1:15 pm
I’m sorry you had to go through all that crap. Thanks for the essay.
May 7, 2018 @ 2:16 pm
Oh, and that bitter, multi-layered caption joke is just awesome.
May 7, 2018 @ 2:28 pm
Austin G Loomis
May 7, 2018 @ 2:32 pm
Ultimately, there was no level of “being fine with it” that proved acceptable to Gareth and Clayton short of expressing no objections to it whatsoever. This is, of course, a familiar tactic on the right. It’s the same logic that says that Anita Sarkeesian criticizing video games on feminist grounds constitutes an attempt to censor them. It’s the logic that lets Kevin Williamson take to the Wall Street Journal and say that he’s being silenced because there are places that don’t want to hire him given his belief that women who get abortions should be executed. It’s the pathetic, thin-skinned lie that says that any pushback whatsoever against them is a restriction of free speech even as they spew far worse at the people they don’t like while repeatedly turning a blind eye to actual governmental efforts to censor them. Because when it comes to criticizing bigotry, somehow nothing is ever mild and reasonable enough.
Abraham Lincoln was calling their spiritual ancestors out for it even as a candidate (link under my name):
The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. […] The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us. […] They will continue to accuse us of doing, until we cease saying.
(There was going to be some waffle about how “I don’t have to be the guy that calls out everything. Indeed, I can’t be” was, like all statements, true in some sense, false in some sense, and meaningless in some sense, as related to you being any sort of guy, but I couldn’t get it to feel not condescending, nor like me getting in your lane.)
May 7, 2018 @ 2:45 pm
I could indeed use to be better about gendered language. 🙂
May 9, 2018 @ 4:40 pm
This is where the blog and I briefly intersect, because I was at university with Gareth. He was in the year above me, and we hung out a bit, shared a few beers, sci-fi club, you know the kind of thing. I vividly remember congratulating him on the publication of The Highest Science (in part because I did it stuck in a traffic jam when he wandered past my car).
The thing is, he’s always been a kind of an arse and somewhat up himself, so his slide (now more of a plummet) to the right doesn’t come as a surprise to me in the slightest. It’s always been Prole’s Heresy that actually he’s not a very good TV Doctor Who writer at all – The Shakespeare Code is one of my very least favourite episodes, I loathe The Unicorn And The Wasp, and slightly prefer Closing Time to The Lodger, which puts me a bit out of synch with normal opinions. And The Caretaker is at best shrugs
“Roberts’s entire universe is middle class Britain. And that’s always been fairly evident about him. Indeed, I suspect it’s essentially at the heart of his toxic politics”
I would, however, like to point out the old saw about correlation not implying causation. I come from the same middle-class, middle-Britain (Scottish, not English, but still), middle income, middle of the road background, as evinced by the fact that Gareth and I ended up at the same university together and I’m an old leftie, socialist, trans-loving, queer, gay, pro-EU, Muslim-embracing, immigrant-loving weirdo. One thing does not inextricably lead to the other. So I fear we must conclude that Gareth’s toxic, repellant politics are entirely his – we can’t use his background as an excuse to explain or justify them.
May 9, 2018 @ 5:04 pm
To be clear, I wasn’t blaming his background; I was saying that his world and interests do not extend further than middle class Britain. That’s what I meant by “entire universe.”
May 10, 2018 @ 2:24 pm
May 7, 2018 @ 3:30 pm
I’m absolutely sure you’ve exhausted all your “writing about Gareth Roberts’ energy (and justly so) but I am curious about where Roberts’ shittiness leaves your feelings about the Sarah Jane Adventures, which is probably the corner of Who in which Roberts was most able to escape his pigeonhole and also most able to exert influence on the show around him. I personally wind up feeling conflicted, because as you say his bigotry doesn’t leak into his writing, but the idea of a kids show about marginalization and the importance for solidarity with those different from us being written by an open bigot disgusts me.
As for the Caretaker, I really loved it the first time around, but the way the Doctor and Danny act here is genuinely troublesome (something I didn’t really pick up on until I heard Verity’s take on it). Roberts does a slightly better job of writing for 12 than Gatiss, but falls into the same trap of making the Doctor pissy and obnoxious rather than brusque and aloof.
Also, this is an amazing essay – an Eruditorum top five for me.
May 7, 2018 @ 3:43 pm
One of the many retrospectively unfortunate things about Roberts’ writing on SJA was including a reference to Mumsnet in his final broadcast script, given that site has also become know for transphobia in recent years.
Overall, fantastic essay.
May 7, 2018 @ 3:50 pm
I note in passing that this and Robot of Sherwood have the same director, Paul Murphy. That’s the only Doctor Who work he’s done. I don’t know how El thinks he measures up against Mackinnon, but I think the palette in this one defaults to dark far too often for a comedy.
May 10, 2018 @ 4:02 pm
I’ve been holding off commenting on this article because everything that can be said has been, but I can’t resist critcizing SJA.
It’s not that it’s a bad show, but Roberts’ sensibilities don’t create compulsive viewing. It’s nice. Just nice. After the departure of Maria, it sort of becomes devoid of larger character work, creating, for example, the issues discussed in El’s “Mad Woman in the Attic” piece. He likes a middle class, amiable, lightweight universe. It’s enjoyable from story to story, I confess, but SJA shows it’s not sustainable, I think.
No wonder The Caretaker was his breaking point with the show. Clara is too interesting a character for his approach.
May 7, 2018 @ 5:44 pm
This is one of the best posts you’ve done, and I’m sorry it was necessary.
As for The Caretaker, apart from Danny’s critique of the Doctor all I can remember is seeing the Skovox Blitzer toy in shops like they were trying to make it a less-weird version of the Quarks, which feels like it says something.
May 7, 2018 @ 6:24 pm
Unlike Mx_Mond, I didn’t actually stop watching Doctor Who after “the Caretaker” (for awhile), but I almost did. It wasn’t just that Capaldi was being written as a “cranky asshole”, but more specifically that, from “Robot of Sherwood” on, he was being written as curt and dismissive, regularly refusing sincere offers of help. For me, that was the line where he was no longer The Doctor.
For all that people talk down Colin Baker’s Doctor as breaking the character, he was an idealist: he actively sought out injustices to rectify in a way Pertwee/ Tom/ Davison’s Doctors didn’t, and always bright-eyed treated every stranger as a potential ally waiting to happen, even if they were on the opposing side for now. That, it turned out, was the essence of the character to me. Capaldi’s Doctor berating this harmless black schoolteacher was closer to literally intolerable than a show this dear to me should ever get.
Then “Kill the Moon” convinced me to stay around just a bit longer, and then came a series of brilliant episodes. And they stopped writing Capaldi as judgmental and hostile. Arrogant and rude while in the process of team-building, that was never a problem for me.
May 7, 2018 @ 7:04 pm
Thank you for this, Elizabeth. I don’t know what to say. “Wonderful essay” don’t feel right. It’s not wonderful. It’s tough, and honest, and painful, it couldn’t and shouldn’t be any of the words I use to describe your writing normally. But it was necessary, and I have so much admiration for you after reading it. It says everything about Roberts I’ve been feeling but failing to express for several years, and I hope it goes down as the definitive take on his work (and character) for years to come.
There’s just one thing I wanted to pick up on. I feel awful, picking this apart when you probably just want to leave the subject alone, but I do think it’s a point worth making.
Gareth Roberts really loved Series Ten. Specifically, he loved the way the Doctor was characterised from The Pilot through to the end of the series. I’m sure you’re aware of that already. But he took to Twitter a fair few times to comment on how episodes like Pilot, Smile, and Thin Ice were, supposedly, closer to how he’d originally written the Twelfth Doctor in The Caretaker, and how frustrated he was with Moffat for rewriting it into a different sort of story with a different sort of lead.
All of which I find profoundly interesting. I don’t think there was space in your essay for such a lengthy discussion about the authorship of this story, but I do think it’s worth me mentioning, as a footnote, that The Caretaker’s strangeness is probably entirely down to Moffat. By the sounds of it — and obviously I’m sceptical about trusting Roberts’ Twitter as a source of valid claims about reality — Roberts basically wrote the sort of “comic strip” story which The Lodger and Closing Time were, and it was probably even closer to his Smith era contributions than the finished product. Then Moffat came along and demanded/completed a rewrite in which the PE teacher jokes were added in, the conflict was turned up a notch, and the Doctor was an arse. And Roberts wasn’t happy about that.
So really, I think he was given a chance to write outside of his niche, in a sense. At least, he was given a chance to write his usual romp but subvert the structure in time for Act II. And he didn’t.
All of which said, The Caretaker is my favourite Roberts episode, for those very reasons. It’s the point at which it becomes blatantly obvious that this guy has contributed his lot to Doctor Who, and Moffat swoops in and rewrites the second half with a flawed sort of brilliance. It’s the Gareth Roberts episode which breaks.
May 7, 2018 @ 7:17 pm
At the time, Clayton griped about Roberts having had to share the credit given that it was basically all him with Moffat just contributing the Doctor/Danny stuff that would set up the rest of the season.
May 7, 2018 @ 7:24 pm
Huh, weird. What’s your thinking on Roberts’ comments then? That he just decided that he should have written a story more like The Pilot and pretended that he did? It’s childish, but not entirely surprising.
May 7, 2018 @ 7:33 pm
Charitably? The memory cheats. Or perhaps he expressed interest in doing something like that only to be pigeonholed. But I don’t think the cranky Doctor was a product of Moffat, just because it’s so different from how the Doctor is cranky in any of the other six Moffat-penned scripts this season.
May 7, 2018 @ 7:43 pm
Of course, the abusive sort of crankiness that distinguishes The Caretaker from the rest of the season really shows up in the Danny/Twelve interactions, and from what I can recall, the only other episodes to feature the two directly interacting are In the Forest of the Night (not a co-write credit, if I recall correctly) and Death in Heaven (where the PE teacher jokes are muted in favour of not speaking ill of the [walking] dead).
So it could just be that there’s a significant difference between how Moffat writes Twelve’s everyday interactions and how he writes Twelve’s interactions with Danny. But then, that seems uncharitable to Moffat. I suppose we’ll never know. I highly doubt that Moffat will talk about the episode again, and I highly doubt that Roberts will ever be entirely truthful about it.
May 7, 2018 @ 7:38 pm
A couple more specific examples, if they help to clarify. It’s… a weird one.
“I had internal kittens about how he treated Clara in Caretaker. Manipulative, controlling bad man. And I’m Gareth Roberts.”
On showrunners rewriting his episodes: “Very little changed in any of mine til The Caretaker – which showed.”
And there was definitely a comment somewhere about how the Doctor had originally been written as the cuddlier, friendlier mentor-figure Bill meets in The Pilot.
I guess he decided that the experimental parts didn’t work later down the line, and disavowed himself of all responsibility. Either that, or Clayton Hickman is just a liar, which is also perfectly feasible.
May 7, 2018 @ 7:10 pm
Anything else worth saying was either in the essay itself or has been covered above by other commenters, but one thing I haven’t seen yet from other commenters is “Its gender really is basically attack helicopter” is absolutely fantastic. Fucking bravo, Elizabeth
May 7, 2018 @ 7:15 pm
You’ll appreciate that I double checked the transcript to make sure it wasn’t gendered.
May 7, 2018 @ 10:05 pm
Just brilliant, thank you El, thank you for being so willing to be open with the Eruditorum and delivering a brilliant piece of writing. So sorry you have had to experience what you did by Roberts, especially when you did.
Since the review you wrote at the time of the episode’s airing, I have felt unhappy about some of the comments I wrote in response to the piece then. Even though I come a totally working class experience in Scotland, that was unlike the middle class world in Roberts’ episodes, it was a fairly narrow cultural experience, and one that was governed by a push that my parents had to drive us very much into an acquisition-based middle class image.
I just want to say that I can see my narrow thinking there, in 2014 and I feel I have grown (I hope I have!) because of writers and thinkers such as yourself El, and the others on this site, and I want to say thank you.
May 7, 2018 @ 10:11 pm
And just to add – I think this episode is a toxic piece of crap.
May 8, 2018 @ 1:49 am
Been reading this for years and love your work. Just wondering, though (and don’t want to appear an apologist for Roberts whose politics I generally abhor), but perhaps, as a man of his generation, he was using the tern “tranny” to refer to “drag queen.” As a person of similar generational origins, they were once used interchangeably. No excuse for ignorance in 2018, I know, but just a passing thought.
Great piece on a problematic episode by the way.
May 8, 2018 @ 2:33 am
He names the names of three prominent trans women and routinely retweets TERF bullshit. That’s not plausible.
May 8, 2018 @ 2:17 pm
Thanks for pointing that out.
May 8, 2018 @ 2:48 am
You may have a point there, but the sneering, contemptuous tone and reference to “confused gayboys” marks it as a clear example of profound disrespect and insensitivity no matter which group it was aimed at.
El, I’m curious if you’ll be revising any of the Roberts material for the reprinted and future volumes, or just omitting some of them entirely? (I wouldn’t half be surprised to see The Highest Science vanish from Vol. 7 along with some of the Pop Between Realities.) I’m especially interested to see what you do with SJA, a show I still have much affection for…though I imagine, after this essay, that you may want to just not think about it or him right now!
May 8, 2018 @ 2:49 am
Whoops, written before Elizabeth replied! Duly noted about the three woman, by the way.
May 8, 2018 @ 3:39 am
(Knight Commander from Battlefield voice) Magnificent!!!
May 8, 2018 @ 11:15 am
A lot of your essays give me life. The Empty Child essay makes me cry and gives me a sense of optimism, your Mary Whitehouse is dizzying in its love for the freaks and geeks of the world , and your Girl Who Loved Doctor Who essay helps me cope with my feelings about bullies like Roberts. And now, this. I can’t put my reaction into words yet, but I can say that the humanity you put into your writing enlightens me, and thank you.
May 8, 2018 @ 11:24 am
No one seems to have mentioned that the Doctor is basically acting as if he’s jealous of Danny’s relationship with Clara, and has done more or less the same thing with Mickey and Rory.
(As this is my first comment here since discovering your blog a couple of years ago, I just wanted to say thank you for a fabulous series)
May 10, 2018 @ 11:57 am
I did! Sorta, but this episode in particular, I was under the impression that for most of series 8, Twelve and Clara we’re just friends. The moment Danny mentioned that bit about what other way is there, I thought maybe Danny had some issues in terms of love, or in the idea that he, like a certain set of cis males, that anytime a man interacts with a woman in a relationship, the jealous signal flares up.
Should have noticed from “Beat that for a date.”
Of course, by the time “MOTOE” came out, the subtext was text at that point.
May 8, 2018 @ 3:21 pm
May 8, 2018 @ 3:34 pm
Just four letters long, yet still managing to be a perfect self-description.
May 9, 2018 @ 9:20 am
I think I had a go at you on twitter once, pre-coming-out, for choosing to say something nice about Gareth Roberts when you could have ignored him. You probably don’t remember this at all and give precisely zero fucks. Knowing how difficult and conflicted you were has given me pause to reflect on the fact that I really have no fucking clue what someone might be going through and if I generally trust their instincts I should probably shut up. Sorry, El!
May 9, 2018 @ 9:27 am
As for the episode itself, pretty gross. I wasn’t aware of Gareth Roberts’s political inclinations at this point. I just found the Danny/Doctor/Clara dynamic really disturbing.
The design and movement of the Skovox Blitzer also doesn’t work at all- the way its feet don’t seem to connect with the floor and it moves on wheels kinda looks SJA cheap. No offence to the people who created and designed it, there were probably massive time/budget constraints involved.
Also saving the flip thing Danny does at one point is just really crap.
TuckerDoctor was always a bad/obvious choice, but it actually worked in Into the Dalek. Here it just makes watching the episode really unpleasant.
May 9, 2018 @ 9:34 am
ignore “saving” on the Danny point there
May 10, 2018 @ 2:28 am
It’s always troubling separating the artist from the work. I love the film version of Rosemary’s Baby but of course some of things we know about Polanski through the media and news are dispiriting to say the least. As for Woody Allen, I can’t look at his movies anymore because he’s too much of a visible presence ( even when not acting in them). You had a friendship with Gareth Roberts and he turned out to have some very misinformed and wrong views ( something of which I was not aware of until recently). I think what you wrote was brave, informed, balanced and fair. And as a follower of your blog for the last few years I’d like to say you’re great. Will you be doing another podcast soon? I loved your last one on the Wilderness Years. Have a great week! Rob
May 10, 2018 @ 5:31 am
There’ll be some episode commentaries with Jack in the near-ish future, and I’ll probably do podcasts for Series 11, but for the most part I am pretty spectacularly unhappy with my voice as it stands and inclined to avoid that sort of thing for a bit.
May 10, 2018 @ 5:39 pm
An eloquent and heartfelt piece, Elizabeth, thank you.
As a relative newcomer (old enough to remember the Paisley, but after the Eruditoum originally ended, having heard of it from a mention on Wife in Space if memory serves), I’ve been looking at El’s posts outside the Eruditoum recently, and yesterday I got onto her review of Oxygen.
I think I’m going to have to revise my position on the gun/frock debate. I’ve always been heavily pro-frock, seeing it as representing anarchic, counter-cultural thinking, whereas I tended to see gun as pro-establishment and closed-minded. Not that I couldn’t enjoy gun stories, mind, just that I was a little embarrassed about doing so.
But, with Oxygen, we have a gun story that is quite thrillingly left-wing and hits the establishment where it hurts. Meanwhile, the ultimate frock writer, the one who coined the term, no less, turns out to be a hateful narrow-minded reactionary.
While I don’t think this means I was exactly wrong in the past, it does suggest to me that the boundary I drew between frock and gun wasn’t in quite the right place. Maybe frock is capable of bigotry. Perhaps gun can be open and carefree.
My position is up in the air at the moment, and I don’t know where it will settle. But I think I’ll be able to enjoy gun with a little less embarrassment in future. More gun, less frock? Maybe not. But, then again, maybe just a little.
May 14, 2018 @ 8:13 am
I think what it is, is that there’s a certain, popular way of doing things within sci-fi (see the Mind of Evil eruditorum entry for a good description) which is both reactionary and very gun. But that’s not the only way of doing gun stories.
May 15, 2018 @ 11:32 am
If I understand the term correctly, gun is about very serious (gritty, one could say) stories that feature more violence than frocky ones.
Regardless of what one thinks about it (and personally I have very mixed feelings), violence can be and sometimes is used as a leftist tool of resistance or revolution. So there is definitely space to use gun aspects in left-leaning stories.
May 10, 2018 @ 7:19 pm
I wanted to like this episode, but the really unpleasant Doctor-Danny relationship soured it for me. I have no idea where this ‘anti-soldier’ thing springs from, it feels so forced and fake.
I also really wanted to like Danny, but I didn’t. On reflection, I think it’s because he’s basically a character who hates Doctor Who and finds no wonder or joy in the universe, and at the same time the show wants us to side with him at times.
May 10, 2018 @ 8:52 pm
It’s really hard to write as a sympathetic character someone whose basic motivation is ‘the sensible thing is not to have dangerous adventures in the TARDIS/ become a costumed vigilante/ get into making crystal meth as a form of life insurance policy’. As El would say, the character’s whole motivation is to bring about a narrative collapse – if they get what they want there’s no more story. And even if they’re right, especially if they’re right, that puts them squarely and directly in conflict with the audience who want there to be more story. It’s a hard position for any character to recover from.
May 11, 2018 @ 9:51 am
Agreed 100%. I aggressively disliked Danny Pink from this episode onward because he reminded me of everyone I’ve ever met who told me that Doctor Who (the series) was silly and immature and that one day I’d grow up and lose interest in it.
Also, did anyone else LOL at the end when Danny defeated the Skovox McGuffin by doing a triple-backflip over it? No wonder the Doctor thought he was the PE teacher!
May 12, 2018 @ 11:03 am
That is an excellent point, thank you! Now I can finally understand why some characters just seem to grind everyone’s gears no matter what they do.
As for Danny, I never really cared that much for him. There was just not enough character for me there and I don’t think he and Clara ever worked. The actors did a really good job of making me care when he died but I still couldn’t help but wonder how much we would be bawling our eyes out had it been Amy and Rory.
John G. Wood
May 10, 2018 @ 9:00 pm
Well, that was powerful, and hard to read (though not, I am sure, as hard as it was to write). I’ve only been vaguely aware of Gareth Roberts’ political stance, and never seen any quotes from him in this vein before. I am going to have trouble separating that from his work (much of which I have loved, though not particularly The Caretaker).
It’s only a small gesture of support, but I have edited my old blog posts and believe they now all refer to you by your proper name and pronoun (if I’ve missed any I’ll correct them as I spot them). All the best.
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