Fighting with the Sky

Doctor Who?

Posted on: November 9, 2009

tenth-doctor-who-785475I’ve recently started watching the British television series Doctor WhoDoctor Who originally ran from 1963 to 1989 as the longest running science-fiction show in the world.  It was revived in 2005 — I have been watching the revival.  I have not made it all the way through — I spent most of my weekend off from work catching up on the show and have made it to the beginning of season 3.  The show stars both Christopher Eccleston (season 1) and David Tennant (seasons 2+) as The Doctor, a mysterious Time Lord who travels through space and time with a companion defeating evil, usually of an extraterrestrial kind.  Rose Tyler was his companion for the first two seasons, and now, in the third season (where I am), Martha Jones is his companion after Rose got trapped in a parallel universe.

He travels in his spaceship, the TARDIS, which “disguises” itself as a 1950s police box.  The show takes us back in history to visit William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Queen Victoria; forward in time to witness the destruction of Earth and the creation of New Earth; and to alien planets where their lives are frequently threatened.

As I was spending most of my weekend watching this show, I kept thinking that I should write a post about Doctor Who.  But I didn’t really know what to write about.  I’m a sucker for sci-fi and for history, so this show has a great combination of both of these…not to mention British accents and cute men.  But I didn’t really know what to talk about besides from that.

I can’t say that I see the show as being particularly feminist.  The Doctor is the one who does everything, his companion (who is always — as far as I can tell — a woman, an attractive, young woman at that) is really just along for the ride.  Sure, Rose helped out a good deal, but she was usually the one that needed rescuing by The Doctor.  I can only think of one time, off the top of my head, that Rose actually saved The Doctor (I’m not far enough along in the episodes with Martha to know if she ever saves him).  I don’t think it would make The Doctor any less credible if he needed rescuing every once in a while.  They encounter societies, both in history and alien, that are incredible misogynistic.

Despite the fact that I wouldn’t classify the show as feminist, it is still greatly entertaining.  The dialogue is a great combination of history, sci-fi, and wit.  Of course, I don’t always get the cultural references as it is a British show and I live in the United States.  When David Tennant was first introduced as The Doctor (he can regenerate when he is close to death — his appearance changes, but he has all of the same memories), I was a little weary.  He seemed a little too goofy.  Christopher Eccleston had his goofy moments, but his demeanor was pretty serious.  David Tennant, on the other hand, tended to be goofy overall, but serious when he needed to be.  But as I made it through the second season, Tennant started to grow on me.  I’m enjoying his take on The Doctor now.  The relationship/love between Rose and The Doctor is more believable, for some reason, with this Doctor.  I could see it with Christopher Eccleston, but for some reason, it’s just more believable with Tennant.

Speaking of that, one thing that I don’t really like is that The Doctor and his companion always seem to fall in love.  I guess it helps if The Doctor is always a heterosexual man and the companion is always a heterosexual female, but it’s kind of annoying.  It’s very obvious that Rose and The Doctor were in love, there’s no question about that.  We are also introduced to one of The Doctor’s previous companions, Sarah Jane, and it is also pretty obvious that they either had a romantic relationship or were at least in love with each other.  Maybe it’s just such an intense relationship — seeing all that incredible stuff and traveling through space and time together — that makes them always fall in love.

Or maybe, it’s the fact that The Doctor always takes such a protective role regarding his companion.  It’s nice that he never leaves her behind and always rescues her, but his protectiveness gets a little out of control at times.  Even with the recent introduction as Martha as The Doctor’s companion, we can see that there is definitely the potential for a romantic relationship because of the intense protectiveness that we can see in The Doctor.  But what would a show be without sexual tension?

Overall, I think that this show is definitely worth a watch (just a helpful hint, it’s all available to watch online through Netflix), especially if you are a sci-fi fan.  But despite the emphasis on aliens, there is something about the show that I think would appeal to people who aren’t sci-fi fans.  It’s all about imagination and what might be possible.  It’s about morals, good triumphing over evil, and what it means to alter the course of history.  I’ll probably work up a more deeper analysis for when I catch up with the series, so keep an eye out!

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9 Responses to "Doctor Who?"

From what I’ve read about the old series, there usually wasn’t a romantic element to the Doctor and his companions. I think Sarah Jane was the exception to the rule. I was annoyed that Martha showed feelings for him, because while I completely bought Rose and the Doctor being in love (I thought there was such warmth and respect between them), I didn’t want a rinse-and-repeat with Martha. What I DO like about Martha is that the Doctor is always complimenting her on her brains. He really seems to appreciate her intelligence.

The next episode I have to watch is the season 3 episode Blink, which is considered one of the highlights of the whole series, I can’t wait.

Yeah, I think you’ll find that the dynamic with the Doctor saving/talking down to/whatever the female companion is much more heightened in the old series: the relationship between Rose and the Doctor was considered a breath of fresh air! I think you’ll like Donna in series 4 if the stuff with Rose and Martha is annoying you. And what Brooke said re: romance. Oh and Blink is soooo scary but fantastic!

Anyway, there is so much to analyse in Doctor Who! Here’s a post from Crimitism you might want to read. And there’s so much ableism (constant villains in wheelchairs!) and some… odd treatment of race (oh, the series 3 finale, RAGE) and all sorts of things.

Do you have a favourite episode so far?

I forgave Doctor Who many of it’s race and gender issues in season 4 with the introduction of new companion Donna. Donna = awesome. (That may count as a spoiler. Sorry).

Then they went and shit all over their bit of feminist growth in the finale. RAGERAGERAGE. When you get there, you will immediately see the problem. Despite these things, it is still a very entertaining show – and not as problematic as other (ahem Heroes).

Have you seen Torchwood? I don’t recommend season 1 (at all), but it is a scifi show with a bisexual action hero as the leading man. That’s 15 different kinds of awesome. The latest season was brutal (in an amazing way) and I highly recommend watching it. Hard to think of the Whoniverse as fluff after that.

Oh, Donna changes a fair bit by Series 4. And things improve with Martha too (if only right at the end!). You’ve got so much to look forward to! 🙂

I found series 4 rather wearing- I still find Donna annoying.

Earlier this year and last year when they were looking for a new Doctor for the next series, there was a hope that he might regenerate as a woman or as a person of colour, although predictably we got yet another white male 😦

Not that that’ll stop me watching the new series when it starts this weekend!

(here via Feministe shameless self-promotion)

I was curious that you considered the relationships that the Doctor had with both companions as being “romantic”. Certainly in the original series, his role always appeared to be more parental than romantic, and I think the protectiveness you comment on comes from that more than anything else. That said, the development of the Tennant-Doctor and Rose’s relationship did take a turn for the romantic. In the original series, the only exception was Romana (second incarnation) who was a Timelady and therefore the Doctor’s equal (it helped that the flirting between the characters was echoed by a sexual relationship between the lead actors at the time)

The absence of romantic engagements is one reason why gay Who fans think there are so many in their ranks (it was discussed between themselves on the usenet newsgroups fairly frequently): with a hero who wasn’t snogging every attractive female every episode, it’s theorised that it was a much more acceptable and safe archetype for gay men to aspire to. Russell T Davies, the person responsible for the revival series, is openly gay as well, and the character of Captain Harkness created in season 1 (the lead character in Torchwood mentioned above) and one or two other references seem to be influenced by that.

I agree that the now-accepted formula of “Doctor + 1 female companion” is implicitly sexist, and sometimes it would be nice to see more male companions and more of the “family-group” feel that some of the earlier episodes of the original series went for. Although at various points during the original series they made attempts to give the female lead more agency (characters that spring to mind are Liz Shaw, scientist; Leela, confident warrior-woman; Romana, Timelady; Ace, troubled teenager with mad chemistry skillz and maker of explosives) the format of the show pretty much requires that the Doctor with his pseudo-magical powers ends up saving the day, so it’s fairly limited in its scope otherwise.

@ Jaqueline Russel: every time there’s talk of a new Doctor, there seems to be lots of talk about the Doctor making one or both of those changes. A couple of comedy spoofs have actually done it, to varying degrees of effectiveness – see Joanna Lumley in “The Curse of Fatal Death”, and on the same DVD they offer Lenny Henry’s version (classic line from Lenny Henry: companion: “You’re… you’re… b-” Doctor (interrupting): “Bald! I know!” – Lenny Henry being a Black comedian who rose to fame in the UK in the 1980s)

I’d stop watching if I were you, at least until you’ve actually seen the classic series. For the record I would call the classic series feminist either, but the new one just turns my stomach. I can’t find one non-stereotypical female character. Or a non-stereotypical bi/gay person for that matter.

Sarah-Jane Smith was not romantically involved with the Doctor, but I do think they regarded each other with a good deal of affection. The Sarah-Jane of the new series is not one I recognise, and I doubt she would have pined for him in the way that is implied she has been. Certainly someone who shows you such wonders would be hard to forget, but I always thought she’d have taken away the memories and written some allegedly fictional stories based on her experiences. She is a journalist after all.

By the way without spoiling anything for you, I fear you maybe horribly disappointed with the way the four season ends.

“the relationship between Rose and the Doctor was considered a breath of fresh air!”

Actually I remember a bunch of buzz about how Rose was going to be new! different! and when I saw it, I was like “um, when does that start?”

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