Monday, July 17, 2006

Doctor Who -- Notes

1: 'Camp'
The word 'camp' means 'a gay man affecting effeminate mannerisms' and 'ironic self-awareness; enjoying a dramatic work because of its faults.' Not sure if the two meanings are linked: is there a lot of effeminacy in camp drama, or do effeminate men have a tendency to send themselves up?

Doctor Who has sometimes been 'camp': a lot of fans enjoy watching the bad old stories just because they are so bad; and in the later Tom Baker stories you sometimes feel that the cast are deliberately camping it up. And at least since John Nathan-Turner, there has been no shortage of Doctor Who fans who are themselves camp. Before it was discovered that they were all asexual, fandom accepted and even embraced the stereotype of the gay Doctor Who fan. And the stereotype was sufficiently recognisable in the gay community that it was used in Queer as Folk. (Can't remember who wrote that.)

I am not completely sure where the link comes from. I wonder if it started out as pure theatrical camp: most luvvies sometimes 'did' Doctor Who, just like they 'did' panto? Or is it just that the dandyish / bohemian clothes fit in with a certain kind of gay aesthetic?

There's never really been a tradition of Doctor Who slash. There are very few successful parodies of Doctor Who either. Star Trek is so po-faced that imagining Kirk slipping on a banana skin or giving Spock a good rogering presents a challenge. Who porn and Who slash could be quite hard to distinguish from actual Who. 'Curse of the Fatal Death', which largely consisted of fart jokes, might be considered slash since it ended up with the Doctor going off arm-in-arm with the Master. How did fans react to it? By arguing about whether or not it was canon.

If you insist on sexualising the Doctor, then it makes sense to think of him as a rather repressed gay man: a succession of close friendships with much younger women would seem rather sordid, not to say paedophilic, if he was straight. Maybe we are now supposed to believe that all of his previous 'companions' were more or less girl-friends; but frankly, if you can ret-con it so that Doctor Patrick was screwing Zoe, then you can ret-con anything, and there is no real point in pretending that the programme we're discussing has anything to do with Doctor Who.

So I wonder if the gay sub-text in the new series is another example of RTDs self-consciousness? Fans have sometimes speculated that the Doctor might be gay so the idea that the Doctor might be gay has to be alluded to within the series itself. If this is right, then the series has become camp because it has become camp...

2: Sci-fi

Doctor Who
has in the past done a lot of pretty straight sci-fi – galactic empires and ray guns ('Frontier in Space') generation starships ('The Ark', 'The Ark in Space') and more flying saucers and aliens invading the earth then you can shake a magnetic core at. It has also done a lot of gothic with a paper-thin sci-fi gloss ('Daemons', 'Horror of Fang Rock'); not to mention swashbuckling with a science fiction gloss ('Androids of Tara') and fantasy with a science fiction gloss ('Keeper of Traken'). And it has also done straight, unapologetic fantasy ('Celestial Toymaker' or 'Mind Robber'.) There have been attempts to do Proper Science Fiction – in their different ways 'The Space Pirates', 'Logopolis' and 'Kinda' might all have been in that category. But they were atypical and not necessarily successful.

I very much take the point that the alien-which-sucks-you-in-to-the-TV-screen and the alien-which-sucks-you-into-the-child's-paintings are demons, working according to a metaphorical logic. This kind of monster has only rarely appeared in Doctor Who in the past: it's more what I associate with Sapphire and Steel. But there is no mismatch between 'magical' creatures of this kind and the concept of Doctor Who.

My problem isn't that they are demons; nor that the sci-fi justification for them is weak. It's that the script writers can't be bothered to set the ground rules. I don't need the television monster to be explained with scientific accuracy: I would quite like to know what its powers and weaknesses are supposed to be.

Remember 'Curse of Fenric'? The monsters were mutants from the future that drunk human blood. In case you missed the point, they landed at Whitby. At some point, Ace says 'Can you really use a cross to repel a vampire?' and the Doctor says 'It's not the cross which bothers them: but human faith sets up a psychic barrier they can't get past.' Pure gobbledegook, but it established a rule, and they stuck to the rule for the rest of the story. The communist repels the vampire with his hammer and sickle; the wet vicar fails to repel one with a cross; and Ace nearly spoils the Doctor's plan because the psychic barrier created by her faith in him is so strong.

Internal logic. Is it too much to ask?

3: Race
Micky is a person with dark coloured skin who lives in a part of London where lots of people with dark coloured skin live. His accent is also the kind of accent which dark skinned people from that part of London sometimes have. It would have been quite silly if Rose didn't have any black neighbours. The fact that, in episode 1, he is a bit of an idiot; and the fact that he is dating Rose, who happens to have light coloured skin, is neither here nor there. They were just two characters. I don't think any element of any story would have been any different if Mickey had been white and Rose had been black, or if they had both been black, or if they had both been white. That is why diversity quotas for dramas are a silly idea.

Maybe a hypersensitive person could have said that it was a mistake that at the end of the first episode, Mickey was (arguably) represented as ape-like. But I'm inclined to say that we've been through racism and come out the other side and that although this is the kind of joke which could have been made in such a way as to be very offensive indeed, it wasn't meant in that way, so no-one took it in that way.

Is it true that people only enjoy TV shows if some of the main characters look like them? Will a person with dark coloured skin be unable to enjoy 'Robin Hood' unless someone invents an Afro-Saxon outlaw?

I thought that the President of England was a bit of a clich̩ Рthe wise, patrician statesman with just a trace of his Jamaican accent. I can't think of another example off hand, but I still think it's a bit of a clich̩. Captain Zac, (not to be confused with Captain Jack or indeed Captain Jack) on the other hand, was a character who I really liked and believed in for the whole story. I'd like to see more of him. But it was still striking that someone had said in both stories 'The highest status character ought to be the one with dark coloured skin, so that no-one can accuse us of being patronising.'

I have no doubt whatsoever that when Tennant decides he has had enough, the TARDIS will be occupied by a Doctor of colour. By itself, a second regeneration won't be very exciting: there's a danger that the show-biz pages will just say 'They are changing the lead actor yet again in a last ditch attempt to save that series which isn't as good as it used to be.' To get the tabloids onside, Davies will have to do something unexpected -- and that means either a female Doctor or a black Doctor. But the Daviesite dynamic wouldn't survive a gender reversal; the audience understands that Doctor Who is about an Unattainable Hero and Ordinary Girl. Unattainable Heroine and Ordinary Boy would appeal to a quite different audience. So the headline grabber has to be 'POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GOES MAD IN THE TARDIS: NOW DOCTOR WHO IS BLACK.'

I don't actually think the situation will arise. I imagine the BBC will renew the series as far as the fifth season, but not for a sixth; and that Tennant will stick around for the duration. But I've been wrong before. Frequently.

Did you know that when the series was first on the rocks, JNT had a meeting with Sydney Newman (please don't anybody say 'Who's Sydney Newman?') to talk about how he would revitalise the series. Newman said
1: Less sci-fi
2: Do a story in which everyone gets shrunk down really, really small
3: Turn the Doctor into a woman.


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