An Ugly ‘Doctor Who’ Confession, or It Sucks to be Wrong but Sometimes we Suck

Note: This is an update and expansion of a short essay that I originally posted on Facebook and Tumblr.


The casting of Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor, despite ex-showrunner Steven Moffat’s claim that there has been no backlash, seems to have triggered a bit of a backlash among a seemingly small but definitely vocal group of fans.

Ugly Doctor Who confession: I can sympathize with some of those who are disappointed by the Jodie Whittaker casting.

Caveat: I cannot remotely sympathize with those who express their disappointment through spiteful, sexist, or misogynistic language, because their opinions are ugly and misguided and driven by nothing but irrational hate or fear. If you are one of those fans who claim that Doctor Who is dead, that hope the show gets cancelled, that call a female Doctor an abomination, a disgrace, vile, or evil (all terms I’ve seen used more than once), then I would ask you to reflect on why exactly you are so angry over something as innocuous as a change to a tv show, no matter how important said tv show is to you.

But those fans who are questioning the casting of a woman, expressing disappointment, claiming that they are not sexist for their views but simply upset for other reasons…? Well, a few years ago I was one of those fans. The topic of a female Doctor would come up, and I would get defensive of my beloved show. A character who has always been male suddenly becoming a woman? Eh… no thanks. Something about an established, iconic male character suddently becoming a woman didn’t feel right to me. I would couch my discomfort in terms of “too drastic of a change,” or “some tradition should be maintained,” or “there are plenty of strong female characters already,” or even “if we want strong female leads we need to create new characters, not change existing ones.” I’m sure most of you are all too familiar with the litany of arguments for why the Doctor should… never… become… a… woman.

But then Missy happened; the Master, the Doctor’s arch-nemesis, who had alwas been a man, was now a woman. And she was not simply the same male character in the body of a woman. No, she was fully and brazenly presented as female, and she was brilliant, and she was so completely realized, and was portrayed with such charisma, and was such a fresh take on the Master while still blatantly being the same character, that I fell in love with her and Michelle Gomez almost immediately.

And I kept seeing my two youngest children, a boy and a girl, become excited over every gender-changing update to favorite franchises (my boy adores the new Ghostbusters), or falling in love with cool female heroes like Supergirl or Rey.

So even before the casting of Whittaker I was on board for a female Doctor; my daughter’s excitement when she heard the announcement was just icing on the cake at that point.

But the thing is, it shouldn’t have taken exposure to Missy, and to all-female castings of classic films, and to my children whole-heartedly embracing what I couldn’t, for me to be cool with Whittaker. I should have been empathetic enough and open-minded enough to listen to other’s reasons for why a female Doctor was a good idea, or why it was important to them, or why representation is so vital and powerful. Instead of trying to argue that those wishing for a female Doctor were wrong, I should have simply accepted the validity and import of what they were saying. I should have been better than I was.

Because you know what? The only reason why I was against a female Doctor was because I was being sexist. I didn’t feel like I was; I believed in equality, I was pro-woman, I loved strong female characters, I taught my daughters that they were as good as men…

But I was being sexist, because the only reason I didn’t want a female Doctor was for no reason other than she would be a woman. And screw that; that’s not a good enough reason. It’s certainly not a good enough reason when you’re a fan of science fiction that is steeped in progressive politics.

All that said, I do have my qualms with Whittaker’s casting. She’s flat-out gorgeous, and I prefer my Doctors to be more unusual looking and less “traditionally” attractive. I like my Doctors to be highly quirky and charismatic; to be the erratic “absent-minded professor” types. Anything I’ve seen seen Whittaker in calls for her to be rather stoic with punches of intensity, which is not quite the zaniness I prefer. New showrunner Chris Chibnall’s writing on Doctor Who and Torchwood has typically failed to impress me, so I’m not sold on him being the best head writer for the first female Doctor.

But it’s not like I’ve never been wrong before.

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A Sort of ‘Twice Upon a Time’ Review, or The Yin and Yang of Doctor Who, or It’s Not Just Called ‘Twice Upon a Time’ Because it’s a Two Doctor Story

Spoilers of course.

If I was of a mind to, I’m sure I could nitpick Twice Upon a Time to the point where I’ve sucked any sense of joy from it, but what would be the point of that? Well, I suppose the point would be to completely miss the point, so let’s try not to do that. Instead, let’s talk about why Twice Upon a Time is such a lovely farewell to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor.

(Not as lovely as Matt Smith’s farewell Christmas Special four years ago, but still perfectly lovely.)

And I want to start with what was, to me, the most surprising element of the episode, which was the inclusion of Rusty the Dalek. Good old Rusty, the Good Dalek, who made his initial (and until Twice Upon a Time only) appearance in Peter Capaldi’s second episode Into the Dalek.

The concept of a good Dalek has been around since at least 1967 (check out the Second Doctor story The Evil of the Daleks), but it wasn’t until 2005, during the first series of the newly revived Doctor Who, that the phrase “Good Dalek” took on a new, sinister, and not so subtle connotation. In the Ninth Doctor story Dalek, the eponymous character (the sole Dalek survivor of the devastating Time War), in a gripping exchange with the Doctor where the Dalek learns of the Doctor’s genocidal violence and hatred of the Daleks, bluntly admonishes the Doctor “You… would… make… a… good… Dalek.”

The clear implication here is that the Doctor, our brave and funny and wonderful hero, is as full of hate and anger as his most evil and despicable enemies. This is, of course, a comparison that can only be taken so far, since the Doctor is full of wonder for the infinite diversity of life and the universe, and the Daleks want to wipe all diversity from existence, but the point remains that the Doctor’s hate is deep and scary and worthy of note.

This background is very important in order to have the necessary context for understanding Rusty the Good Dalek, because when Rusty first appears in Into the Dalek, it’s in service of revisiting and recontextualizing the original “you would make a good Dalek” moment. To make a long story short, the Doctor attempts to “rehabilitate” an injured Dalek (that would be Rusty) by showing it the beauty of the Universe as seen by the Doctor, but the Dalek sees beneath all that beauty and discovers the Doctor’s intense hatred of the Dalek race. Rusty effectively imprints on this hate, and thus Rusty the Good Dalek is born, and he hatefully glides off to pursue his newfound mission of destroying every Dalek in existence.

But not before leaving the Doctor with this parting shot: “I am not a good Dalek. You are a good Dalek.”

Which is clearly a nod to the original “you would make a good Dalek” criticism of the Doctor’s character, but the implication is now different. What before meant “you would be very good at being a Dalek because you have such hate and are so good at dealing death” now means “you are a morally good Dalek, because though you have hate and are good at dealing death, you are tempered by compassion and try to do good.” In other words, “you would be good at evil” has transitioned to “you are good, not evil.” A rather telling moment, considering that this is still very early in the characterization of the 12th Doctor, when he was still rather caustic and cold and fully in the throes of self-doubt and questioning “am I a good man?” Well, of course you are, you idiot; even a Dalek can see that.

And now we can get back to Twice Upon a Time, where we again meet Rusty, but this time the difference between The Doctor and The Good Dalek is glaringly stark in its contrast.

Rusty the Dalek has sequestered himself away like a miserable hermit, steeped in grotesque ugliness, subsisting on his shriveled core of hate as though its poison were his only sustenance. The Doctor, on the other hand, is now at a point in his development where he is fully espousing a message of kindness and love. Hate driven by hate for hate’s sake versus hate that is a by-product of love and kindness. Two beings that were almost aligned in temperament have taken opposite paths and have now become reversed reflections of each other, highlighting how far the Doctor has transitioned from cold pragmatism and doubt to warmth and wonder.

Emphasizing the 12th Doctor’s transition from his beginning to his ending in this way is so very fitting, because this Christmas Special is all about transitions. The obvious transition is clearly the regeneration from Peter Capaldi to Jodie Whittaker, but the theme of transition runs through the entire episode.

I’ve already talked about Rusty, and how he serves as a foil to show just how much the 12th Doctor has changed, but we also have the transition from life to death as embodied by the Testimony beings, who are thematically about transitioning from one state to another, but more specifically are about mirroring the Doctor’s impending regeneration. The Doctor’s companion Bill makes a return appearance as a Testimony avatar, but she is not really Bill, but instead Bill’s memories, saved who knows how long ago upon the occasion of Bill’s death, prompting this copy of Bill to argue that she is the real Bill, because what is a person if not their memories? Just as the Doctor always faces a drastic transition from one person to another, he is still always the Doctor, just as this Testimony avatar is still really Bill, even though she exists now in a different state.

These Testimony avatars are, of course, made of glass. Looking in the glass, reflections of selves, gazing into the mirror, mirroring the Doctor’s inevitable acceptance of becoming yet another reflection of himself. Thematically speaking, these avatars could not have been constructed of any other material.

We also have a transition as signified by the appearance of the 1st Doctor, played brilliantly by David Bradley, who is kind of reprising his role as 1st Doctor actor William Hartnell, who he played in the wonderful biographical film An Adventure in Space and Time (by all that is good and decent in the universe, please watch it if you haven’t yet).

I don’t want to delve too deeply into the controversy surrounding the portrayal of the first Doctor in Twice Upon a Time, so I’ll just say that, even if you find the 1st Doctor’s characterization as sexist to be out-of-character, we should all be able to recognize that the 1st Doctor is being used here to demonstrate Doctor Who‘s transition from a time when sexism was more commonplace and accepted than it is now. The 1st Doctor enters the scene as a character straight from the 60s, with 60s sensibilities about women being the weaker sex, and ends up being reminded by the 12th Doctor that “you can’t, you, you, you can’t say things like that,” which doesn’t just signify how far Doctor Who itself has come, but also the 12th Doctor, who would never have been concerned with such social niceties when he was newly regenerated.

All these thematic and plot elements about transition are at the heart of what makes Capaldi’s farewell so lovely, because they’re all about acceptance of change, and acceptance of loss, and acceptance of the future, and letting go. At this point, beautiful moments like the return of Clara’s memories, and the Christmas Armistice, and the hug with Bill and Nardole, and the reveal of the Captain’s identity, are just icing on the cake.

Now for the big and final transition of the episode. The regeneration; not just a transition from one Doctor to another this time, but a transition from a male Doctor to the first female Doctor, a transition that, no matter how you personally look at it, is a big deal, because like it or not, we live in a gendered society where gender is a big deal.

I said at the beginning of this writing that I was not going to nitpick, but it turns out that I lied.

First, let me say that Jodie Whittaker is amazing. I have been immensely impressed and entertained by her appearances in shows Black Mirror, Trust Me, and particularly Broadchurch.

Let me also say that I am very excited by the prospect of a woman taking on the role of the Doctor, and am completely on board with this change.

But now let me say that, damn it, I was really hoping for a bit more than two words. It was already too long a wait for the Christmas Special, and now another long wait before Whittaker’s first proper episode, and all we get is two words? And part of me wishes that new showrunner Chris Chibnall, who wrote Whittaker’s first scene, would have made a choice other than the Doctor crashing the TARDIS… again. Partly because I’ve grown a bit weary of current regenerations wreaking havoc with the TARDIS (something new please), but also because it was too easy of a setup for all the sexist “women are bad drivers” jokes that inevitably followed. Likewise with the 13th Doctor being overjoyed that she is now a woman, which does go a bit against the grain of the newly regenerated Doctor usually reacting critically to his new face or features, but even worse, gives more fuel to the sexist “see, the show is just pandering the feminists now” crowd.

But these are such petty nitpicks that so pale to Whittaker’s infectious grin and her joyful exclamation of “oh, brilliant,” that I choose to read her first appearance as a challenge to all fans to live up to the 12th Doctor’s final words, “Doctor, I let you go.”

Long live the Doctor.

The Sum of its Parts, aka “Why Doctor Who is the Greatest Show of All Time,” or “Why I’m an Obsessive Fanboy of this Stupid Show”

Note: This is one I did roughly five years ago. It seemed to be generally well-received by the few who read it (with some minor quibbles here and there), and it seems appropriate for this blog’s real inaugural entry. I’ve made some edits here and there, mostly based on the afore-mentioned quibbles, and to clean up some of my misguided attempts at florid prose.


Doctor Who is a remarkable thing. Any science fiction or fantasy fan who has somehow miraculously never seen an episode owes it to themselves to dip a toe here or there to get a feel for what they’re missing.

Doctor Who is also a remarkably strange thing.

That’s partly because Doctor Who is often not very good. When you watch Doctor Who regularly, you are constantly on the verge of witnessing the show take a precipitous dive in quality. Sometimes these falls seem to take an endless amount of time before hitting bottom and bouncing back, but it always bounces back hard enough to become something worth watching again.

There is absolutely no consensus among fans on which parts are worth watching and which parts are not.

But forget all that, because Doctor Who is always worth watching.

There is a seemingly endless amount of minutia one needs to learn in order to fully understand Doctor Who:

  • He is called “the Doctor,” not “Doctor Who.”
  • The Doctor is a Time Lord who hails from the planet Gallifrey.
  • All Time Lords are Gallifreyans, but apparently not all Gallifreyans are Time Lords.
  • Time Lords have two hearts.
  • Time Lords can cheat death through a process called regeneration, which triggers a complete change in appearance and personality.
  • Time Lords can only regenerate twelve times, meaning that Time Lords have thirteen lives.
  • The Doctor has regenerated several times and been played by several actors.
  • The Doctor is hundreds of years old.
  • Time Lords are observers, with laws, rules, and customs that prohibit and limit interfering with other worlds and the threads of time.
  • The Doctor is something of a rebel who fled Gallifrey hundreds of years ago.
  • The Doctor travels through space and time in a machine called the TARDIS.
  • Thanks to a faulty “chameleon circuit,” the TARDIS is permanently disguised as a 1950’s London Police Box.
  • TARDIS stands for Time and Relative Dimension(s) in Space.
  • The Doctor’s greatest enemy is the Daleks.
  • The Doctor’s arch-Nemesis is the Master.

And on and on and on and on. A list of everything you need to know in order to understand Doctor Who could span several pages. At least.

But forget most of that stuff. Any list of what one needs to know about Doctor Who would just end up being a huge list of errata; half the items on the list would contradict each other, half would no longer be true, half would have been false at one time, and half would be extraneous fluff (all which is hyperbole, of course, but also completely true; such are the contradictions of Doctor Who). The truth is, you could blindly jump in just about anywhere in the show’s history and figure it out quickly enough, and that’s because there is only thing you need to know to understand Doctor Who, and that is the conceit of the Doctor’s space/time ship, the TARDIS, being bigger on the inside than the outside. Small blue box the size of a phone booth on the outside; big space/time machine inside. And not just big. Huge. Vast. Infinite. If not actually infinite, then capable of infinite combinations and variations.

It is this simple conceit of a space/time machine that’s bigger on the inside that makes Doctor Who remarkable. Not because this is a fun idea, which it is, but because it’s a perfect metaphor.

The TARDIS is a metaphor for stories and books, which can take you anywhere and anywhen, and which are “bigger on the inside,” because they are only made of words, but open up into images, ideas, worlds, and lives.

The TARDIS is a metaphor for the mind, which is housed in the all-too mortal meat of the brain, but which holds the sweeping vastness of the imagination.

The TARDIS is a metaphor for the heart.

The TARDIS is a metaphor for emotions.

It’s a metaphor for anything that can be metaphorically described as greater than it appears, really.

But even these metaphors are not what make Doctor Who remarkable or special. It’s this: the TARDIS is a metaphor for Doctor Who itself. What makes Doctor Who strike into and become permanently embedded in the heart of a die-hard, lifelong fan, is that the show itself is also “bigger on the inside.” Doctor Who and its central image of the TARDIS are representations of the same idea; “bigger on the inside.” They orbit each other and resonate, each amplifying the other to create a show that is the most perfect celebration of the imagination in the history of genre television.

Any movie or television show can be said to be “bigger on the inside,” but Doctor Who is different. Doctor Who is a show that demands the active participation of your imagination. You cannot passively consume Doctor Who and take what you see at face value. Well, you can, but won’t hold together. Its continuity will eventually stretch beyond the breaking point. Its moments of contradiction, ill-defined plotting, bad melodrama, shoddy characterization, cheesy effects, tonal shifts, and meta storytelling will eventually shake the strongest, most rigid suspension of disbelief. You either choose to simply not care about these “problems,” or you imagine your own explanations and images that make the show bigger and better than it sometimes actually is.

The notoriously cheap and shoddy effects (even for their time) of Doctor Who from 1963 to 1989 are a perfect example. You can’t be engaged in or scared of stories with poorly blue-screened rubber monsters if some part of your imagination doesn’t turn them into something “real.” I don’t love those classic episodes in spite of their cheap effects, but usually because of them.

And how do you explain multiple accounts of the destruction of Atlantis, or the muddled and contradictory history of the Daleks, without concocting some explanation involving time travel and alternate timelines or dimensions?

Things get very interesting when you begin to notice all the “gaps” that are peppered throughout the show’s long history, those moments that are between stories and off-screen, where the Doctor and his companions could be experiencing countless adventures. If the show was cancelled tomorrow, never to return, the framework that already exists from first episode to last holds within it infinite story possibilities.

This is why I love Doctor Who. Greater than the sum of its parts. Bigger on the inside.

Doctor Who is not simply a story. Doctor Who is its own storytelling medium.

Mission (aka Adventures in Time and Space) Statement

This is where I plan to self-importantly voice my opinions on Doctor Who.

Doctor Who is, of course, the greatest show of all time, and as such, a lot of its fans can be intensely opinionated, so I’ll also occasionally use this blog to discuss the opinions of others. I’ll never discuss the opinions of specifically named individuals, because I have no interest in making anyone a target, but some opinions still need to be talked about.

And to try to cover all my bases, I’ll probably sneak in stuff other than Doctor Who every once in awhile.

In an attempt to get some kind of regular content flowing here, some early entries will probably be reposts or rewrites of older Doctor Who writings I’ve done.

Just in case anyone is actually interested in knowing more about me than the nonsense I will be spouting on this blog…

I’m a lifelong geek, probably thanks to my mother, who weaned me on reruns of the original Star Trek when I was a tiny toddler. While I adore science fiction and fantasy in general, it’s Doctor Who that has been my most consistent obsession ever since I stumbled upon the second half of episode 4 of The Power of Kroll on our local PBS station back in the 80s.

kroll7

Yeah, it was a strange and perplexing introduction. I loved it.

I’m too immature and place too much importance on things of no real significance, thus the creation of this Doctor Who blog, which exists within a sea of much better Doctor Who writings and analyses, but still, this seems more productive and worthwhile than randomly and sporadically ranting across the desolate verbiage of various social media.

A Doctor Who expert I am not, so hopefully I won’t ever come across as trying to present myself as one, but I have been watching for over 30 years, have seen every story (if you count reconstructions of missing episodes), have read almost every novelization, and am passingly familiar with stuff like the New Adventure novels, the Big Finish audio dramas, spin-offs, etc. In other words, while I may not have a strong memory for specific details, I think I basically know what I’m talking about when it comes to Doctor Who as a whole.

Here’s hoping that at least a few of you enjoy reading my ramblings just a fraction of how much I enjoy writing them.