And that’s perhaps why I’m excited. Capaldi will be stepping into the Tardis of a Doctor who’s never been bested. A Doctor with a memory of what can go wrong, but also the memory that given a couple of centuries and a slightly larger than usual effects budget, he can save the world. He is invincible. All that power, and no guilt. The manic energy of Capaldi’s previous performances begin to become understandable casting-wise. This might just be a Doctor that scares us more than the Daleks.
And I really like the sound of that.
This Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, and you can’t be forgiven for not knowing about it. There was a dark period in the 90’s when it looked like this anniversary would be marked by only a small group, remembering an old show fondly but commemorating it as a relic from a bygone era. Instead, Doctor Who is now more than ever a worldwide phenomenon, and no better has this been illustrated than by the festivities the BBC has been orchestrating for this momentous occasion.
Of course, any show that lasts 50 years is going to undergo some change. To its credit, Doctor Who has changed dramatically throughout its half century, and not just from season to season, but even episode to episode. The Tardis is as much a genre machine as a time machine- Doctor Who can be a ghost story, a historical drama, a science fiction epic, a dark comedy, or a period romance. What does it mean to celebrate a show that arguably maintains ties to a first episode from 1963? Doctor Who actively resists the monolithic definition of a single television show, with a canonical explanation to change lead actors, a series of showrunners who pull the show in divergent directions, and even a physical inability to watch the entire run, as some episodes remain lost. In some ways these realities have helped shape the community. Fans are extremely unlikely to have seen the entire show, and so are not expected to. It’s never a bad time to start being a Doctor Who fan, your fandom is personal and is no less valid.
And yet, there are differences. What kind of Doctor Who fan are you? Even viewers who began with the Russell T. Davies reboot in 2005 have a panoply of choice. Rose, Martha, Donna, or Amy & Rory? Eccleston, Tennant, or Smith? Our answers say a lot about what kind of Doctor Who we enjoy. Do we want to know the doctor, or be in awe of the doctor?
Rose the companion is a popular choice. The opening episode, conspicuously titled “Rose” is incredibly uneven, but its innovations are now clear. The series opens from Rose’s perspective, not with the Doctor on board the Tardis, explaining what he has been up to since the questionable 1996 failed backdoor pilot. Rose is immediately established as the audience’s doppelganger, and we are all learning about the doctor together. Rose is the character, the Doctor is a force of nature, a literal alien presence. The Rose era is dominated by this portrayal: We can follow the doctor, we can even become infatuated with the doctor, but he will always be unknowable. His solutions to problems are godlike. His history is perpetually mysterious. He rushes into danger, riding the line between assuredness and recklessness. The fans who choose to be in awe of the doctor prefer this type of portrayal.
The alternative is to know the doctor, the fans of which may find something more palatable in a later seasons David Tennant or a Matt Smith. This Doctor has motivations, struggles, and faults. These plotlines reach out and attempt to address the problematic nature of the previous premise, that a fallible being held in awe by those around them inevitably leads to issues. The Doctor never holds a weapon, but violence is carried out in his name and sometimes even to suit his goals. The Doctor seeks human companionship partially because it suits his narcissism to have an audience. The Doctor doesn’t like to see mortals age, and even fears his own mortality. To the Knowing audience these faults bring pathos to the Doctor, and elevate his positive qualities.
A great illustration of this dichotomy is found in fan reactions to the resurrection scenes. When the Ninth Doctor “dies”, he calmly explains to Rose and the audience that everything will be okay, even posturing with some of his charming(?) narcissism, “You were fantastic… and so was I!” He was strong and charming and awe-ful until the very end.
The Tenth Doctor’s departure is very different. He sacrifices himself to save Wilf from the radiation deus ex machina, but he resents the selfless act as he does it.
Wilfred: No, really, just leave me. I’m an old man, Doctor. I’ve had my time.
The Doctor: Well, exactly, look at you, not remotely important. But me… I could do so much more. [raging] So much more! [quietly] But this is what I get. My reward. [angrily sweeping desk clear] But it’s not fair!
He then visits many of his past companions to say goodbye, except he doesn’t say goodbye. He doesn’t even talk to many of them, but instead watches from afar before getting back into the Tardis. This doctor resents his role as the selfless savior, fears goodbyes, and he fears his own death. It is a death full of anguish, and inner turmoil- the sentimentality is understandable, but it is not awe inspiring.
I Don’t Want to Go!
The reactions to these two very different regenerations is revealing. From Kyle Anderson at The Nerdist:
What makes [the Ninth Doctor’s] regeneration so great is that he remains as flippant and silly as he ever was. It’s a sad scene, surely, but he tries to make it as easy for Rose as he can, which in turn lets the audience know it’s all okay…
If the Ninth Doctor’s regeneration had been too drawn out or sappy, where he says how he doesn’t want to die and that, the audience would have a harder time accepting the new guy taking his place, which is already a touchy prospect. Applause to RTD for doing this one the way he did.
The same reason I love the 9-10 regeneration is the reason I hate the 10-11 regeneration. Whereas the Ninth Doctor tells everyone it’s going to be okay, the Tenth Doctor tries to make us so sad about his leaving that we are immediately put off by the happy-go-lucky weirdness of the Eleventh Doctor. I like the Tenth Doctor a lot, but there are ways to go out gracefully and that wasn’t it. Anyway. I look forward to your letters.
Many fans shared the sentiment. The Doctor losing his composure was harmful to his god-like image. His status as a deity is so unquestioned that fear and regret were intuitively replaced by intent: “…the Tenth Doctor tries to make us so sad about his leaving that we are immediately put off by the happy-go-lucky weirdness of the Eleventh Doctor.” And yet other fans found Matt Smith’s manic introduction as the Tardis falls to Earth, recklessly shouting the implicatingly suicidal “Geronimo!”, a fascinating and illustrative contrast to David Tennant’s retiring fear of death. Immortality is for the young.
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes)
This December we will see the end of the Eleventh Doctor, welcoming in Peter Capaldi into the illustrious role. Only time will tell what type of fan this new direction will appeal to. It is an innovation to hire an older actor to take on the role, but ultimately a limited one. 50 years ago it was an unquestioned default choice to cast a white British man to play the role of Doctor Who. How far have we come? How much has the show changed? It is a striking coincidence of increasingly miraculous proportions that each successive incarnation comes out both white and male. Doctor Who is so capable of change so much of the time, that the show’s slavish devotion to ethnic and gender monotony is all the more conspicuous. For those who seek to know the doctor, the show will continue seeing diminishing returns illustrating the flaws of a white man in the role of the inspiring if imperfect leader. For those who wish to be awed by the doctor, the case is even more problematic. As the Doctor is surrounded by an increasingly diverse cast, his role as the unencroachable paternalistic leader becomes more and more nakedly patriarchal and even implicitly misogynistic.
Why can’t Doctor Who be a person of color, or even a woman? If after 50 years that question still reads like a punchline, at least in some regards the show truly hasn’t come that far at all.
Tomorrow is indeed a celebration, for a show that means so many things to so many people. Here’s to another 50 years, to a show that will hopefully continue looking forward for all of us to enjoy.
I love football — it’s so much fun, it’s beautiful, it’s thrilling, it’s an excuse to drunk-tweet in the mid-afternoon — but it has also become the major theater of American masculine crackup. It’s as if we’re a nation of gentle accountants and customer-service reps who’ve retained this one venue where we can air-guitar the berserk discourse of a warrior race. We’re Klingons, but only on Sundays. The Marines have a strict anti-hazing policy, but we need our fantasy warrior-avatars to be unrestrained and indestructible. We demand that they comply with an increasingly shrill and dehumanizing value set that we communicate by yelling PLAY THROUGH PAIN and THAT GUY IS A SOLDIER and THE TRENCHES and GO TO WAR WITH THESE GUYS and NEVER BACK DOWN. We love coaches who never sleep, stars who live to win, transition graphics that take out the electrical grid in Kandahar. We love pregame flyovers that culminate in actual airstrikes.
And of course this affects the players. Locker-room guy-culture is one thing; the idea that any form of perceived vulnerability is a Marxist shadow plot is something else. It’s a human inevitability that when you assemble a group of hypercompetitive young men some of them will go too far, or will get off on torturing the others — which is why it’s maybe a good idea, cf. the real-life military, to have a system in place to keep this in check. What we have instead is a cynical set of institutional fetishes that rewards unhealthy behavior. The same 110-percent-never-give-an-inch rhetoric that makes concussed players feign health on game day encourages hazing creep after practice. Don’t believe that? I’ve got a helmet-to-helmet hit here for you, and that’ll be $15,000, petunia.
Hyper masculine patriarchal culture hurts us all.
It’s okay to mourn the loss of things that were important to us, but it’s folly to claim that this is important to anyone but us. Things aren’t better or worse for kids, just different. It has always been this way, and it will always be this way. Romanticizing where we came from is a right of the aging, and we’re waking up in our thirties realizing that now we are the aging population that is trying to convince a younger generation that things used to be better, damnit!
They weren’t better, but it’s okay to miss video stores. Just don’t pretend they were a great moment in civilization’s history, or that they presented a better way to select and experience films.
By Larisa Yugorski
People of the world, it is 2013. And we need to have a talk about the state of “maiden names” in the good ol’ U S of A. I admit, I bring great reticence to this topic. I believe that a major concern for women and men – feminists and non-feminists – of the 21st century are the ways that we habitually judge, degrade and fail to unify. The postfeminist dystopia is here and, as we’ve learned from Anne Helen Petersen, it ain’t pretty1.
Here, in brief, are my concerns:
I am concerned when a feminist inclined friend announces apropos of nothing, “People have been really surprised that I’m taking my husband’s last name when I get married.”
I am concerned when I hear 20-30 year old men say, “If my girlfriend didn’t take my last name that would be an insult. It would be a major dishonor.”
I am concerned when I hear women say, “When I talked to my fiancé about changing his name instead of mine, he laughed in my face.”
I am concerned when I witness grandmothers, aunts, mothers grilling the newly minted fiancée about last name concerns, “Well, if you don’t take his name, at least it will make the divorce easier.”
I am concerned when a fiancé decides to take his future wife’s name and his mother is furious after this announcement
These comments and their corresponding behaviors concern me because they operate in total ignorance of historical fact: The maiden name exists because women and girls were viewed as chattel for centuries. They were objects that belonged first to their fathers and then to their husbands. And as good objects, their names were not their own to change. Their names needed to correspond to the names of their owners. Are we seeing some parallels to slavery? Good. That’s the point. Patriarchy was about domination by whatever male empire wanted to rule their women and all the other men and women not immediately under their jurisdiction. Brutal, cold, fact.
Now, we get into the messy human bits.
If name changing were as simple as recognizing and changing the above historical patterns to increase equity for future generations, I would not be typing. But as with slavery, the issue is more complex. Because the slave owners are rarely just brutes. They are brothers. They are lovers. They are fathers. They are friends. They were not always cruel and, if they were, there was often more to them than cruelty. As women, we want to be good wives, daughters, friends. And so, in the 21st century when this habit now encoded as tradition (oh! that inviolate bride) it should perhaps be no surprise that men and women still struggle with this issue.
Men think, “But this is what my parents did. I want our potential future ankle biters to be easily identified as our children. We are changing. We are becoming a family. Shouldn’t our last name signify this change?”
Women think, “Well, this means so much to him. And to his parents. And it’s tradition. And I want to align myself with him, I’m honored he chose me. I want our name to show that we stand together.”
These – and their various permutations – are totally understandable. Like the confederate flag, the maiden name started out as a sign of slavery but it became domesticated and softened by familial obligation, the pressures of tradition, and the dewy eyes of love.
But it is the 21st century. Women are not objects. They have a right to their independence within a relationship just as much as their male counterparts. When a man keeps both his first and last name, his independence within the relationship is being honored. And when a woman gives up her last name, replacing it with the mantel of her husband, she is … Well, she’s not quite asserting her independence within the relationship is she? Her name is not quite being placed on equal footing as that of her husband’s because she is still giving something up and assuming something that was his.
A union between two people – whether it is recognized by the state or not – does fundamentally change the relationship between two people. It makes sense that a couple would want their surname to reflect that change. Why, then, the insistence on using just the husband’s name?
If you’re both changing, shouldn’t your shared surname reflect the change you both just made?2
Personal aside, if I could afford to go back to undergrad, I would do so just to take a class from Dr. Petersen. Of course, that would require moving, more loans, applications and convincing my partner that moving cross-country was a great idea. Walla Walla, WA. Sometimes, just feels so right. ↩
That may have been a Carrie Bradshaw moment. ↩
“Now I prefer cloudy days when the drones don’t fly. When the sky brightens and becomes blue, the drones return and so does the fear. Children don’t play so often now, and have stopped going to school. Education isn’t possible as long as the drones circle overhead.”
The United States continues to commit war crimes, according to Amnesty International. I’m glad to see that Congress is holding testimonies from victims, but this is the type of issue that will continue to be overlooked by ineffective government of recent years. One needs look no further than the attendance: Only 5 members of congress showed up.
This, however, is not a Cookie Monster costume. It’s described as “Cookie Monster Costume” but it’s a blue dress with a Cookie Monster hairpiece. It’s styled to show off your toddler’s legs, because that’s what’s important, right? Boys can dress up like Cookie Monster, and girls can dress up like a dress. Never mind that it’s forty degrees and probably raining at the end of October. Get them legs out there in the cold so we can see ‘em.
Of course, if your daughter don’t like Cookie Monster, you can always put her in an Elmo dress. Or a Big Bird dress. The possibilities are limitless, unless you’re a girl, in which case the possibilities are dresses.