Sunday, 28 August 2016

BOOK OF LISTS: 5 THINGS THAT PROVE CLASSIC WHO AND NEW WHO REALLY AREN'T THAT DIFFERENT

So we're near the end of August and I still don't have a new post ready to go up (I like to put up, at least, two of them a month). I have been working on what will become a new series that will work similarly to my Progressive Doctor posts but it will be with companions - but I'm just not going to have it ready before the end of August. 

Fortunately, I keep a backlog for just such occasions. This one was written during a time when I first discovered click-bait sites that dealt with either Doctor Who or Sci-Fi, in general. A lot of them were taking open submissions and I thought it might be fun to give them something. So I wrote a few articles that enumerate things - since that is the trend for these types of articles. Ultimately, I decided click-bait articles are just too damned annoying and never submitted. But these articles were still lying around so I figured I'd finally post one. 

It was originally written at the end of Series 7 but I've tried to update a bit 



FIVE THINGS THAT PROVE THAT CLASSIC WHO AND NEW WHO REALLY AREN'T THAT DIFFERENT


You hear those musty, old, cantankerous geeks say it all the time:  "I don't watch the New Series. It's not at all like the original show.  It's not True Doctor Who."   And, while we can't deny that the format of the show has changed, post-2005 Who has made serious efforts to stay true to its roots as much as possible.   Here are 5 common objections these cranky old fans make and a buttload of examples that negate their ideas.  



5:   It doesn't acknowledge its past.   

This one strikes me as the most ludicrous.    But you hear the older fans say it.    Because, every once in a while we have things happening in the New Series that clash, slightly, with continuity established in Old Who.  
            
The fact of the matter is, New Who goes to painstaking lengths to reference things that have occurred in those first 26 seasons.   The best example of this would be the Macra returning in Gridlock.   Here is a completely obscure alien monster from a late-60s story that only has a few scenes from it that are still intact.   Nearly the entire story was deleted from the BBC archives during a purge in the early 70s.    But RTD knew that us hardcores remembered the Macra and he gave them back to us.   A gesture of love from a super-fan...      
            
But there are so many other instances of this respect for the past: the Doctor mentionning the Sense-Sphere in Planet of the Ood.  Kate Stewart throwing a Cybermen head from The Invasion at the foot of the latest Cybermen invasion force in Dark Water (the Cybermen are also emerging from St. Paul's Cathedral). Even in Time of the Doctor, he makes a beautiful, hasty, non-intrusive reference to The Five Doctors regarding where he acquired the Seal of the High Council.    A reference that, at the same time, signposted to fans which Classic story they could go watch that gives an example of where another Time Lord was offered a new regeneration cycle. 
 
The show, if anything, references its past a little too much, sometimes.  But the fan love is nice to see.


4:   The TARDIS is too steerable

"In Old Who," these curmudgeons groan, "the TARDIS never went where it was meant to go.    The Doctor was always ending up at the wrong place.    Nowadays, it always goes exactly where he wants it to."  
            
They are right.  In very, very, very, very Old Who, the Doctor could never get the TARDIS to go where he wanted it to.  Nearly the first two seasons of the show dealt with the Doctor trying to get two schoolteachers from 1963 back to London in their proper time.   In the end, he never actually succeeded as Ian and Barbara have to use another more accurate time machine to get home. 
            
But if you watch the Classic Series carefully, the Doctor's navigational skills get better with age.   By the time he hits his Seventh Incarnation, he's getting to his intended destination almost every time.   And the TARDIS does get pretty erratic again as the show returns in 2005.   Just look at what the Doctor accidentally did to poor Rose in Aliens of London because his coordinates were a bit off.  It's my guess that the TARDIS took some serious damage in the Time Wars that made it difficult to pilot, again, for a bit.   But that the Doctor is smoothing out those creases as the show progresses.  Just as he did in the old series.  


3:   The Doctor's dress-sense is too modern

Yes, I was as shocked as anyone else when the first pictures of Eccleston's Doctor were released.   The Doctor in jeans and a leather jacket?!     I couldn't believe it.   But then, the idea also made sense.   New Who did need to be as accessible as possible in its earliest days.  
            
But we've been seeing a gradual progression in the costumes that seems to be getting back to the Edwardian influence that affected most of the Doctor's sartorial tastes from days of old.  Tennant, at least, went back to wearing something a bit more formal.   Smith's Doctor was always getting berated for the anachronistic choice of a bow tie.   And, as his seasons wore on, the tweed blazer got dropped for a look that would fit right in with the clothes the Classic Doctors wore.  Okay, he still wears his pants with the cuffs rolled up - but those kind of quirky costume choices are actually, very much, in keeping with what the Doctor does with his outfits.

Doctor Twelve certainly set the internet ablaze when he started wearing T-shirts and hoodies for a bit. But, most of the time, his gear is looking pretty classical, too. Several observations have been made about the resemblance his coats bear to the way Pertwee dressed. And how can we forget the Hartnell-esque trousers that he wore at the beginning of Series 9?!   
            
No, he'll probably never wear a question-mark-covered pullover ever again.   But some would say he never should!


2:  The special effects are too good

It's funny how this is meant to be a criticism.   Like it's a bad thing that we don't have to go through the last 10 minutes of Tom Baker's first story ever again (try to feel any kind of real connection to the tension and drama of the final moments of Episode Four of Robot - it's just not possible!).   
            
Personally, I hated it when the Classic Series' poor budget shone through.   It caused me to drop my suspension of disbelief rather than see some kind of cute charm about the show.    But I think what these fans are trying to insinuate is that strong visuals have taken the place of good dialogue.  
            
If that's the case, then why is it that some of our strongest memories of the New Series are the amazing monologues the Doctor has recited?   One of the most memorable ones took place within the first 20 minutes of the very first episode.  You know the one.   Where the Doctor tells Rose about how he can feel the Turn of the Universe while everyone else can't?    But it's not like that's the only time we've gotten a monologue like that.   Who can forget that moment in The Pandorica Opens? Or the Doctor stopping everything at the end of Death In Heaven to rant about being an idiot with a box?  We even get the incredible "Take it, baby" speech in Rings of Akhetan: a story that is not even all that well-liked by a lot of fandom - but the monologue still receives high praise.  


1:  The Doctor has a love-life

This one kills me.   Because, if you go way back to the very first season of the show, the Doctor actually gets engaged in one of the stories!    Yes, it happens through a cultural misunderstanding.   But the fact of the matter is, the Doctor is flirting with this woman before it happens and is getting even more affectionate with her, afterwards.  
            
The choice to make the Doctor so avuncular happened later in the Series.   Mainly because they started having him travel alone with all these hot women and they wanted to firmly establish that the Doctor wasn't some sort of letch that was using the ability to travel through all of Time and Space as a way to impress the babes.   
            
But, even in New Who, the Doctor's interest in "gettin' it on" is pretty limited.    Most of the time, it's still women who are trying to hit on him while he's just trying to go about on his adventures.   Even when the Doctor does seem to get a relationship going with someone, it's painfully awkward.   Half the time that he romances River Song is because of the timey whimey nature of their love for each other.   She's used to a future version of him who is more comfortable in his affections.   So as she meets him in his past, she is expecting him to have some ability to be socially-graceful with a woman he's interested in.   The Doctor is just falling into those expectations rather than actually being the sort of Cassanova that oldschool fans keep railing against.   To me, this is another example of a slow progression that is being built into the character that reflects on what happened in the Classic Series.  Rather than a harsh about-face that denies important events that went on before the series returned in 2005.   





This idea of progression is really the crux of my whole debate.    Doctor Who does not ignore its past.    But it has developed a future.   A future that does not rely on the character being exactly the same over and over for another fifty years.  But, instead, let's him grow.   Again, something that is in keeping with the ideas of Classic Who, too.   The character frequently evolved and changed in his first 26 years - there's no reason that should stop, now.  
            
The Doctor keeps growing.   That's a fact that means the show will change in style and tone throughout the years.  I think the real problem is a certain sector of fandom just doesn't feel like growing up with the show.


         

Thursday, 11 August 2016

BOOK OF LISTS: TRAITS YOU NEED TO BECOME A RECURRING DOCTOR WHO VILLAINESS

While New Who tends to do a fairly decent job of creating competent and respectable female characters, this was not always the case. The further back we go in the show's history, the more blatant the sexist issues become. Generally, we look at the way female companions were treated to find the best examples of misogyny. But we see a whole new form of sexism as we consider the other end of the spectrum.

Before we pick on the show too badly, let's point out that they had a legitimate villainess right in the first season (Kala in Keys Of Marinus). So the show was, at least, able to show women as more than just helpless victims. They, too, could be conniving manipulators advancing their own evil agendas. This was not an exclusively male trait. As the show moved along, we saw other villainesses appear along the way: Maaga the Drahvin,  Kaftan from Tomb of the Cybermen, Madeline Issigri in The Space Pirates - to name a few. There is still a greater abundance of male villains, but strong female characters of a dubious moral persuasion do crop up quite regularly.

Here's where we must point a finger at both the New and Classic Series: when it comes to recurring villainesses - the count is woefully low. While male baddies have been brought back on any number of occasions (for God's sake - even Lytton got two stories!) - this is hardly the case for women. In New Who - we've had only three "bad gals" make a return. Which, after nine seasons, is pretty bad statistics. Classic Who is even more embarrassing. In the Twenty-Six years that it was on our screens, only one - that's right, one - female baddie ever came back to fight the Doctor again.

Just for fun, I decided to watch all the Who stories that involved a recurring female baddie (it didn't take long). Using my over-analytical eye, I noticed a few patterns. Certain consistent traits that existed in all or most of them. Let's look at a few:


THE ACTUAL VILLAINESSES:

Before we start listing the traits, let's look at who the actual recurring villainesses are. Statistics concerning this essay will be, in some ways, almost misleading. I will use terms like 50% or 75% but that will really only represent 2 or 3 characters. Again, the lack of recurring evil females is almost embarrassing.

Classic Who:
The Rani

New Who:
The Lady Cassandra
Madam Kovarian
Missy

SPECIAL NOTE: If I counted evil women who had fought the Doctor in an unseen adventure, this number would increase slightly (particularly in the Seventh Doctor era). But it seems like a bit of a cheat to do that. Already, I feel like I'm cheating a bit with Missy since she was a male up until this current incarnation. So I'd rather not mess with the study even more. The main stipulation was that the villainess had to be seen in, at least, two televised stories. Previous clashes that are only referred to but not actually witnessed in a transmitted episode just don't count.



MINOR TRAITS

These are traits that, at least, 50% of the villainesses had.

SHE NEEDS TO BE A TIME LORD

It's fairly obvious who we're talking about, here. Both the Rani and Missy hail from Gallifrey and probably, even, studied at the Academy at the same time the Doctor did. But it does say something about the sexism behind some of the writing. There are all kinds of male characters who come back who are just normal guys. But for a female to make a return appearance, she frequently has to come from the same race as the Doctor. She needs to be more special than just a normal human being.

SHE NEEDS TO HAVE CAMEOS

I liked this trait. Because it meant that the villainess was, technically, in more than just two stories. Although she wasn't in the other stories long, it was still nice to see Missy and Madame Kovarian popping up every few episodes throughout series Six and Eight. It was a very nice touch that built up our expectations for the character and made us all the more intrigued with her.

SHE IS DISPASSIONATE IN WHAT SHE DOES

Of the two villainesses that are like this, the Rani is the best example. It's frequently cited in both her stories that she is coldly logical and devoid of all emotions. We do see brief moments of rage or a perverse enjoyment for some act of cruelty. But, for the most part, the description is accurate. Much of the same can be said for Madame Kovarian. She is dedicated to her cause more than she is gleeful about being mean. With both of these villainesses, it's about work rather than pleasure. This does mean that we do see both Missy and the Lady Cassandra taking lots of relish in what they do. But, when we consider the percentage of recurring male villains that are so quietly methodical (probably only around 20%), it seems that returning female baddies are more prone to undertaking their agendas with detachment rather than getting sadistic about the whole thing.



MAJOR TRAITS:

These traits are seen in, at least, 75% of the villainesses

SHE'S NOT ALL THAT BAD

By my definition, a good baddie is totally out for themselves and just wants to rule over all others. And, of course, they never repent. But if we look at our four evil females, three of them have quite a few redeeming qualities. Madame Kovarian is more like Professor Stahlman from Inferno. Not so much an evil person as someone who believes they're doing good but is going about it in the wrong way. She believes the Doctor must be killed before he reaches Trenzalore. It's for the good of the Universe. So she's more altruistic than she is, downright, rotten. In both her stories, thus far, Missy has done some terrible things. She kills with little or no reservation. But she's, easily, the worst incarnation of the Master when it comes to being self-serving. After building an army that could overtake the Universe, she hands it over to the Doctor. When we see her again in Magician's Apprentice/Witch's Familiar, she's actually trying to save the Doctor. Hardly the acts of a true villain, really. She's almost a good guy. And then there's the Lady Cassandra: her villainy stems from the fact that she is trying to become immortal and will harm whoever she needs to in order to accomplish it. But, in her final moments, she accepts her death and provides New Earth with a very heartfelt ending as she redeems herself, slightly. The only villainess that stays true to herself is the Rani. We never see her relent in her selfish ambitions. The other three seem to fluctuate in their resolve to always pursue the Darker Path.

SHE IS EXQUISITELY CRUEL TO THE FEMALE COMPANION

Yes, baddies all try to hurt female companions from time to time. It's part of being an effective antagonist in Doctor Who. But villainesses will often go out of their way to make life hell for women who travel with the Doctor. It's almost as if they're jealous of the attention she gets from the Doctor and must make them pay for it. Madame Kovarian is probably the best for this. She traps Amy in an iron lung for several long months without her even knowing it and then steals her child from her. Lady Cassandra isn't much nicer to Rose, though. In her first story, she is furious that Rose claims to be the last surviving human. She throws her into a room and has her spiders deactivate the sun filter. In New Earth, she possesses her body for most of the episode. Witch's Familiar is just one long torture session for poor 'ole Clara. Missy trusses her up, handcuffs her so she can be menaced by a Dalek, tosses her down a hole and almost tricks the Doctor into killing her. The only villainess that isn't too incredibly cruel to a female companion is the Rani. Although some might say her impersonation of Mel is the most horrible thing anyone has ever done.



UNIVERSAL TRAITS:

And, finally, we have traits that all over villainesses possess.

SHE NEEDS A RECURRING GIMMICK AND/OR GADGET

The Rani seems to demonstrate this one the most obviously. In both stories that she's in, we see her employing the art of disguise and creating some sort of weird, over-contrived minefield. That's her shtick. Her "signature", if you will. The Lady Cassandra has to use her robot spiders and is, of course, obsessed with plastic surgery.. Madame Kovarian likes flesh avatars and always has the sinister eyepatch. Missy has the cell phonish contraption that shoots lazers and loves for people to say or do something pleasant before she has to kill them. This is something we see a lot in recurring male baddies, too. It's the kind of thing that every returning villain needs. But the villainesses seem to lean on their gimmicks more heavily. There are stories, for instance, where Ainley's Master doesn't get out the tissue compressor (Survival) and Davros doesn't really seem to have any kind of recurring shtick (perhaps the Daleks are his shtick?). So this trait isn't entirely necessary for the boys - but it's there in heavy doses for the girls.


Those are just a few things I observed about recurring villainesses in Who. It is a fun little study to undertake. You may want to try it, yourself, since there are only eight stories that you really need to watch.

ANOTHER SPECIAL NOTE: It is interesting that fandom, sometimes, likes to accuse Moffat of being sexist. His era actually has the highest concentration of recurring female villains. It's only two, of course. But it's still better than any other period of the show.