Quickies: The Catch Up Addition

(updated) So a lot happened in the world of fluff while I was away and, if my stats are to be trusted, some of you are really desperate to hear what I think about certain media moments. Here is the long and the short of it in the following order:

  1. Dr. Who Season Finale
  2. Wonder Woman Revamp
  3. Lindsay Lohan’s Arrest
  4. Despicable Me Review
  5. The Real L Word a Retraction

Moffat/unattributed

  • Dr. Who Season Finale (Spoilers)- I admit that after much initial scepticisim, I decided I really liked the latest incarnation of the Doctor. As I said in my post “Dr. Who Super Quickie“, the writing, acting, and directing had finally seemed to gel, everyone was bringing their A game, and the storyline was finally distinctive and engaging. Unfortunately, Moffat could not just sail his own ship into Dr. Who history like the amazing writer, director, and fan he is capable of being. Instead, like a rejected child whose lost one too many fights with daddy, Moffat consistently veered the show back over Davies territory in order to rewrite, rehash, and re-envision what has come before instead of simply taking the show in the direction he would like to define it’s latest incarnation. As a consequence, many of the episodes and especially the first part of the finale played out more like “suck it dad” than creative expansion. I’ve never been one for Freudian dramas between men, but when the final episode pt 1 aired as a mirror of the first, full of pointless pontificating and the resurrection of doctors past dissolving into the underwhelming Matt Smith I’d had enough. When part II opened with all of the Dr. Who enemies past destroyed, I wanted to call about the BBC and demand an apology to loyal fans or at least get myself put on an important panel in Britain to give a scathing review up close. The ridiculousness of Moffat having to constantly remind fans that his Doctor is The Doctor and his Whoniverse was better than all the rest because ha, ha, he destroyed all the other ones, throughout the show ranged from the subtle changes that we could all get used to, to the drastic ones. He even stomped on Torchwood lore by making Rory somehow able to be human despite not having an ounce of human DNA left as a cyberman while Lisa, who was half human, could not pull it off. But the worst, was when his entire first season at the helm ended with “DO OVER.” Seriously? What kind of lazy writing does one have to engage in it that they offer up very little new material throughout an entire season and yet still can’t think themselves out of the one new piece of information they provided without just calling time, literally, and starting again? What is the point of a time traveling show if the solution to go forward and then backward in time to rectify one’s mistakes is not expressly prohibited? Where is the tension in the show, if at any time they don’t like the direction they can just yell “do over” and set the universe’s time clock back to the part they liked? And as for those of you wondering if Smith is coming back as the Doctor, he is. I’ve seen the early images from the second season filming and he is there in an even uglier tweed coat; but then this should have been obvious from both the ending of this season and the fact the man has a 5 year contract. The sharp distinction between Matt Smith as Doctor when the scripts really were new ideas devoid of Moffat’s posturing and Smith as puppet in Davies banishment is only slightly less striking than the caliber of the story lines, direction, and acting of the supporting cast in these same episodes. To see how great this show could be if Moffat would stop playing what one of my colleagues calls “penis, penis, whose got the penis” long enough to realize no one else is measuring makes me sad, at best, for how terribly mundane it will continue to be until Moffat let’s it go.  (I had a discussion about this on twitter with some filmmakers, fans, and DMs with a few former employees of Who, and everyone was in agreement that the show has potential but Moffat’s obsessions get in the way. We also agreed the finale was underwhelming for anyone who has been a long term fan of the show; people who are only 5 or so years in to their fandom may feel differently because they don’t recognize all of the elements that we do.) Here’s hoping that during the hiatus Moffat puts his issues to bed, realizes that he is the undisputed heir to an amazing fortune, and gives us the brilliance Dr. Who and Moffat’s own legacy deserve.

Terry Dodgen

  • Wonder Woman’s revamp. First, go read Gay Prof’s analysis because there really isn’t anything else to say about what is lost here. En breve: her proto-feminist legacy has been completely erased, no more matriarchy origins, no more island of powerful women aka Amazons, no more female defined moral code or ethics, and yes no more swimsuit. As I said, I could be analytical about it all, especially given the huge loss of feminism, proto-feminism, and even pseudo- or out-dated feminism that defined various incarnations of Wonder Woman, including her origin story, but Gay Prof has already done that so well. So Instead, I am going to tell you a story. A long time ago, in an isla far away, I used to run around in my front yard in my Wonder Woman underoos imagining I was a powerful Amazon who stopped bullets with my big, shiny, bracelets. Years later, I was a wee lass jumping over koi ponds and lassoing cacti with an actual golden lasso I found one day on a walk with my big sister, with the boy next door. He was Steve Austin and I was Diana and we were saving the world across the super hero-bionic divide. I credit these moments and all the ones in between them for my development as a femme. I was never insulted by the bathing suit, or the short skirt, I was empowered by it, because I understood that Wonder Woman was a powerhouse that even male superheroes and military generals respected and she did it in thigh high boots and those signature bangles I mentioned already. The only women who made me want to femme out more were probably the queens and female rulers on Star Trek who combined their minis w/ the most delicious fabrics and green, purple, and glittery eyeshadows. Like Diana, they could not be bested even by the likes of Captain Kirk. For me, the revamping of Wonder Woman into some watered down, feminist-history-absent, manga-esque (and I like manga), video game ready, no doubt wise-cracking ie makes fun of men to prove her superiority instead of just being superior b/c she is umm a superhero, teen girl with a bad hair cut and even worse fashion sense makes me want to go all Fembot on someone. So for all the feminists saying “at least she has pants”, your analysis of why she didn’t before was spot on with regards to gender inequity in the superhero universe, however, her pants come at the price of her actual feminism and feminist history. More than that it comes at the price young girls who are still bombarded with hypersexualized images of youth that never contained feminist messages while being robbed of the few cultural icons that did. Better to be a girl in the front yard in your swimsuit taking down bad guys than an equally young girl in the backyard wearing XW-inspired hoochie gear # 5 while practicing how to go down on them instead. Oh and one more thing, have you seen the drawings of Wonder Woman? Most, tho certainly not all, of the fan art shows her with powerful legs and biceps, looking strong enough to take on the world. Many of the women and men who emulate her at conventions, costume parties, and events do so with a sincere reverence, even when its campy, toward her strength, intelligence, and femme-fatale. And even music videos that do homage to her have all referenced her brains and her braun as well as her beauty. This stands in stark comparison to the re-imagining of other female heroes and side kicks found in graphic novels who have always been fully clothed; take good look at the fan art and you will see a pattern in which their drawings make Barbie look appropriately proportioned, I’m just sayin’ …

you thought I was going to miss the opportunity to do two Wonder Woman pics; silly

rjonesdesign/2010

  • Lilo’s arrest – am I the only one who thinks a critical piece of the puzzle is being ignored in the hate on Lindsay bus? While many child actors end up addicted and burned out, and Lohan made no friends with her pre-teen diva act, it seems to me that hating on her in the absence of similar critique for the industry that supplied her and every other kid on the block is not only wrong but incredibly short-sighted. Part of the reason the industry gets away with taking talented children and turning them into drug addled teens with one foot in the grave is that our culture engages in collective cognitive dissonance as a society; we know who gives them drugs, how and why, and yet we just keep on staring at the spectacle and blaming the victims. More than that somewhat predictable answer to the Lilo situation, I want to add a queer eye. At least publicly, Lindsay’s drug habit seemed to spiral at the exact moment she was considering her sexual identity. Her first reported major drug bouts came around the same time that the photos of her engaging in knife play with another actress surfaced. Both women denied the lesbian content of the images and the media was happy to spotlight the “freakery” and call it attention getting. Shortly after those images emerged however, Lilo was moving forward with Samantha Ronsen. And while she seemed to be occasionally better while with her, Lindsay’s addiction continued to flare up. Those moments when she seemed to cross the line from spoiled party-girl to addict seemed to always coincide with public humiliation surrounding her sexuality or with dwindling film options that everyone assumes are related to the drugs, and are to some extent. But no one considered how quickly the doors shut on her options while similar young women in Hollywood with far less talent and just as public drug use continued to find work; those girls were all straight. Young queer people self-medicate every day in this world especially in response to imagined and real rejection. They fall down the looking glass never to resurface. So I ask you, is it so much to think that maybe a young woman just discovering her sexuality, who still does not even use the word “lesbian” to describe herself, who has her sexuality discussed in public across the world as if her feelings mean nothing or worse are humorous or a publicity stunts, and who already works in an industry in which drugs come easy and fast to people in her position, is in fact partially medicating her way through a major identity change? And even if she wasn’t, knowing what we know about the coming out process in the U.S. do you think someone who is already using drugs wouldn’t consider turning to them for comfort when the whole world is taking opinion polls about her sexuality and mocking her sometimes heart wrenching break ups with comments like “even women don’t want you fire c—-h” and “ha ha, guess that lesbian thing really wasn’t the way to boost your career”? So I am not saying there isn’t a complex picture here in which Lindsay must take some responsibility, including for her own actions, but instead pointing out that there are both recognizable circumstances devoid of sexuality and very clearly documented issues with regards to them that everyone seems to want to ignore so that we can all point and laugh of the fallen child star. I for one think she deserves more than that.

disney/2010

  • Despicable Me – the first hour is a snoozefest facilitated by the major jokes having all been included in the trailer. The last 1/2 an hour however is endearing and entertaining. Despite being billed as a supervillian movie, it is really a modern Orphan Annie in which the main character falls in love with three Orphan girls while trying to steal the moon. In finding his inner-parent with them, he also resolves his issues with his own judgmental mother and makes peace with the ways she tore down his dreams of going to the moon that led to his criminality, and plot to steal the moon, in the first place. There are 5 main women and girls in this movie, all of  whom are white. Some of them are stereotypical, like the overweight Southern Belle-turned-B–ch who runs the orphanage and the overbearing, uncaring, mother. The girls, on the other hand, represented a range of female identities none of which are disparaged despite the fact that one or two of them are extremely different. One girl wears glasses but there are no other disabilities present in the film. There are also minor female roles in which the women are also stereotypes, including the overbearing and over-indulgent N. American tourist mother and the overweight black mom. Minor male characters with lines are more varied: there is an overweight, clueless, N. American father, and over-indulged obnoxious N. American tourist son, and the annoying-but-meant-to-be-slightly-creepy, scientist, who is not emasculated but instead used as the source of jokes about age and aging; there is also a black male tourist with no lines and two Egyptian guards who are so dumb they don’t know the pyramid has been stolen, there roles as really minor. The major action takes place between the male supervillians and the bank, also run by a man, and most of the comedy involves yellow aliens who speak a mixture of Spanish and gobbledy-gook, which of course is insulting.

showtime/2010

  • The Real L Word – I know I said it was like bad dyke drama that you cannot turn away from in my original post, but seriously now it’s just bad. Since that first episode, I have not been able to sit through an entire episode of the show and I stopped watching all together when Rose, one of two Latinas and the only one who is light but not white appearing, through a party at the home she shares with her girlfriend and then spent the entire night demeaning her and acting like a loud mouth. When her girlfriend Natalie tries to confront her sexist and belittling behavior, Rose simple tells her to move out if she doesn’t like it and seems completely unfazed when Naatalie says she might and started to cry. In fact, Rose went downstairs and continued her boorish behavior with her guests. It was the kind of moment that makes you question whether a reality show should be a “true” reflection of the diversity of the lesbian experience, which includes boorish, self-absorbed, women who really don’t care about anyone but themselves or if it should make an effort to show lesbians in as positive a light, without losing sight of reality, as possible because it is only one of two reality shows to be centered completely on us. And these questions are colored, pun intended, by the fact that the only person acting this way is the only visible woman of color on the show; though, admittedly, she is not the only one who plays with women’s emotions and puts her needs first. I fall somewhere in the middle on the issue, in that I believe that a diversity of experiences need to be shown but that when you are among the first to represent a community to a wide audience you need to engage in point and counterpoint, ie that there needs to be a balance of identities and that race needs to be a factor in making the decisions about who you cast. In this case, if you have a loud mouth sexist Latina lesbian than you need to have a loving non-sexist Latina lesbian alternative precisely because the former plays into the stereotype of sexist hotheaded brown folk. Technically the L Word has provided this alternative in soft-spoken Tracy, the problem is Tracy is a white Latina (white appearing in the language of the U.S., blanca, ie white, in the language of Latin America) and therefore is not a visible counterpoint to Rose at all. And while we are talking race, there continues to be the ongoing issue of an utter absence of people of color in the “Real” L Word’s version of LA. If we removed Rose and Tracy LA could pass for a really sunny Sweden; when you film somewhere as diverse as LA, you should be able to get some people of color in the background shots just because they are there. This lack of reality has been a bone of contention amongst culturally conscious lesbians since the fictional L Word but there is also the issue of unreality in general in reality shows and what it means for the stories we see rather than the ones that were told/filmed. For more insight into that from a couple on the show we participated in order to help people struggling with self-acceptance or figure out how to fit into a sexual identity that has become synonymous with a lifestyle they may not lead see here. The women of Velvet Park also discussed in detail the way the show seems to want to exploit every negative thing about every member of the cast and turn this show into a sort of “Real Housewives of Lesbian County” which seems inappropriate in general and especially in the context of groundbreaking television. And so, I have to remove my endorsement of the show as something painful and yet compelling to watch. I’m not watching and from what I can tell neither is anyone else who is media savvy.
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Dr. Who Super-Quickie

Doctor Who Series 5 episode 4/BBC 2010

So as much smack talking as I have done about Matt Smith and the rehashed plots of the first few episodes of season 5 of the rebooted Dr. Who, you know that if I am saying what I am about to say, you better take it seriously: If you watch no other episodes this season, you need to watch “The Time of Angels” and “Flesh and Stone”. The two episode story that brings River Song and the Doctor back together to face the Weeping Angels are classic Doctor Who episodes that I would argue are among the finest the series has offered overall. (In the U.S. they air this weekend and next weekend.)

The writing is fresh and compelling; even though they are bringing back old villains, there is no re-hash in this episode at all. Everything is new. The story moves both the plot and the characters forward in truly compelling ways. More than that, it reinvents certain aspects of recognizable characters in ways that honors the past, something that has been missing from other episodes, while taking a fresh new and complex look at them. I wasn’t scared of the Angels before, in fact I found them kind of boring, but Moffat’s version ratchets up the creepy in ways that will make you think twice about how you look at statues and shadow.

ibid

Matt Smith’s emotional range in these episodes continues to be spot on, and unlike previous episodes, the arrogance he brings to the character is appropriately tempered by both the gravity of the situation he is in and the return of complex concerns the Doctor has about time and human connections. Watching these two episodes confirmed for me what I thought when watching the original one this season, when this year’s cast and crew gets it right they are going to knock it out of the park and knock it out they did. Smith’s Doctor was all the right mix of strength, concern, inquiry, and compassion. Unlike other episodes where I have worried that both the lack of restraint in his acting and in the writing itself was transforming the Doctor into a morally ambiguous arrogant twat, the Doctor who stand us in these two episodes is the Doctor I think any fan would follow to the ends of time and back again.

ibid

The only place these episodes fail for me, is when Amy Pond tries to jump the Doctor’s bones at the end of the two episode story arc. For younger viewers, this will no doubt go down in the “the new Doctor is HOT!” drivel that is dominating reviews of the show; for those of us with a more critical eye, it is another attempt to make Dr. Who racy instead of just trusting the plot and the audience. Obviously, I am not opposed to the Doctor having a life or hooking up with a companion, but the feminist in me sees nothing empowering about young Amy Pond’s googly eyes at the Doctor while he backs up in farcical horror. My issue is with the tone of this scene more than its content. The actors and the director seem to switch gears from typical Dr. Who fare to a British comedy in which the actors are laughing with the audience at something none of us is supposed to take too seriously. It isn’t just a totally different direction than Davies took with Dr. Who’s relationships, its that the direction lacks any real weight or seriousness that compels us as an audience to question what Amy Pond’s desires mean for her and for the Doctor or ties into the plot in ways that can be transformative or even sexy. (I am not saying the actors lack sex appeal for many people watching, I am saying it lacks sophistication and thus comes off comedic and I think that is intentional.) And I worry about how Moffat will make the leap from his comedic leanings with regards to these characters desires to the moments in every season of Dr. Who where these desires become serious.

Far more compelling for long term viewers is the way River Song takes the Doctor’s aid for granted and wraps him up in winks and nods tied up in a “Sweetie” bow while Pond teases him about it. Alex Kingston brings her A game to these episodes and raises the bar for everyone else on set and it shows. These three characters are at their best in this episode and especially when on screen together. If this is what is in store for us with Smith’s 5 year contract, then I am finally excited and on board.

Dr. Who Take II: The Beast Below (A Super Quickie – Spoilers)

BBC 2010

For those who thought I was exaggerating about some of my long time Dr. Who fan companions who said they would not watch after last week’s episode, I am sad to report, I watched this week’s episode alone. That’s right, they were that turned off by last week. I, on the other hand, am semi-glad I watched again this week, because many of the things that turned me off last week were absent from this episode. As I predicted, the show’s “new” creative team knows a considerable amount about the genre and the reboot and really can give us something good if they try. That said, this episode’s plot was still re-tweaked re-hash from the last 5 years and worse, the Doctor comes across as morally reprehensible. Here’s the breakdown:

Plot:

Dr. Who and Amy Pond arrive on a ship with a mysterious and seemingly dangerous creature at the heart of the ship that the inhabitants mostly do not know about.

Sound familiar? It should. Remember when David Tennant arrived on the space ship with the alien that was eating people while they walked around in a daze? Moffat’s only new contribution to the rehash is to shift the alien’s motivation.

BBC 2010

They are also policed by creatures called The Smilers, who also seem like a mix of other villains from both Torchwood and Dr. Who past. I think they are supposed to be scary, but truthfully, how many times can we see statues move, change expression, or otherwise come to life before we point to every statue on the show and think “I bet that is an evil alien or at least made by one!”? Worse, the Smilers have me thinking of a particularly famous Buffy episode … I’m just sayin’, Whedon does it better by a mile.

(And while I am being nitpicky, didn’t the queen’s guard look like he had been shopping in Obi-Wan’s closet? But that I hope was a nod to scifi geekdom more than ripoff.)

Gender:

This episode gives us two adult female characters and one little girl, all of whom are central to the plot. The little girl is mostly absent from the episode, except as the motivation for the Doctor’s arrival and for the final plot twist. She acts as an archetype, damsel in distress, spelled out for us on more than one occasion because they writers are not content to just give us a stereotype, they have to make sure we know it is one.

The other two women, Pond and Liz 10, are strong, intelligent, self-sufficient, and essential to the plot. While Pond, fully clothed this time out, offers the heart of the show this episode, Liz 10 is all action. When the Doctor can’t seem to rescue himself or Pond from the mouth of the ship, Liz 10 comes to the rescue doing her best impression of a caped crusader meets a Martha Jones – Gwen Cooper hybrid. Both female roles are much more solid, much less stereotypical, and far more respectful overall than last week.

BBC 2010

Race:

Liz 10 is Afro-British and also the Queen of England. On the one hand, there isn’t much to say about race in this episode except for the “surprise” shift in the image of The Crown. On the other, Liz 10’s leadership oscillates amongst seemingly duped monarch, under cover spy, and morally reprehensible torturer. She is almost always clueless about her own rule, her own age, her own cabinet, etc. And while I liked her personality, I cannot decide whether her cluelessness and culpability are a comment on the promise of hope and change versus the realities of status quo or something all together more insiduous.

I feel the same ambivalence toward the white porcelain mask she wears when doing her sluething; when she is the duped Queen, she appears in her own smiling face, but when she thinks they are not looking, she dons a white mask and roams the ship. Again, the meanings are likely multiple, with both astute comment on the meaning of the British subject and problematic equations of good and evil with racial stereotype.

A similar shift happens with one of her guards who is Afro-British when he walks in and asks her to do something and then his head spins into an angry smiler when she refuses; smilers are white. The seeming reversal of race-moral character is incomplete since both versions of the guard want her to do something she does not want to do and both are in on the torture.

There is something there in the messages about race, but they are so subtle as to be innocuous. Honestly, I think we’ll have to wait for more episodes before I can really weigh in on race issues. (I have already mentioned some of the positive shifts in ethnicity issues on the show in the previous review)

Matt Smith as Dr. Who:

The good news is that Smith has already moved away from his bad Tennant impression. This means that the yelling, strutting about, and general mania are all gone from his performance. While I find his interpretation of Tennant insulting, the fact is I’m glad most of the truly annoying parts of his inaugural performance was him trying to be David and not the way he was approaching the role for good. Smith did an outstanding job of showing the more serious side of the Doctor this time out as well. His range of emotions was spot on for what his character goes through in this episode and he revealed an angry streak that could lead to some fascinating episodes in the future.

That said, the jerky movements, cocky stride, and condescension of last week seem to be core elements of Smith’s Doctor. Some of these things, like the jerky movements, are off-putting, others are a matter of taste. There have been cocky Doctors before and I have liked many of them … and, yet there is something about Smith that still does not sit right for me. All I can say is that I’ll probably like him well enough in a year or two, but I think the condescension coupled with the morally challenged nature of this doctor are really pushing the bounds of what we have all come to love about Dr. Who.

Moffat’s Doctor (or specism):

Moffat continues to flatten out the wonderful complexity of the main character or at least allow the writers and actor to do so. This episode was particularly egregious in the sense that the Doctor was willing to murder the last of a majestic species to save a few 1000 British people who were either directly involved in or complicit in the torture of an animal for 100s of years for their own benefit. Worse, he made the choice to side with abusers while being indignant about the abuse.

While, thanks to Amy, the episode ends on the moral high ground, the Doctor’s decision left him morally reprehensible in my eyes. Dr. Who has killed many creatures in his time but most of those creatures were guilty of torture, abuse, domination, or simply snacking on humans because the could. To kill a majestic creature who had been aiding the survival of the human race so that a handful of British subjects could continue to live docile lives in space is offensive at best. When one factors in that the origin story, in which the British did not move fast enough to save their own country nor take time out to determine what the creature wanted when it originally appeared, and the fact that 100s of years have passed since the torture began without a single person in power trying to figure out an alternative way to power and navigate a space ship (something everyone else in the universe manages to do just fine), the Doctor’s choice to save the humans over the space whale is incomprehensibly wrong.

We’ve just spent 4 years watching the Doctor confront the demons of being a Time Lord. From the very beginning of the reboot, we are told he is the last Time Lord because of a war that ended his race and that war has left huge scars. As the years have moved forward, the Doctor has sworn over and over again that he will not commit nor participate in genocide, and he has only gone back on his word when to do so meant preventing the genocide of another species. The space whale has killed no one, threatened no one, and does not have the ability to commit genocide, and yet Mofatt’s Doctor Who would kill the whale to save the human beings who trapped and tortured it for 100s of years, for no other reason than he likes human beings.

Gone is the Doctor who questioned his emotional and physical impact on companions, worlds, even time. In his place, a cavalier and self-righteous #11 who brazenly calls back fleeing aliens who threatened the earth just to chastise them up close and decides to kill the last of a majestic race just to save a handful of humans who tortured it shamelessly for 100s of years. Who is this man and where is his moral compass?

Final Verdict:

The look and feel of the show is still recognizable Dr. Who magic. For those who do not recognize or care about the unabashed rehashes every week, the storylines are obviously in keeping with what we have come to expect. And while there are things that still remain disconcerting, the leap from episode 1 to 2 this season has been large enough to quell my fears. I’m still watching, and if you are, please feel free to weigh in.

The 11th Hour (a Dr. Who Review)

deviant art/dtd studios

Long time readers of the blog know two things about me, if nothing else, 1. I am a huge Dr. Who fan who watches from both a fan and academic perspective and 2. I oppose the tweening of SciFi, including Dr. Who.  While I oppose the tweening of Dr. Who and other SciFi shows, I have seen every episode of Dr. Who, found things to like in some of the lesser seasons, and overlooked how poorly the low budget translated in the first season of the Dr. Who reboot, all because I truly love the mythos and the magic of the show and because I have the privilege to do academic work on it as well. So, you should know that I watched the 11th Doctor’s debut with the same fan energy and intellectual commitment as I would any other.

The Plot

Matt Smith as the new Doctor, is still transitioning from his former self. As such, he is having a hard time controlling the TARDIS and other well known devices (ie the screw driver). However, time does not wait for a Time Lord to sort things out, so the Doctor finds himself in small town England discovering the prison break of a dangerous alien through a crack in a young Scottish girl’s wall while he is still transitioning. As the episode unfolds, the Doctor moves in and out of Amelia Pond’s life, with little regard to his impact on her, while trying to stop the escaped alien’s guards from incinerating Earth.

BBC 2010

The Good

Karen Gillan does a great job as companion, Amelia Pond. She brings a nice mix of dead pan/incredulity and excitement to the role. Her cynicism, born out of unintentional abandonment by the Doctor when she was a child, seems much more palatable than that of Donna Noble. While Tate’s Noble was often judgmental and grating, Gillan comes at Pond’s cynicism from a place of hurt that wants to heal. And while both characters embodied a healthy modern interpretation of how anyone would react to the Doctor, Gillan’s character also lacks the sometimes questionable crassness of Tate’s choice in her role as Noble. This is important not only for the longevity of the character but also because of the sometimes negative stereotypes about the working class that Gillan’s Pond seems to shed.

For me, it was also a nice nod to Doctor’s past that Pond is Scottish and allowed to speak with her Scottish accent. While it may just represent the shift to a Scottish producer, ie Moffat, one needs only ask how many people in the Whoniverse have had to stifle their accent to get the job done to know this is an important shift in the ethnic representations of the show. One quibble, however, is that Gillan’s accent fades in and out throughout the episode. At some points her accent is thick enough that some N. American audiences will have trouble understanding her and at others she sounds English. Given that Gillan is in fact Scottish, the shifts feel very odd. They also represent a very minor indication of a larger problem with directing in this episode: often, the decisions the actors make seem to be completely without direction or directed by someone whose vision needs more editing.

The Bad

BBC 2010

The plot of “The 11th Hour” is essentially rehash of several different Dr. Who episodes with a dash or two of Torchwood ones. There is nothing new nor fresh about the escaped alien prisoner and the possible explosion of the world. In fact, I think one of the first Tennant episodes covered the same territory early in his time as the 10th Doctor. Worse, according to the “First Look” information, Moffat came up with the idea based on the combination of wondering about what caused a huge crack in his son’s wall and curiosity about what one sees or misses out of the corner of their eye. I don’t know what is worse, Moffat’s insipid inspiration or the fact that he thinks this rehash was born solely out of it. Given that Moffat wrote some of the most moving episodes of Dr. Who and that he is a long time fan of the show, I expected so much more from his first time at the helm.

despite tagging on this image, the real copyright belongs to BBC 2010

In keeping with the tweening of the series, I think this is the first time the show has every wasted 10-15 minutes on toilet humor. While many of the Doctors have included transition jokes, like spitting out food they once liked or mocking the clothes they once wore, Moffat has Smith tasting an endless supply of increasingly liquid based foods and then spewing them out from different camera angles. He is aided in this stupidity by the young Amelia Pond, who is there to remind us: this is funny. Perhaps this kind of humor is entertaining in the genres Moffat is more familiar with as a writer, but in Whoville it plays like a bad episode of Pee Wee’s Playhouse minus the irony and wit.

No one watching the episode with me laughed. In fact, the combination of a young amused child and an adult behaving like a two year old with his food made everyone at my house question the taste level of season 5. It did not help that the background music to these scenes was the same cartoonish score they use in children’s programming … I’m not sure any adult watching was particularly interested in seeing Smith spit out his food over and over again, but I feel fairly certain no one was entertained by him finally settling on yellow pudding spooned into his mouth with fish sticks. As the father of a young child, Moffat may have been nodding to new parents, but let’s be clear, that is not his demographic. Intimately tied to the poor directorial decisions in this episode is the potential to alienate true Dr. Who fans in order to get younger hipper ones. (And can I just say, I resent that fans are characterized as neither young nor hip in these decisions?!?) Worse, none of this inane behavior is tied back to the plot with the exception of an apple he rejects at the beginning of this farce.

That Face, London’s Royal Court 2007

Also in keeping with the tweening of the series, Matt Smith’s Doctor Who is given to vernacular. At one point, near the end of the episode, he throws up his arms and shouts “whose your daddy?” While even the characters around him frown with disdain, the fact is they put in the script and the show. Something that clearly is meant to stick is Smith’s constant thumbs up to both the camera and the people around him when he talks. It’s an affectation that both annoys and speaks more to the age of the actor than the remaking of the character. His other references are a little less well known, and some involve unsuccessful, or banal, gay innuendo.

Moffat is straight and it sho. Davies introduced us to a mainstream SciFi world in which sexuality was fluid and characters identified across the spectrum. In Davies’ Whoniverse, characters who had picked a team were still at ease switch hitting or at least flirting with the idea. It made the series hot without resorting to typical sexist and otherizing gazes that permeate Moffat’s new world order. Surprisingly, given that Moffat gave us the first incarnation of Captain Jack Harkness, Moffat’s Whoniverse is a landscape in which Davies’ well scripted fluidity falls flat. While many of the jokes are at no one’s expense, they are executed by Smith in such a way as to permanently cement the character in a heterosexist narrative. The circulation of images of Smith from his outstanding role as Henry in That Face, a play about a confused young man, sexually molested by his mother and forced to wear her dresses, are misleading at best. The PR machine hopes that the sight of Smith in a dress will call up the playful goodness of both Tennant and Barrowman and ensure that those of us who are drawn to the queering of scifi will come a running. The reality is, that Smith looks no more comfortable in a dress in these shots than he does making gay innuendo in The 11th Hour, nor, at least in the case of the former, should he, since the decision to put him in a dress is not his own. Effectively playing opposite transmisogyny and homophobia is not the same thing as being able to embody sexual ambiguity or effectively convey insider humor. You don’t have to be gay to get it but you do have to be able to act beyond the basics.

Similar failures can be found in the handling of women in this episode. There are two women besides Pond, one of whom is a woman of color. The women of color, an Asian, plays the stereotypical role of dragon lady doctor. The other woman, an elder, fulfills the same role most non-main character elder women have on who, i.e. the quirky busy body who recognizes the Doctor immediately.

While Pond is a strong and funny woman with a mind of her own, the character also embodies several female stereotypes. As a child, she unquestioningly allows a stranger into her home and cooks him a number of meals without question. Despite being young, she is at ease in the kitchen. Smith’s Doctor is comfortable allowing her to stand on tiptoe to heat his food rather than help or do it himself. In fact he orders her around like she was made to cook and serve him. As an adult, Pond is a “kiss-a-gram” worker, which I can only assume is the tweened up side of sex work. Despite the fact that we are supposed to believe Pond is a Police Officer, she is in a uniform with shorty shorts and fishnet stockings with the proverbial line up the back of each leg. The camera makes sure to give us several long slow shots of her legs in these first reintroduction scenes, lest we miss it. And Pond wears this outfit throughout the episode despite it being inappropriate for the amount of running she needs to do. If you look at the image at the start of this section, you will see Gillan running while trying to hold the shorts down so as not to flash anyone. It’s insulting.

Thai Soldier

In fact, many of the early reviews have had little more to say about Gillan or Dr. Who than that they are “sexy.” SciFi Wire’s review is almost entirely about Gillan’s fishnet stalkings and the long slow shot that introduces them. Other reviews have been illustrated by similar montages to the one above, which was taken from a review that mentioned nothing else but Gillan’s “sexiness.” Not only does this behavior prove my point that Pond’s intelligence is overshadowed for many viewers by the objectifying camera gaze and costuming, but early releases of other shots of Gillan’s wardrobe imply that her skirt length will likely always be this high. Like many young actresses weened on a watered down version of “girl power” Gillan sees using sex appeal on the screen as empowering. When she is the one making the costume decisions, determining the angles at which she is shot, and how she embodies the character, she is absolutely right. As a femme, I could not possibly argue that being in control of one’s sex appeal is anything short of powerful. My concern here however is that Gillan is not the one making these decisions nor are they being made to increase the character’s power or depict female sexual power in general. Instead, Gillan’s gams, wide eyes, and fiery hair, are being used to bring in the pre-teen male viewer. Her body has been part of the marketing campaign to get people to watch the first episode and her costumes are part of the ploy to keep them watching. Why not trust that Gillan is an outstanding actress and market her as such? Why not trust that Dr. Who has a loyal following that would watch, and has watched, some very unattractive people in major roles on the series? These are the questions I think we need to ask about gender while watching this latest incarnation of the show. Moreover, they are questions that I think run markedly counter to previous visions for the show, especially with regards to the sort of feminist revamp of the companion role in it.

It should be noted that the gaze is supposedly shifted when the Doctor changes his clothes near the end of the episode. In a particularly homophobic moment, Pond’s boyfriend freaks out about Doctor Who changing his clothes in front of them and demands he stop. The Doctor simply tells him to turn around if he is bothered, which he does amidst loud proclamations of disgust. Pond, on the other hand, stands there drinking it in with a wide smirk on her face. Rather than subversive, this scene serves two purposes: 1. to once again cement the overarching heterosexist vision of the new series and 2. shift criticism of the sexist cinematic gaze by equating Gillan with the viewer. The problem with the second, is that there are no accompanying slow shots of Matt Smith’s body to objectify him nor his potential objectification steeped in oppressive gender norms. Put another way, he is an object for a brief moment and only to Pond, while Pond is an object for anyone interested throughout the episode, in the marketing campaign, and possibly throughout the season.

In Style Magazine/unattributed

When Pond signs on as the new companion, she is not allowed to pack her own things like other companions. The Doctor simply tells her, there’s plenty of leftovers in the TARDIS for her to choose from. This episode was full of leftovers, the female companion should not be one of them.

Moffat also fails to adequately address the transition from Tennant’s broken-hearted refusal to have a companion in the last season to Smith’s open search for one. Pond asks the Doctor why he wants her to come with him and he responds by saying he was lonely and had started to talk to himself. The Doctor had been lonely for quite some time and that did not seem to matter. Worse, the previous Doctor had spent a considerable amount of time considering the impact of his presence on the women around him. This first episode of the 11th Doctor was defined by this same preoccupation, the Doctor drifts in and out of Amelia’s life irreparably changing who she is and how people see her, and yet he is the only one who does not seem to notice. He does not ask her what has happened to her since his last visit on either return. When he finds out that she has been forced to go to a series of mental health providers and mocked by townspeople, he neither apologizes nor attempts to rectify it. There isn’t even a moment when he stops to think about what he has already done to her life in the context of his promise to never disrupt another companion’s life again. And while we are all clear that the Doctor could not possibly keep from causing disruption in people’s lives, and that he is better with someone than without them, it does an extreme disservice to this storyline to have the 11th Doctor not only fail to recognize his impact but to appear indifferent to it in the face of some serious consequences.

When he whisks her away, he doesn’t even bother to find out if she has other plans, and in the ultimate rehash, it turns out she does: like the other red-headed companion of late, Amelia Pond is joining the Doctor when she is supposed to be getting married. The mix of old storylines and new anti-introspection bravado is one of the largest disappointments of the series next to the fish stick pudding stupidity. While the Doctor is supposed to be new each time, there is no reason to write in so much old information only to leave it unresolved. From the failure to address his impact to his ignoring all the references to Pond’s crush on him,  this Doctor’s self-absorption insults the storyline to date and fails to reflect the critical lessons he has supposedly learned. Again this is a failure on the part of both directing and writing, either give us a new Doctor divorced from past issues or deal with his past in a legitimate way. At the very least, direct Smith to look tone down his mania and look introspective in these moments.

dtd studios 2009

Finally, my opinion of Matt Smith as the Doctor remains on shaky ground. According to one of the people who watched the episode with me, Matt Smith’s performance “was so over the top” and annoying. It was as if Smith had watched Tennant at his most manic and turned it up 20 notches. He was in constant motion throughout this episode in ways that were dizzying rather than plot related and he also delivered most of his lines in a yell that was meant to convey urgency and really just came across as loud. While Tennant’s babbling and occasional grandiosity were endearing, precisely because they were meant to highlight the strange and “human” parts of Dr. Who, Smith’s seems like a bad parody for the Graham Norton Show. It grates early and often.

At least one of my companions walked out based on the combination of the food scene and Smith’s performance and another said several times that he would not be watching again as long as Smith was in the role. (Smith has a 5 year contract, so that is a really long time to not watch.) For my part, I tried to remember something Tennant himself had said about a photo from his first episode, “Oh yeah, that’s me doing my best impression of Eccleston.” In that episode, Tennant seemed oddly out of place as well. He still wore Eccleston’s signature leather jacket and tried to strut around the way Eccleston had. It was only in the second and third episodes that Eccleston’s ghost wore off and Tennant’s new version of the Doctor came to life. At the time, I remember worrying that Tennant was the wrong choice for the role; looking back on it, I think his ability to both embody Eccleston and make that embodiment seem strange and wrong, was an early sign of his genius. While I can’t say that Matt Smith is that kind of genius, his performance was clearly a parody of Tennant and did show signs of recognizing the subtleties of human interaction and the compassion that makes the Doctor so magnetic, even if those signs were rare and fleeting. If both Smith and the director can move away from the mania, I do think he has a chance to make the character his own and to give us something worth watching. My viewing companions, disagree.

Conclusions

Ive seen some really bad episodes of Dr. Who over the years, so it would not be fair to say this is one of the worst one’s I’ve ever seen. What I can say is that it was both insipid and insulting on multiple levels. The writing had little to no redeeming qualities and the plot had even less. The acting was uneven, with the supporting characters far outshining the main one. Both sexism and heterosexism seeped into this episode in complete defiance of the standards previously set. And yet, Gillan’s performance and Smith’s mostly hidden, but still slightly visible, potential make me want to give it another go.

Moffat is best known for his comedic writing and I think that is going to work against him here. However, he is a life long fan of Dr. Who, who has written several introspective and powerful episodes of the reboot in his time. I believe he can give us a brilliant new Doctor if he tries. Perhaps all he needs is for the acting, writing, and directing teams to gel. For now, belief in the franchise is all that will be bringing me back to watch the show next week that drove other fans watching in my house out of the room (and in one case to drink).

You should note, other people really loved this episode and their reviews are available online for those looking for a contrasting opinion.

Quickie in Whoville

Matt Smith as Dr. Who/BBC

I have it on very good authority that the new season of Dr. Who will be arriving on BBC America in mid-April with an air date in the UK at the beginning of the month. Despite my reservations about the new Doctor, I am positively giddy.

Now back to Spring Break!

update: If you go to Wondercon in San Fran you can watch the first episode of Dr. Who on April 3rd in the US, otherwise you can watch on BBC America on April 17.

atest trailer release below (not as interesting as the previous one):

Dr. Who The End of Time II (Spoilers)

Having seen the finale of Dr. Who two days in a row, and bits of it earlier, I am still processing the greatness of the episode and the loss of one of my two favorite Dr. Whos of all time. What I can say now, is that this last episode lived up to almost everything good about the series reboot 5 years ago. Where part I. was marred by bad special effects and questionable racial differences, part II shined in its writing, acting, homages to other iconic scifi shows and films, and it’s overall execution. The acting in “The End of Time” (both pt I and II) was epic, the humor timed perfectly, and the nod to scifi geeks everywhere a signal to part of what makes this show so great, ie its largely insider politic accessible to new folks.

It was particularly exciting to see Martha and Rose, the various cast members from Being Human, and of course Timothy Dalton as the President of the Time Lords. I can think of no one better, besides Ianto, for Captain Jack than George aka Alonso. There is something so simple and yet, when you think of Ianto’s passing, so brilliant about Dr. Who’s parting gift to Jack in the face of saving Martha’s life and Sarah Jane’s son, and giving Donna a way out of poverty.

Tennant’s poignancy and pathos in this episode brought tears to my eyes even as I questioned how Dr. Who could be so torn about killing The Master in the face of saving the whole human race AND having killed individual and entire species in the history of the show since the Time Wars. That said, both Tennant and Simms put in some of the best performances of the entire series in tonight’s episode. Their immense acting chops filled in that minor logic gap in the story. Like some of the most poignant episodes of Torchwood, the real story driving this finale about how The Master became the unhinged meglomaniac and how intimately tied together he and Dr. Who were, was the kind of writing that has made this show so much better than words can convey. Between watching Tennant grapple with the nightmares of what he did in the Time Wars and his impending death and Simms oscillate between the broken child looking for approval and the meglomaniac bent on dominating revenge, I cannot think of any two actors whose pairing has ever done Dr. Who so proud. When they banded together to save the universe it was a kind of magic that I don’t think any other actors or creative team could have pulled off.

There were so many high points in this episode that it seems a shame to mention the minute lows, but you know me. The “that’s racist” line was the sort of low brow racial anxiety manifesting as sarcasm that is beneath this series on so many levels; thankfully, it was the only foray into such failed discourse for the entire episode. It was also odd to have the Doctor’s life come to an end without the counterpoint of a female companion. In some ways it subverted a heterocentric regressive reading at the same time it unseated women’s roles in the show by relegating them to the background of this episode. Despite their absence in the critical action of the final episode, women continued to be present throughout. Dr. Who’s mother was watching over him until the very end, Sinead, as green alien #1, was the comedic thorn in his side throughout most of the episode, and perhaps most important of all, all of his companions (including the always lovely to see Sarah Jane) were all there to say goodbye. Perhaps the only think that took me aback was the inclusion of the actress from “The Family of Man”, as the child Dr. Who never had, and the exclusion of his actual child.

Perhaps for me, more than the nostalgia of the final moments of The End of Time Episode II, the Doctor’s tirade about his “reward” against Donna’s grandfather gave me insight into the show itself. I had always thought that moment when Martha and Dr. Who said goodbye, for the second time, was such a huge failure. Despite a “mysterious commenter” pointing out that the scene was meant to show his immense regret at not being better to Martha, I always saw it as the same dismissive anger that seemed to arise whenever she showed him undue affection, anger that ultimately was racially coded despite the intentions of the crew. Watching the Doctor rail against Donna’s grandfather, and the universe, tonight reframed those moments. There is a particular way that Tennant does regret and duty in the face of disappointment at himself that glowed tonight, so brightly it illuminated the Martha scene as well as so many others. And even though it seemed to cheapen Dr. Who for just a brief moment, it was glad to have it. (As glad as I was to see him bounce back and choose heroism and companionship at the end.)

Finally, while I do have trouble imagining Dr. Who as a person who would fear moving on to his next self rather than embrace it as so many other versions of the character have before, I could not think of any better way to showcase how immense David Tennant’s talent really is. His performance in this last episode was both in keeping with the strong performances we have all come to expect in the series and yet so much more. The revelation of how the Time Lords came to their end the first time around was all the more profound for it.

I think I will always miss seeing that quirky, big haired, man grinning and yelling “alonsi” on my tv, but as they say “today was a good day to die.” Goodbye David Tennant and thank you Russell T. Davies for an amazing reboot and an amazing finale.

UPDATE: Russel T. Davies announced that none of the female companions of the last 5 years will return to Dr. Who after this episode. Like so many good things, their stories have all come to an end. It makes seeing them all again all the more precious I think.

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all images property of BBC 2010 Dr. Who, except “companions” unattributed fan art

Matt Smith as Doctor Who: New Preview from BBC

I’ve been pretty clear on the blog that I don’t like the tweening of sci fi in the states or Britain; while increasingly younger actors bring in new, younger audiences, average age actors attract audiences across the spectrum. And as I’ve said, I think it is short sighted, at best, of the BBC to chase tweens at the potential cost of everyone else.  If you’ve ever read this blog you probably have already guessed that David Tennant is among my top 2 favorite Doctors of all time. I have seen them all and disliked only a rare few. I’ve watched this show my entire life (except when it wasn’t on the air and even then I was probably watching it in rerun). I even made jokes about it while playing lacrosse (ie that our safety gear looked like a “bad” Dr. Who episode.) Through various means, I have even had an inside line to production on Who for several years despite just being a wee little academic who blogs; and, I have been blessed by the anonymous Who-affiliated commenters throughout the years, including when they catch me on a bad day and I curse them out. (Yes, I’m hanging my head in shame on that last one.) And as an academic who studies media, among other things, I have a particular intellectual investment in the current reboot of Dr. Who for it’s contributions to race, gender, and sexuality discourses in modern science fiction. And so it has been both with trepidation and interest that I have watched Eccleston turn into Tennant and now the arrival of Matt Smith.

I cannot imagine a day that Dr. Who is on the air that I would not be watching. Even though I have many complaints about the proposed changes to the show, I am actually excited with the video I have seen so far (only some of which appears below). Despite my misgivings, these “insider clips” seem promising.

Make up your own minds from the 2 clips released by the BBC in anticipation of Matt Smith’s Spring debut; as I said, I think it looks fairly solid:

Goodbye David/ Regeneration Scene

Preview of 11th Doctor

Sorry I can’t give you anything else, but I don’t want anyone getting in trouble.

As always, I will be watching when Dr. Who returns in the Spring and I will be commenting both as a fan and an academic. Unfortunately, having recently met Matt Smith and found him to be cocky, cavalier, and completely out of touch with what it means to be playing the next Dr. Who, perhaps b/c he claims to have never seen the show prior to getting the job, I doubt I’ll be offering too many posts about him. What made Tennant great was that he was an amazingly funny and personable man, an immensely talented actor, and a bigger fan of Who than even I. Matt Smith has a fail on two of those things and the third remains to be seen. What I know about having met him, I would be willing to chew off my own skin to get away but hopefully that will have little reflection in the version of Dr. Who he offers us this upcoming season. We shall see.