Category Archives: Doctor Who

Girl talk.

As I was telling Thomas, I’m not sure my reaction to “School Reunion” will count as traditional philosophy as much as it will a discussion of relationship dynamics, so bear with me. (Actually, I feel like a number of my colloquium posts aren’t so much traditional philosophy as much as they are Examinations Of Things I Feel Strongly About As Portrayed In Doctor Who. Still counts, right? Sorry, mysterious Blog-Grading Gods, but as you’ve failed to provide any kind of rubric I’m gonna continue to make this up as I go along.)

Right. Honestly, I never liked this episode. The cheesy effects and Scooby Doo-style mystery aren’t the issue — I mean, come on, this is Doctor Who. And I have absolutely no problem with the newly re-introduced Sarah Jane Smith, one of the Doctor’s old companions. She’s a truly lovely woman who really did deserve her own show, and I’ve always been fond of her. No, the thing I didn’t care for was the really forced tension between Sarah Jane and Rose Tyler.

The Doctor-Companion dynamic has always been one of my favorite aspects of the show, because it shows mixed-gender relationships that are very close without necessarily being romantic. And that’s really unusual in media! People tend to assume, as they often do in real life, that one cannot simply be good friends with a person of the opposite gender without ~romance~ factoring into the picture in some way, which is irritating and inaccurate. Though Rose and the Tenth Doctor do end up in a romantic-type relationship (I’m afraid time and space conspired to make their status the equivalent of “it’s complicated”), historically the Doctor and his companions have not. This latter category includes Sarah Jane.

So it never really made sense to me why Rose and Sarah Jane would spend most of “School Reunion” being catty towards one another and squabbling over the Doctor like jealous teenagers.  Say you run into a friend who you haven’t seen in ages, and they introduce you to a new friend they’ve been traveling with recently. Are you immediately going to bristle and dislike the other person? I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t. I think it does both Rose and Sarah Jane a disservice, character-wise, to reduce them to such petty arguments for the majority of the episode, and it re-enforces some unfortunate ideas about how women interact with one another.

There’s more to it than that, I know. I’m simply a bit frustrated with this whole “bitchy girlfriend/ex rivalry” trope — it shows up in fiction all the time, and it’s stale and obnoxious. For a show that likes to explore unconventional relationships in some very interesting ways, this episode was not a moment of particular brilliance.

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“Tooth and Claw” contains one of my favorite geeky tropes: werewolves. I should probably blame watching Van Helsing a few too many times when I was a kid, but I’ve always been irrationally fond of any plot arc involving lycanthropy. As an added bonus, this episode also involved David Tennant speaking in his (authentically charming but unintelligible) Scottish accent, and Queen Victoria being hardcore. We were very much amused.

There’s a particular moment in this episode that I feel is an accurate summary of how the Doctor looks at the universe at large. He charges into a cellar to rescue Rose and company from where they’re being held captive, only to come face-to-face with the huge, newly-transformed werewolf. Instead of recoiling in horror or simply running for his life, he stops in his tracks to just look at it in awe. “Oh, you’re beautiful — ” he manages to tell it before Rose seizes his hand and his sense of self-preservation kicks in.

When the Doctor encounters a new monster, his initial reaction is almost always curiosity and joy. There’s something pretty wonderful about the ability to look at something ugly or scary and appreciate its novelty, or even see something beautiful about the way it’s made. He doesn’t immediately pass judgement or jump to conclusions about unknown creatures, but seeks to understand them and find out as much about them as he can.

I may be biased, as I’ve got a similar streak in my own personality. In my wildlife science classes I often gravitate towards conventionally unappealing animals — wild boar, hyenas, cicadas, vultures — simply because they are bizarre, and it charms me. I am constantly reminded that the natural world is not a safe, sanitary and cuddly place. It keeps you on your toes and fills you with a sense of wonder, even if that wonder is sometimes mixed with a bit of confusion or fear.

The Doctor understands this, and I think it’s one of his major strengths as a person. At 900 years old, the fact that he still gets excited over encountering something unexpected and new is reassuring for everybody, and further proof that, even for a Time Lord, the world is just awesome.

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Don’t you think she looks tired?

There’s always so much I want to talk about in regards to our weekly Who episodes. The problem is that while it’s fun and easy to have post-episode discussions with friends (indeed, it’s often my favorite part of viewing any show, and I almost never watch TV if I don’t have someone to watch it with me) it takes a fair bit of effort to condense those thoughts into a coherent, vaguely philosophically-oriented form for these posts.

“The Christmas Invasion” is another example of why that’s so difficult to do. There are any number of points one could touch on — learning how to cope when a friend lets you down in a time of need, for example, or dealing with a friend who’s undergone dramatic changes in their life (though regeneration is, for the most part, beyond the range of human experience). However, I think I’ll focus on Prime Minister Harriet Jones’s actions at the end of the episode, and the Doctor’s reaction to what he believes was an unforgivable mistake on her part.

After Earth has been held hostage by the Sycorax, a race of hostile aliens who intend to use blood control to enslave humanity, the newly-regenerated Doctor defeats their leader and banishes then under the oft-quoted Articles of the Shadow Proclamation. As the Sycorax depart, PM Jones orders Torchwood to destroy their ship to send a message to other would-be extraterrestrial colonizers that Earth will not tolerate invasion attempts. The Doctor is furious, but Jones stands by her actions — as she points out, it needs to be common knowledge that Earth can and will defend itself in case the Doctor isn’t around, as he was incapacitated for most of this episode and barely managed to save the day this time around.

The Doctor threatens to bring Harriet Jones down “with six words” unless she changes her mind, but the prime minister defends her decision. I’ve never been comfortable with what happens next — the Doctor quietly and deliberately asks Jones’s aide, “Don’t you think she looks tired?” This seems to plant a seed of doubt in those surrounding Jones, and when we see her again at the end of the episode, she’s on TV, defending herself against a proposed vote of no confidence. I know it’s supposed to be a reference to rumors spread about Margaret Thatcher at the end of her term as PM in the real world, but there seem to be unfortunate gender-based implications to the way she was brought down. This was an awfully low blow on the Doctor’s part. As a leader who had accepted responsibility for the fate of the human race, Jones was well within her rights to act as she did, but in doing so, she disagreed fundamentally with the Doctor, which to him meant that he would be justified in taking her down.

This says a lot about the Doctor’s re-arranged personality. Though David Tennant’s Doctor is talkative and charming and manically cheerful, that ruthless streak we first saw in the Ninth Doctor seems to have been brought even closer to the surface. Though this new Doctor is often seen as more “fun” than Eccleston’s prickly Nine, he’s got an arrogant streak that will continue to cause drama as his adventures continue. We’ll certainly have the opportunity to address it again.


…Oh, and one last thing: I told you that tea fixes everything.

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One of the issues I inevitably face when writing blog posts for this colloquium is resisting the urge to just keysmash and flail about my ~feelings~. Doctor Who tends to elicit a pretty powerful emotional reaction from me, and I often have to take a step back before I can write about it coherently from any kind of literary perspective.

“Dalek” is one of several episodes that never fails to move me because it reveals just how broken and unstable the Doctor is himself. When he and Rose stumble across a captured Dalek, the last member of the alien race that was destroyed along with the Doctor’s own people in the Time War. Daleks are described as killing machines genetically programmed to exterminate everything in the universe that isn’t a Dalek as well. Don’t let their appearance fool you — they may look like mutated trash cans, but they are utterly ruthless and utterly deadly.

The Doctor is terrified to find one of his old enemies locked in an underground bunker with him, but that terror quickly turns to a vicious sort of glee when he realizes it is weak and helpless from being experimented upon.  Rose, who encounters the Dalek while it is incapacitated and relatively harmless, is horrified when the Doctor tries to kill it. She cannot see any justification for killing a hurt and unarmed creature, even given the Doctor’s history with its race. The Doctor will have none of it. Blinded by the pain of his own past, he wants this opportunity to take revenge on one of the creatures that destroyed his home world — when, in fact, the Doctor caused the cataclysm that ended the Time War that burned both worlds himself.

“You would make a good Dalek,” the alien tells the Doctor. It’s disturbing that it takes an accusation of that magnitude for the Doctor to realize the implications of what he wanted to do — he was willing to kill the last creature of its kind while it couldn’t possibly have hurt him based on an old and incredibly bitter grudge. While his actions are understandable, they are far from justifiable — at least until the Dalek breaks free and lives up to its murderous reputation. It’s a sobering episode for everyone.

Like I told Chelsea, I wish I could just set up a big neon sign pointing to her post on this episode that says yes, I agree with all of this. I suppose linking there is the digital equivalent. She makes some excellent points; go read them.

I just realized I linked to a blog post that’s written well in the future compared to this one. Wibbly wobbly timey wimey indeed.

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Just this once, everybody lives.

The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances are two of my episodes of any TV series, period. Granted, they also left me with a mortal fear of gas masks and small British children inquiring as to the location of their mothers, but hey, it’s to be expected. Doctor Who excels at taking benign objects and situations and making them completely terrifying just because it can. The writers are a slightly twisted lot at times, and I love them for it.

To make a long story significantly shorter, Rose and the Doctor find themselves in London during the Blitz, where they meet Captain Jack Harkness, a time-traveling con man who intended to sell what he thought was a piece of space junk but instead released a truly disturbing sort of artificial plague. Jack’s scheme was strictly about the money and he planned to let a pre-determined event (a falling German bomb) cover his tracks and clean up any mess he left behind. Unfortunately, thanks to some ill-programmed nanobots, he wound up creating an army of gas-mask bedecked zombies and came very close to getting himself, as well as the Doctor and Rose, killed. Luckily for Our Heroes (and humanity at large), a solution is found, and as the Doctor joyously exclaims, “just this once, everybody lives.”

Technically, the philosophical question we’re supposed to address is this: is there such a thing as a victimless crime? However, in this case, the crime wasn’t victimless, so I’m going to approach the original prompt abstractly.

Jack never meant to hurt anyone. Should he have been punished for the consequences of his actions anyway? At the end of the episode, Jack captures the aforementioned German bomb with his ship so that it won’t detonate over the crowd of newly-cured Londoners, dooming himself in the process. He seemed resigned to his fate once he realized he couldn’t jettison the bomb or abandon ship, perhaps considering it just punishment for the damage he’d caused.

The Doctor clearly didn’t think so. Despite having raged at the con man when the results of his carelessness became apparent, the Doctor swooped in to rescue Jack  moments before the ship blew up. It was reassuring to see this side of him, as the Ninth tends to exist on a sliding scale from sarcastic to prickly to downright ruthless. (Though Doctor Who is intended as a family show, it’s awfully dark sometimes, the actions and motivations of its titular character included.) I wonder, though, if the Doctor would have been inclined to save Jack at all if everybody hadn’t lived. Mercy is a quality that doesn’t always come easy to the Ninth Doctor, a topic that’ll be addressed in next week’s episode as well.

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We’re falling through space, you and me.

Last Wednesday marked the beginning of the Doctor Who and Philosophy colloquium, which I’m finally getting around to writing about nearly a week later. (As the Doctor says, you should always waste time when you don’t have any. Time is not the boss of you.)

As this served mostly as an introduction to the world of Doctor Who, this week’s question was not particularly philosophical, but made for a good discussion anyway: if a man with a blue box showed up and offered to take you away on adventures through space and time, would you go with him?

My answer was “Yes!*”

*but give me a second to think about it first.

I’ve been watching Doctor Who since the new series started in 2005, so I’ve technically had quite a while to contemplate the question every Whovian asks themselves.  Doctor Who was originally created as a children’s show that evolved into a science fiction adventure story, but in spite of its silliness and bad CGI, there is a lot of darkness to its universe. Traveling with the Doctor is dangerous business. It’s exceedingly rare that an episode goes by without somebody dying, and not even the major characters are safe. In the show, we’ve seen acts of murder, torture, suicide, even genocide — the latter once committed, albeit unwillingly, by the Doctor himself.

The Doctor isn’t all sweetness and light, either. In spite of his appearance, he isn’t human. He’s an alien: very old, the last of his kind, the only survivor of a war that destroyed his people and a large chunk of time itself. The incarnation we’re starting with in class, the Ninth Doctor, is still suffering from crippling survivor’s guilt and a degree of PTSD. Left to his own devices, he gets lonely and terribly sad. This is why he needs companions — they give him a fresh set of eyes to see through, and somebody to talk to and keep him company for a while.

In spite of the darkness and pain under the surface of the show, there’s a lot of real beauty there too. Imagine: the chance to road-trip across the universe and go anywhere you’d like in time or space. You’d see worlds you couldn’t have imagined in your wildest dreams, meet aliens and work with new technology, and witness your own world’s past and future — or even alternate versions of your own reality. The universe is full of more wonders than we can possibly imagine, and this show is a good reminder that even outside the realm of fiction, the world is full of amazing things and people.

The reason that I’d hesitate to join the Doctor is the danger of never making it home. It’s not out of concern for my own well-being, per se. If it were, I wouldn’t be studying Wildlife Biology with plans to work in the Australian Outback somewhere down the line. There is a very real risk of injury in my career field. My sense of self-preservation takes a backseat, on occasion, to my fascination and love of the natural world. My friends joke about my exaggerated tendency to try absurd things in the name of science, but there’s a bit of truth to it. I am always one to leap at the chance for a new experience, and if I passed on the chance to travel the universe because I was afraid of the unknown, I’d never be able to forgive myself.

I think the real issue is that I wouldn’t want to leave my family and friends behind forever. Injury (or possibly even death) for me? No big shakes. (I could talk about faith here and why dying doesn’t freak me out as badly as it does to some, but it’s already past two in the morning and I’m just rambling now, so I’ll save that for some other time.) There’s a lot I’d still like to see and do here on earth, and if given the choice I’d certainly want to live long enough to do something with my life that would help other people and make the world a better place, even if it’s just in a small way. But I’ve got a younger sister and my parents and a roommate and a best friend, and I wouldn’t want to cause them stress and pain on my behalf. I want to be able to look out for them.

So if I were to hear the grating whirr of Tardis engines outside the HRC some afternoon, I might hesitate a moment. Send out a quick text my family and friends, tell them I’ ll be traveling for a while so I might be hard to reach, but not to worry. I’ll be fine, and maybe even bring them back some souvenirs. And then I’d sprint downstairs and out the door, with no regrets, to the adventure of a lifetime.

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Can’t believe I’m getting graded by running commentary on a British sci-fi show.

Philosophy and Doctor Who it is, then, but if I had the time I’d  try to take all of these colloquia. I’ll probably wind up dropping by most of the other groups at some point just to see what they’re up to.

And here’s Adam Savage from Mythbusters dancing to the Doctor Who theme being played by giant Tesla coils. Just because.

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