Quick Thoughts On What Was Wrong With “Deep Breath”

Now, I’m mostly going to be echoing what a lot of other people have been saying about last night’s new episode of Doctor Who, and many of those people will have said it better than I do.

Before I get started, let’s get this out of the way: I enjoyed the episode, and I think Peter Capaldi’s Doctor has potential. I do criticise Doctor Who fairly often, but once again: I like the show, as the fact I’m still watching it shows. I do think it’s worth looking at why Doctor Who attracts the criticism it does, though.

I’m skipping over the boring, trivial issues – yes, the episode has some really dumb plot points, but it’s a rare episode of Doctor Who that doesn’t, and in fact the rare TV show these days where dumb things don’t show up now and then (Orphan Black, I’m looking at you…). The issues worth noting concern the way the episode treats women.

It’s not so much about what Steven Moffat put in the script, but about asking why it was included.

A big deal was made in “Deep Breath” about Clara having difficulty adjusting to the new Doctor – and Madam Vastra outright accuses her of only being with the Doctor because he was young and good looking. This means that a significant part of the episode is spent on Clara having to explain that she isn’t and never has been interested in young, pretty men; the implication being that it would be wrong if she was with the Doctor partly because she found him attractive. The question is, why would that matter at all, and why is it relevant to the episode, to the point that they put this much emphasis on it? Why did Moffat feel the need to have Clara challenged on the issue of being attracted to the young Doctor, and have her accused of rejecting the new one because of his age?

The thing is, Vastra’s reaction to Clara and the subsequent interrogation seems entirely unwarranted. Yes, Clara is confused and upset by what has happened to the Doctor – she doesn’t know how his regeneration works, and he’s suddenly turned into a very confused old man. Vastra’s hostility to Clara comes when she asks the perfectly valid question – for someone in her situation – of how do we fix him?

Later, we have the scene where Strax, where he gives Clara a physical examination with some kind of alien device. The question again is why this scene was necessary. It’s another excuse to get some jokes out of Strax’s complete ignorance of human biology and lack of social graces, but beyond that it serves no purpose other than to make some jokes about Clara’s body, and one about female aging in particular. There’s also a bit about Clara’s subconscious being full of images of muscled young men doing things that may or may not be sports. While I do not object to the depiction of Clara as someone with a sexual side in itself, in the context of the rest of the episode it comes out as another attempt to belittle her for her sexual attractions. I’m only glad the scene managed not to have her react as if she were ashamed herself of those thoughts.

And finally there is the way Madam Vastra was depicted in the episode. Vastra is a lesbian, married to her “maid”, Jenny, and the episode takes every opportunity to use her to objectify the other two women in the cast. In the middle of a murder investigation, we see her having Jenny pose in a revealing outfit for what seems to be a portrait – but oh ho ho, she’s really tricked her wife into posting in her underwear for no reason, isn’t that hilarious. (Not really, no.) There are also repeated references to Vastra, a happily married woman, being attracted to Clara – including Clara accusing Vastra of thinking she is shallow just because she is attractive. Immediately after Vastra’s abuse of Jenny’s trust to get her to pose barely dressed is revealed, Clara walks into the room, and Vastra attempts to get her to take her clothes off also.

The scene’s only purpose in the episode is to laugh at Jenny’s expense and depict Vastra as a woman who eagerly objectifies other women. Anything relevant to the larger plot happens after this part is over.

Now, I think the key point to make here is that these latter two scenes are both played for laughs, and it’s very easy for people to just let those things slide when you do so. If something is portrayed as a harmless joke, a lot of people will gloss over it, and not realise the issues at play. Even minor things like these, though, are problematic because of how they normalise certain jokes and behaviours. Objectifying women is funny, women having water retention is funny, oh, ha ha, this young woman can’t stop thinking about young, attractive men, isn’t she silly. Funny how the show doesn’t do any of this stuff with male characters.

And the former scene I mentioned has its own whole host of issues, for the way it implicitly criticises women for liking the Doctor – which would probably include Doctors Smith, Tennant, and Eccleston – in part for being good looking. Given the large female fanbase of the show, this has not been well received.

Once again, I am not condemning Doctor Who. I just think the people making the show, particularly writer/showrunner Steven Moffat, need to ask themselves questions like why they’re including these jokes, and at whose expense they are being made.

(These quick thoughts have not been as quick as I intended.)

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One Last Hugo Thing

There’s one Hugo Award topic I’ve stayed completely silent on other than a couple of retweets, because I didn’t really feel all that familiar with the issue and lots of other people have talked about it. But not saying anything about it has been bothering me, so here goes.

If you follow discussion about the Hugo Awards, you probably know about this already, but I think most people in the places I post probably don’t. On this year’s ballot, in the Best Novelette category, is a work by Vox Day (aka Theodore Beale). Vox Day is an unrepentant sexist, racist asshole, and there’s plenty of documented evidence to show that.

Day’s presence on the ballot has been put down to him and Larry Correia (on the ballot for Best Novel) encouraging their followers to buy memberships and putting forward a slate of suggested nominees to include on their ballots. Several names on that list made it to the shortlist.

I have no intention of reading Vox Day’s novelette or including it on my voting ballot. I’m also inclined to pass over the other names associated with him through this nominating list.

I’ve seen people who want to see outrage over this situation (see that Bleeding Cool article I linked above, for example), but I can’t see what there is to be done about it other than just not voting for Vox Day and those who support him. They didn’t break the rules to get on the ballot, as far as anyone can tell, but they’re not going to win the awards, either. Of course, their very presence on the shortlist is being read by some as damning to the Hugos as a whole, but that opens a question over what could possibly be done to prevent it. I’m not sure there’s any way other than getting more people to buy Worldcon memberships and nominate each year. Add enough voices, and the small minority who support Theodore Beale – and who arguably only bought their own memberships to thumb their noses at those who dislike him – will be drowned out.

Thursday Linkdump Returns

This will probably not become a regular feature again.

Riot Square Sanctificare – Molly Crabapple

Why You Shouldn’t Tell That Random Girl On The Street That She’s Hot

The Dollar-And-Cents Case Against Hollywood’s Exclusion of Women – fivethirtyeight

Confirmation Bias, Epic Fantasy, and You – N K Jemisin

Rising from the Middle East – Arab sci-fi

Buried Badasses: The Forgotten Heroines of pre-Code Comics – Saladin Ahmed

Sam Sykes on learning new things

World Record Book Domino Chain

Thursday Linkdump

And since it’s Halloween, I’m throwing in a few links on that theme. Those’ll be at the bottom.

1. A Good Men’s Rights Movement is Hard to Find
On the problems with “men’s rights” communities online and the harm they’re doing to women and men.

2. I Got Better
Wil Wheaton on depression.

3. It’s Not a Real Heart, It’s a Real Artificial Heart
Ann Leckie on the question of the “significance” of works of SF/F fiction that do better than usual with regard to sexism and racism, but are otherwise similar to other works.

4. Putting Time Into Perspective
A series of images showing time on various scales, and how little of it we’ve been around for.

And for Halloween:

5. Out of Skin

6. The Little Witch
(Found via The Bloggess)

7. The Thing of the Fourble Board
(Found via Kate Beaton)

Thursday Linkdump

It’s a big one, this week. I always have trouble deciding what order to post these in… Guess I’ll start with writing-related stuff then move on.

1. The Worst Ways To Begin Your Novel

2. Wonderbook
This came out last week from Jeff VanderMeer, it’s an excellent illustrated writing guide, which I’m slowly reading through (and trying to follow the writing exercises). Here are a couple of interesting interviews about the book:
Interview with Jeff VanderMeer
Interview with artist Jeremy Zerfoss

3. Maureen Johnson on Dealing with Criticism

4. Kameron Hurley on Why Being “Good” Isn’t Good Enough

5. Let’s Talk About Racism in the Classics, on BookRiot

6. On Video Game Reviews
Focusing largely on Bioshock Infinite, but talking about reviews in general, Tevis Thompson has some interesting points to make.

7. A review of DSM-5, the new dystopian novel from the American Psychiatric Association

8. Myke Cole on True Grit

9. Petra Collins on Censorship and the Female Body

10. L Gwenn on Sexy Objects and the People Inside Them

11. Interview with Laurie Penny on Cybersexism

12. Author Ann Leckie with an interesting essay on the human mind
(The headline on the article really doesn’t seem to fit the content.)

13. And finally, some science news on possible new ways to make smaller particle accelerators

Thursday Linkdump

That time again. Running through them quickly.

1. Why I Will Never Return to the USA
A Dutch man’s experience trying to cross the US border.

2. Female in Public

3. Why an Attack on Sexism in Tech is NOT an Attack on Men

4. Matt Fraction on Suicidal Thoughts
Very good, honest post.

5. Race and the Changing Face of Geekdom

6. Nicola Griffith on Characters’ Sexuality

7. The Blog Post That Lost Me Half My Audience
Kameron Hurley on including men in feminist conversations.

8. Writing is not Breathing
On those old cliches about writers needing to keep writing.

9. “Keep Your Politics Out of My Video Games” (video)

10. You Have Body Issues
Excellent short comic about body issues. I’ve decided to end this list by talking a bit personally on this subject.

Whenever I’m not at work, I wear polo shirts. Several years back, I used to wear t-shirts all the time – now I never do. What changed? I started noticing my chest.

If I put on a t-shirt now, all I can see in the mirror is my slightly flabby chest sticking out. Polo shirts, with the buttons and collar, seem to distract from it. I know its irrational, and there’s actually very little difference, but I can’t bring myself to go outside in a t-shirt any more. I get way too self-conscious.

So yes, we all have our body issues.

Thursday Linkdump

Quick one this time. I don’t like that these are all I’m posting lately, so I’ll try to write some new posts up over the next week.

1. Amplituhedron
As someone who studied physics, I find this stuff pretty fascinating. A new geometric shape that can be used to describe particle interactions in a much more efficient way. Read the original on Quanta Magazine if you want the full story.

2. Designing Cities with Women in Mind
This article in the Atlantic talks about how the city of Vienna in Austria is using “gender mainstreaming” to improve city planning. The idea is simple: they survey the people about how they use the city to determine what changes to make, and by deliberately looking at gender in the process, they can make it better for everyone. It’s not about designing things for men and designing them for women, it’s about remembering to take all activities into account.

3. Do Gamers Need Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminism
Here’s a video that talks about why Feminist Frequency, and the reactions to it, are important.

4. “Racists React To [thing]” posts are just passive white supremacy
In this post of the above title, David Brothers talks about recent trends of articles talking about all the racist reactions online to things like Nina Davuluri winning Miss America, and how by focusing on the extreme reactions and not the achievements of the person being reacted to, they amount to little more than an exercise in self-congratulation for not being as racist as those people. Further, he points out that constantly highlighting these extreme racist reactions serves to reinforce the idea that this is all racism is, and doesn’t help when it comes to recognising racism in its more subtle or institutional forms.