ABW’s TV Corner – Doctor Who
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I decided that we needed a bit of lighter fare around here. TV blogging is more fun, even if it’s all about teh race and gender. Plus, you never know if the Hathor Legacy folks are watching…
This post contains some spoilers, but not major plot spoilers. So read at your own risk.
Months (and months and months) before the debut of Series 3 of the new Doctor Who there was much talk and pictures and speculation and general froofrah about the Doctor’s new companion, Martha. She’s billed as the first minority companion, though elsewhere people have pointed out that this is not quite accurate. In Series 1 and 2 Mickey sometimes traveled with 10 and Rose and in the 1996 movie there was an Asian guy who could technically count. But Martha is the first to be the main companion/star.
Pictures of them in character started to circulate, and I had high hopes. I just liked Martha on sight. For one thing, she’s got a great look. Beautiful girl, nice skin, and (I’ll admit this is extremely shallow) a good skin tone. Martha is representative of a darker hue — not as dark as Seal, say, but darker than Halle Berry — and that made me hope that she wouldn’t just be a ‘Heinlein Colored‘ person.
When the first episode aired, all of my hopes were fulfilled and moreso. Martha is clever. Brilliant, really. She asks smart questions. She loves an adventure. She’s brave and awesome. And the writers do a really good job of acknowledging that she’s Black without making her be All About The Blackness.
Example: in the second episode (Martha’s first trip through time) they land in 1599 and this exchange happens:
Martha: Am I all right? I’m not going to get carted off as a slave, am I?
Doctor: (look of utter bewilderment on his face) Why would they do that?
Martha: Not exactly white, case you haven’t noticed.
Doctor: I’m not even human. Just walk about like you own the place. Works for me.
In the first episode we meet her whole family – one brother, one sister, mother, father, and father’s girlfriend (more on this later). The family is awesome, too. I feel like these are people I might know or interact with.
In episode six Martha’s sister puts together a black tie event for her company. When Martha’s mom and brother arrive, M comments on how good Leo looks (and he does….). He jokes,
Yeah, if anyone asks me to fetch them a drink, I’ll swing for them.
In the same episode, Martha’s mom meets the Doctor and she’s immediately suspicious of him. It’s never stated clearly why she takes an instant dislike. I read it as a combination of things — she thinks that he’s dating or sleeping with her daughter, possibly preying on her since it’s obvious he’s a bit older, and distracting her from her medical school studies. I also think she’s totally suspicious of him because he’s a white dude possibly doing all these things.
It’s casual stuff like that — their acknowledgment without it becoming a stump speech for race issues — that marks the writers as people who Get It. I love people who Get It.
One thing I’ve noticed about Doctor Who (and some other BBC shows) is that the show does not suffer from the “all white universe” syndrome that American SF shows do. No matter if they’re in the present or travel into the future, there are brown people there. Brown people of all kinds — leaders, lackeys, stupid, smart, important to the plot, background filler. There are even some brown people in the past.
Another thing I’ve noticed about Doctor Who (and its spinoff Torchwood) is that there are a lot of interracial couples. In fact, I don’t think any non-white person who is involved in a romantic relationship is involved in a non-interracial one. There’s Mickey, Rose’s boyfriend, Donna and her fiancée, Ianto and Lisa, Tosh and Mary, Martha’s dad and Analise, possibly Martha’s brother and his partner, Milo and Cheen – those are the ones I can think of right now. I’m not sure what this signifies, exactly. It doesn’t make me angry, I just find it an interesting data point. I wonder what it means, if anything?
Another thing to note is that both Doctor Who and Torchwood have gay and bisexual characters and treat them in the same way. It’s not all about the character’s sexual preference, it’s just a part of who they are. Like in real life. This particular element is probably due to the fact that the show’s producer, Russell T. Davies, created the original British Queer as Folk. He knows that the gays are just like you and me.
So Doctor Who and Torchwood get a big A+ in my book. I love watching well-written SF shows. Add the excellent way in which they incorporate non-white, non-heterosexual characters makes them even better.