Doctor Who: Doubling Trouble and Inverting Expectations

That speech from Zygon Inversion was epic in its ambitions, was it not? It was a just denouement to the story that began with The Doctor and Queen Elizabeth, in that it returned to where it stopped last time, in the UNIT black vault with Osgood, Kate Stewart, The Doctor and Clara. I appreciated the aesthetic call back to The Moment, with the Osgood boxes. Nice. And a nice third double. Two Osgoods, Clara and Bonnie and the two Osgood boxes.

For some perplexed or deflated by the fact this scenario ended with a monologue, I’d like to introduce them to the concept of diplomacy. It’s how people talk out their differences in order to avoid things like disputes which lead to hostile relations and even war. Without this crucial talking to each other, negotiating, compromising, rethinking, there would only be more war. I understand in drama, even family drama, violence can be an entertainment. However, this particular program has been a 10 year arc featuring The Doctor’s recovery from the mental and emotional anguish of The Time War. Of course he was never going to resort to a battle.

If you were expecting a fight instead of diplomacy, you're watching the wrong program.

If you were expecting a fight instead of diplomacy, you’re watching the wrong program.

Beyond this arc though, the program is *about* doing things smarter. Sometimes that is fixing things and other times it is by using the right words. This program demonstrates that intelligence (The Doctor) informed by compassion (Companions) can overcome almost anything. It makes those moments of actual violence more profound. Had Kate and the Zygon been in a different situation one of them would not be dead. In this exchange each of them ‘return to form.’ This is sad, but also nostalgic with Kate’s reference to ‘five rounds rapid‘. The Doctor maybe trying to show a way beyond war, but violence sadly remain an option and humans remain militaristic.

Of course this violence is also turned inward. The man begging only to live, to exist, but tortured by the knowledge of  the un-acceptance for his true identity was a profound a comment on current political and social issues as you can make within the limits of this family program. Tortured for being who you are, learning to hate yourself, being unable to express your identity, these are concepts that demonstrate common truths of the human condition. All done within 45 odd minutes of a British TV show about the adventures of a constantly travelling alien.

(Clara + Bonnie) – Bonnie + Osgood (- Osgood) + Bonnie X Osgood

Clara seems to be source of a lot of negativity regarding the last couple of series. I’ve read of her being accused of making the program less Doctor Who and more the Clara Who show. Others have found her characterisation flat. Both of these criticisms are invalid.

I will show you why.

Clara has undergone an arc. As Clara she began as a techno-useless nanny stuck in work limbo as she grieved the death of her mother. Gradually, through her experiences with The Doctor and encounters with a varied array of stuff from ridiculous to profound, she learned who she was, what she was capable of.  She learned she could overcome fears and win battles even as she battled to balance life and travel, a relationship and work, work and everything else. She became a quick study in how The Doctor operates and used his reasoning to solve problems (Flatline). She also used her teaching experience against alien robots. She harnessed her rage and grief to try to blackmail The Doctor and used all her innate compassion for children to comfort and teach The Doctor as a boy.

Like how dare women take up more than 33% of talking time on TV, it's not like they've ever ruled empires before.

How dare women take up more than 33% of talking time on TV, it’s not like they’ve ever ruled empires before.

I would also argue every time she has been upset has been entirely justified. Of course she was traumatised by regeneration, just as The Doctor was, but then Capaldi’s Doctor morphed into a jerk who insulted kids and forced people into situations where they had to make decisions while he withheld vital information (Kill the Moon). If Matt Smith’s Doctor sometimes patronised her it was odd, but he never treated badly. At least this season things have softened.  They are more of a team. They both know themselves and each other, better.

Another part of me suspects this negativity towards Clara is somehow rooted in sexism. As a character who becomes a teacher, she carries a certain amount of natural authority – all teachers simply must do this. I observed it when I lived with student teachers, they begin like the rest of us, but soon grow into the role they assume and then they rarely take a rest from it. The other thing about teachers is they like to talk. Clara has a way with words. I’ve argued this before, that her main attribute has been her ability to say the right thing at the right time. In this latest episode she does it again, through manipulating Bonnie to reach out to The Doctor via text.

So, here we have a woman with the confidence of authority who can talk and make an argument. A woman who not only survives the death of her mother and partner, but thrives to hold her own (now) with Zygons and The Doctor alike. There should be more characters like her, not less.  The fact that some viewers find Clara so problematic illustrates more their own biases and expectations of women than any problem with the depiction of this character.

Look, it’s not your fault if you are finding dealing with women in programs like Who difficult. Women have been absent in film and television, and you’ve been unconsciously trained to see, listen and give more weight to men. Mainly because it’s almost always been like this. There remains programs with less women, or less women in speaking roles. In fact there are plenty of those:

The basics are that for every one female-speaking character in family-rated films (G, PG and PG-13), there are roughly three male characters; that crowd and group scenes in these films — live-action and animated — contain only 17 percent female characters; and that the ratio of male-female characters has been exactly the same since 1946.

This statistic demonstrates more though:

Geena Davis Institute for Gender In Media…argued this imbalance relates to and reinforces the way men perceive the actual number of women in any given room.

“If there’s 17 percent women, the men in the group think it’s 50-50,” she told NPR. “And if there’s 33 percent women, the men perceive that as there being more women in the room than men.”

Thus, if Clara gets a mere third of the talking time, viewers will think she is taking over the program. And if she does actually get 50% of the airtime, no wonder people hate her, it’s like she’s pushed The Doctor out the door of the TARDIS entirely. Ohnoes!

I wonder, then, how these people coped with Clara and Osgood and Kate all at the same time, even if they were mostly formed a silent chorus of  support for The Doctor and the program as it strives to invert expectations.

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