Thursday, April 26, 2012

Class, Race, Fandom, and Dr. Who


Dr.Who is a BBC TV show that's run, off and on, since the 1960s. The Doctor reincarnates whenever a new actor takes over the role—so far, all the Doctors have been white, male, British, and vaguely middle-to-upper class.

Except one.

Christopher Eccleston is known to fans as the Ninth Doctor. I loved him because his incarnation of the Doctor, with a Northern English accent and a black leather jacket, evokes the working class. Some people didn't like him for that reason; a snobbish Guardian writer refers to Eccleston's Doctor as "looking like an EastEnders extra".

The Doctor is traditionally accompanied by a companion or two, the show's Watsons. My favorite, Billie Piper's very working-class Rose Tyler, began with Eccleston and continued when David Tennant  became the Doctor's tenth incarnation. You may argue whether the Ninth Doctor's working class status was a matter of sympathy or identity—though he was reborn in a new human form, he was still a Time Lord—but Rose Tyler was, in the words of the actress who played her, "a bit of a chav." (The show made that explicit when Rose, possessed by an alien intelligence, looked in a mirror and exclaimed, "Oh my god! I'm a chav!")


Many fans saw what that Guardian writer missed. Backword Dave at “The new Doctor Who” at A Fistful of Euros noted:
Both Rose and the Doctor seem to be “working class.” So far they’ve stood up for enslaved corporate hacks against unnamed bankers, overthrown a despotic billionaire who considered his staff “disposable,” supported an honest (and Labour seeming) MP against a corrupt system, visited a Victorian funeral parlour (where the most likeable characters were a maid and Charles Dickens). In the second episode, the sympathetic character was some kind of maintenance worker, and in episode 1, Rose worked in a department store. Where is the middle classness?
The white Rose Tyler had a black boyfriend, Mickey Smith, who could be considered a companion, but his part wasn't as important as Rose's. The first major black character in Doctor Who was Piper's successor, Freema Agyeman, who played Martha Jones, a middle class medical student.


Just as Rose was an excuse to acknowledge class issues, Martha was an opportunity to explore race. How well the writers did depends on who you ask.

Now, the Doctor always reincarnating as a white male has bugged me for ages. Whoopi Goldberg hinted decades ago that she would love the part, and she should've had it. Or if the producers insisted on someone male and British, Lenny Henry would've been great, as he proved in a spoof in 1985.



But when people talk about race and Dr. Who, they focus on Martha and especially on a scene from "Human Nature": Martha, who had been pretending to be the Doctor's housemaid in 1913, tries to convince an upper-class Brit that she's from the future:
MARTHA: I'm training to be a doctor. Not an alien doctor, a proper doctor. A doctor of medicine. 
JOAN: Well that certainly is nonsense. Women might train to be doctors, but hardly a skivvy and hardly one of your color.
It's a brilliant scene. The comment about "hardly a skivvy and hardly one of your color" tackles race and class simultaneously: To an upper-class Brit in 1913, being a doctor isn't for the working class, and it's especially not for brown-skinned members of that class.

But some of scifi fandom's Critical Race Theorists hate that scene. K. Tempest Bradford denounced it on a Tumblr page. then accused its writer, Paul Cornell, of "unintentional" racism at “Let’s Talk About Human Nature”, where she also complained about the Doctor getting to pass as a teacher, while Martha had to be a servant.

Two important points:

1. Bradford's comment about "unintentional" racism absolves no one of racism. All racism is unintentional: racists do what they do because they believe what they believe, not because they intend to be racist.

2. In this story, the middle-class Martha has accepted a working-class role to avoid calling attention to herself. Martha’s predecessor, Rose, wore a maid’s costume at least once; the Doctors companions have often passed themselves off as servants, I suspect.


What fascinates me about the discussion is that no one at Tumblr said a word about class, nor did Bradford at her blog.

But Paul Cornell, replying at Bradford's blog, mentioned class immediately:
...the question is, do we have everyone in (upper class, somewhat sheltered) 1914 be portrayed as absolutely non-racist, or do we note the possibility? I hate it when series set in the past ignore the racism of previous eras to extraordinary degrees. (To not have Martha hammered with it *every time* she sets foot in the past was, though, I think, the right decision.) I think it airbrushes the suffering of individuals back then out of history, by implicitly saying things were always all right. However, as you’re in the group portrayed here, I think your voice should have weight, and I don’t want to push it aside through my own privilege. It’d be really good if we could manage to have the (perhaps first ever) caring, dignified chat about race in the series. Mainly because I’m an enormous wuss and if it gets heated I could well disgrace myself with the wailing and the sobbing.
What Cornell missed with his "you're in the group portrayed here" is Bradford is not, because there's not a united black race. Bradford is a middle class fan whose Angry Black Woman blog excludes class from its concerns. She once said, "I rarely mention class because it’s not an issue I’m particularly familiar with." It's no surprise that in the conversation with Cornell, she continued to ignore class.

Cornell did not. He said:
I think it’s clear that, in some ways, we simply let you down, and I’m sorry about that. Some of this stuff one just can’t argue with, really. Back then we saw ‘chosen by the Tardis’ as a more poetic way of saying ‘by a roll of the dice’, but yes, it’s our choices that mattered. As a British person, the idea that in 1914 Joan would have known about women of colour being doctors feels very strange to me. That sort of cultural information would have been hard to come by (people of her class would have been surprised by that, I think, up until the 1950s, some much later), and I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to assume her ignorance. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think one of the reasons the text is problematic for you is that you feel kicked by the heroine expressing such things. The way institutional bigotries touch good people (because I think it’s important to be able to acknowledge one’s own racism, so I also think it’s important to show racism as a flaw in otherwise positive characters) is a theme in my work. I’ve read the Butler, which is, as you say, the best sort of SF.
Bradford then replied:
I will have to defer to historians on this one, because I admit I don’t know.
Despite acknowledging her ignorance, Bradford didn't change her mind. At Tumblr, she said:
Having a discussion with Paul Cornell about this episode over on my blog. I’m realizing again (always have to re-realize this stuff) how some people just do not see the world the same way as others. They just don’t fathom how everything in this episode is just… arg.
To people like Bradford who care only about the depiction of race, class and history are always irrelevant.

I can suggest answers to her plot complaints, though whether my explanations are implied by the script or are only fan-spackling, I don't know. She says:
People have pointed out that the Doctor did not choose the time and place, the TARDIS dd. Well, TARDIS: wtf? Still not okay. ... In the world of the show that is bad enough. But I find it to be handwavy and bull on the part of the writer/creators/whoever came up with this idea. It looks like they’re trying to absolve the Doctor of responsibility here, and that’s a dick way to do so. Plus, it doesn’t fly for the TARDIS, either, as it’s been well established by this point that it has a consciousness, too.
1. Having the Tardis rather than the Doctor choose a time and place at random seems like a good plan if you're trying to hide from creatures who can travel in time and space.

2. Throughout the show's history, the Tardis has been presented as slightly damaged and not completely dependable. Maybe it goofed up when it chose 1913 Britain.

3. A time-traveling vehicle with an alien consciousness might not know or care to avoid sending Martha to any place with a history of racism. That choice would rule out Martha visiting much of Europe and the Americas after slavery in those places was restricted to one race.

4. The Tardis may have thought the Doctor's pursuers would never think they would hide in a racist time. If so, it was being considerate in sending them to 1913 Britain rather than the Antebellum South or Britain before 1833.

Bradford also complained:
It’s yet another example in a long list of examples where Martha is put into the Mammy role. I might have let it slide except it happens so often it’s a damn theme, and that’s really problematic.
It's actually another example of companions put in servant roles. Did anyone complain when the working class Rose Tyler was put into a maid's role?

For these critics of the handling of Martha Jones, the question doesn't seem to be whether the stories accurately present prevailing attitudes toward race and class. The question is whether it's racist for a middle-class black woman to visit a time where black women are assumed to be working class. That Martha is heroic isn't doubted; she's a much-loved character in Who fandom. I think her fans who wanted her written differently are missing something the writers know: part of her heroism comes from confronting racism. She could have been written like Star Trek's Uhura and only visited post-racial and non-racial places. That would have been a valid choice of the writers.

But it would have meant keeping her out of the last five hundred years of history where English was spoken.

Or it would have meant ignoring racism in those times.

Good writers know a truth about storytelling that fans don't: A writer's job isn't to give fans what they want. It's to give them what they need. If fans are upset because a beloved character faces hard realities, their upset may only be a sign that the writers are doing their job well.

33 comments:

  1. Human Nature script begins the very week in 1913 when most of the leading papers in the UK carried the news that a Black British male had been elected mayor of Battersea. Most of the articles were not favorable as John Archer was a Briton of African and Irish descent. No matter, he was still elected in November of 1913. In 1900 and 1909 London was host to first Pan African Congress meetings, and among the attendees were "two lady Doctors". Samuel Coleridge Taylor had just passed away, but even in pastoral England persons enjoyed his Hiawatha Suite. What is troubling about Cornell's eagerness to show that people in the past suffered is that it appears that neither he or anyone on the Who creative staff seemed eager or even informed enough to show the exceptions when it came to the accomplishments Black British populace. The possibility of exception is dismissed. We are to assume that it is 1913 and all white persons were prejudiced, (in spite of the Anti-Caste movement and Liberal and Labor efforts in class, ethnic, and gender equality) and that traveling in the past, someone like Martha Jones would fine not one person who shared her complexion had challenged mode as far education or other endeavors. That is a disservice to viewers. On a personal note, I did not find the comments of Joan, --which reflected both her ignorance of the admitted slow change in London as to education of POC, and the privilege her class gave her,-- anywhere near as racist as John Smith’s behavior and comments to Martha. Smith in explaining the difference between reality and fiction to his servant was the epitome of casual, social racism. What is troubling about that image is that in Cornell’s novel of the same title, the Doctor in John Smith’s psyche would have been horrified that any part of him would believe that because of a person’s complexion—which is the only visible cultural (as opposed to class) differences between Martha Jones and Joan—would affect her intelligence. We can’t blame the TARDIS for picking a time period, if the assumption is to be made that by merely transporting back to 1913 and becoming a white, male British human the Doctor had no choice but to become a racist.

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    1. It's alway tough deciding how to portray people in racist times, because it's very true that there are always exceptions. The trick is when to include the exceptions. My take is Joan was supposed to be fairly typical, a well-meaning woman who took her social advantages for granted.

      It is great to hear about the mayor of Battersea. The past is never as tidy as ideologues want to make it.

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    2. Did anyone complain when the working class Rose Tyler was put into a maid's role Yes. Rose was allowed the agency to complain. She was--because she was not qualified to impersonate a teacher, sulky because she had to be a lunch lady for Two WHOLE DAYS. (Martha had to be a real maid for three whole months. She is forced to be cheerful and "Chan, happy to serve tho") When she masqueraded as a servant in her Father's house, the Doctor worked with her--she was not the Doctor's servant or caretaker, but his partner in both instances.

      It's alway tough deciding how to portray people in racist times, because it's very true that there are always exceptions. This is said with a wry grin, but You speak as if we are post racist times. We're not, it is just considered less attractive to be openly bigoted. When I consider both the Shakespeare Code, and Human Nature, I recognized the tendancy of writers who forgot to write about the Doctor and Martha in the past, but wrote a story about the Doctor falling in love, and Martha story became "The Difficulties of Traveling through time with a Black Woman". Cornell's claim to show the reality of the period falls flat because he allows Martha to have to deal the attitudes alone. The Doctor is absolved of all responsiblity; he is not there to reprimand the boys for the ridicule of someone performing a service. He changes the role of Campanion, (Bernice became the Doctor's niece and ward in the book) to servant and caretaker--so the Mammy description is apt. Having Martha as the Doctor's niece would not have meant that Martha would not have faced bigotry--but she would not have faced it alone. The Doctor would experienced it with her--and actually learn from it.

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    3. We'll have to agree to disagree here: I like a Doctor who is so clueless about humans that sometimes he completely fails to anticipate the wackier things our species does.

      And why should Martha have to depend on a white man to get her out of the problem? In this case, she deals with it herself by showing Joan she has the knowledge. Does she really need the Doctor as a white savior?

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    4. And why should Martha have to depend on a white man to get her out of the problem? The Doctor supposedly considers Martha his friend and companion. She is this situation for his benifit. He obviously, from his list expects this Black Woman to be his savior. Of course the Doctor cannot erase the sting of bigotry, or rescue her in that manner, but I fail to see how expecting the support and empathy of a friend when in a difficult situation is the same as Martha needing a white savior?

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    5. The Doctor treats all his companions in an offhanded way. He's an alien.

      He always gives his companions the freedom to deal with problems in their own way.

      Did Martha ever go to the Doctor and ask for support? My impression from the stories is that when it came to racism, she could deal with things just fine--no need for help from the white guy. But if racists had, for example, kidnapped her, the Doctor would've rescued her, because friends help friends (a) when they need it and (b) when they ask for it. People who start playing White Knight often create problems where none existed.

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  2. John Smith believes that Martha is a long time family servant, loyal, somewhat intelligent. Unless Smith believed that when he was the same age as Baines he subjected Martha to same type ridicule and abuse,- I also fail to see how a reprimand of the boys should be considered anything more than concern and care for a valued person's mental well being. Or are we to assume that if Smith overheard Baines ridicule Martha that he would have cheered the boys on and added to it?


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    1. I'll have to rewatch the episode to discuss it in depth, so forgive me if I have some details wrong now. When the Doctor becomes John Smith, he's no longer the Doctor. He makes the assumptions that someone in his position in his time would make. He even, I understand from a quick googling, likes pears, which he apparently does not like as The Doctor. So you should not assume anything other than what the script gives you about who the Doctor or John Smith is, and you certainly shouldn't assume that what one approves of, the other approves of.

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  3. I'll have to rewatch the episode to discuss it in depth, so forgive me if I have some details wrong now. Warning: I also read the novel and Cornell's notes on the novel and the adaptation. Cornell makes a point in saying that HIS Doctor in the novel does consider himself different in ethics than his immediate peers. (All he had to do was go to London of 1913 to find persons of like mind.) In the novel The Doctor in John Smith is disturbed by Joan's racism., voices his concerns to the point that Joan is compelled to defend herself by siting her "country manners."
    I also watched the extended and deleted scenes that were cut where the Doctor admits John Smith was someone HE made up.
    Did Martha ever go to the Doctor and ask for support? Why should she have to? Martha isn't responsible for the racism she unfairly encounters because of what the Doctor has asked her endure. Also --if we're being consistant with the times-- as a servant Martha is not allowed to defend herself, or complain of the behavior of the teaching staff or students. The other reasons Cornell's explanation of tackling an unpleasant unreality, stumbles, is that he Trivializes racism and by default allows a portion of his audience to do so, and also his assumption, that the only persons who regarded prejudice negatively in those times were People of color. I'm sorry, that is disservice to his young audience. My impression from the stories is that when it came to racism, she could deal with things just fine--no need for help from the white guy. Once again, I fail to understand why Martha should not expect, or should be compelled to reject moral support, comfort, or friendship when she confronted with spiritual abuse--and Racism is spiritual abuse-simply because the person offering the suppor is of a different complexion.


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    1. Artistically, I think you should focus on the final edit of the TV show. I don't plan to read the novel or view the the deleted scenes--my comments are only about what's clearly canon.

      Of course Martha isn't responsible for the racism she encounters. That was the product of capitalism. But why do you want to reduce her to someone who needs a white man to protect her? She dealt with the problem just fine by herself.

      Now, if you want to conclude that the Doctor is racist, that's your right. But I don't think it's supported by the story.

      Hmm. I think you've convinced me to rewatch this soon.

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    2. Artistically, I think you should focus on the final edit of the TV show. I have taken only a couple of drama and media shows bt I have never once heard an Professor or instructor suggest I confine my criterea for examining a work of to the final product. b All of those elements which you have reccomended I neglect went into creating the final product or why else would the producers, actors, directors, and writers include them in the DVD package?

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    3. People share deleted scenes for a lot of reasons, but if you think in terms of canon, what's deleted is not canon. Artists usually go through several drafts, correcting little things like typos and changing big things, like motivation.

      I haven't seen the deleted scenes of this story. I might agree that they should've been included. Usually--not always--I think deleted scenes were deleted for a good reason. I love the Coen Brothers because they did a director's cut of a movie that was shorter than the theatrical release.

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  4. Now, if you want to conclude that the Doctor is racist, that's your right But I didn't say that the Doctor was prejudice. John Smith IS prejudiced. No he's not the type to use the "N" word, by I far prefer someone who is vulgar, than someone like Smith who holds what he appears to think is sound scientific evidence that because on one's skin color (Cultural differences) an individual is limited in intellectual discernment. What I did say was according to unedited scene, the Doctor admitted that He made up John Smith--not the TARDIS. It means he had choices of what values to give John Smith.
    That was the product of capitalism You are limiting the perimeters of racism to mere opportunity--just as you believe as class distinction and racism are the same. They are not. Racism and the effects on the psyche of those exposed and victimized by it cuts a little deeper thant that. But why do you want to reduce her to someone who needs a white man to protect her? She dealt with the problem just fine by herself. But Martha didn't deal with "the problem" at all. She just endured it. Silently enduring racism until some future time was not the legacy of her ancestors regarding racial equality. Why again are you confusing the actions of a friend offering much needed moral support against deliberate abuse with "Protection"? I haven't suggested that Smith should slapped the boys around. But a reprimand about a gentlman's behavior towards a servant was perfectly in order--and Martha deserved that consideration, not only from Smith but from Joan and anyone she worked with. Shouldn't John Smith, as other men and women of his class and education living in the Post Edwardian era have found prejudice just as abhorent as those directly exposed to it. They were not silent. They were not 'protecting' people of color; they were standing beside them, often sharing the onslaught of verbal and spiratual abuse. because they recognized the behavior and abuse and attitudes as wrong.

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    1. If they were being historically accurate, an upper-class Brit in England at that time probably would say "nigger". It was the age of Golliwogs and Nigger-boy Cigarettes, after all. Wikipedia has an interesting bit about when English attitudes changed: "In A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926), H. W. Fowler states that applying the word nigger to "others than full or partial negroes" is "felt as an insult by the person described, & betrays in the speaker, if not deliberate insolence, at least a very arrogant inhumanity"; but the second edition (1965) states: "N. has been described as 'the term that carries with it all the obloquy and contempt and rejection which whites have inflicted on blacks.' "."

      No, I don't think class and race are the same. I've never said that. However, if you research the history of race, you'll find that it comes out of slavery and the commodification of human beings. Some people argue non-scientifically that race and class are intersectional; it's more accurate to see them as interrelated.

      You seem to have leaped to the assumption that all gentlemen were enlightened. I would argue that the average gentleman was less enlightened on racial matters than a working class person--the upper classes are always separated from reality by their wealth, and in racist times, an ongoing complaint by the upper classes is that the lower classes are crossing the race lines.

      If you want examples of racist asshole gentlemen, look at some of the Brits who supported Hitler. Or, for the time this story is set in, see some of the entries here:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_race_and_intelligence_controversy

      Most rich people throughout history have assumed the lower classes need to be reminded of their status now and then. It's part of the privilege package.

      The problem you seem to be having comes from treating groups as though they're all the same. They're not. Racial enlightenment cut across class lines. It's equally valid for John Smith to be racist or not racist. It's certainly true Cornell could've written a story in which everyone was racially enlightened. I think it would've been a dishonest story at worst, and an inconsequential one at best.

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    2. I'm a WOC born in the fifties when calling someone Black, rather than Person of Color, Negro, or Coloured was considered fighting words. African --no one in the USA wanted to identify with that. My Grandmother and Great-grandparents and parents were able to fill me in on language and culture, and it was evident in literature written by Black persons. I'm not certain of your point here. Terminology and personal ethics are two very different things. Only in the last century have person drawn a conclusion between terminology and social identity as well as the long terms affect of privilage. It's certainly true Cornell could've written a story in which everyone was racially enlightened. I think it would've been a dishonest story at worst, and an inconsequential one at best. Who has asked him to do this?

      I'm uncertain why you feel acknowleging many gentlemen held the belief that bullying someone was of a lower or inferior class was odious behavior is the same as saying that all gentlemen were enlightened about race.

      John Smith might not consider calling Martha a Nigger "ridicule", but he might consider Baines comment about her color equated to dirt as, as bullying and because of Baine's position simply out of order. Expecting your peers or students to behave ith decency towards others is not a great leap of englightenment.
      I did not suggest that everyone in the script should have been racially enlightened, I only noted that the Doctor's creation, John Smith was NOT. No person--save Timothy and Jenny-- of substance or position or choice is show as questioning how their peers treat others of class, gender or complexion related matters alhtough the story takes place when this debate front page news. The Doctor epresses no remorse for John Smith's behavior-- -in fact it is suggested that she should not have expected any type of moral support or friendship from him. Fans have even suggested that the Doctor choice to isolate Martha with a personality like Smith in that time was appropriate even though it through directly in harms way. And this is indicative of his behavior towards her. Considering his behavior, and reolution that it was appropriate for him to act this way, I am simply amazed that people are suprised that many WOC don't consider the Tenth Doctor-beyond his pretty face-much of hero or desired companion. No thanks.

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    3. I'll rewatch the episode sometime soon. I currently think you're wishing Cornell and the showrunner had made a more simplistic story, but after another viewing, I may agree with you.

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    4. On the contrary, I think the story should have been more complex and closer to the spirit of the novel. i.e. There was no need to use the Love story to prove that the Doctor had truly become human, because the Doctor was lovesick over Rose. The novel also stresses that the Doctor assumes responsibilty for all that transpired because he allowed someone to trick him into becoming human. He accepts his responsiblities as a Time Lord, but Davies wants Ten to come close to abusing that responsiblity. Last but most significant, Cornell says-- about the novel--the reason the Doctor choose to become human was to better understand Bernice's- his companion's grief. As Ten was grieving for Rose and Gallifrey, concern for his companion was replaced with the Doctor fleeing having to comment genocide to stop the Family. Cornell had planned to have Martha come from that time with the support of a family, but of course Davies Martha comes from our present. However, Cornell's employment of racism as a plot element, is dodgy, because he introduces racism as simply normal and acceptable as tea, and something Martha has no right to protest as Rose gets to. Historically , all Martha had to do was go to London and join Black, Asian, and white men and women united in the cause of equality. Were there thousands of people of this exact mindset? No, the struggle for gender, worker, and class equality offent intersected but no they were not of one mind. However there were enough persons fighting for equality that excluding their precense from Martha's reality trivialize any intent either Cornell or Davies had in showing that racims existed. So what? Who didn't know that. How did Martha's ancestors get by, survive. And the bent over backwards to excuse the Doctor from any eithical responsibilty as Martha host, companion, and friend. It almost seemed as they were punishing Martha for not being Rose or Donna, and holding Martha's complexion liable for all this potential racial stuff that the Doctor had no way of solving or empathizing with. However, in the novel, when John Smith goes after the aliens , even though he has serious doubts about this Doctor person, he turns to Bernice and announces that they will confront the alien as they started_-Smith and Summerfiled. Martha gets sent outside to kids table. I do acknowledge that it was Davies aim to drive as deep a wedge between Martha and Ten as possible. I don't know if he intended that wedge to be racial, but still he has Jack toss off that "not if she's blonde" remark to suggest that this was an element in the Doctor's lukewarm acceptance of Martha as a companion.

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  5. Had Martha been introduced as John Smith's niece or ward, she still would have been subjected to racism. Class doesn't matter here. Check out the stories of prominent men and women of Color living the Edwardian and post Edwardian age, or before that. Also--as Cornell and Davies failed to do, take the time check out the lives of the white people who stood for anti-prejudice measures and equality. Samuel Coleridge Taylor was a celebrated musician, but he wrote of sometime dreading walking down the street with his daughter because of the low behavior of people from all classes who were prejudiced. But he was of mixed heritage as was his wife, he had good relationships with friends, politicians and fellow artist who were white. The Difference in Human Nature scenario, was that John Smith would also be subjected to it. He believes he created realistic situation, but his script not only trivializes racism but he removes all ethical responsibility of the Doctor for his Companion. I am at a lost, having read his novel why he choose to do that--other than--as you do, he seems to onsider racism something that only People of Color are compelled to confront. Frankly the story would have easier to swallow had he just avoided that element of reality.

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    1. Okay, you have, I trust unknowingly, crossed a line when you say that I consider racism something that only People of Color are compelled to confront. I have literally been beaten bloody by racists who called me a niggerlover because of my support for full rights for black folks. I've marched and spoken out at no small cost to myself, and I get a little tired of people on the internet who spend their time self-righteously imposing their academic understanding of racism on others.

      An apology would be nice. Or you may offer your own credentials for opposing racism.

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    2. I'm a woman of color born in the early fifties in the US and participated not as a support but for my rights. However, I maintain that the Cornell's script is written to suggest that only Martha should confront racism, and you yourself said it. You said outright that if Martha turned to the Doctor or one as yourself, she was demeaning herself by asking the help of a white male? Is that how you considered your participation? That of the white Knight or that of a concerned friend and decent human being.

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    3. It simply is not enough--if you are going to tackle the subject of racism as "reality" to both introduce and dismiss the instance of racism as normal or unchallenged in the life of persons of color in any time period, or to exclude from that story the fact that society, tradition, class and protocol aside we cannot discount the a persons choice to show decency and compassion to another human being. But in saying as you have that Martha can handle this herself, is saying that because she is black therefore used to shabby treatment, the Doctor or John Smith need not consider any instinct to show extra kindness, compassion, or concern for Martha.
      It simply dehumanizes the black character, especially the female of color.

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  6. However, knowing what it was like in the fifties, and sixties for not only my people, but those white, Asians, Hispanics who stood with us, I deeply appreciate your participation in the struggle. But I am, knowing this about you, more at a loss to understand why you feel that if the Doctor had voiced his distaste at Baines ridicuing a servant who is hard at her job, or had he instead of accepting Martha's explanation of why they weren't companions offering Martha encouragement according to the changing times, that it is same thing as accepting help from a white man. Sorry, I'm at a complete loss on why you consider someone acknowleging decency from anyone is considered a negative. Saying that Martha can--and should--handle the racism on her own when support is available is the same as saying that only black people should have to deal with racism. In his acceptance speech, John Archer thanked the majority white members of the coucil that elected him--51 percent of the vote--and praised them for their lack of prejudice in choosing a person who is qualified for the job.

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    1. Just rewatched the eps. I'll reply to several points now:

      1. You misremember the scene where the obnoxious upperclassmen make fun of Martha's skin: John Smith is not present to rebuke them.

      2. You keep citing the novel, but the novel is not the TV show. It's kind of like comparing Le Morte d'Arthur with The Once and Future King: they have things in common, but they ultimately should be judged on their own merit.

      3. The Doctor thanks Martha for what she's done both when he entrusts her with caring for him, and after she does it, he thanks her and hugs her. To the extent that he, a nonhuman, can be, he is very grateful, and he shows it.

      4. The Doctor is presented as very much an alien in this story. Note that in the list of things he mentions about what might happen while he's human, it never occurs to him that he might fall in love.

      5. One thing I like about the story is Martha doesn't get any help from the Doctor until the very end, when he returns and saves everyone. She proves that she's perfectly capable of solving problems on her own, and when people do dis her, she shakes off their shortcomings and does what needs doing.

      6. I personally think it's more interesting to tell stories about people who are wrestling with racism, as the matron is, rather than about people who are fully enlightened. The episode does include a couple of characters who seem raciall enlightened: the telepathic boy and the white "skivvy" who gets taken over by an alien. But there's hardly room for a discussion of 1913 racism in a school for rich boys--Cornell's packing a lot into the story, and if he did more, he would turn it into a Very Special Episode About a Very Important Subject rather than what it is, a damn fine story about many things, including cultural shortcomings in 1913.

      Well, it's probably time to agree to disagree on this one.

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    2. I agree to agree to disagree, but a couple of things: It seems that you misread my post. My point was exactly that; that Davies/Cornell script keeps the Doctor ignorant of any secret abuse and humilation Martha suffers. It doesn't allow him to witness it, therefore the character isn't allowed express decency, friendship, or companionship towards her. He isn't allowed to struggle with his own racism or privilage, as you feel Joan is. He isn't tested, but treated as entitled to Martha's unquestioning loyalty, no matter what she is made endure for his sake. The script blames the TARDIS for their place in time, not only absolving him but leading the audience to make the extraordinary assumption that the Doctor has no choice in order to fit in, but to become a person who eventually tosses Martha out on her arse--rather than exprssing faith in her judgement and trusting her as he asked her to do.

      Like you, I was totally cheering Martha on, and Freema's performance was wonderful, but this doesn't change the fact that there are elements in this scenario that leaves Martha with the very unfortunate stereotypical role of WOC as unselfish, sacrificing caretakers, healers, especially in this kind of drama. More on that later.

      The Doctor thanks Martha for what she's done both when he entrusts her with caring for him, and after she does it, he thanks her and hugs her. And you feel this hug and offer of thanks somehow erases the fact that the Doctor placed her in powerless position, and left her-because of their class difference, friendless? Lets say our perception that he should be absolved of his abandoment of Martha the moment they arrived in 1913 because of this is very
      different. She's still the Strong black female chartaker.

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  7. The image of the strong, independent black woman is an familiar one. Although not negative, What we as black women despair in wathching the replay of the faithful strong black caretaker figure is the impression that, because the Black woman is there to "care for or heal" the character she is percieved as someone who should reject being cherished by this same friend, especially if this is a male friend. And yes, I think strongly that the term "cherish" should should include a element of protectiveness. It doesn't mean a woman is weak, but loved, valued. Not necessarily romantically, although that wouldn't hurt, but there are no images that suggest that, although he is grateful and admires Martha's courage, that the Doctor cherish Martha the person.

    There is no suggestion that the Doctor considers Maartha a true companion or partner, (in fact David Tennant has said in interview that the Doctor never quite accepts Martha) and although he confides in her, she might as well be his therapist. He does not confide in her as friend, and we see this when John Smith turns to Joan for validation and encouragement. Martha is sent away, considered by class and complexion an inappropriate person to appeal to this man who thinks he's known her all his life. I know it seems very positive to celebrate the image of yet another Strong Black woman, but it is disheartening for the viewing women of color of the audince when we realize that once again that there are no, in fact very few images of Black female characters as wanting to be cherished and protected or any lead character, male or female wanting to cherish and protect her (except as you noted Jenny) Jenny is not Martha's traveling companion. Have you seen the classic series? Think of Acelyn and Winnifred. (Black woman, white male-but race is not an issue) Winnifred is more than capable of kicking arse and taking names to defend herself and others but that does not discourage Acelyn's protective instincts --it increases his need to be her partner and cherish her. It is very difficult for women of color to "give up" --to parpharse the Angry Black woman essay on Martha Jones,-- this image of the Damsel in distress because we have never been portrayed, as any type of Damsel at all.

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    1. He didn't put her in any more of a subservient role than he would've put any companion in. He trusted her with his life.

      As for Martha being separated from him, we get back to the fact that if he'd always been around to protect her, Martha would've seemed like a weak character who needed a white savior.

      When John Smith treats her like a servant, that's John Smith, not the Doctor. The rich are always, to some degree, assholes about their servants, no matter what color those servants are, because that's how power imbalances work. John Smith could not see any servant as an equal, in the way he could see a woman of his class.

      I get the impression you wanted Martha's love to be reciprocated. But unless the recent episodes have changed this, the Doctor's tragedy is he's ultimately alone, no matter who he finds to travel with for a while.

      Well, I'll try to bow out of this now, 'cause we aren't going to change each other's opinion.

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    2. Oh, who are Acelyn and Winnifred?

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  8. I wasn't try to change your opinion, butI was intrigued by some of your comments, especially to how you percieved the reactions of some women of color to the. I for one was not at offended by Joan Redfern's ignorance, but I was simply hit in the stomach when John Smith began that bit about cultural differences. I thought Martha/Freema's reaction--("You complete--" I think she was ready to hit him then) was spot on. He didn't put her in any more of a subservient role than he would've put any companion in. If you are referring to Rose who was allowed to complain after spending two days as a lunch lady, or Rose, with whom the Doctor worked side by side as a server, I would have disagree. I don't believe given the situation that he would have asked either Rose or Donna to be his servant. Unless rumors about Davies preferrence for turning female companions into servants is accurate ,I think Cornell would have stuck with the details of his source material and the and Rose or Donna would have been his sister or niece. In this instance I think using the book is source material for the characters is appropriate. But either way this is speculation.

    we get back to the fact that if he'd always been around to protect her, Martha would've seemed like a weak character who needed a white savior. How about just her male savior? And why is that said with such negativity? He's supposed to be the Hero and sweep in every now and then to save his companion. What difference does his complexion or hers make? Look at the first season; Rose and the Doctor are seprated at the Wnd of the World and the Ninth Doctor works with another character to save her. I don't recall anyone suggesting Rose was weak because the Doctor had to rescue her after Cassandra trapped her in the sun room. However, Doctor and Rose, and more often the Doctor and Donna worked side by side, helping and I don't recall anyone calling either character weak, but applauding the chemistry beteen the actors as they worked together as a team. The same with Donna. And as this is a fantasy, what is the worst that could have happened if John Smith decided to treat Martha more Girl Friday/Assitant than chamber maid--we've seen the relationship with Male heroes and male servants. But that didn't happened. And I like the story more than you think I do, we just do not agree as to which elements of plotting are racially unfortunate.
    I get the impression you wanted Martha's love to be reciprocated. Uh No. However, if you suggest that would I have liked to see the Tenth Doctor and Martha share the same kind of friendship that the Third and Fourth Doctor share with Sarah Jane--? You betcha. (The only reason I don't break out into torrents of indignation towards Davies' re-imaging of that lovely friendship as one that included unrequited love is because Lis Sladen was so good natured about it the fact that it never existed in the show, but she still was willing to play along and did so beautifully.) Acelyn and Winnifred are characters from the last of the 7th Doctor's episodes. Sir Acelyn was a knight King Arthur's time who recognize the Doctor as an incarnation of Merlin. Brigadier Winifred Bombara (sp) was a UNIT Officer who encounters the Doctor and Ace when there is a rift in time. Acelyn and Winifred actually get into a wrestling match when they meet. They fall in love. And although she admonishes him when he does come to "rescue" she is still warmed by it. I have to bow out now too. I should have been working on some submissions due in a couple of weeks. It's been great debating with you though. Feel free to drop by my LJ and debate as heatedly as you like anytime.

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    1. 7. You keep assuming John Smith and the Doctor are the same person. This is contradicted by the script. John Smith is an Englishman of 1913 who is perfectly comfortable with the class hierarchy.

      8. It's true that he could've made Martha into a different character--but for dramatic purposes, the conflicts are greatest if she's a servant, and the easiest way to explain a relationship between a white man and a black woman in 1913 is to make one the other's employer. Especially if you want them to be together in private without anyone wondering why they're together.

      9. Why you think they wouldn't make a white woman a servant, I dunno. The job of the Companion is to be the show's Robin, always the helper and only sometimes the hero. I think it makes much more sense to complain about the Doctor never being female, Asian, or black than to complain about Martha doing what a Companion does.

      I may have to watch some of the later series now. I'll seek out the Acelyn and Winifred one, anyway.

      Yes, it's been an enjoyable distraction. Good luck with the submissions!

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  9. if she's a servant, and the easiest way to explain a relationship between a white man and a black woman in 1913 is to make one the other's employer.

    Well, if she was forty year old servant they might not have questioned the relationship, but there were a couple of hints from Rodcastle, and then Joan's questions that suggested a few people didn't think the relationship was innocent. And she's a servant--they are not going to have any long chats and it appeared Martha was a Maid of All Work and had to wait on the other teachers, staff, and students. If she is in his room longer than it takes to pour his tea and turn down his bed, there would have been more than talk--from whomever in the service department ran the house.

    But the fact that Martha is a servant doesn't disturb me. No shame in it. I'm a bit sad that the writers didn't seem to research to see if there were any other options for a woman of color--or seem to want to challenge themselves by allowing that element of the original story reamain as it was--the Companion becomes Smith's relative.

    In 1913 then--few but far in between white men outside of the Docks, did had brown complexioned wards (Queen Victoria's ward Sara Forbes Bonetta made it 'fashion' in the mid to late 1800s among a few to sponser African and Indian women. ) That doesn't said Smith and Martha would have had an easier time from outsiders had people thought they were relatives, though, and I think that is where we misunderstand each other.

    However, you bring up a excellent point, because in the DVD extras Cornell admits he tailored the adaptation so that Martha could shine as a herione in her own right and in that Cornell more than succeeded. I'm laying the blame for that ridiculous: "He had to fall in love with human" line on Davies. (I can't tell you how often that line is the only thing that comes up about Martha in fandom discussions--and the opinion of the character goes down among many from there.) Trust me--five days into Fandom discussion during Season 3 the LAST person I wanted to see Martha with was the Doctor.

    The job of the Companion The Job? Oh YOU have got to join our LJ Doctor Who discussions. I have to laugh, because I watched a documentary on the classic show and the Producer said the Job of the female companion was to 'scream, run, and be rescued' by the Doctor". And Moffat ruffled a few feathers with his comments about his ideal companion.

    Why you think they wouldn't make a white woman a servant, I dunno As Cornell adapted the script from from his book, I imagine he would have stuck to the original: The Doctor's Companion, a white woman, Bernice Summerfield becomes his neice/ward. There was a maid in the book--white, who was also represented Gallifreyan Goddess Death.

    think it makes much more sense to complain about the Doctor never being female, Asian, or black than to complain about Martha doing what a Companion does.

    I'm not a big fan of the Doctor being a person of color--although had Colin Salmon or Adrian Lester been chosen as Doctor Eleven I wouldn't have complained. I'd much rather they introduce back stories or find some long lost Time Lords who are portayed by actors of Color. After all complexion is not a choice or accident, and I dread the Science fiction dicussions that would come up if complexion becomes a matter of regeneration instead of natural. Look at from my POV: the only way I'm going to see a Gallifreyan who looks like me is if the Doctor drops dead.

    may have to watch some of the later series now. I'll seek out the Acelyn and Winifred one, anyway. You mean the Classic Series? Acelyn and Winifred were with Seven and Ace.


    Thanks for the encouragement. I have a couple of thousand words to go, edit then submission.

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  10. Sorry to bother you again, but I thought you might enjoy this page. His books as they are based in the UK and some are out of print are frightfully expensive.

    http://www.jeffreygreen.co.uk/

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    1. Cool page! I'll poke around a bit there, I suspect.

      Regarding the doctor's race and gender, there is a bit of fanspackling that I do with the show: I assume we've only seen the white male incarnations, but in my spackled history, he's reincarnated as female 50% of the time and as other races in the same percentage that they exist on Earth.

      Hmm. I should start telling people my favorite Doctors were Michelle Yeoh, Diana Rigg, and Whoopi Goldberg.

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  11. I'd like to see Michelle Yeoh as the new Romana, although Moffatt likes the Last of the Time Lords and claims he has no intention of bringing the Time Ladies back. Too bad--Whoopi as The Rani would be awesome.

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