• Sigrid Ellis

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    Sigrid Ellis is co-editor of the Hugo-nominated Queers Dig Time Lords and Chicks Dig Comics anthologies. She edits the best-selling Pretty Deadly from Image Comics. She is the flash-fiction editor of Queers Destroy Science Fiction, from Lightspeed Press. She edited the Hugo-nominated Apex Magazine for 2014. She lives with her partner, their two homeschooled children, her partner’s boyfriend, and a host of vertebrate and invertebrate pets in Saint Paul, MN.
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People Who Have Favorite Doctor Who Companions; A Coming-Out Tale.

It’s really Selena’s fault. Well, Selena and Cadmium 2. (“Cadmium 2, the podcast of cult Britannia,” as the tagline explains.) Well, alright, before that, even, it’s Christopher Eccleston’s fault. Him and Billie Piper.

You see, I happen to like Eccleston’s acting. When I heard that the Doctor Who franchise was rebooting, with Eccleston playing The Doctor, I thought, “huh, maybe it won’t suck as bad as that stupid scarf guy did.” Prior to the reboot, prior to the Ninth Doctor, my total experience of Doctor Who had been flyers on the walls of science fiction conventions, advertising Gallifreyan Room Parties, and glimpses of BBC reruns on WTTW, the PBS affiliate in Chicago. (All I recalled of those glimpses was a scenery-chewing dork in a scarf, lengthy omg lengthy exposition, and aliens even less convincing than those on Star Trek.) Battlestar Galactica had just re-launched to great critical and fan acclaim. “Revisioning” was a buzzword in movies and tv at the time. For Eccleston, I would give Doctor Who a chance.

What I found was Rose. And, in seeing Billie Piper’s Rose I found out something that no-one had ever seen fit to tell me. Namely, that while there are many things to get out of Doctor Who, many ways to watch the show, one of those things is the sequence of relationships between The Doctor and his Companions.

And here, a digression: To all the fans over the years who tried to tell me Doctor Who was a good, cool show. Why did not a bloody one of you ever mention that the show is about relationships? Why do people insist on describing Doctor Who as a show about a Timelord who travels about, getting into and out of scrapes and meddling with or helping worlds and their troubles? People talk abut the Tardis, about Daleks, about Cybermen . . . People talk about Gallifrey, about the Master. Nobody ever says, “this is a show that describes the essential value of humanity through a series of relationships between a powerful alien Doctor and his (mostly) human traveling companions.” That would have sold me. (This is part of a much longer rant I have about the way people describe and sell science fiction shows overall.)

But anyway.

I found, in the Ninth Doctor and Rose, a show, a series of stories about the power of will. The Ninth Doctor seems to believe — occasionally vengefully — that sentient beings deserve the full consequences of the choices they have made. He doesn’t seem to mind Lady Cassandra’s fate — it was what she deserved. He is vindictive against the Slitheen. It’s possible to view the Ninth Doctor’s attitude as one of guilt, of pain and loss. He, after all, is the sole survivor of the Time War. He believes that he himself needs to get what he deserves — yet seems unsure of what that might be.

I watched Ninth Doctor and liked it. I watched Tenth Doctor and loved the show. I liked the Doctor, David Tennant’s Doctor more than I loved an specific episode, story, or Companion — though I have my favorites, of course. Tennant’s Doctor had moved past the depression and mis-aimed anger that seemed to simmer in Eccleston’s portrayal. Instead that guilt and anger had moved into a goal — no more genocides, ever again. Yet this goal is not a closed door, it’s not a target to be hit or missed. It’s a choice, an endless series of choices made by all sentient life, every moment, across universes.

Tennant’s Tenth Doctor doesn’t mean to force creatures into his morals. He doesn’t start out with threats. No. He offers them the opportunity to stop themselves. He pleads, he promises, he cajoles. He wants everyone to live. He doesn’t want to be a killer more than he already is. When a race or creature refuses to turn from the path of murder and genocide the Tenth Doctor turns the death and destruction back on its source — still hoping, I think, that the creature he stops may live longer and learn to be better than they are. But if not, he doesn’t mourn the loss.

This, then, is the Doctor I first met. A man, grieving and guilty, who rebuilds himself into an agent of free will and redemption.

Obligatory X-Men tie-in: I meet a lot of folks online and at conventions these days who say they have an opinion on the X-Men. They like a character, or dislike another. They like or dislike some storyline. And, in each new conversation I have, I must first determine the ground rules. I have to figure out which X-Men my new conversational partner knows.

There’s the most widely known, of course — the movies. The X-Men also have three successful television cartoons — X-Men, X-Men: Evolution, and the now-airing Wolverine and the X-Men. In the comic books there are three major universes of X-Men — the primary, or “616” universe, the Ultimate universe, and the Exiles universe. X-Men stories have been told in additional universes, such as Age of Apocalypse, Noir, and Rachel’s future ‘verse. In 616 alone there are currently eight (is it eight? I may have lost one — ) X-Men titles, not counting specials, limiteds, and one-shots.

There’s a lot of X-Men canon out there to know. And I am now finding myself on the other side of that with Doctor Who. I know the New Doctor Who stories, a position I mentally consider analogous to reading only Astonishing X-Men, or only knowing the movies. Something current and certainly legitimate, but lacking in the depth a long-time fan will bring to the same story. To add to this, I started listening to the Cadmium 2 podcast. Among all the other series the Cadmium guys cover, they are reviewing every Doctor Who story in chronological order. We’ve gotten up to the start of series 3. So while I am familiar with the First Doctor, with Barbara and Ian, I’ve gotten this familiarity through the commentary of others. I consider it analogous to reading Jeff Parker’s X-Men: First Class.

But my biggest exposure to Classic Doctor Who is from the original audioplays of Doctor Who by Big Finish Productions. These are authorized stories, professionally written and voiced, with solid production and special effects (mostly.) Peter Davidson, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Sophie Aldred, and a bunch of people whose names I don’t recognize are all involved in the making of these audioplays. They are a legitimate continuation of the canon, considered by some to be a more legitimate continuation of the Classic Who franchise than many of the novels due to the ongoing nature of the plays. However, these plays are not as widely disseminated as the VHS tapes and dvds of the televised stories. I don’t honestly know how many Doctor Who fans know the stories that I am taking in.

And I am taking in these stories, oh yes. My Zune has a great deal of space devoted to them. I listen to them in the car on my drives to and from work. I re-listen to the plays, skipping to the scenes I like best. I have gotten a full-on fannish obsession with Seventh Doctor and Ace (note that is not Seventh Doctor / Ace. No slashing in this, for me.) I bought the four US-available Seventh-and-Ace dvds and have watched them. But I bought and watched them as a result of learning the characters from Fearmonger and Colditz and The Genocide Machine and Nocturne and Dust Breeding. Stories I fear most Classic Doctor Who fans don’t know.

This leaves me a bit . . . leery, I suppose, of trying to seriously say anything about Seventh or Ace. I feel rather like an X-Men fan who knows the X-Men: Evolution stories really really well and wants to talk to a 616-verse fan about the nature of the characters. While some broad strokes of character may be the same, the details will vary widely and possibly acrimoniously. And for good or for ill, the comics are sort of more-canonical than the cartoon. The comics are the original format, the longest-running, the basis for all the other presentations and alternate universes of X-Men. They have . . . more authority, I suppose, than the AUs and other media. It is my sense that Doctor Who has a similar paradigm — the television series carries more weight than the novels, movies, comics, and audioplays. Not that those are entirely without a voice, but that the television series is the fount from which the characters spring.

My other concern with my views on the Big Finish Productions audioplays is that they are being written now. The Doctor — Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, or Eighth — is written by people who have watched the New Doctor Who. People who now the direction of the Doctor’s character now. Does this alter their writing? Does this skew their characterization, knowing that the Time War lies ahead, that genocide is in this Gallifreyan’s future?

I thought this most strongly while listening to The Genocide Machine, a Seventh-and-Ace adventure involving Daleks, a library, and an original character who turns out to be the secret, real villain of the piece. The Doctor’s revulsion at the Secret Villain’s actions — is that strictly canonical, in the sense that it is a take on Seventh that is supported by the broadcast shows? Is it a legitimate extension of the character from the source material? Or is it influenced, subtly, by the Time War? Hard for me to know. Hard for me to say.

Despite my uncertainties on the complete canonical validity of my views, I find I still have an opinion. An Opinion, on Doctors and Companions, on character and humanity. Namely, that the Seventh Doctor and Ace exemplify the things I learned to love in New Doctor Who — themes of redemption, of second chances, the idea that everyone lives, that one can spend one’s life wisely. Namely, that Seventh-and-Ace are my favorite Doctor and Companion pair. And namely that Ace McShane is my favorite Companion.


20 Responses

  1. First of all, I’m really happy to be guilty as charged.*g* And I’ll probably have more comments later, but, two things:

    1) The Big Finish stories are widely popular among Classic Who fans. I have no idea what the statistics are, but my own estimation would be that at least two third are bound to have listened to some audio plays.

    2) The point you raise about them being written now, making for the former Doctors and their companions being written with hindsight the tv writers did not have, is a fascinating one. Though: because DW before the big intermedium between “Survival” and “Rose” (and, err, the tv movie of doom in between) ran for decades, the Seventh Doctor and Ace were already written by writers who had grown up watching the show, much as the current New Who writers have. I.e. you already have the fannish reflection of hindsight back on the show proper. For example, “The Greatest Show of the Galaxy”, a Seven ‘n Ace serial, is extremely meta about DW itself and fannish interaction with the show in the same way “Superstar” and “Storyteller” are for Buffy, or a Tenth Doctor era story like “Love and Monsters” is for New Who. And there is a great podcast audio commentary on which Russsel T Davies and Stephen Moffat, both fanboys of old and the head honchos of new, argue whether the Second Doctor as written in the multi-Doctor stories “The Three Doctors” and “The Five Doctors”, years and in the later case even a decade after his own era, is the same character as he was in his original time, or whether the later writers didn’t write him differently. The very same thing you ask!

    (I guess what I’m saying is there was in this uniquely long running show nearly no such thing as an era where something like this did not happen?)

  2. @Selena I *have* actually seen “The Five Doctors,” and found it . . . . not as interesting as I may find it later, after I know those characters a bit better. But, yes, given the Cadmium 2 Boys’ comments on Hartnell, it’s clear that Five Doctors writers had THINGS they wanted to say about the earlier Doctors.

    This is a thing I am hugely familiar with from comics, obvs. I mean, Whedon’s comments on Claremont and Morrison’s work? Very meta.

    The thing I *meant* to write this about, and got sidetracked from, was that McCoy’s Doctor has a preoccupation with preventing genocide similar to that of Nine and Ten, but seems to not yet have Ten’s understanding that everyone gets to choose the manner of their death. The Seven of the audioplays is more paternalistically interfering, perhaps? He still seems to think he can save everyone, even those who are resigned to die. Whereas Ten seems very clear on the idea that sentient creatures can and will give up their lives to save others, and they DESERVE that right.

  3. Also:

    still hoping, I think, that the creature he stops may live longer and learn to be better than they are.

    Yes. And I think it’s really very important to Ten’s characterisation that he tries, each time – and sometimes it works, as with the Vashta Nerada, and sometimes it doesn’t, as with the Sontarans, but the Sontaran example by itself offers also a story of redemption. Because there is the teenage genius Luke Rattigan, who has been complicit in the Sontaran attack and several murders, and whom the Doctor tells to “make something of your life” before Ten goes to offer the Sontarans one more chance at peaceful withdrawal instead of just sending a bomb up to blow them up. And while the Sontarans don’t use the chance, Luke does, and by his heroic act manages to save the Doctor and Earth.

    Back to classic DW: I’m so with you on no Seven/Ace. I love them dearly together, but they are such a father-daughter relationship that to ship them in the romantic sense would squick me to the highest degree.

  4. I just want to say that you do a good job of describing ‘Dr. Who’ in a way that makes it sound at least remotely like something I might want to watch some day. Which is better than most people do. (i still don’t really see getting caught up in a canon that large at any point, though I might give the new show a shot one day. Is it possible to start out with the Ten episodes, or do I really need to go back to the Eccleston season?)

    What you say goes for me as well — I don’t *care* about what the mythology is, I want to know what the relationships are like.

  5. The Five Doctors: yes, that’s really not one to watch as an introduction to the five gentlemen in question.*g* Or to their companions – Lis Sladen is still riled about having had to scream when falling in a very benign slope, and that’s really not typical for Sarah Jane either in the Three or in the Four era. If you know the different eras and companions already, the Five Doctors is great fun because you see which traits are pushed to the forefront and which ignored and what that tells you about the regenerations and how they were seen in the Five era.

    Oh, and if you somehow can, get the special edition dvd. In addition to two audio commentaries (one with all the companions, and one with Peter Davison and the director) you also have an easter egg commentary with David Tennant, Phil Collinson (RTD’s co producer on New Who) and Helen Raynor (script editor and script writer on New Who), and it’s the most fannish getogether you can imagine, as they drool over individual companions, talk about favourite Doctors and what continuity gets right and what not, and test each other on names of episodes. And exchange anecdotes of meeting some of the actors.

  6. @Caroline Yeah, the ways people describe shows, comics, or fictional properties . . . sometimes it mystifies me.

    And, yes, I think you can watch Tenth Doctor just fine. Honestly, for YOU, I would suggest you start with the most recent season, the one with Catherine Tate.

  7. @Selena I have the special edition dvd! I’ll look for the commentaries —

    Also, yes – the four Seven and Ace stories I’ve seen, and ALL the ones I’ve listened to, just . . . no. There’s NO slash there.

  8. Oh, yes? Is Donna more my type than Rose or Martha?

  9. @Caroline Ask Selena this, too, but I think you would want to slap Rose. Martha, I’m not certain.

  10. Caroline – I think Donna is, based on how much you enjoy Cordy and Wesley in the second season of AtS. (Check out the lj entry of our valiant friend, I’ve posted some vids in the comments which introduce you to all three girls.) It’s very much a banter and best buddies type of relationship. Rose – well, I’m tempted to say “Buffy/Angel” in season 3, but maybe I’m unfair. I love Martha but she gets the unrequited love story, and remember how Spike/Buffy polarized the fandom in s5, let alone 6? It had a similar effect, in that people either hated the Doctor for not loving Martha back or hated Martha for being in love with someone unavailable. (She was the one who called it quits, though, and as the result she and the Doctor have become far better friends. So maybe Martha is Xander?)

    What you should start with: hmmm. Maybe try “The Runaway Bride”, which is the Christmas Special between Rose and Martha, where the Doctor first meets Donna. It’s a pretty self contained story and sets up their dynamic. Depending on your reaction, you can go forward or back.

  11. Oh, thanks! “Runaway Bride” does indeed seem like a good place to start.

  12. Came here via a pingback and have to say… I’m a Classic Who fan and *only* a Classic Who fan (find the Eccleston series just about bearable, and LOATHE the Tennant stories) and I find the Big Finish stuff perfectly in keeping with the old series. The Big Finish stories are *better* than most of the 80s TV series, but they’re much closer to the classic series than the new series.

    MOST of the Big Finish stories were actually done before NuWho – I think all the ones you mention were , in fact – so they were definitely not inspired by the new series. The characterisation of the Seventh Doctor owes more to the novels in fact – but the novels were actually based on plans for the TV show (google “The Cartmel Masterplan”) and *some* of what you’re talking about was in the TV series, just not completely developed yet.

    The Genocide Machine seems to me, as a Classic Who fan, *perfectly* in character for the Seventh Doctor.

    If you want to see the Doctor’s reaction to genocide in the classic series, BTW, you should watch Genesis Of The Daleks. If you can watch British DVDs, get it as part of the Davros box set from Big Finish. Not only does that have the best single Seventh Doctor story (Remembrance Of The Daleks) it also has two of the best of the Fourth and Sixth (as well as a competent Fifth Doctor one and a dreadful fourth doctor one) and a DVD of audio plays. Genesis Of The Daleks is the story on which the whole morality of the Doctor is based (and it’s also, according to fannon, the start of the Time War…)

  13. I’m one of those fans that ALWAYS thought that Classic Who and New Who is about relationships. It’s just that New Who pulls them closer to the fore, in the post-Joss era. For some classic fans, that’s not a good thing. For me, it is.

    I’m a ‘shipper, though, which many classic series fans see as anathema. I don’t fic ’em in general, but I firmly believe that in certain cases, there was DEFINITELY “hanky-panky in the TARDIS”. (Ask me about Tegan and Nyssa sometime).

    Seven/Ace was NOT one of those cases, though. Seven is everyone’s favorite manipulative uncle. Lots of fun, so long as you’re not one of his pawns in the Cartmel Master Plan.

    And Ace was the companion that made me love the show. Remembrance of the Daleks was when I slapped my forehead and said “Oh, THIS is the show you were talking about. I get it now.”

    Luckily, this fandom has enough canon to last a lifetime. With a time-travel show, it’s perfectly fine to move around. 🙂

  14. @Andrew Would you, perchance, be the Andrew I listen to on Cadmium 2? If so, I’m a fan. 🙂

    I cannot watch the British dvds, sad for me! (I mean, I could, but it would involve shenanigans and grey-market dvd players.) But that’s good to know, about the Daleks . . .

  15. @Lynne I think, clearly, is that I heard about Doctor Who from people who were not shippers. Even though I do not really watch Doctor Who with that eye (yet, yet) I view most media thinking that way. Relationships is what I *see*. (Leading to occasionally hilarious conversations in my house, a la “what show were YOU watching?”)

  16. Sadly not – a totally different Andrew here…

  17. @Andrew Heh. Oh, the internets.

    I shall have to look up the masterplan thingo to which you refer. And then see if I can write up the *other* essay, the one this started as, and if it fits.

    But that, then, raises the whole conversation about the artistic intention of the creators, and how much weight does one give that when analyzing or critiquing a piece of art? I think there are elements of the Doctor’s character and nature that . . . that are there regardless of the directorial intent. Yet I also think that, if the writers MEANT something and the actors conveyed it well, perhaps it ought to be given more weight?

    I don’t actually have point there. Erm. Just noodling . . .

  18. Hi Sigrid,

    This is Paul from Cadmium2. Thanks for the namecheck in your blog 🙂 It’s an interesting point you raised in the original post. I think an awareness of the new series does naturally make it’s way into the thinking of people writing for Big Finish. However Big Finish Doctor Who stories have been going for ten years this year. Writers for the new series such as Paul Cornell, Rob Shearman and Mark Gatiss all wrote for BF before the new series was even a twinkle in RTDs eye.

    In fact, “Dalek” from Eccleston’s series was a lift from Shearman’s Sixth Doctor BF “Jubilee”, Certain elements of Tennant’s Rise of the Cybermen were lifted from Marc Platt’s Fifth Doctor Cyberman tale, Spare Parts (for which Marc Platt got an end of credits acknowledgement). RTD is a fan of BF and even write the foreword for their Inside Story book.

    Writers for Doctor Who in all it’s forms weave 45 years worth of continuity into each other. It’s fascinating to watch. Sometimes fun, sometimes infuriating but always fascinating…

    Glad you’re enjoying the show – and Big Finish 🙂


  19. And as an aside to this, the whole notion of a companion falling in love with the Doctor wasn’t an RTD exclusive. Rob Shearman wrote “Scherzo” in 2003 as part of an ongoing storyline where the Eighth Doctor’s companion, Charley fell desperately in love with him. In this story, she actually told him.

    Rose was new for the general public – but BF did it first 😉


  20. Hiya Paul! Big fan of you guys. 🙂

    I’m working my way through the Eighth Doctor shows, and I do see that coming with Charley. It’s fascinating, considering the fol-de-rol about Rose . . .

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