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Feb 29 2012

Why I Love Doctor Who

You know, I hate to admit it , but despite appearances my geek credentials aren’t nearly as solid as they look.

(who am I kidding? I don’t actually mind admitting it at all)

I’m just not really all that into it all. I’m a mac user, and not a particularly talented one, and generally find computers and technology an uninteresting sort of bewildering. I read very few superhero comics, mostly prefer “indie” / “alternative” comics like Chris Ware, Lynda Barry (go Geoducks!), James Kochalka, Dame Darcy, Charles Burns (go Geoducks!) and Daniel Clowes, and my impressive knowledge of DC and Marvel canon is just because I’m freakishly good at remembering trivia and go on lots of wiki walks (though I really do adore Dr. Strange, and loved the X-Men when I was a kid). I’ve seen very little Buffy, only a couple episodes of Firefly, and don’t think Joss Whedon is all that impressive, really. Just pretty good at what he does. I’ve never seen the Battlestar Galactica reboot at all, and may never really bother getting around to it. I hate Kevin Smith, and The Big Bang Theory, with a fiery passion. I’ve never ever read Orson Scott Card, David Eddings (except for the first few chapters of the first Belgariad book when I was 10), Terry Pratchett,  Suzanne Collins, George R.R. Martin, J.K. Rowling or Isaac Asimov. I really love basketball, fashion, high art, punk rock and poetry. I’m really just a sort of culturally omnivorous sort so I just end up really liking some random things that happen to be part of geek culture (like Douglas Adams or tabletop roleplaying) and have the aforementioned weird memory thing that lets me memorize lots of canon even from franchises I don’t particularly care about…. which then lets me hang out with people who do love those things, and carry on friendly conversations with them about it, even though I don’t actually care.

But most of all, I really don’t care for science fiction. I find it a bit more interesting than fantasy, but as a general thing, nope… not my thing. As far as books go, I usually don’t like genre fiction at all, except when the genres are being deliberately played with, or used as an interesting set of imposed, formal constraints (as in the fair-play whodunnit). I prefer writers like Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Samuel Beckett, Lydia Davis, Kazuo Ishiguro, David Mitchell, Susan Sontag, Georges Perec, Harry Mathews, Ben Marcus, W.G. Sebald, Mary Robison, William Gaddis, David Markson, Thalia Field, that kind of thing.

And when it comes to Star Wars and Star Trek? I’m sorry, but I just don’t feel all that strongly about them. I think Star Wars has a really fun mythos, but what I find most interesting about it is how somehow this really fun mythos, and a bunch of great storytelling, managed to emerge entirely despite the efforts of its creator. Like this amazing setting being born almost entirely of a man’s failure to achieve his really silly, talentless vision. Lucas didn’t create Star Wars. Lucas was Star Wars’ worst enemy. Star Wars was created because Lucas was too young and naive to successfully stop it from happening.

And Star Trek? A pretty tedious morality play. It’s all about bludgeoning you over the head with particular values and worldviews, expressed through cheap narrative devices like “Our Utopian and perfect future society gave up the barbaric practice of [thing author disagrees with] long ago!”, and those don’t even happen to be worldviews and values I particularly share. Often their Utopia looks pretty Dystopian to me. What happened to all the LGBTQ people in The Federation anyway?

I mean, I don’t hate Star Whatever. And I don’t hold it against anyone that they love them. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s rather pointless, sad, and self-defeating to be all cocky and proud of disliking something, or defining your identity and taste by how you’re “above” whatever “shit” your friends like. It makes you into a jerk. And it means you have one less source of joy in this world than they do. And really, like I said, I don’t actually hate them. But if I did, I wouldn’t wear that hate like a badge of honour. It’s just that I don’t share the same passion a lot of people I know do.

Which makes things awkward since I run in circles where this is a common, shared culture and language, a shared set of metaphors and reference points, a means of being together, communicating, sharing meaning and passion and excitement and common narrative. I’m missing out on something. Communities build around fandom because sharing these kinds of things is an important part of being human, or at least of being a human who shares her life with other humans, being part of culture. Who wants to be alone? So when my friends share a cultural touchstone that’s important to them but not to me, and when cultural artifacts that are important to me aren’t to them, it’s a bit of a sad, alienated, lonely feeling.

There’s one thing where I never feel like that, though. One bit of geek culture that I do feel utterly, truly, stupidly passionate about. One thing that allows me to wholly and completely understand what it is to geek out over a relatively silly little bit of pop culture, to be a fan, to be part of a fandom, to understand a canon in and out and actually care about those details, to have this mutual language and set of metaphors and stories and myths and reference points and means of understandings things through this narrative that you all, the fandom, know and understand together… to be part of a community that way, and connect with a story so strongly. I mean, hell… it’s pretty much exactly like religion, and meets the exact same social, cultural and psychological needs (myth, metaphor, community, morality, ritual, art), just without all the danger and harm that comes along with literal belief, absolute authority and insistence upon faith. The bit of sci-fi that does this for me, and allows me to feel all this genuinely? It’s the answer I provide whenever anyone asks me whether I prefer Star Wars or Star Trek:

Doctor Who.

The reasons I love Doctor Who with so much of my heart while other science fiction tends to leave me cold are a bit multifaceted, but not so hard to articulate when comparing it to something else, like Star Trek.

One of the first and more obvious differences is the issue of “hard science fiction” vs. “soft science fiction”. This distinction is about how grounded the science fiction is in actual science, the known physical laws of our universe, and what kinds of technologies or organisms are actually possible and we can speculate on existing within our own universe, under our own universe’s laws, or perhaps someday existing. The joys of “hard science fiction”, or at least the joys that are distinct and unique to it, lie in that speculation, in thinking about what could actually be, how wild a possibility can be, and how interesting its potential consequences, while still remaining a possibility.

Doctor Who is about as far on the “soft” side of that scale as you can possibly get. It frequently bends the laws of physics in ridiculous, absurd ways, the actual “science” usually being nothing more than a bunch of word salad techno-babble. Sometimes the writers aren’t even trying to give a semblance of consistency to the properties of the world in which their telling their story. They’ll even break the rules of fantasy novels where magic is supposed to operate a consistent way. In Doctor Who, even the magic can work one way under one circumstance and another way in another circumstance. It’s completely absurd and wibbly-wobbly. There are no rules whatsoever.

And I love rules. Like Georges Perec, who I mentioned earlier: he wrote a novel without using the letter e, and another that moves through a bisected apartment building frozen in a single moment in a time along the pattern of a “knight’s tour” (a particular chess problem where a knight visits every square on a board without landing on the same space twice) describing the contents of each room. I believe constraints can often help focus and draw forth a writer or artist’s creativity. There’s a reason most poets employ forms, and that the “free verse” movement was never really all that free, only lasted about twenty years (except amongst high school students), and tended to just end up creating some pretty stupid conventions of its own: like the blistering glowing starry american howling beatific ragged scuttling string of excessive unpruned wild-eyed stark and straggling staggering blind endlessly and eternally undyingly forward forever stacked adjectives.

So why would I find Doctor Who more satisfying than Star Trek, which actually provides a structure to its universe, and challenges its writers to work creatively within that structure?

Well, a lot of it is just my interests. I don’t like hard science fiction at all, really. I find it dry. I don’t derive that thrill and fascination from speculating on scientific possibility. Like I mentioned, I’m not a tech girl, I don’t find computer or systems or machines to be interesting. When I was a kid, I almost never did the take-things-apart-to-see-how-they-work thing. In fact, when it comes to machines and how things work, I’m kind of an idiot. Like I honestly do have below-average mechanical intelligence.

There are some sciences that I really do find fascinating and awesome, and I would love to maybe go back to school and study. But they’re only particular sciences. Physics is usually uninteresting to me, except for certain random specific questions that occasionally pop into my head (“why does fission ever stop?” “how the fuck do magnets work?” “why are metals more conductive than other elements?”). I bug my friend Lars with these questions a lot. Chemistry is similarly baffling and weird and boring to me. But I adore biology and medicine. With biology and life it all becomes so much more, to risk returning an overused word to its original meaning, visceral beauty. It’s elegant and gorgeous and it’s an emergent system. It’s not a designed system, like technology or maths, nor is it simply the governing physical laws that just happen to be in place in our particular universe, as in physics or chemistry. Instead it is the infinite beautiful diverse forms that emerge, from a finite number of combinatorial elements, in consequence and adaptation to those set physical laws. I love that.

But even that isn’t where my main passions were, academically. I studied language. That’s what was most compelling to me. All these ways that we construct meaning and thought from this strange and arbitrary discrete signs and representations, also infinitely diverse from finite combinatorial elements, to convey the infinity of not only the universe but of possible universe and all possible perspectives. To be able to conceive of things that aren’t even here at all (like God… or The Doctor). Language was also a beautifully emergent system, not even governed by set laws like life is. Language, contrary to common belief, doesn’t actually have rules and isn’t defined by dictionaries. It’s defined by use, and is ever fluid and shifting, and always just one step away from falling apart into nonsense, but also maintaining enough tension to carry the power to ruin a life, or even topple a civilization… and always dictating the forms of culture. It’s like what I love about biology, but more.

But still… now that I’m not in school anymore, there’s one thing that most maintains my interest, one thing that I’m still fascinated by more than anything else, and that is human beings, and human relationships. That’s the most beautiful, mysterious, complex, fluid, inscrutable and elegant emergent system of all. There is nothing as interesting to me as people, and how people deal with people.

Soft science fiction like Doctor Who is about human beings. Physical laws be damned, it will do what it needs to do with its universe in order to be able to tell its story. The characters are what are consistent, and they are the thing about which we speculate. Not possible, conceivable, speculative technologies or anatomies or civilizations, but possible, conceivable, speculative human beings, setting up situations in which we may explore being human, what that means, what it may mean, and may mean in certain impossible situations. Or what it may mean in all too real situations, too real to confront directly, thus we do so through metaphor and story and fictional settings removed from what would be too brutal in the context of our own world and lives.

Doctor Who is speculative fiction, yes, but it speculates on the kinds of things I like thinking about and just ignores everything else, or treats it as totally negotiable.

And besides, those wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, loosey-goosey laws of the setting? They allow for some amazing fun. The Doctor can go dashing off anywhere, to any number of insanely creative worlds or situations or conflicts. There is absolutely nothing limiting the imagination of the writers. They can simply invoke whatever settings or situations they think would be fun or worth exploring or even just provide a beautiful image. And I love going along with that ride.

Doctor Who is every bit as much a morality play as is Star Trek. It also bludgeons you over the head with morals and lessons. But for one thing, it doesn’t use the cheap device of the utopia. And more than that, it is a morality I can believe in, and that resonates with me.

In Star Trek, they are a military organization, decked out in uniforms and armed with phasers and photon torpedos. Their morality is backed up by their infallible, perfect constitution, their prime directive, and the full might of their Federation behind them. If that weren’t there, how would the statements change? What would Picard’s speeches mean if behind him was a flawed and crumbling federation, or a tyrannical one, or a constitution that had proved useless, or no military to back him up, no uniform, on his own? Without the utopia to instantly lend credibility to Star Trek’s statements, what do they mean? And how admirable is it really to take a moral stand when you’ve got an entire multi-planet poly-civilization society standing behind you and nodding in agreement?

The Doctor doesn’t have any of that. He’s just a madman in a box. He’s an outcast, an outsider, with nobody but his friends to stand beside him when he feels he needs to do what’s right. His own people hated and exiled him, but he still ended up devastated when he lost them completely. He’s alone, and living in the margins and fringes. He gets by with just his cleverness, resourcefulness, a few friends, a few choice words, a sonic screwdriver, a scrap of psychic paper, and sometimes a jammy dodger. His power doesn’t come from might, numbers, strength, or weapons, but from his mind, his spirit and his interdependence with others. He despises tyranny and conformity, brute force, militaristic attitudes, blindly accepting what you’re told, lack of free thinking, cynicism, bigotry, intolerance, the elimination of diversity, slavery and exploitation. A whole lot of the time, doing what he thinks is right requires standing up to armies, to governments, to the complacency of societies, to police, to guns, to bullies, to the entire ingrained cultural understanding of a civilization. But he does what’s right anyway. He doesn’t do what’s right because his government tells him to. He does what’s right no matter what anyone else, much less any government, says. He would tear a prime directive to shreds without a moment’s hesitation if it told him to act against his conscience. But through all that, his motive is not simple rebellion or anti-institutionalism, but absolute, undying compassion.

THAT is a morality I can relate to.

He’s a person I can relate to. He’s someone I can aspire to be like. I live in the fringes and margins, am not liked by my society, fight against the principles held by the majority, have no weapons and few resources, and am ultimately reliant on my wits and my friends. And I can try to do what’s right, out of a sense of compassion. The Doctor gives me a hero that provides a reference point for my own life, and my own ethics, where something like Star Trek absolutely does not. I don’t wear a uniform. I’m a madwoman with a box.

(my laptop, of course!)

Like I said, fandom operates a lot like the nicer parts of religion do, in terms of providing a shared set of myths and metaphors we can use to help understand ourselves, build community and shared emotions, and give a frame of reference for our ethics. The Doctor works for me in that regard, where things like Star Trek and Star Wars don’t even come close. I am a fan-girl full of fan-girliness that needs somewhere to go, and I do need all the same things from stories that everyone else does. But each person requires different stories. Doctor Who is the story that I came across that worked for me, and into which I could pour that love, and find my needs met. It fits in a way that other science-fiction never did.

Us romantics, outcasts, underdog idealists and not-so-sciencey types need our myths too.

And Peter Davison, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith are all really really cute.

75 comments

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  1. 1
    Anders

    Hmmm… intriguing. If I wanted to develop a Dr. Who addiction, what do you recommend? I’ve only seen the Comic Relief parody.

    Also: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-ONfasO-U_vA/TesXah9B78I/AAAAAAAABrY/eCcwhAOeJXs/s1600/2007-05-25%2B-%2BJesus%2Bvs%2BDr%2BWho%2B2.png

    1. 1.1
      Emily

      I would recommend just starting with the new series. So, 2005+

      1. Nina

        Yes, agreed. Thats what got me hooked into Dr Who. The other thing I liked about Dr Who were the characters. First when I looked at the DVD I saw a blond chick next to the Doc and I thought “Oh no, why does there always have to be a blond chic” and I wrongly assumed it’d be a young, blond, ditz or a bimbo. But she wasnt the cliched female. She was a young 19 yr old girl but she was intelligent, curious and strong woman. A type of girl I could relate to. I’m sick of women being portrayed as the ditzy bimbos on tv. I guess I take back preconceived ideas.

        The other thing was there doesnt seem to be a cheesy romance between the doc and Rose (or I hope not) Their relationship seems very platonic. It’s very refreshing to see that for a change. Who says you cant love someone platonically? I havent watched all of it but I really hope no romance comes in because that would ruin it

    2. 1.2
      secha

      For New Who, start with Christopher Eccleston’s run since it was designed to bring the show to new viewers after it had been off the air for a long time.

      Umm…maybe consider skipping ‘Fear Her’, ‘Love and Monsters’ and anything Slitheen related though. Just to be on the safe side.

      1. AstroCJ

        I dunno, I would suggest skipping everything until Russell T Davies stopped writing.

        1. Emily

          Skip the entire Tennant era? You’re one of those Matt Smith fans, aren’t you? *watches you suspiciously*

          For the record: I have no problem with Matt Smith, but I do like David Tennant more.

  2. 2
    resident_alien

    I for one am fan of all things sci-fi,but Doctor Who remains a definite favourite.First got into DW as a kid,Sylvester McCoy was my introduction to the Whoniverse,and I still rate him highly (I’ve come across ludicrous amounts of McCoy-hate in fellow fans of the show,which I find puzzling to say the least…).
    I was overjoyed at the reboot.Especially loved the way Russel T. Davies wove queer characters into the stories,and in a way that was not tokenising but plausible and appropriate for the setting/situation: For instance,”The empty child/The Doctor dances” had an openly pansexual character from the future,Captain Jack Harkness,contrasted with the closeted/down low characters of the guard and the married family man,and all of them were believable as products of their time.
    I have much love for Neil Gaiman’s “The Doctor’s wife” for many reasons,one was Gaiman intoducing the option of a Timelord changing their gender at will when regenerating-I found that damned cool!

    1. 2.1
      Ingdigo Jump

      McCoy had Ace…enough said.

  3. 3
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Great post, thanks. :-)

    A Whovian myself since the days of high or even primary school when I’d come in, turn the TV on and watch Tom Baker with Leela and later Romana taking on the universe – and winning. Just an awesome, fun, imaginative, enthralling show.

    There are some sciences that I really do find fascinating and awesome, and I would love to maybe go back to school and study. But they’re only particular sciences.

    Dare I ask how you feel about astronomy?

    FWIW, I’d strongly recommend reading Isaac Asimov, my favourite author – his non-fiction as much as his fiction. Its old style, ideas and dialogue heavy but well writen, readable with a sense of humour and compassion and some of his essays just put things perfectly.

    In Star Trek, they are a military organization,

    Now I’m not the world’s biggest Trekkie at all but I do gather that there is a big debate there as to whether or not Starfleet is “militaristic” or scientific ie. out for exploration & knowledge more than military purposes. Star trek is often very lberal and also seems to me to often have a quite saccharine air and sometimes lack of depth about it.

    Personally, my alltime favourite SF TV show would have to be Babylon-5 with Dr Who and Firefly as runners up. Out of a whole lot that I enjoy as an escape and something relaxing and evocative and just fun.

    But whilst I passionately love & would highly recomend these I also understand if they’re not for everybody and anybody else & don’t float a given individuals specific metaphorical boat.

    1. 3.1
      Dunc

      Now I’m not the world’s biggest Trekkie at all but I do gather that there is a big debate there as to whether or not Starfleet is “militaristic” or scientific ie. out for exploration & knowledge more than military purposes.

      I’m a pretty big Trekkie, and I don’t see how there can really be any serious debate as to whether this waddling, quacking, weed-eating freshwater bird is actually a duck. Just because they (mostly) seem to really believe their own bullshit is no reason that we should too. They have uniforms and a strictly hierarchical chain of command. Cross them and they will shoot you. The only real difference between Star Fleet and the 19th-century British Royal Navy it is so clearly modelled on is the notable absence of rum, sodomy, and the lash.

      1. Natalie Reed

        And personally, I think those three things would probably make both Starfleet, and Star Trek, CONSIDERABLY more interesting.

        1. resident_alien

          Hence the slash/fanfic,LOL!

  4. 4
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    I have Dr Who – and a purring contented cat – to thank among a fe wother things (& mostof all family) for how relatively sane I am today. Because without those I’d be, well a very differentand less happpy & relatively, hopefully, sane person than I am.

  5. 5
    William Burns

    No love for Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy?

    If you ever want to give Star Trek another chance, you should check out Deep Space Nine (if you haven’t already), which is much more ambivalent about the glories of the Federation.

    1. 5.1
      Emily

      Oh yeah, they really do. Particularly during the worst of the Dominion War.

    2. 5.2
      Sas

      Plus DS9 gets props for trying to get LGB themes into Star Trek even if they had to use sleight-of-hand to do it.

      I could aaaaalmost say Dax got in some trans issues, too, except it ended up being completely about cis gender issues rather than trans ones so I can’t really count it.

      1. Emily

        Yeah, Dax got the closest to trans issues. Closer than I’ve really ever seen anything on TV get. But alas, it’s not close enough.

        1. edmundog

          Welllll, to play devil’s advocate, the way the species was set up on TNG (though a lot changed about them in the transition), there’s not really a trans analog. The symbionts move from host to host with no real gender differentiation, and most of the gender roles they take on seem to be in response to the other species they encounter.

          1. Sas

            Yes, but (and I acknowledge that it’s devil’s advocate and you may not actually agree with it, but for the sake of the discussion) that’s on the literal level; trans issues with the Trill would have been subtext. They came very close in that Dax had to relate to people it knew from a long life as a man, but now as a young woman. Except that in practice it was mostly used almost for comic relief as Sisko and others boggle at a young, stereotypically feminine woman does stereotypically manly pursuits like violent wrestling and such. I never felt like they gave us any insight into what Jhadzia Dax was feeling about her transition, it was almost always played from the viewpoint of Sisko or the others. It was kind of like watching the cliche plot of “Guy reunites with old army buddy only to find that he got a sex change and now OMG how will he deal with that?!”

  6. 6
    Emily

    Time for everyone to air their geek creds. Mine:

    I am very good with computers (in fact, I’m a Computer Science Major). Computers are so much more malleable than most people get anywhere near. A little bit of programming experience can let you do a lot.

    I’m a Linux user.

    I don’t read comics. The closest I get is very, very occasionally reading manga.

    Never seen Big Bang Theory.

    And, I like Fantasy and Scifi. I do like the Stars (Stargate, Star Trek, Star Wars). I love Firefly (never watched Buffy). Watched only a single episode of Battlestar Galactica and never got into it. Love Doctor Who.

    I love Roleplaying. Roleplaying online was my first and primary way of expressing myself as a woman before I even knew what trans was. Even now that I’m out and transitioning I still go back because it’s fun. It’s fun and the stories that get built as you go along are interesting. Given this, it’ll probably surprise you that I’ve only just gotten into more structured RPing like Dungeons and Dragons. Until now, I never knew anyone that played. Now that I do, I am in my first campaign, and learning quickly.

    A note about languages: I find learning the syntax of languages to be easy, but the large amount of word memorization to be the real killer in learning natural languages. Programming languages are so much easier in that regard. Just learn the syntax, and look up the api online and away I go!
    I actually took a year of Japanese. Everyone said that it would be hard because of the significantly different syntax. I learned how to construct sentences just fine, but I couldn’t keep up with the word memorization. Too many words! Too much to remember!

    For anyone interested in learning a programming language: Try Python. It’s a very, very, high level, human readable language. Very good for beginners.

  7. 7
    MichaelD

    “So why would I find Doctor Who more satisfying than Star Trek, which actually provides a structure to its universe, and challenges its writers to work creatively within that structure?” Awww how the uninitiated say the silliest things :P.

    In fairness this is the aura star trek likes to wrap itself in (and I’m speaking of someone who who likes star trek and watched the original series over xmas) but really they play very loose with everything. Transporters can age/deage you, teleport you across dimensions, split people in evil and good, duplicate people, fuse 2 people and a plant together. That’s just off the top of my head and not bringing up their complete abuse of evolution. The further you go from the original series the more multispectral subspace engines creating torque you get. People shouldn’t kid them selves star trek isn’t hard, it’s yogurt. I havn’t watched much dr who but I’d say the 2 are probably in the same ball park on this.

    To be clear this is nothing against you or at you I just wanted to get a rant off on this.

    Also I think what you’re saying does a bit of a disservice to hard science fiction. Part of what I enjoy about hard science fiction is that by moving the emphasis away from the magical technology onto things that are more mundane the characters are given a better chance for being a more integral part of the story. Battlestar Galactica (a harder sf then SW, ST or DrW) which I’m a big fan of is more of a character study at times with characters in a difficult situations with no sonic screwdrivers or phased antiproton beams to get them out of a scrape. The focus is more on subjects like the value of survival if it costs us our principles and other more human questions and issues.

    I guess in part its my growing dislike of stories that break their rules or otherwise bend them particularly as a way to resolve the story.

    Further thought on the star trek monolithic utopia and the ways it may cheapen things. What about the times they go against it? While not numerous there are several stories in TNG and TOS where the captains break rules like the prime directive and explain their reasons even if it could get them in trouble (world is hollow in tos and pen pals in tng for example). Deep space 9 also dealt with a more flawed federation one that was almost destroyed in war with issues of how far they should or would go to save themselves (In the pale moonlight, in particular).

    So I guess the sum of my disagreements is that I agree with you in general but I think there’s more nuance in these issues then you presented. Anyway (just to be clear) don’t take any of this as an attack on you or what you like. There’s plenty of shows of all sorts for everyone to find and enjoy. I just enjoy a geeky argument from time to time.

  8. 8
    WilloNyx

    So much blasphemy in one post.

    It seems the few geeky things I am so very into are the ones you hate the most.

    Very little Buffy? What a shame that is. I have seen every episode at least three times myself. I have an actual problem with binge watching.

    Absolutely love me some Kevin Smith. I sat and watched that man take an hour and a half to answer one question and laughed myself to tears doing so. In fact I may be the only person that liked Jersey Girl.

    I am a pretty damn big fan o’ Big Bang Theory as well. It’s got its problems for sure but I still think it can be funny as hell.

    My love from Star Trek only stems from childhood nostalgia. I never could watch anything past the original but I did love the original quite a bit.

    I guess I can forgive your heathen ways as I haven’t even watched an episode of Dr. Who yet. I don’t have much time for TV right now so if I start it will probably be sometime on DVD or if it happens to be on Netflix.

  9. 9
    TV200

    Yep, I first discovered Doctor Who in 1981, when I was 10. It’s been with me ever since,(And as an aside, while it is going slowly, I am building a full size Dalek, 2005 edition. http://yfrog.com/kjgwgdoj ). I think you are absolutely correct about it, I don’t have a great love for the majority of science fiction that I have seen or read.
    Oh, and Anders:

    Hmmm… intriguing. If I wanted to develop a Dr. Who addiction, what do you recommend?

    I would say just pick a Doctor (except Paul McGann, the movie was terrible, but I like him because he really is good in the Big Finish Eighth Doctor stuff.) and jump in, though don’t start with a regeneration episode.

  10. 10
    Dunc

    I think Star Wars has a really fun mythos, but what I find most interesting about it is how somehow this really fun mythos, and a bunch of great storytelling, managed to emerge entirely despite the efforts of its creator. Like this amazing setting being born almost entirely of a man’s failure to achieve his really silly, talentless vision. Lucas didn’t create Star Wars. Lucas was Star Wars’ worst enemy. Star Wars was created because Lucas was too young and naive to successfully stop it from happening.

    Oh yeah, thin geek credentials. Uh-huh. Sure… You do realise that complaining about how George Lucas ruined Star Wars is pretty much the geek-credential equivalent of multiple advanced post-doctorate degrees, right?

    You do need to consider doing something about the Buffy thing though… Oh, and for major cred: Farscape! It’s got muppets and lots of gags about bodily functions. It’s really character-driven, but they do blow shit up from time to time. (And when they do, boy, do they ever!)

    Also: superhero comics are lame. I say that as a massive geek. Who also hates Big Bang Theory

    You’re so right about Dr Who, but that goes without saying. :)

    1. 10.1
      Miri

      Yeah, I’m equally unconvinced by this supposed thinness of geek credentials. Complaining that George Lucas ruined Star Wars is one thing. Writing a quite detailed list of the ways for how Eps 1-3 could have been vastly improved, and not to mention made more consistent with the character of the setting, is a whole other…

      I agree on Farscape (if not Buffy, never really got that…). That show was fantastic, and easily in the same category of ridiculous as Doctor Who.

  11. 11
    Fin

    Yay! Doctor Who! Who was the first geek thing I ever got into, way back when Syslvester McCoy was the Doctor (and Jon Pertwee repeats were on occasionally) and I still have a bit of an obsession with it. Have you managed to see much of the classic (pre-Eccleston) series?

    I also like that the Doctor is essentially a lone voice speaking out against totalitarianism and war wherever he finds it. Hell, he even went against the Time Lords themselves! I find him a very complex character and I’m quite drawn to his darker, self-hating and more manipulative side as a contrast to the exuberance and compassion he so often portrays. And that’s what makes him so watchable, I think, the fact that he isn’t one-dimensional.

    Having said that, I have my issues with Moffat’s writing, but let’s not go into that here!

  12. 12
    Sas

    Yeah, that’s pretty close to how I feel about Dr. Who. And Christopher Eccleston charmed my socks off so bad that I had to go into mourning for a couple of years before I could watch the Tennant episodes and treat them fairly.

    I’m a huge Buffy and Firefly fan, but the thing I don’t like about Whedon-love is that I think that fans tend to pin all the success on him when the huge portion of it is the talent he works with. People give him crazy ups for his writing, but his writing falls flat without his direction and the right cast and crew to bring it to life. *ahem*alien:ressurection*ahem*

  13. 13
    Anders

    Natalie, here’s Sophie’s choice for you. Dr Who or My Little Pony?

    1. 13.1
      suzysalaksartok

      With Dr Whoof, do you really need to choose? lol

  14. 14
    suzysalaksartok

    I totally agree with you on Star Wars, personally I really like the universe, the settings, the technology, etc. What I hate about it is the Jedi, and how everything focuses around them.

    Im not so much into the super hero comics either, the only ones I can really get into are street level heroes. One of my favorite Batman comics, Batman was hardly in, it was about the people in Gotham City, and some criminals, and how they dealt with having Batman in their midst. (I also really like Gotham Central, about the cops in Gotham.) Its kinda the same thing I have with Star Wars, I really like the setting of Gotham City, and Batman as a hero is pretty good, but Batman as a character Im barely into. (Harley Quinn on the other hand is awesome, and her comic spin off was great [well, before they went to Metropolis i think], plus midway through it had a good LBGT message)

    As for what happened to the LGBTQ people in Star Trek, presumably the trans people got perfect transitions (here, hop in this transporter, we’ll spit you out the other side with the right chromosomes), and gay people live a rich life in slash fics lol. (on the whole I find Star Trek a bit dull, and quite a bit meandering)

    I generally like Doctor Who, but sometimes not so much (nothing really I can pinpoint or express, like I really think the new Doctor, and Amy and Rory are really good characters, and dont think they are lesser than the previous ones…but I dont like the new seasons with them.) Also I hate River Song…i mean really really hate her. Good FSM I hate her.

    For extra geek cred, check out Planettes, its anime hard sci-fi about people who clear up space debris (does it get much geekier?). Pretty much all the tech is what could be conceivable nowadays (sure, theres settlements on the moon and mars and stuff, but people have to worry about cancer from space radiation, and wear diapers in space suits)…although it does get quite dark and depressing by the end.

  15. 15
    hall_of_rage

    According to those tastes, I wonder what you would think of the Miles Vorkosigan books by Lois McMaster Bujold. She’s created some really interesting speculations on human diversity in the future, and also has a very independently moral hero. I can’t recommend it in every aspect, but I will say she also deals with gender relations and (after one character’s off-planet transition) transphobia in a medieval-thinking society that happens to have advanced technology. (This is on one world; as the plot demands it, the series gives a tour of other planets with other societies).

    If you’ve already read them, I would love to know what you already think. I love those books as a fan does who wants to access the worlds inside them, and get beyond the limitations of the author. But in fact, the author is very good.

  16. 16
    Sheila Crosby

    I used to insist on watching Dr Who and then run and hide behind the sofa whenever the Darleks came on. This is when the sofa was taller than me.

    These days I watch very little TV -it’s amazing how much time I have for other stuff now- but I still watch Dr Who when it finally makes it to Spanish TV.

    I suggesting giving Terry Pratchett a try though. It’s not so much the one-liners (“a scream that would melt earwax”) as the compassion and profound knowledge of human nature (“the respectable poor, still saving for a rainy day while it was pouring down”). And I think you would empathise with Cherry Littlebottom.

    1. 16.1
      hall_of_rage

      +1 to Terry Pratchett, but specifically “Guards, Guards!”. An average-to-awesome character in a ridiculous dystopia that is a parody of (I think) the US.

  17. 17
    hall_of_rage

    Also, unrelatedly, I will go back and find the post where I first commented soon, but I wanted to apologize to you and Anders for somewhat swinging at Anders there before reading many entries.

  18. 18
    Alteredstory

    :D

    What she said!

  19. 19
    notscarlettohara

    Yay, finally a post where I can casually drop this link into the conversation without it being weird :-) http://www.comingsoon.net/news/tvnews.php?id=87510

    But, why all the hatred for Big Bang Theory? I could understand not being interested, or not thinking its that funny, but hatred? I love it, mostly because Leonard and Sheldon are exactly the same as two of my good friends from undergrad, only slightly hyperbolized.

  20. 20
    Dalillama

    I’ve never been a huge fan of science fiction TV, although I like Star Wars and I adore Firefly. I also watched BSG at my roommate’s insistence, and it was pretty good. Also Red Dwarf, a comedy classic. I’ve mostly been a reader of science fiction, and as such have virtually no overlap with you in my literary tastes. I love Pratchett, and I’ve read pretty much everything he’s written, most of it multiple times, and I’ve practically memorized the Douglas Adams canon. I second hall_of_rage above, if you feel like giving literary space opera another chance, you might well like the Vorkosigan series. I’m biased of course, it’s another one of my favorites.

    1. 20.1
      Dalillama

      Come to that, it’s not a movie, but the novel When Gravity Fails passes your trans Bechdel test with flying colors. There are numerous trans* characters, who have the same range of conversations as the cis characters. Some of the trans characters are prostitutes, but I tend to lean away from transphobia as an explanation, as several of the cis characters are too, and the remainder of the characters have similarly semilegal and socially looked down upon professions. It is science fiction, but of the near-future/cyberpunk sort.

      1. William Burns

        And since I like seeing authors credited for their work, I will point out that When Gravity Fails is by George Alec Effinger.

        1. Dalillama, Schmott Guy

          Whoops, I meant to mention that.

  21. 21
    Chirico

    So in other words, you’re a hipster :P

    1. 21.1
      Natalie Reed

      Trick question. If I get all flustered and say “No I’m not!”, then I’ve proven myself to be one.

  22. 22
    AstroCJ

    I see no-one’s mentioned it, so how do you feel about Enterprise – the series of Star Trek set much further in the past than the other series, where there is no Federation or Prime Directive, and humanity is really, really weedy militarily when compared to the Vulcans, Romulans or Suliban?

  23. 23
    JohnW

    But most of all, I really don’t care for science fiction.

    If your friends haven’t recommended James Tiptree Jr. yet, Natalie, you need better friends. Very, very dark stories about biology, politics, gender and death. And some of the most alien aliens in SF.

    Also Stanislaw Lem, Philip K Dick and Ted Chiang. But especially Tiptree.

    1. 23.1
      StevoR

      Seconding that. James Tiptree Jr aka Alice Bradley Sheldon :

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Tiptree,_Jr.

      is awesome. Superluminous even! Great author, very well worth reading.

      PS. I quite literally dreamed about Dr Who – & walking on Saturn’s rings, among other things – last night / morn. :-)

  24. 24
    ChrisG

    Well, I remember watching the original Dr. Who, in black and white, on CBC back around ’63 or so. Enjoyed it so much, my parents bought me a Dr Who picture/chapter book hybrid. The stories in that scared the living daylights out of me. I loved it!

    I confess to being quite omnivorous when it comes to television/movie SF. Star Trek, Star Wars, BSG (original and recent), Bab 5, Red Dwarf, Firefly are all favourites. I do tend towards books, though, and love all the classic authors you’ve listed. I do also enjoy fantasy, too. I think both genres bring their own twists of perspectives and help you reconsider your thought processes. It’s all fun!

    Oh, and don’t forget; if you don’t have a jammy dodger, fish fingers and custard will do!

    1. 24.1
      Xanthë, Amy of my threads

      Actually if you were watching CBC it would have been 1965, and you would have had the privilege of seeing Marco Polo, easily the gem of the first season stories, but missing since the 70s. Sadly CBC dropped the series after the first five stories, and broadcasts only resumed with TV Ontario and CKVU Vancouver during the 70s with some of the Pertwee era stories.

      1. ChrisG

        That makes more sense, in terms of timelines, Xanthe. Thanks! In my defence, I was 6-7 at that time! I also started watching again once TVO picked it up in the ’70s, and still loved it.

        CBC seems to have consistency with dropping Dr. Who after one season. They carried the new series (Christopher Eccleston) and then dropped it at the end of the season. Thank goodness Space picked it up!

  25. 25
    Ticktockman

    I love the meta-cleverness behind Doctor Who. Changing the primary cast member is insta-death for most programs, but the regeneration idea circumvented that problem brilliantly. I love the continuity behind the Doctor’s moral core, even as the personality surrounding that core changes from Doctor to Doctor. And that terrifying villains could be crafted from giant pepper shakers and toilet plungers is hilarious and perfect — I’ve always been charmed by the classic show’s low budgets (even during the most eye-roll inducing, head-shaking moments).

    I love a good *story*, and Doctor Who has told many over its near 50 years of existence. I think this is the core of my geek nature. The stories and world-building particular to science fiction, fantasy, role-playing games, good horror and so on appeal to me in a way that more mundane tales do not, even when the presentation is low budget and too serious for its own good.

    Some of my primary geek outlets: table-top role-playing, conventions (especially Dragon*Con), Battlestar Galactica, MST3K, Whedon’s stuff, the occasional anime, and Doctor Who.

    -TTm

  26. 26
    Mym

    So when my friends share a cultural touchstone that’s important to them but not to me… it’s a bit of a sad, alienated, lonely feeling.

    Off topic! I’m asexual; this is how I feel when my friends start talking about sex. It’s not that I want to have sex, it’s that it seems to be this enormous shared part of the human experience that I just don’t have. I end up feeling like an outsider, unable to relate, and when there’s already this cultural narrative telling me that I’m not ‘really’ female/human/worthwhile that really doesn’t help.

    1. 26.1
      Chirico

      I pretty much feel the same way in regards to relationships as someone who is a virgin and has never had a significant other, that I’m missing a huge part of the human experience and without it I’m worthless.

      1. Alt+3

        Sort of ditto.

        I wouldn’t consider myself asexual but more asocial, but I get the same feeling. Every time a family member says to me “still no girlfriend?” in that way that says “this is a problem that requires fixing” I want to introduce them to my fist. I think they’d really connect.

        1. Mym

          To be fair to your relatives, if you were in a relationship it’d just be “So when are you getting married?” instead.

  27. 27
    Alt+3

    >Communities build around fandom because sharing these kinds of things is an important part of being human, or at least of being a human who shares her life with other humans, being part of culture. Who wants to be alone?

    You know, I’ve never understood why people act like being alone is so awful. And it’s not in a trivial sense either. I’ve known women in relationships where their partners have beaten, raped, and done all manner of things that actually are awful to them. When I asked why they didn’t leave their answer was “If I leave them I’ll be…” cue dramatic music “…alone!” You’d think it was a form of torture listening to them.

    Sorry, that’s just a pet peeve of mine.

    I’ve never watched Dr. Who but I do watch the shit out of Star Trek. For me the show is mostly a showcase of starships, with some sub-plots about the people that live on them tossed in. Like I said earlier, my favorite ship is the Equinox from Voyager, followed closely by the Relativity.

    You should check out Voyager, it’s all the Star Trek of Star Trek without the federation to back them up.

  28. 28
    Siobhán

    My first Doctor was Jon Pertwee, though I think Tom Baker is my all time favourite.

    As far as morality is concerned though, you could do worse than to look back at some of the old William Hartnell episodes… The Doctor wasn’t even slightly /nice/ until about half way through Season Two, and it wasn’t until Patrick Troughton that he became the friendly “Madman in a Box” we all love.

    As to the transgender issue… During Romana’s regeneration, she was trying on several bodies (Tom Baker era), and more than one of them were male. The idea was settled then, and it’s only the BBCs conservatism that has kept them male so far.

    I hope this changes… we only have (in theory) two regenerations left – although The Master seems to have blown that theory out of the water… Perhaps it was a Galifreyan law, not a physical limitation, rather like in Logan’s Run.

    Anyway, I like the way you think, or overthink… I do the same :)

    1. 28.1
      Josiah Rowe

      As delighted as I was that Neil Gaiman finally made sex change in regeneration canonical, my deeply pedantic geekiness forces me to point out that all the bodies Romana “tried on” in “Destiny of the Daleks” were female (though one was awfully tall, and another one does look a bit MTF — but I’m fairly sure all were played by actresses). See it here:

      1. Siobhán

        Sounds like I need to re-watch it then… it has been a long time.

      2. Natalie Reed

        OMG! Romana’s outfit is so cute! I need that coat and scarf!

        1. Josiah Rowe

          Romana was doing Doctor crossplay before it was cool.

          1. Xanthë, Amy of my threads

            I ♥ Season 17.

      3. StevoR

        Loved Romana as a character and female equivalent to the Doctor too! Cheers! :-)

  29. 29
    Ingdigo Jump

    Doctor Who’s strength is in taking the silliest of ideas, playing them as straight as possible and convincing the audience that they’re scary.

    I hope this changes… we only have (in theory) two regenerations left – although The Master seems to have blown that theory out of the water… Perhaps it was a Galifreyan law, not a physical limitation, rather like in Logan’s Run.

    Spoiler
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    Most likely way out of that is from Let’s Kill Hitler where River gives The Doctor her remaining regenerations, which should give him another 8-10 more.

  30. 30
    LJ Briar

    Have very little to add to the conversation except that a) I feel the same as you. I’m not really a geek, I just happen to like a few geeky things, and be totally indifferent to the other 95% of it, and b) you are my favourite blogger here, along with PZ and Greta. Keep doing your thing, because you’re great at it!

    LJ

  31. 31
    Natalie Reed

    The Doctor Who quote that probably most perfectly describes what this blog is all about:

    “You know the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don’t alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views. Which can be uncomfortable..if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.”"

    1. 31.1
      Anders

      Counterquote, what this blog is against?

      Suggestion: “[Y]ou know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” (Thucydides)

    2. 31.2
      Anders

      Suggestion: “The greatest principle of all, is that nobody, whether female, should ever be without a leader. Nor should the mind of anybody be habituated to letting him do anything at all on his own initiative, neither out of zeal, nor even playfully. … In a word, he should teach his soul, by long habit, never to dream of acting independently, and to become utterly incapably of it.” (Plato)

      1. Anders

        “whether male or female” actually.

  32. 32
    Anders

    I’ve never seen the Big Bang Theory. What’s so bad about it?

    1. 32.1
      suzysalaksartok

      My guess is because everyone is basically just a stereotype on the show.

      Geeks are presented as your standard lonely nerd stereotype, the only woman who was on the show for a while was the standard dumb blonde, etc.

      Personally I think despite the fact that it makes fun of geek culture and such (and sometimes indians, and jews, and women, and scientists, and gays, and people with OCD, etc) that its pretty funny most the time.

  33. 33
    Ginny

    Great post! I have long argued that Doctor Who is only incidentally science fiction: its strongest genre connections are with epic and romance (in the medieval sense.) The heart of epic is the exploration of what it means to be human, through the trials and choices of a single character (who is very often NOT strictly human.) The epic hero tests the boundaries of human power and human morality, facing both monsters and dilemmas. The defining qualities of a story’s hero, and the specific monsters and dilemmas they face, tell us a lot about how the culture telling the story views human nature, what the most important qualities of a human are and where the biggest challenges and fears lie. I adore epic; as I think it is meant to do, it often helps me understand and contexualize my own life.

    Science fiction and fantasy often have elements of epic, although Doctor Who is the purest form I have seen in contemporary fiction. (Buffy is largely epic as well.) There were a lot of Western epics in the early 20th century, which makes the sci-fi/Western crossover seem perfectly natural to me. And I believe superhero stories are fundamentally epic, although I don’t know any of them deeply enough to discuss that claim.

  34. 34
    Sinéad

    I think you summed up why I love Doctor Who. However, the show is not afraid to show his dark side.

    I’m typically a fan of dystopian sci-fi moreso than hard sci-fi, as in Asimov. As a library worker, my biggest peeve is the intermingling of swords and sorcery fantasy as sci-fi. I love Neil Gaiman, but that’s about as fantasy as I can get. I hate vampire romance, mostly because as an Old School Goth, I really hate the association.

    I used to love Star Trek, but it’s just not interesting to me anymore. I think it was when it just became about wars and the Borg, I just got tired of it. There’s something to be said about DW’s Daleks and Cybermen that even though they pop up frequently, they’re not the entire focus of DW.

    I just wish there were trans characters in fiction. Left Hand of Darkness isn’t about trans people, even though it is really fucking great. I love Ursula K LeGuin. It’d just be nice to have a bad ass trans lesbian protagonist, or even anti-heroine.

  35. 35
    Reverend Anaglyph

    Joss Wheedon ‘not all that impressive’? Eeek. [Chokes on mouthful of Earl Grey]

    Now, don’t get me wrong here – I’ve been a Doctor Who fan for more years than I care to remember, and possibly more years since you were born Ms Natalie. I remember the Doctor (the FIRST Doctor, William Hartnell) tangling with the Zarbi, in black & white, the first time ’round’.

    But Joss I must defend. A highly original voice in a mush of rubbish coming out of the US, Joss was doing interesting television with Buffy before very much of that thing even came along. It is in my view a complete crime that the networks axed Firefly before he got a chance to make it shine (or, should I say ‘shine more’ since it was pretty shiny already if you ask me).

    Like some others here, I urge you to spend some time with Buffy – particular episodes like ‘Hush’ and the musical ‘Once More with Feeling’ are genius television, and equate with recent Dr Who stunners like ‘Blink’.

    Just saying.

  36. 36
    beardofpants

    My favorite doctor is still Patrick Troughton. :)
    I first got intro’d via Pertwee (and later Tom Baker, Peter Davidson), but I remember watching a doctor who marathon back in NZ, and they covered Hartnell and Troughton, and I pretty much thought those two were the bee’s knees from then on (although I do have a soft spot for Tennant and Smith as well).

  37. 37
    Miri

    I love Doctor Who. One of my earliest memories is of playing Doctor Who with two other weirdo girls when I was 5. All of Natalie’s reasons are exactly what I love about it. The things that make the Doctor indignant are pretty the things that make me feel the same. He is a character I can relate to, and he inhabits a world of completely unbounded creativity… I love that there is just about no way to know what will happen in an episode, or where it will end up, or just how ridiculous things will get, because there really are no rules at all. The only constant is the Doctors himself, and even he is not a guaranteed quantity. It is easily the most joyfully chaotic show on television, and I love it for it.

  38. 38
    Dendritic Trees

    The thing I love about Dr Who is that its intellectual positive. There are so many shows and books where the basic problem is: “science has caused a problem, you must solve it – by bashing the science and the evil scientist with a stick”. On Dr Who, the plot is “science has caused a problem by screwing up, fix it with better science”.

    The thing is of course, that science does cause problems all the time, and ignoring them or bashing them with sticks will not help, and encouraging that idea in fiction only encourages people who think the appropriate reaction to science is less thinking, or less science. Its not. Most current problems in science were caused by having a bit of knowledge, the solution is more knowledge.

  1. 39

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