Wed
Mar 24 2010 5:26pm

Chicks Dig Time Lords

Chicks Dig Time Lords, from Mad Norwegian Press, is a collection of essays by notable female fans of Doctor Who about how they got into the show and why they love it so much. Contributors include SFF novelists like Seanan McGuire, Catherynne M. Valente, and Mary Robinette Kowal, as well as other writers, academics, and Carole Barrowman, Doctor Who and Torchwood actor John Barrowman’s sister. Last Friday, Bluestockings, a bookstore, fair trade cafe, and activist center in New York, hosted a reading and discussion with five of the contributors from the book: moderator K. Tempest Bradford, Catherynne M. Valente, Francesca Coppa, and Deborah Standish, plus cover artist Katy Shuttleworth, of Torchwood Babiez fame.

The four writers kicked off the evening by reading their respective essays from the book. Francesca talked about Nyssa of Traken, a Companion of the Fourth and Fifth Doctors and a teenage girl genius when that was a rare thing on TV (as if it’s common now!). She also treated us to her story (not in the book) of how she almost slept with David Tennant in the ’90s, when they were working on a play together. Deborah described how geek fandoms are about “finding your tribe,” and declared that no matter how great the show is, the fans are better. Tempest discussed Martha Jones, the first female Companion of color on the show, who is awesomely competent and independent, yet consistently mistreated by the writers. Cat ruminated on the show’s theme of regeneration and the fact that everything changes, even the viewers, and she’s no longer the same as she was when she started watching. Katy, who contributed  drawings and thus didn’t have anything to read, told us about the weirdness of discovering that John Barrowman has a printout of her caricature of him hanging in his office.

L to R: Francesca Coppa, Katy Shuttleworth, K. Tempest Bradford, Catherynne M. Valente, Deborah Standish.

The essays were a mix of celebratory and wishful, which set the tone for the rest of the discussion. Obviously, none of the contributors (or audience members) would have been there without an abiding love for Who, but as Catherynne said in her essay, “The Doctor Who fan must forgive much.” One audience member asked which writer the contributors would like to have back for the fifth season, and even those answers reflected complaints: Catherynne wants to see more from the Russell T. Davies who wrote the first season finale, rather than the one who wrote the fourth season finale. Personally, I agree wholeheartedly with both Deborah — whose vote is “anyone but Chris Chibnall” — and Tempest — who’d like to give Catherine Tregenna free reign. (Chibnall wrote “42” for Doctor Who, and is also the lead writer for spin-off Torchwood, where he is to blame, for example, for the pretty much universally detested “Cyberwoman.” Tregenna has written four episodes for Torchwood, including the Hugo Award-nominated “Captain Jack Harkness.”)

The very first audience question was prompted by Tempest’s essay about Martha Jones—in Martha’s cameo on Torchwood, she’s a much more interesting character. Does the Doctor hold his Companions back? Catherynne argued that “nobody walks away undamaged” from the Doctor. Another audience member wondered whether the Dalek menace can be traced to the Doctor’s actions, to which Deborah pointed out that the Doctor’s always telling people not to mess with time, but he does it frequently himself. One of my favorite first season episodes is the excellent “Boom Town,” in which one of the Doctor’s enemies says exactly that—he never has to stick around and witness the damage he created. (Of course, at the end of that episode he’s still able to jaunt off again with, at worst, some mental ruffled feathers.) But as Tempest said, the fact that we’re able to discuss the Doctor’s faults not as a question of writer failure but as an issue that’s explicitly addressed within the series speaks volumes.

Wishful thinking notwithstanding, every regeneration of the Doctor so far has been male, but his Companions (especially in the new series) are overwhelmingly female. This may explain why the various Companions are a popular topic among female fans. We heard about which Companions the contributors most want to see back on the show: Francesca just wants an alien to join the TARDIS crew, while Catherynne wants Donna to be redeemed after her terrible exit at the end of the fourth season. The focus of much of the discussion was on the modern version of Doctor Who that started airing in 2005, so one audience member asked who the favorite female Companions from the classic series were. This led to a panelist/audience free-for-all, but a few of the women mentioned were Romana, Ace (who attacked a Dalek with a baseball bat!), Sarah Jane, Jo, Liz Shaw, Barbara, Leela, Zoe, and K-9 (who might, after all, be female).

Of course, the upcoming regime change was not far from anyone’s mind. The first episode with Matt Smith taking over for David Tennant in the lead role and Steven Moffat for Russell T. Davies as head writer airs in about two weeks. For the most part, the mood was tentative enthusiasm about the new season. Steven Moffat’s episodes were always Katy's favorites, so she’s looking forward to the new season. Tempest agrees that it’s time for new blood, though she doesn’t think Steven Moffat is the man for the job. Catherynne and Deborah were both skeptical of David Tennant when he started on the show, but they’ve grown to love him. Everyone’s reserving judgment, but no one seems too worried; as Catherynne put it, “If we can learn to love celery, we can learn to love a bowtie.”

I can’t do justice to all the discussions that went on at the event. The participants were on Jim Freund’s Hour of the Wolf radio show on Saturday morning; you can listen to it on WBAI’s archive site for the next two weeks.

I hope you’ll discuss all of these topics in the comments. The question I’m most curious about, though, is the last one I mentioned above: Are you excited about the start of the fifth season, or are you already feeling nostalgic for RTD’s reign?


Ellen B. Wright lives in New York, where she works in publishing and takes an excessive number of pictures. She’s looking forward to Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor, if only because of all the Doctor Who/The Ruby in the Smoke crossover fanfic that will surely result.

12 comments
Teresa Jusino
1. TeresaJusino
OH MY GOD, HOW DID I MISS A "CHICKS DIG TIME LORDS" EVENT AT BLUESTOCKINGS?! I am THOROUGHLY kicking myself, as I would've gone to that with bells on had I known about it.

My copy of the book is currently on its way to me, as I ordered it online.

I'm a huge fan of Steven Moffat's episode's as well as Paul Cornell's. They both do an amazing job of balancing the masculine and feminine elements in the storytelling. "Blink?" "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood?" Come ON now! It doesn't get any better! :)

Speaking of companions, though, I've been watching a lot of "Classic" Who lately, and I love Jamie as a companion. I'd actually really like to see a male companion in New Who. Jamie and the 2nd Doctor had an amazing dynamic, and I'd be curious to see how the Who writing team would write a strong male friendship on the new show.

And let's remember that just because we're female fans doesn't mean that all we want is female characters. :)
Ellen B. Wright
2. ellenw
TeresaJusino @1: "Blink" and "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood" are among my favorite episodes of the show, as well as "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances." On the other hand, I didn't like "The Lady in the Fireplace" at all, so I can understand the Moffat skepticism.

I haven't actually seen any of the classic series yet, but (especially) Francesca's essay made me more convinced that I want to, partly because of the greater Companion variety. Not that I don't love Rose and Martha and Donna (yes, all three of them), but some men and some non-humans would be a welcome change indeed.
Bill Spangler
3. Bspangler
Teresa: My understanding is that there will be a male companion for part of Matt Smith's first season. The character's name is Rory and he's supposed to be Amy's fiance. Not sure who's playing the role.
Brit Mandelo
4. BritMandelo
I'm ordering this book as soon as I can. This is so, so awesome and I love it. Wish I could have been there. (Some of the best moments I've had in life are moments where I discovered another person I'd just met was a Who fan. It's like instant bonding!)

@Bspangler

Oh, that'll be interesting!
Teresa Jusino
5. TeresaJusino
@Bspangler - YES! That sounds awesome. Though I have to say, we've already had the dynamic of "Companion Has a Love Interest That She Then Gives Up To Go Traveling With The Doctor" before. I would love a male companion that has nothing to DO with a female companion.

@BritMandelo - I agree! It's a much less common thing than other fandoms here in the States, so when you stumble across someone who loves Doctor Who, it's like YES! Someone INTERESTING! :)
Angelinebrown
6. Angelinebrown
This is so, so awesome and I love it. Wish I could have been there.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Dr. Kirtland C Peterson
7. catsongs
Great post! (I love all things Who.)

Funny... over the years not sure I ever met a "chick" who liked the good Dr., or Time Lords.

So... most excellent!
Eugene Myers
8. ecmyers
@1 TeresaJusino

You should consider signing up at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/gothamlit/ for updates on specfic events like this in the city.

@2 ellenw

Say the word and I'll loan you some classic Who DVDs! Many are also available through Netflix streaming, if that's an option for you.

I'm approaching the new season with tentative enthusiasm, trusting Moffat to steer the show in a new direction. I would be happy to never see an RTD story again. Generally great characterization, crap plotting. I'll probably miss Tennant more, but from what I've seen, Matt Staggs isn't playing him different enough that I'll notice the difference.

Thanks for the recap! I wish I could have made it to the reading, but I'll check out the HotW broadcast.
Angelinebrown
9. UK Chris
I'm just not quite sure that the dynamic of a male companion would work under the current pattern of Doctor & Companion. Through Donna, we see there can be a companion with which there is no romance per se, however there is still quite a bit of exposition/snark around the male/female yin/yang dynamic.

Just my thoughts though -- watch them have a sustained male companion and totally prove me wrong.
Ellen B. Wright
10. ellenw
catsongs @7: Rest assured, there are plenty of us! One of the panelists at this event (I'm ashamed to say I can't remember who, but perhaps Katy?) said that until she attended a Who convention, it didn't occur to her that there were any male fans, because all her friends who watched the show were female. I think the new series has shifted the balance.

UK Chris @9: I'm not sure how many other fans I can speak for here, but as for myself, I'm tired of the current Doctor/Companion dynamic. I think it's largely been played out, and I'd like to see both the writers and the Doctor figure out how to deal with a male Companion. (Or, as noted above, a non-human. Maybe even a male non-human! I would have loved to see the Master as a Companion for a few episodes; talk about fresh dynamics.)
Paul Andinach
11. anobium
ellenw @10:

Once on a time, there was a plan for an animated Doctor Who series which got as far as a pilot before the Russell T Davies juggernaut got on the road and ran it over.

"Scream of the Shalka", by Paul "Human Nature" Cornell, featured Richard E. Grant as the Doctor, with two companions: the traditional female one, and... the Master.

(Well, I say "traditional"... if the series had gone ahead, we'd be talking about Sophie Okonedo as the Doctor's first female companion of color instead of Freema Agyeman.)

I don't know where you'd go looking for a copy nowadays, though; the official DVD release didn't manage to happen before it stopped being the Future of Doctor Who, and now probably never will.
Angelinebrown
12. a-j
You can see 'Scream of the Shalka' on the BBC's Dr Who website, or at least you can in the UK, along with a semi-animated version of Douglas Adams' 'Shada' with Paul McGann. There are also the radio Dr Who starring Paul McGann which pops up on BBC7 now and then.

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