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.