If you know me at all, you know I was already a science fiction fan when Star Trek began. (It’s a rare occasion I get in on the ground floor of something.) I adored Kirk and crew. It took some episodes, but I came to love Picard and crew even more. The Trek story still unfolds, but I left that fold around the fifty-year mark. (Or rather, Trek left me.)
More recently (the rebooted) Doctor Who became my favorite SF TV series, but it’s starting to look like it won’t have the staying power that Trek did. I haven’t been as engaged the last many seasons, and the shift to the 13th Doctor hasn’t worked for me.
Currently I’d have to say my favorite SF TV series is The Expanse.
There are many good speculative fiction shows. It’s just not possible for The Expanse to stand out the way that Star Trek did.
I meant to go back and watch the last two seasons of Doctor Who — the seasons with the 13th Doctor. I wanted to give it a fair viewing, because I wasn’t enthralled the first time around.
My problem is that I don’t want to spend the time. I’ve been increasingly disengaged since Peter Capaldi took over as the 12th Doctor. The show seemed to lose its sense of joyful operatic adventure. Capaldi’s Doctor was grimmer and harder to love compared to David Tennant’s 10th or Matt Smith’s 11th.
I expect I’ll go on watching the show — assuming it’s available in one of my streams, an uncertain proposition these days — but I no longer have much enthusiasm for it. It’s… okay.
I’ve been questioning whether I’m bothered by a female Doctor. I think the answer is no. It’s not the sort of thing that usually bothers me.
The question might be how much literary gender matters. Are there fictional characters with such a prominent gender that it can’t be swapped without changing the story?
For instance, can we tell the story of Hamlet if the main character is female? Absolutely. There is nothing innately male in Hamlet’s behavior. The story is about a child driven mad by the murder of a parent. We could swap the genders of all the characters and tell the same story.
How about a female Scrooge in A Christmas Carol? That would work quite well. The story is about a bitter angry person who chose wealth over love and family.
How about James Bond? Many seem uncomfortable with a female James Bond. I can see their point. Changing Bond to a woman seems like a different kind of spy story. It seems to change something about the established character. (Bond was canonically a lone wolf womanizer, for one thing.)
That said, a spy story is a spy story. Atomic Blonde is very close to a Bond movie with a female Bond. (It’s also well worth seeing.) But is the “Bond” character quintessentially male? Maybe so.
How about a male Wonder Woman? Does that even make sense? It doesn’t seem at all the same story. Wonder Woman was an Amazon — quintessentially female.
I think the bottom line is that some fictional characters have a strong gender while others don’t. (No doubt it’s a spectrum from strong to irrelevant.)
So the question is whether The Doctor has a strong gender such that swapping it changes the story to something else.
I thought the answer was no. I was excited to see a female Doctor. It seemed overdue.
As TV characters go, The Doctor is brilliantly positioned for an occasional change of actor. Usually that must be ignored — an unfortunate consequence of the disconnect between the story and the production. But we expect The Doctor to change sometimes. Brilliant idea (on par with Roddenberry’s transporters).
I still don’t think The Doctor being a female is the problem, although I think the character does have a male aspect. The Doctor is an explorer, an adventurer, and an extreme risk-taker. That’s not exclusively male territory by any means, but I think it is characteristic.
I would have gone more with a Jessi Combs type of The Doctor.
It occurs to me the implicit (ever unresolved) romantic tension between The Doctor and his Companion might be a key part of the character — at least in the modern version.
It starts with Rose Tyler. The torch passes to Martha Jones, then to Donna Nobel, then to Amy Pond, and finally to Clara Oswald. The torch dies with Bill Potts, and isn’t in evidence at all with the 13th Doctor.
Although Bill Potts wasn’t a romantic interest, Missy certainly was that season. There was also always River Song. (A lot of fans were hoping Alex Kingston would show up for the 13th Doctor. Instead we got Jack Harness.)
The 13th Doctor has “fam” and no romantic vibe at all. Maybe that’s part of what’s missing. Or rather, that’s what changes the story too much. Now it’s something other than Doctor Who.
Many complained about the emphasis on social justice, but that’s always been a part of Doctor Who.
That said, some of the recent episodes laid it on with a trowel.
Ironically, the Rosa Parks episode was really good, I thought. They get that stuff right when they don’t try so hard. Social justice can’t be forced, but people can be influenced.
For me, while not seamless, the emphasis on social issues isn’t a complaint. It sometimes makes me shake my head a little, but that’s about it.
But I cannot stand the new The Master. Really hate him. With a passion.
I also really hate the retcon. The “timeless child” business is awful; utter trash. It apparently fixes some minor plot hole from Classic Who, but it kinda trashes the Rebooted Who. I think that was a huge mistake.
The bottom line for me is that Chibnall made too many changes and turned the show into something I don’t recognize, that doesn’t seem like Who, and which doesn’t do much for me. I think the onus is on him, not Whittaker or The Doctor being female.
So there are many other TV series I’d rather re-watch than the last, say four, years of Doctor Who. (I’d really like to watch Dark Matter again, and I am re-watching The Expanse while I read the books.)
I’ve got Boston Legal in my Hulu queue; once in a while I watch an episode. It was a delightful show, another favorite of mine.
The show was sheer fun and slyly broke the fourth wall many times, often with Star Trek references.
I highly recommend it.
Watching an episode recently, I realized that, as much as I revered Captain Kirk in my youth, it’s Shatner’s Denny Crane that I most enjoy. (He won two Emmys for the role.) The character is a hoot, and Shatner must have had a ball playing him.
Speaking of changes that matter, the direction Trek has taken in modern times depresses me (see Berman’s Vulcans). Not everything needs to be dark and edgy.
(I am so fucking tired of that. A lot of the material added to The Expanse TV series is to make it darker and edgier, and I’ve disliked nearly all of it. When did we fall in love with asshole characters? Are we that insecure about our own ability to be decent and kind?)
Trek is about technology as a solution and about optimism. Fuck this post-modern deconstructive “everything sucks; everyone’s a dick” ethic. I really loath it.
There is also that weird clinging on I don’t get. Seeing Patrick Stewart as Picard now is as vaguely creepy as watching the aged Rolling Stones perform. (I’ve seen the Moody Blues several times recently. They’re a band I’ve been into since 1970-ish. Seeing them old is just sad.)
I guess I’m not very nostalgic.
Still talking Star Trek (with a segue into Star Wars): J.J. Abrams.
He’s a big part of what I meant by Trek leaving me. He’s instrumental in turning Star Trek into everything I dislike about modern TV SF (and modern SF movies). He made Jon Stewart’s head explode.
Essentially (in my eyes), Abrams turned Trek into the SOS (Same Old Shit).
He serves up pop SF that goes beyond cliche to what I call “iconic” — stories become just a string of well-known visual icons and visual distractions. (His well-known penchant for lens flare is sheer visual distraction.)
Stories for which, per an old quote, “there is no there there.”
I suppose financially it’s worked out for them, but as far as what will be remembered as classic, it ain’t gonna be this shit.
There’s a clear reason why.
I obviously need to work on the “shorter post” thing, but this takes care of four notes: Doctor Who; William Shatner & Denny Crane; New Trek; and Abrams Trek Wars.
They were all on the same notebook page; now they’re all in the same post.
Stay optimistic, my friends!