First Trek, Now Who?

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.

That said, “favorite SF TV” doesn’t mean as much with so many decent SF TV series. For instance, I really liked Upload. I liked Dark Matter enough to want to re-watch it. I love Rick and Morty.

For that matter, The Good Place is another favorite, although more on the fantasy side. (Likewise Lucifer, another favorite.)

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.

To be honest, I think my problem is with how Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall portray The Doctor. For me, there’s too much flightly air-head and not enough ancient traveler.

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.

It’s a step back to the raving lunacy of John Simm (who admittedly carried it off really well, but I’ve never cared for madmen). This new guy doesn’t have any of Simm’s charm. He’s just a madman.

Missy was so much better. Michelle Gomez was awesome in the role, and it provided a new dimension to The Doctor’s oldest frenemy.

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.)

§ §

Speaking of the beginning of Star Trek, I’ve posted about my arc with William Shatner.

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.

It stars James Spader and Shatner, with René Auberjonois (Odo!) and Candice Bergen.

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.

§ §

Still speaking of Star Trek, I’ve avoided the new shows Discovery & Picard.

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.”

Speaking of the SOS, Star Wars episodes VII, VIII & IX. For which we can also blame Abrams. I said long ago that having the same “visionary” (ha!) behind both Star Trek and Star Wars was a Bad Idea.

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.

What will be remembered of Star Wars are episodes IV, V & VI.

What will be remembered of Star Trek are TOS and TNG.

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!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

6 responses to “First Trek, Now Who?

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    I watched Picard, which was borderline okay, but tried a couple of times with Discovery and just couldn’t stomach it. It’s just too much in thrall to the original series. At least Picard moved things forward.

    For me, the heavy handed social messaging has been a big issue with the recent seasons of Doctor Who. Even when I agree with the message itself, which is often, it throws me out of the story. As you noted, that kind of thing is best kept more subtle. I’d say it shouldn’t take over the story, which it seems to do in some episodes, sometimes at the cost of their coherence.

    I don’t mind the changes to the Doctor’s background. But I was never really that attached to the Time Lord thing anyway. It seems to fit with the idea that the Doctor never seemed of the Time Lord society anyway. And it could lead to some interesting storylines in future seasons, if they use it well.

    I have to say I think a female James Bond (Jane Bond?) wouldn’t be worth it. It would just piss off the fan base and likely only attract the most diehard liberal ideologues. I think they’d be better off just starting a new spy series with a character female from the beginning.

    I wouldn’t stress about the shorter post thing. It’s something I’m working on, but it’s not for everyone. I’m still not sure if it’s for me.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I watched the broadcast of the first episode of Discovery, and that was enough for me. Nothing I’ve heard about it since made me want to see it. I don’t have access to Picard, so I couldn’t check it out if I did want to (and I just don’t want to — again, nothing I’ve heard compels me).

      “I don’t mind the changes to the Doctor’s background.”

      I can’t say it outrages me or anything. I don’t care enough about the show anymore to be outraged. But it sure seems to weaken the meaning of the reboot seasons.

      I find poignancy in The Doctor being a Time Lord but separate from them. A physical reason for his separateness seems to undercut that pathos.

      I also don’t like how it adds a sense of “woo-woo” to the Doctor’s origin. I think there would have been much better ways to generate new story lines. This feels too much like an almost deliberate slap in the face to modern Who fans.

      But to each their own. I can live with it, but I really hate the new Master. (Who has to be an old Master, since the John Simms version seems to have killed the Michelle Gomez version.)

      “I have to say I think a female James Bond (Jane Bond?) wouldn’t be worth it. It would just piss off the fan base…”

      That would be a practical reason. How would you personally respond to a gender swap of the character?

      There is just swapping the gender or she could be Bond’s daughter (perhaps one he didn’t know he had from one of those many conquests along the way). Maybe she inherited his innate skill set. That would probably go down better. And think of the possible family drama! 😉

      The thing about Bond is that he’s an icon. Sherlock Holmes is another. There isn’t a huge male aspect to Holmes, but swapping gender would create a different character. Holmes and Bond are too well established for gender swapping, perhaps. They’re almost historical characters.

      It’s interesting. Scrooge is also very well-established, almost historical as well, but I can easily see a female playing the role. (So it’s something about the character that matters. I’m going to have to ponder this; it’s a new idea as of this post.)

      “I wouldn’t stress about the shorter post thing.”

      Oh, no, I don’t. I mention it, and brevity is my goal, but I don’t really give a crap. In fact, I’ve noticed that some of the older posts that a lot of reads are long ones, so I figure if I keep it under 2000 words, I’m fine.

      I start thinking about tightening things up when I go over 1200 and more so if I bust 1600. I get pretty aggressive as I get near 2000.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        On responding to a Bond gender switch, today, I’d probably groan when I heard about it, but give the movie a chance to see if they pulled it off, particularly if it got good reviews. Younger-me, though, would probably have resisted going anywhere near it, and I suspect a lot of guys like my younger self would too. Too much about Bond is simply tangled up in male fantasy.

        Although it they worked it out so that it was Bond’s daughter or something, so that it wouldn’t be posited as just a woman stepping into the classic role, I could see it working.

        I actually could envision a female Holmes. Holmes’ primary role seems intellectual, much like the Doctor’s, so I could see it being pulled off. Although for her to have the same personality, they’d have to pull it out of Victorian times into more modern day society. An arrogant know-it-all woman in 19th century England wouldn’t plausibly command the respect Holmes does in the stories. It would in fact still be an issue today, but that could make for interesting dynamics.

        My blog theme has a feature where it lists the reading time. My current goal is for it to label most posts 2 minutes or under. It apparently divides the word count by 250 and then rounds, which should give me up to 624 words to work with, but at 624 it actually switches to 3 minutes, so I actually get 623, which I often end up just under. So I start getting twitchy at 500 words.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, I don’t think I’d be terribly bothered by either a female Bond or a female Holmes. I’m not sure I’d really see them as Bond or Holmes, but as a variation on the theme. Which, if it’s well done and respects the intent of the original, can be really good.

        Good point about Holmes in period. It illustrates how much the gender change affects the story — it’s kind of a reflection of Holmes as a historical character. Bond, at least, is contemporary.

        There’s a sub-genre of police procedural murder mystery stories. (Murder mysteries are a sub-genre of police procedural and detective stories, so I guess I mean a sub-sub-genre.) It’s the “Odd Couple” pairing of a homicide detective and a civilian with “Sherlock Holmes” level abilities so valuable the civilian is allowed to accompany the detective on murder investigations. Examples: The Mentalist, Castle, Lucifer.

        They’re all Sherlock Holmes analogs, and I’m trying to remember if any of them had a female “Holmes”. I don’t think so. Usually the cop is the Watson, and often is female. (True of all three I just listed.) I’ve never watched it, but maybe Bones has a female Holmes? I think so.

        Elementary is a straight up modern day reboot of Sherlock Holmes. And Joan Watson. Certainly Watson’s gender isn’t relevant. (I credit Elementary for making it clear from day one and throughout that there was absolutely zero romantic tension between Holmes and Watson. Because of course there never was. Most analogs make the Watson female to include the romantic tension angle.)

        Wow, 600 words. That’s… utterly beyond me. 😀

        (Although tomorrow’s post came in under 400 words.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        From the little I’ve seen of Bones, the main character is brilliant but socially awkward. Not quite a female version of Holmes, but not far from it, and probably as close as many of the other analogs.

        Yeah, the only way to do 600 words is to break things up, which I’m trying to do. Although sometimes it just doesn’t make much sense, so I don’t worry about the occasional longer post.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I was just looking at the Wiki entry for the character to see if she had Asperger’s. Apparently it’s kind of implied, but never stated — a deliberate choice to be more mainstream.

        Be interesting if you could do some stats and see if your shorter posts get more reads, comments, or likes.

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