That Time “The Angels Take Manhattan” Made History and No One Noticed

Because it wasn’t that exciting.

So I have a vested interest in minority representation in Doctor Who. Anyone who’s read my S7 episode reviews knows that I’m annoyed at the lack of realistic LGBTQ characters. But I’m also concerned with the overwhelming whiteness of the show. I even have an essay being published in the Doctor Who and Race anthology about the lack of Asian characters in Doctor Who. (It’s coming out next year for anyone who’s interested.) We’ve been going through the editorial process pretty constantly over the past few months, and so the issue is even more at the forefront of my mind then it usually is.

So what was it about “TATM” that made history? Well, Doctor Who has a history of avoiding Asian locations, characters, and storylines. The only time in new Who that we’ve seen a character in Asia is when the entire Chinese army becomes the Master in “The End of Time”. “The Angels Take Manhattan” marks the first time where the Doctor is shown in China doing things.

So why did it suck?

Well, first of all, it wasn’t a part of the storyline but rather a stopping point so that the Doctor could drop a note to River on a Qin dynasty vase. It was actually so brief that I couldn’t find an image of it on Google—I had to screencap this myself.

Second of all, the characters are not agents, they’re objects. They exist in the show so the Doctor can pop in and manipulate things as he sees fit and leave. You could switch out the vase from China with an artifact from any other culture and nothing about that scene would have changed. It’s not like they played an important role.

This is just another fail in a long line of fail on Moffat’s part this season. Here, have a cissexist joke about a trans* horse! Trans* inclusion! Amy’s a bridesmaid in an off-screen gay wedding mentioned in a throwaway line! Queer inclusion! Ancient China is onscreen for less than a minute! POC inclusion!

This is not okay, Doctor Who. This is not real diversity. Step up and do something that actually makes a difference.

12 thoughts on “That Time “The Angels Take Manhattan” Made History and No One Noticed

    • Yeah, the Doctor zapped back to the Qin dynasty to a pottery workshop, waved his psychic paper, the Chinese man said ‘Aiyah’ longsufferingly, and the Doctor painted YOWZAH on a vase so that River would see it and be able to give him an anchor into 1938. It happened in under a minute.

  1. Russel T. Davies had some faults as a showrunner, but Torchwood and Doctor Who were better because he was always incorporating LBGT characters in a way that made sense. This is mostly because he’s an effective writer, and because he was gay yes, but also because he actually cared about characters. This is the guy who could make you care about the random person who sacrificed themselves for whatever reason in an off episode.

    You were right about the Qin Dynasty scene, it was a sideshow. But honestly, Moffat seems to treat almost every character and location he hasn’t personally invented in his mind as a sideshow. His Who is so flashy and haphazard that he never gives any time for anything to develop. His “big long arc” didn’t even really develop. He ofcourse treats LBGT issues the same way. We get this interesting interspecies lesbian relationship on screen, and then get to see it go nowhere. We get to hear that River Song is bisexual offscreen and in a word of god fashion. I may be wrong but by numbers, Moffat Who has more LBGT characters. But Davies gave us a few that counted in Who and then amped it up in Torchwood (or so I hear). I don’t think Flashy Who can treat anything much less LBGT issues in a convincing manner under current leadership.

    One last thing. In Turn Left, the Doctor and Donna were on an “Oriental Planet” I think it was called (this is ofcourse not the same as being in asia and thats a darned shame). I remember this mostly because I’ve watched the Bad Wolf reveal at the end of that episode like fifty times.

    God I write too much.

    • Yeah, it definitely is an endemic problem in Moffat-Who. I wish that some of the criticism would stick for once, but I think he’s very enamored of his flashy storytelling style. The only realistic queer relationship we’ve seen is Madame Vastra, and she was totally discarded after A Good Man Goes To War. 😦 And don’t get me started on the race biz.

      I haven’t counted that planet from Turn Left because, as you said, it’s not actually Asia – although I do mention it in my DW&R essay. It is another kind of skeevy Asian portrayal though, all evil fortunetellers and whatnot. :/

      No, keep writing! I appreciate your comments! 😀

  2. Whelp. I guess I’ll continue writing. : P Stephen Moffat is nothing if not a very principled person who will not change his vision of Who. This can sometimes be a very good thing for a creative power. Sometimes it can devolve into what we’re seeing where the guy won’t even accept valid criticism. And some of the things I’ve heard said about him (especially comments that he’s “afraid of women” or has “lady issues”) were rather overkill. Frankly, I can see why the guy deleted his twitter. (This is not defending some of the things he said however. Which were rather bigoted in the first place).

    So as an aside, Fandoms that care can sometimes become very scary things. <– For instance, here is a tumblr that tracks the number of days since someone in the Homestuck fandom has received a death threat or the like. Teenaged girls have been threatened because someone didn't like how they did their grey body make-up. So my point is that sometimes the legitimate points of a fandom, the type of issues that are discussed on this blog, are either glossed over or delivered in a way that makes showrunners want to stick hands in their fingers and start making noises.

    So Moffat, a guy running a show that is becoming more and more internationally popular every day, probably sees the fans who are desperately asking him for a better product as pests. Actually, I know he does, he's called us 'idiots' before. Its this break of trust between Show and fan thats really disappointing, because in the long run there is no way that a show can continue to thrive and be quality if management doesn't care what the fans think.

    This is why I think its cool that you're apart of a book with a reasonable amount of clout that is handling a serious issue of Who in a serious way. Anyone can ignore the faceless masses of tumblr and twitter, its a lot harder to ignore something making royalties.

    I also find it ironic, because at one point of time Moffat was the very type of fan he now refuses to listen to. Very few people loved, and criticized, original Doctor Who has much as he did. I think Davies advantage actually was that he always did these serious shows that handled serious issues and didn't really ever dumb down Doctor Who and make it a "kids show". Stephen seems to be trying to create the experiences he felt when he was a kid.

    • I definitely think you’ve touched on part of the problem, which is that he has been exposed to so much abject hate (e.g. “You’re ruining Doctor Who you douchebag you should just go kill yourself”) that he sees people with legitimate and sensible complaints (e.g. “I’d appreciate it if you portrayed women more fairly”) as just part of the pointless hate. And fandom should condemn those haters as much as anyone – they give fandom a bad name and make writers resistant to interact with the sensible fans.

      As of right now Moffat could really stand to come down off his high horse, but the sad truth is that people are going to watch Doctor Who and buy merchandise regardless, and it’s going to be hard to convince him that his internationally bestselling show needs to take a different tack until it starts losing the more mainstream viewing audience.

      I hope that the book does well/makes some sort of impact. It’s always hard to deal with people who say that you can’t love a show and criticize it too, because I literally can’t imagine not complaining about the bad bits of the things I love.

      I definitely agree. Davies’ Doctors had the childlike joy at the wonder of the universe, but they also had this terrifying dark side. The Eleventh Doctor is way too much childlike joy, such that his anger comes off as a child’s tantrum rather than a righteous god’s wrath.

  3. I’m so glad you wrote about this. I was so frustrated with how yet again Moffat tossed Asia aside. Plus it took away from the magic (and danger) of time travel.

    My friend once said that she didn’t like “Blink” because it was Moffat’s chance to write Martha and he avoided it. She got so much backlash from our fellow Doctor Who fans for stating this. I’d probably get the same response if I had said on facebook how I dislike Oswin for her “It was a phase” comment.

    I’m hoping that Lorna Bucket wasn’t a throwaway character because she has the potential to be an amazing POC chacter.

    • I was honestly shocked that so few people picked up on this scene, although I guess with all the plotholes and deus ex machinae that viewers were busy just trying to make sense of the episode as a whole.

      That’s a very fair point about “Blink” – I never thought about it in that way before but it does seem like there’s a sad truth to it. I’m sorry people have been shitty to you about criticizing the show – writing for this blog makes it nigh-impossible for me to take off my critical thinking cap, and it boggles me that there are people out there who don’t realize you can love something and still be very critical of it. (And augh. That ‘it was a phase’ comment. Don’t get me started on that.)

      It would be really cool if we saw more of Lorna, especially because River’s current timeline doesn’t seem to include anything about the Gamma forests, and that was apparenly how Melody got renamed River. (Of course that was sort-of-retconned in “Let’s Kill Hitler”? I can’t keep anything about River’s past straight at this point.) But as with a lot of women and POC and queer characters, I fear she only existed for Moffat long enough to move the plot forward. I’d love to be wrong about that, though!

  4. The scene was cut down quite a bit to what was actually shown. In the original scene the 11th Doctor shows the Foreman (Ozzie Yue) the Psychic paper with the order to paint Yowzah on a vase, the Foreman then turns to me with the order to paint Yowzah! on the base of the vase (implied).
    I agree that East Asians are incredibly under represented in the history of Doctor Who and what would be really significant would be the casting of a East Asian actor as a regular character.

    Best regards, Clem So (Doctor Who supporting artist)

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