Bits and pieces of news about Doctor Who Series 9 have been starting to emerge over the past few weeks, not least of which that Arya Stark herself, Maisie Williams, would be starring in an episode. While the show has certainly had its ups and downs in quality over the last few years, I’ve noticed a distressing trend, and one I can’t really even blame solely on Moffat (even if I’d like to).
Look at it this way: you’re watching Doctor Who. This season’s companion has a Black boyfriend, and the Doctor treats him disrespectfully and refuses to acknowledge his identity by constantly misidentifying him. Which Doctor am I talking about?
Trick question—it could be Mickey or Danny. This forces me to point out a very unsettling pattern in Doctor Who: the Doctor’s behavior toward the men of color in his companions’ lives is pretty dang racist.
You all remember that iconic Red Pill/Blue Pill scene from The Matrix, right? Just in case you don’t, let me recap it for you. Our protagonist Neo, who is slowly discovering that his perception of reality is an illusion, is offered the choice between taking a red pill or a blue pill. A man named Morpheus explains to Neo that the illusion they’re in is called the Matrix, and serves to stop humans from discovering that they’re nothing but slaves. The blue pill allows Neo to go back to his normal life, while the red pill would allow him to fully wake up from the illusion and begin a quest for truth. Morpheus sums it up nicely:
You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.
We see this Red Pill/Blue Pill symbolism all over the place in pop culture, especially geek culture. Sometimes pills are involved, other times it’s simple amnesia, or some kind of device to plop the hero back into their pre-story life. Why is it so popular? I think it’s because it speaks to a deep part of the human spirit.
Last year I wrote an article about nuns in geek culture. Nuns and religious sisters of all stripes have such great potential as iconic feminist characters, but writers spend more time casting them as evil sexy sirens in black and white costumes. But what about the nun’s male counterpart, the monk? Monks are men who take vows of virtue and live apart from society (usually in a community with other monks). They’re mainstays of both Western and Eastern religions. Monks challenge popular stereotypes of what real masculinity looks like. And yet monks face a problem similar to nuns: we can’t seem to break them out of a handful of inaccurate stereotypes.
Spoilers for Doctor Who and Avatar: The Last Airbender after the jump.
I want to discuss a strange one-sided trope I’ve noticed, and why I have a problem with it: immortal male characters who have a series of mortal girlfriends. For some reason, this trope appears in geek media fairly often, yet I can’t think of a single example of the reverse (i.e., immortal women with several mortal boyfriends) or of a queer version. In fact, immortal women tend to only be allowed to have a single male lover, and must spend the rest of their long lives alone after their lovers die—or else give up their immortality. This perpetuates the double standard that it’s okay for otherwise good men—heroic men, even—to have multiple lovers, while if women want to remain “pure” and upstanding, they can only ever love a single man. This whole issue is worse than a double standard; it’s a matter of differential power in relationships.
Slight spoilers for Doctor Who, Watchmen, Sandman, Lord of the Rings, Stardust, and The Last Unicorn below!
Yes, the Doctor is pretty much immortal… as long as he keeps making money for the BBC.
An imperfect God is easier to believe in. Just as a mystical pregnancy that doesn’t result in special children (because statistically, so few people are likely to become Great; why should children of mystical pregnancies be any different from typical humans?), and the death of a son of god being much more personal than a momentous world-saving act is easier to believe in.
However, there are a few canonical instances where wizards do actually practice (Christian) religion in the series. St. Mungo’s, the wizarding hospital, is actually named for a real saint. St. Mungo, also known as St. Kentigern, was a Christian missionary who performed miracles and founded the city of Glasgow. The Fat Friar is the ghost of Hufflepuff House and was a monk in his former life.
Well, Whovians, Season 8 has been a wild ride. While the first half of the season may have been a bit bumpy, the second half seemed to have a slightly more cohesive story, chugging forward toward the two-part season finale. And oh what a finale it was: action, drama, and feels galore. One of the most common criticisms of Moffat’s work as Doctor Who showrunner is that he won’t give his characters lasting, meaningful consequences to their actions. This time we get some serious consequences. I can’t say much more without a spoiler warning, so here we go!
We geeks have a complicated relationship with religious violence. We live in a world where religious fanatics are practicing conversion by force, and that’s putting the situation in the Middle East in the most sanitized terms possible. It’s hard to find anyone today who would condone any type of religious violence, or try to defend it. Even historical religious violence, which occurred in a different cultural context than our own, makes us uncomfortable. With such an intense reaction to real religious violence, one would think that our pop culture would reflect it. Instead, geek culture seems to accept religious violence in some contexts, but not others. So why is that?
Spoilers for His Dark Materials, Doctor Who, Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra below.