Pacific Rim: Beyond the Smashing

Pacific Rim met and shattered my expectations. Initially, after seeing the trailer for the first time, I remember feeling disappointed once giant robots showed up. I have a deep ambivalence to giant robots. They are the reason why I will never watch Neon Genesis Evangelion, although I have received multiple lectures on why it is one of the greatest anime ever. But I love monsters, and armored female characters with cool hair, and dramatic speeches performed by Idris Elba. The more I learned about the movie and Guillermo del Toro’s intentions while making it, the more interested I was in seeing it. Del Toro addressed basically every fear I had about the movie.

On my wariness of glorifying the military in every movie about apocalyptic situations: “I carefully avoided the car commercial aesthetics or the army recruitment video aesthetics. I avoided making a movie about an army with ranks. I avoided making any kind of message that says war is good… I am a pacifist. I have been offered movies that have huge budgets that have war at its centre and I said, ‘I don’t do that.’ What I wanted was for kids to see a movie where they don’t need to aspire to be in an army to aspire for an adventure. And I used very deliberate language that is a reference to westerns. I don’t have captains, majors, generals. I have a marshal, rangers . . . it has the language of an adventure movie.”

On my love of well-drawn female characters: “I was very careful how I built the movie. One of the other things I decided was that I wanted a female lead who has the equal force as the male leads. She’s not going to be a sex kitten, she’s not going to come out in cutoff shorts and a tank top, and it’s going to be a real earnestly drawn character.”

What I love most about these comments is that del Toro was successful in his goals. He avoided the perils of “army recruitment video aesthetics” (which, by the way, is my new favorite phrase). He featured a complex female character who, although she was unfortunately the only major female character, was also the most interesting character. Period.

There has been some undeserved criticism about the character of Mako Mori. Despite the fact that Raleigh the Typical White Guy was ostensibly the main character of the film, Mako Mori was not just the film’s emotional heart, but also the most developed character. Mako is afraid and vulnerable, but wants to pilot anyway. She faces and overcomes fear and weakness, which is the true meaning of bravery, not swaggering unthinkingly into danger.

There were times I wished that we let Mako comment on the events instead of Raleigh, and I don’t think she got equal screen time during the end’s triumphant battle. Those are legitimate issues. When thinking of the role of women in the film, it’s unfair to criticize the characterization of Mako. What the film really needed was more female characters, not a single “perfect” female character.  This is one of the many problems that arise when a movie only has one central female character: people burden her with the weight of representing a “strong female character.” As other bloggers before me have said, I don’t care if fictional women are “strong.” I want them to be interesting, well-written, and three-dimensional. Mako was all of these things.

(Now get ready for a few spoilers.)

It is very easy to read the film’s emotional conflicts as showing the negative effects of barring women from traditionally male pursuits. While the given reason why Mako isn’t allowed to pilot is that she is Pentecost’s adopted child, it is hard to believe that Pentecost would prevent his adopted son, especially when he has quantifiable talent, from piloting. It is never explicitly addressed, but there is only one other female Jaeger pilot, and the candidates for the job as Raleigh’s co-pilot, all male, clearly underestimate Mako’s abilities in a physical fight. She proves herself, as so many of us do, only to be shut down unfairly by a paternalistic figure. Ultimately, Mako’s persistence pays off, and she and her super-buddy Raleigh save the day. Far from having a  “woman problem,” Pacific Rim warns us against the dangers of underestimating women. I would even go so far as to argue that, after meeting Mako, Raleigh functions mostly to assist Mako on her journey to personal growth, reversing the typical character trajectory that features the token woman functioning to support the male protagonist. The fact that Mako and Raleigh have such a deep, platonic emotional connection is also commendable and practically unimaginable in most movies.

I haven’t even mentioned Idris Elba yet. Idris Elba brought nuance and depth to Stacker Pentecost, a character who otherwise might have alternately bored and infuriated me. Had the role gone to Tom Cruise, as it almost did, I think I would have disliked Pentecost’s controlling nature, his fear of Mako’s power. But as Idris Elba, Pentecost became complex and loveable, a man who I wanted to respect with Mako’s intensity.

Although the importance of the father figure is one of the oldest tropes in fiction, it should be noted that black men rarely get to be fatherly in movies. The complexity of both Pentecost’s love for his adopted daughter and her love for him is remarkable in itself, partly because the reasons behind it are explored at all. In general, when a character has a conflict with her or his father, it is taken as a given that this person would want to love and respect her or his father. Fathers deserve these things because they are fathers. But Pacific Rim acknowledges the complexity of paternalistic attitudes, rather than suggesting that all fathers inspire love and respect simply by being fathers. Pentecost has earned Mako’s respect, a feeling she pointedly distinguishes from obedience. Furthermore, sometimes Pentecost’s paternalism is harmful, resulting in him preventing her from being the pilot she is qualified to be, because he wants to protect her.

While Pacific Rim may seem to be yet another blockbuster about various things smashing each other, it would be unfair to dismiss it as such. It may not have been perfect, but for me the depth of the characters was the true heart of the movie, a judgment I usually don’t make on summer blockbusters. While del Toro may insist that the movie is not a homage to anime or monster movies (Japanese or otherwise), he did take a variety of genre tropes and breathe life into them, giving us the kind of monster movie all monster movies should be.

-Joanna

Gender and Creation in Prometheus

My quick, spoiler-free review of Prometheus goes something like this: It was incredibly enjoyable, despite a few minor script-related flaws. I want to write books and books of feminist analysis about it, and I plan on seeing it several more times. It was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while, partly because it managed to deeply disturb me while also raising fascinating questions about creation, creators/the created, and the place of gender in all of this. 8.2/10

Now for the in-depth, spoiler-ridden version:

The difficulty of writing this post

This post has gone through several re-writes, way more than I usually bother putting in for a blog post. (Sorry, blog and blog readers, you’re unique and special and deserve good writing, but I don’t have the time to write the same blog post five times every week.)

The issue wasn’t so much that I couldn’t find the best way to order and phrase my thoughts, though that was certainly a factor. The issue was that, initially my impulse was to write this grand, feminist psychoanalysis of the film, because, after the credits started rolling, that’s exactly what I felt it deserved.

But then I went on the internet. I found out that for whatever reason, Prometheus was as viciously polarizing as Pepper Potts wearing denim shorts around her house. Probably more so. So then I thought, even if it means dumbing down the blog, I must point-by-point defend the (often hyperbolic) attacks on this film! People are overreacting, and damn it I will stop them!

But then I realized that IMDB is IMDB, and me posting that the critics are allowed to dislike the film, but they need to relax about it because this was hardly the worst movie ever, really isn’t going to change much. It definitely won’t change the minds of ultra-super Alien fans who probably wouldn’t have been happy with the film regardless. So now this post is a hybrid analysis/defense/general speculation collection. Enjoy!

All these questions!

One of the primary criticisms launched at the movie is: plot holes/they raised all these questions that were never answered! I think this is partly because Damon Lindelhof is an easy target, having been one of the writers responsible for ruining one of my formerly favorite shows with total nonsense.

One of the enormous problems with Lost was that the writers became infamous for introducing a whole bunch of bat-shit things that they never explained. So from now on, every time Lindelhof writes a script that doesn’t explain every single thing, people are going to wave the Lost flag all around.

I’m not going to say this is entirely unfair. After all, my bitterness about Lost runs so deep that whenever I see that a former writer for or producer of Lost is working on a project, my instincts tell me not to bother. So I can understand where people are coming from. However, there is a major difference between the questions that Lost didn’t answer, and the questions that Prometheus didn’t answer.

Lost made you ask questions like, Where did that polar bear come from? Why are they weaving that tapestry? Wait, so who’s Jacob? Are they all dead? These are all storyline and plot-related questions; questions the writers should already know the answers to. Unless I’m forgetting some major unexplained plot points, the questions raised by Prometheus were more like, What is the purpose of creation? How do the created react when they encounter their creators, and vice versa? How does this relate to real-life parent-child interactions? These are fascinating, thematic questions, ones that I’m sure Damon Lindelhof doesn’t have the answers to. Because no one does. I would have found it condescending of him to attempt to answer these questions, as though he is somehow privy to the secrets of the universe.

There were a few storyline-based questions I had (i.e. what David’s motivation was for putting the worm thing in Charlie’s drink), but I still had enough evidence from the film to allow me to arrive at a few possible conclusions. I may have wanted one particular motive to be hinted at the most, but I’m also content with being able to choose which one I prefer. Similarly, both sides of the “is Vickers a robot?” debate have plenty of logical arguments in their arsenals. Giving the potential for many answers is not the same as giving no answers.

Blah blah realism

Another accusation pointed at the film surrounds the believability or realism of various characters/situations/motivations. This is usually my least favorite criticism of films and books, and it remains so for Prometheus. Ignoring the debate as to whether a scientist actually would approach a strange, seemingly hostile creature on an alien planet, etc., I have this question to pose: Honestly? If we’re going to talk about realism… what is realistic about Ripley taping her two guns together at the end of Aliens? Furthermore, why do I even care about whether or not Ripley could feasibly tape together and carry around two heavy guns, and then fire them? It was incredibly badass when she did. Similarly, I don’t really care how after a present-day Cesarian, no one could run around and what not. Not only is this the future, but it looked badass as hell! I don’t care if Shaw would have been, realistically, fainting or stumbling everywhere or dying out of exhaustion. This is a movie, not real life. And if Ripley is allowed to tape two guns together, Shaw is allowed to run around and be awesome after just having a Cesarian.

Body autonomy, gender issues

This now-infamous Cesarian scene was one of my favorite scenes in any movie. Everything about that scene was horrifying. My mouth hung agape as I watched, and I have a fairly high tolerance for gross things. What I found even more intriguing about the whole situation is how it reflects and comments on the current state of women and healthcare.

This picture describes the current state of women and healthcare.

Like many authoritative men with ulterior motives, David was being rather shifty in giving Shaw all the information about her pregnancy. He was uninterested in giving her a clear-cut objective answer to her questions and request to see the fetus. When she demanded to have the fetus removed, she ultimately had to do it herself because he would not, even though it posed a health risk to her. Sound familiar? Of course, it wasn’t necessarily an abortion, but the subtext of the ability of women to make their own health-related choices despite facing resistance from men was definitely there.

Which brings me to how this “health-related choice” was described as a “Cesarian” (terminology I’m using for the sake of clarity and because I’m on the fence about the whole “abortion” thing). Right before Shaw told the machine the procedure she wanted, I was practically on the edge of my seat waiting for her to say “abortion.” But she doesn’t. She chooses a Cesarian, not an abortion. While that doesn’t erase the fact that Shaw still chooses not to be pregnant, I think it it’s a significant point. Abortion or not, the fact is that she, despite David’s efforts, chooses to be un-pregnant and will be damned if he stops her.

Furthermore, the med pod being programmed only for men’s bodies is a larger statement on the healthcare system in general. The American healthcare system refuses to acknowledge the existence and particular needs of women by allowing special interest groups (like David) to get involved by telling women what they do and do not want to do with their bodies.

So even though that scene grossed me the fuck out, I was cheering for Shaw not just because I didn’t want her to die, but I didn’t want anyone telling her she couldn’t have a life-saving medical procedure done to her body. Of course, the fact that birth/quasi-birth scenes are usually portrayed in film as disturbing and traumatic definitely underscores the idea that to men, the female body is mysterious, terrifying, and very much an Other. The female body is a disturbing place full of gory weirdness. Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress made an interesting point about this scene, which was evidently why the rating got pushed from PG-13 to R: “It’s funny, how we have a tendency to treat damage done to women by other people as less threatening than women asserting their own autonomy over their bodies.”

Creation

In addition to raising questions about women’s body autonomy, the movie raised interesting questions about creation and the creators/created. What is the purpose of creation? For what reasons do entities create? What do they intend to do with the created? How do the creators treat their creations? How do creations treat their creators? Is it worth knowing who created you and why? These questions are developed not only through the human quest to discover the Engineers, but through David’s unusual position as quasi-human created by humans. I could write a book on all the fascinating things about David’s character, but I think that deserves a separate post. Suffice to say that, just as sometimes your creators don’t turn out the way you hoped, the same happens to your creations. When David says, “Doesn’t everyone want to kill their parents?” I could have stabbed out my eyes with Freudian excitement (ha, Oedipus joke, get it?). That comment alone significantly raised the quality of the creation subtext.

The questions about creation can all be further applied to gender theory, since women are traditionally seen as the creators. (Despite Judo-Christianity telling us that a man made the universe.) Speaking of that: the gender or lack thereof of the Engineers is rife for exploration. Were they actually intended to look male? We saw no genitalia, but the Engineers certainly had a typically masculine look to their bodies. Was this an attempt at gender-neutrality, or were we supposed to assume they were in fact male? If they were genderless, we would need to decide why a genderless race would create a gendered species. If they were intended to be male, we would need to figure out why female Engineers were absent, other than because Hollywood is sexist. Was it an intentional inversion of the typical notion of women as creators? Was it a thoughtless omission of women? Was it meant to make a statement about patriarchy? I can’t really answer any of those questions, but I find them interesting to consider.

Men with boobs

One final gender-related thought: There were some complaints that Shaw is nothing to Ripley, Shaw’s two-dimensional, would get her ass kicked by Ripley, etc. etc. Ignoring the obvious “she wasn’t supposed to be Ripley” and “I don’t see why Ripley would fight Shaw unless Shaw started murdering her crew” arguments, I’d like to pose a question: Are those people angry because Shaw isn’t Ripley, or are they angry because, unlike Ripley, Shaw displays more “feminine” characteristics?

I like Ripley, I like her a lot. In fact I love her. I think she’s one of the greatest examples of how to write an effective female lead in an action role. Effectively, Ripley is gender-neutral in Alien. We don’t see her being overly-macho/purposefully unfeminine (see: Men with Boobs) or being overly feminine. Even the motivation in Aliens of saving a child is sometimes shared by male leads.

More women in movies should look like this.

However, Shaw is very much a woman, sometimes doing the kinds of things that men mock women for doing. She cries about being infertile (this was actually a scene I hated, but not exactly because of what she was doing), she has a visible male love interest, she displays the irrational aspect of negative female stereotyping because she holds on to her faith, etc. And, as important as un-gendered female action stars are, it is perhaps even more important to write action protagonists who are consciously women. I mean to say that instead of ignoring the fact that the character is female, embracing her feminine qualities, for example the ability to create life (another big theme in Prometheus). Now, this isn’t to say that I think all female action stars should paint their nails while wearing frilly pink dresses and reproducing. They don’t have to be caricatures of femininity, and certainly the apparently inherent link between women and motherhood is one that not all women desire and does not describe all women’s experiences with femininity. I’m simply saying that I commend Prometheus for being daring enough to occasionally remind the audience that the hero was a heroine, rather than ignoring it.

Furthermore, the fact that some people mocked Shaw for not being supa-tuff like Ripley reflects the way society stigmatizes female and/or feminine behavior. They don’t want to see a woman in an action role acting like a woman. They want to see a woman in an action role not acting like a woman.

There are practically a million other things I’d like to say about this movie, and about gender in it. Perhaps, upon a second viewing, I will revisit this topic for a later post, one that includes Vickers.

But for now, I a million percent agree with Tally Art:

-Joanna

(Re)Discovering Empathy With Torchwood

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been re-watching Torchwood. (By “re-watching” I mean going on hours-long Torchwood binges.) Because of my bitterness about the death of practically everyone (Ianto in particular, first time around) and how the end of Children of Earth made me dislike Jack, I vowed to kick the Torchwood habit forever. Miracle Day and its whole being-on-Starz-and-set-in-America thing made me even less interested. (Call me old fashioned, but it’s just not Torchwood to me if I can’t hear those Welsh vowels from someone other than Gwen and Rhys.) I was so upset and disinterested in the show that I didn’t even want to watch the old episodes.

That changed after I watched an episode of Doctor Who with Captain Jack in it. Suddenly I was overcome with nostalgia for Handsome Jack and his crew. So, I decided to shelve my years-old grief and enjoy the show like I did before, knowing all the while what heartbreak lurked in the future.

One thing I noticed this time around is how brilliantly most of the characters are drawn. Torchwood is a haven for blurry morals (my kinda place), with Captain Jack serving as the ultimate anti-hero. Jack does what he needs to do; he’s chaotic good incarnate. (Say what you’d like about Jack, but he’s always looking out for somebody.) He’s mean and kind and brutal and thoughtful all at once. (You know, like a real person.) He also seems to know exactly what he’s doing all the time, but as the show progresses, we see Jack as helpless and clueless as everyone else more and more often.

Gwen is also one of the most successful characters. There are times I want to punch Gwen in the face, but there are other times when I find her sympathetic. Again, sort of like a real person. When she confesses to Rhys about sleeping with Owen, but then drugs him so he’ll forget, I want to shake her, but I understand that sort of impulse, even though I’ve never cheated on my boyfriend with a co-worker and then given him an amnesia pill. The only time I couldn’t fathom her actions was during “Adrift,” where she lies to and manipulates Andy for reasons I just don’t get.  But, you don’t always have to like a character for her to be well-drawn.

Even Tosh and Owen, who each seem a little like a stock character, have their characters fleshed out. Owen, like Gwen, I want alternately to punch in the face and to hug. This time around, Tosh was my favorite character, which probably has something to do with the fact that I never wanted to punch her in the face. She and Owen are so wonderfully human, which makes their deaths that much more heartbreaking.

And then there’s Ianto.

The first time I watched Torchwood, Ianto was my favorite, because he was adorable, efficient, angst-ridden, and secretly hilarious, and because I was in high school. As much as I love Ianto still, I think what prevented him from being my favorite character this time around is that they did very little to humanize him (cyberwoman girlfriend incident aside). Jack was practically always associated or a motivation. I was disappointed that in the episode where we learn of how everyone got recruited by Torchwood, Ianto’s story was how he stalked/obsessed over Jack until he got to prove himself in the warehouse with the pterodactyl. I wanted a glimpse into Ianto’s soul, and all I got was more Ianto x Jack fodder. (There’s nothing wrong with Ianto x Jack, but Tosh and Owen’s stories were really devastating and interesting, but Ianto’s was sort of pathetic and silly.)

Overall, though, the characterization is excellent, which is why I wish Russell T. could run all shows. All the characters were human, even the women. Russell T. and Joss Whedon are probably my dream team of TV/movie writers, because they understand both how to make characters human and that woman are people. (However, if they did work on a show together, someone would have to stop them from slaughtering all beloved characters.)

Another major component of why Torchwood is great is its sexuality. Ianto himself is bisexual, Jack is bi/pan/omnisexual, and Tosh is seduced by a woman without it being performative. All of these sexualities (including heterosexuality) are shown as normal and nothing shameful, which is really refreshing. For some, Torchwood may be overly frank in its relationship to sex, but at least people of non-hetero inclinations can see people like themselves on TV and like them. On TV, if not in real life, they can see total acceptance of their sexuality. And even though I just labeled a few of the characters, from what I remember, there is very little talk in the show about who has what sexual preference. No one agonizes over what preference Ianto is, if he had a girlfriend but also shags Jack, or if Tosh, having been seduced by a woman, is now less heterosexual. It doesn’t matter in Torchwood. All that matters is that you’re having sex with someone you enjoy being with.

Part of me wants to try the Starz season, but part of me is scared that the parts of Torchwood I love will be done all wrong, thanks to this puritanical country. (That, and I really do mean what I say about those Welsh vowels.) Even on a channel like Starz, I fear that the nonchalant acceptance of all sexualities will disappear. I’m scared that someone in the Starz world will force Russell T. to create less human characters, especially less human women characters. But I think I will try it, because if it is awful, I can just pretend it’s a different show called Torchwood, unaffiliated with the one I love. (I did this when watching the recent-ish movie version of Brideshead Revisited, and it worked.)

Regardless of whether I try the newest season or not, I will always have the original two seasons that, despite all the grief they caused me, also gave me reasons to celebrate and find it possible to empathize with people in situations I never thought I would. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

-Joanna

Also, this is the cutest darn Captain Jack I’ve ever seen:

http://niccals.deviantart.com/art/Captain-Jack-Harkness-Plushie-170851245

#YesToFemaleDoctor

Internets! I just found the most amazing website ever!

Doctor Her is a website dedicated to fan posts about Doctor Who from a feminist perspective that is also concerned with not alienating (dis)abled, trans*, genderqueer, GLBQ people, and people of color. They paraphrase bell hooks in their About page! They use the term “kyriarchy!” I can’t handle this!

I stumbled across a totally awesome post Courtney Stoker wrote called “NuWho, poverty, and class: Or, the poor women are totally screwed.” In it, she examines the lives and fates of Rose, Martha, and Donna, arguing primarily that Donna and Rose get totally shafted because of their lower class status. If you’re interested in insightful anti-oppressive commentary on Doctor Who, visit this website. Now. Well, finish this post first. But then go.

And now to explain the title of this post, I also found out today that SFX Magazine started #yestofemaledoctor and #notofemaledoctor.

These two basically sum up my position:

https://twitter.com/erinpuff/statuses/184043723674488833

I would also add that I’m sick of lazy science fiction that is only willing to challenge norms like “Time travel’s not possible!” and “Aliens aren’t real!”, but never heteronormative assumptions about gender and sex. (I also just realized that Courtney Stoker, author of the aforementioned article, also is responsible for that first tweet. Is she just the coolest person ever?)

If you have a Twitter account, please tell the world, Yes to a Female Doctor! (I’m not going to be mad if you say no, but I will wonder why you read this blog.) Even if this is never, ever going to make the producers of the show let the Doctor regenerate into a woman, the world needs to know you support challenging heterosexist norms that place men at the center of the universe! (That’s right, the whole universe!)

-Joanna

P.S. If I seem a little excitable today, it might be the cold meds talking.

Why, Moffat, Why?

Now that Doctor Who-related buzz is all over the ‘nets, I figured I’d give my take on it all.

Early last week, it was announced that, beginning with the next Christmas special, Jenna-Louise Coleman will be playing the new companion.

It’s probably unfair to say right now that I’m a little disappointed. It’s impossible to tell what kind of character she will play, especially since Doctor Who keeps itself under very tight wraps. She herself seems like a perfectly nice person and everything. I just can’t help thinking the choice is a little too safe. She’s inoffensively pretty, the kind of companion we’ve seen a thousand times. I wanted a man, or someone older, or a squishy alien, or someone who isn’t white. Something different.

There are rumors that she might be an alien and/or a lesbian. If she is an alien, I sincerely doubt that Steven Moffat would allow them to put alien makeup on her pretty face, so she’d just be an alien that looks human. If she’s a lesbian, I’m sure it will be handled completely wrong, with Coleman playing a performative, hot lesbian instead of a real-life lesbian. Besides, alien-lesbian sounds a lot more like Russell T. Davies’ area of expertise, not Moffat’s.

While I’m on the subject of aliens: Why aren’t there more of them in the teaser trailer? Why does it make it look like it’s the sequel to Cowboys & Aliens?

For those of you who haven’t seen it:

 

I’m tired of Doctor Who being all about trendy alt history. I like alternative history, don’t get me wrong. But I think the show has done it to death, and I want hard sci fi back. I want aliens in spaceships, not in the Old West, and as much as I love Daleks, I wish we’d see less of them, too. It always feels like they realized they forgot aliens, so they throw in some Daleks.

To make me even more apprehensive about the new season, Moffat has said that, “Who she’s playing, how the Doctor meets her, and even where he finds her are all part of one of the biggest mysteries the Time Lord ever encounters. Even by the Doctor’s standards, this isn’t your usual boy meets girl.” Someone make this pain end. What I get from this is that the story will be pointlessly convoluted instead of good, and she’s going to fall in love with the Doctor. (Or, because it’s not the “usual boy meets girl,” the Doctor falls in love with the companion, and she doesn’t fall in love with him. Inversion! Genius!)

I’m especially missing Donna’s not-fawning-over-the-Doctor ways right now. And more than anything, I’m missing Russell T. Davies. You can say a lot of things about how Doctor Who, even Russell T.-era Who, problematizes female characters. But Russell T. didn’t have woman problems the way Steven Moffat does. For some extra reading, an excellent article about Steven Moffat’s woman problem can be found here at Starburst Magazine’s website.

We can argue til we’re blue in the face about Moffat’s woman problem in the context of Doctor Who, but the fact is that if a man casts an actress because he likes her legs, he’s probably sexist. I don’t really look forward to watching the new season, but I do look forward to deconstructing it.

-Joanna

More Thoughts on The Doctor’s Companions

Recently, I’ve been re-watching the new Doctor Who chronologically. In a previous post, I expressed my disdain for Amy Pond’s non-character, and hinted at my nostalgia for the way the show used to be. This post is basically an appendage to that, with some thoughts on the companions individually and the show generally.

Unlike Amy Pond, Rose Tyler is many things, but, as The Doctor tells Satan in “The Satan Pit,” she is not a victim. Victimization has been and remains today an important facet in understanding pseudo-empowered female characters. If the character, in an attempt to save herself and others, formulates her own ideas and successfully carries them out, she is probably not a victim. In “The Satan Pit,” Rose thinks she and the Doctor might be separated forever (not an uncommon occurrence in the show). She is in the middle of a life-or-death crisis on a ship impossibly orbiting black hole, and neither she nor the crew know exactly what evil is among them. So what does she do? She doesn’t let the crew or herself wallow in self-pity, instead forcing all of them to think their way out of the situation, using the bits of information given to her by the crew to solve the puzzle. She doesn’t simply sit there and cry, wishing the Doctor were there to save them, and cursing him for not being there. She pulls herself up by her bootstraps, as the saying goes, and helps to save the universe.

Now, after reading this testament to Rose’s capability and smarts, you might be under the impression that I really like and admire Rose. That’s not exactly the case. Before Amy Pond, I really didn’t like Rose. Basically hated her. I found her personality grating and her sorta-kinda relationship with the Doctor pretty annoying. I also disliked her possessiveness of the Doctor; she tends to act like she is entitled to be with the Doctor. (Boy, was I to learn what a person could be like when they’re really possessive of the Doctor!) This time around, I was able to understand a few things about Rose. For one, she’s only nineteen/twenty. Of course she falls in love with the Doctor and thinks being with him is more important than being with her family. I also never realized how capable and clever Rose is allowed to be. While she may be just an ordinary chav working in a shop, she does have a brain and tends not to panic. When Rose does wander off, it’s usually to try to figure out something for herself. She clearly follows in the show’s tradition of using your brains, not your brawn, in order to get out of sticky situations/save the universe.

And that, dear reader, is how I grew to appreciate Rose. The Doctor’s next companion, Martha Jones, was a much easier character to love. Martha, a med student, is extremely intelligent, which impresses the Doctor when they first meet. Her intelligence and capability remain an important part of her character, even after she chooses to leave the Doctor. Less intelligent, but no less lovable, is Donna Noble. As I expressed in the previous post, Donna is funny, deeply empathetic, and twice as sassy as Amy Pond could ever be. All three of these women prove to be useful counterparts to the Doctor, and never allow themselves to be damsels in distress.

The show is sometimes accused of being sexist. I would perhaps call it heteronormative instead. It’s a mainstream, family-oriented British TV show; what about that says radical? I don’t think it promotes misogyny, but it obviously doesn’t do much to challenge gender norms. In my ideal world, Doctor Who would have even stronger female characters, a more equal villain-to-gender ratio, break down the barriers of race, gender identity and sexuality. But that’s my ideal; what’s real is much easier for most people to digest. And what’s real isn’t bad, but could be so much better.

-Joanna