Friday, February 24, 2012

New Who: What Happened To The Cosmic Daddy-Daughter Date?

Having finally accepted the advice of my friends to get into the new series of "Doctor Who" (or "New Who"), I am finally getting into the new series of "Doctor Who." I watched most of the classic version during my youth on PBS and liked it despite never really enjoying it, if you follow. Written to be a serial, most episodes of Classic Who are long, drawn out, and (frankly) boring. Produced by the BBC, they had production values that make the original "Star Trek" look amazing (up until the Seventh Doctor).

New Who has been much more popular in America than its predecessor, due to
  1. advanced CGI effects,
  2. greater acceptance worldwide of sci-fi and geek culture, and
  3. making it less family friendly
What do I mean by that? Well.

"Doctor Who" was always designed for family audiences and there was never the notion that he might (ahem) be involved with any of his (overwhelmingly) female companions. The Doctor was typically a lot older than his companions, and you always got the impression that these adventures were like a cosmic daddy-daughter date, which made it appeal to the whole family.
  • Dads could like it because the patrician lead character was always portrayed positively
  • Moms could enjoy the idea of a father-figure spending a lot of time with "the kids"
  • Sons could enjoy the adventures
  • Daughters could appreciate all the special attention their surrogates were getting from dad
Efforts to sexualize companions typically didn't work too well ... seriously, ew

So romantically involving The Doctor with any of his companions would have ruined the innocence of the show. From the classic show, the only one that comes close is the Fourth Doctor's relationship with Romana II, but this was OK because she was (spoiler alert) also a Time Lord (so it didn't seem like The Doctor was taking advantage of some young Earth girl) and because Lalla Ward also technically married Tom Baker.

This daddy-daughter date model really solidified in the Sixth Doctor years, where they started the trend of having The Doctor adventure with just one female companion. But the Sixth Doctor abused her, which didn't endear him to anyone.

But the new show (starting with the failed 1996 reboot) chucked that idea out the window in favor of younger Doctors and sexual tension between him and his female companions. The biggest step they had to take to accomplish this though was younging down The Doctor. Also note that I used the actors' ages, not the characters', as The Doctor ranges up to ~900 years in age. Voila.

In each case I used the primary female companion for each Doctor (that is the one with the most episodes) using this page as a reference, so these were:
  1. Susan (who underscored the idea of a daddy-daughter date by being the First Doctor's granddaughter!)
  2. Zoe
  3. Jo Grant
  4. Sarah Jane (best companion ever)
  5. Tegan (closest in age on the list, but never even a hint of romance)
  6. Peri (Peri signified an effort to make companions sexier)
  7. Ace (probably the best Doctor/companion pairing of the classic series)
  8. Grace (first companion to kiss her Doctor)
  9. Rose (this is where the Doc-on-comp sexual tension really started)
  10. Martha
  11. Amy Pond (introduced as a "kissogram," so clear sexualization right from the start)
Despite some exceptions, we can see a clear trend in younging The Doctor over time, while aging the companion (albeit only slightly).

The biggest windfall of this change has been adult female viewers, who are able to project themselves into the female companion, whereas classic companions were typically designed to appeal to young girls.

I've only dipped my toe in New Who, and I'm looking forward to watching the whole series. They seem to have done a brilliant job resurrecting the spirit of the classic series while deviating as needed from the details (just like "Star Trek" '09 did). Also given that "Battlestar Galactica" and "Lost" have been off the air a couple years now, there's nothing else really cool for nerds to glom onto as the current cool thing. (As evidence I'd cite something like shirtoid's plethora of Who shirts -- even more than their Star Trek shirts!) "Doctor Who" seems to be benefiting from that nerd vacuum.

Particularly with the resurgence of classic characters like the Brigadier and Sarah Jane (before the actors' unfortunate deaths in 2011), a vocabulary of the classic series can enhance the show, though I can understand if watching 27 years worth of admittedly difficult-to-watch British sci-fi is daunting. I'd recommend catching up on the highlights at SFDebris.

Or YouTube!

Note that they've also retconned the relationship between Doctor and companion for the classic series, having Sarah Jane express romantic feelings for her Doctor(s?). Also despite having shared episodes with Doctors 1 through 5, the first one she even just hugs is David Tennant!

Sarah Jane: when she was alive, the Internet was afraid to be won by her, and when she died, it wanted to die itself

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