Monday, August 26, 2013

A Glossary Of Doctor Who Fan Slang

It is well known that every fan community creates its own vocabulary to refer to the series, its tropes and ideas, and even the community itself. Whether you are a "Buckster" (a fan of Buck Rogers), a "Lostie" (a fan of Lost) or a "Starbuckster" (a fan of Buck Rogers who works at a coffee shop), you have no doubt created a language all your own to talk about the series with fellow fans. But how does a new fan of Doctor Who (or, as we call them, a "Whobie") learn these common slang terms? Below is a list of definitions that should help you get into a "slanging match" (a common Doctor Who term for a discussion of the series on an Internet forum) quickly and easily.

Frock: A Doctor Who story in which the characters wear elaborate, impractical outfits. Most people consider the "frock" style to have its apogee in the late Hinchcliffe era; 'The Robots of Death' and 'The Deadly Assassin' are both considered to be extremely "frockish" stories, with Zilda's outfit as the crowning glory of fashion absurdity. The term was later incorporated into the "rad" style of the New Adventures, primarily due to the influence of Kate Orman; she remains to this day a lifelong surfer, and she incorporated Australian surfing traditions into virtually all of her novels as an inside joke with her surfing friends. Since these traditions involved surfing while wearing floor-length evening gowns (the origins of the tradition are not known, but are presumably related to the Australian superstition that they confuse the sharks that infest most Australian beaches) the two terms became conflated for much of the 1990s.

Gun: A Doctor Who story featuring projectile weapons. Some fans consider only stories in which physical projectiles, propelled by gunpowder, are fired from guns to be "gun" stories; others expand the definition to include any type of weapon that fires from a distance without human power, such as energy blasters. The definition is constantly argued about, and the utility of the definition is always in question; however, most are in agreement that these are the antithesis of "frock" stories, primarily because there's no place to conceal a gun in an evening gown.

Monopticon: A science-fiction convention specifically geared towards Doctor Who fans. The first Monopticon occurred in 1966, in Longleat; the convention occurred at the height of the short-lived "Monomania" craze that popped up after the first appearance of the one-eyed, mop-topped monsters from 'The Ark'. Not only did Monomania tap into the same vein of fan enthusiasm as Dalekmania, it also synergistically fed from the Beatlemania then taking place throughout Britain--for a brief period, the Monoids rivaled the Doctor for popularity, until it was pointed out that (like the Monkees) the Monoids did not play their own instruments. With the rumors that the upcoming story 'The Smugglers' would feature Monoids disguised as pirates (with a scene where the pirates would remove their eyepatches to reveal an expanse of blank skin underneath) the fans were at a fever pitch of excitement, and several made plans to meet and watch Part One when it came out. The plans grew into a formal convention, called 'Monopticon I', and fandom has called Doctor Who conventions Monopticons ever since. The line, "I wouldn't dream of interfering with your Monopticon," from the Doctor Who serial 'Four to Doomsday', was intended as a sly dig at fans who feared that JNT's involvement in fan culture would lead to his co-opting it.

Quarrier: A true fan of the programme. The term is taken from a group of fans who decided, as a mark of their devotion, to visit each and every last one of the quarries used to film exterior scenes for Doctor Who. Normally, this is easily done, as it merely involves visiting each and every last one of the quarries in Britain (as well as one quarry in Spain that was used for some pickup shots on location for 'The Two Doctors') but in this case, they complicated matters further by wishing to a) visit the exact location where the TARDIS prop was placed during the filming, and b) visit them in the same order that the series depicted them. This meant months of intensive studying of the video footage, matching the types of rock visible and the approximate state of the quarry at the time of filming to photos obtained from the quarry owners (who agreed to assist them after extensive financial compensation.) After finally determining to within a span of two feet where the TARDIS props were placed, they set out on their pilgrimage; the tour involved criss-crossing the country several times in order to visit each quarry once for every time it was used in a BBC production. The group visited one quarry in Wales six times, each time going back to a spot within twenty feet of their previous trips, in order to avoid seeing any quarries out of order. And even though the group was committed en masse to a mental institution not long after the completion of their tour, their abiding love for the series has been immortalized in this charming slang term.

Rad: Short for "radical"; this refers to a Doctor Who story whose tone evokes the free-spirited and adventurous surfer sub-culture of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Common tropes in these Doctor Who stories include extreme sports like skateboarding and windsurfing, and an acceptance of the sublime beauty of nature ("sublime" in the classical Romantic sense, that is, evoking both wonder and terror simultaneously) as a part of everyday life. Paul Cornell came to exemplify both the "rad" and the "frock" Doctor Who story after the novel 'Human Nature', which he famously came up with while on an Australian beach with Kate Orman. The two of them had completed a marathon surfing session, both wearing the traditional Australian surfing gowns as they crested wave after fifty-foot wave, and they brainstormed the novel while drunk with the adrenalin rush of surviving the beach's shark-infested waters. The book inspired much of the tone of the New Series, although most of the surfing material was lost when it was adapted for television.

Soldeed: A fan who takes advantage of the convention atmosphere to enter into carnal relations with a Doctor Who professional (whether in front of or behind the camera.) (The professional, that is, not the action, although the latter is not entirely unknown either.) It is not entirely certain where the term comes from; some have suspected it to be a play on "entering the Power Complex", while others suggest that these fans, like the character that inspired their nickname, are entering into a relationship they can't talk about with someone both powerful and horny. The name is not gender-specific; there can be both male and female soldeeds. In all cases, the act of sleeping with a professional is known as "doing the dirty soldeed", and the return to the fan's hotel room the next morning, still wearing the slightly rumpled costume they wore the previous day, is known as "the Great Journey of Shame". Some fans have attempted to label Who professionals who seek out hook-ups at conventions as "nimon", but the effort has been bogged down in a debate over whether the plural of "nimon" is "nimon" or "nimons".

Trad: A race of monsters from early 60s Who. The Trad came from the planet Tradoon, and resembled (according to reports at the time) anthropomorphic insects with tufts of fur at each joint. Fan rumor has long held that these were repurposed Ice Warrior costumes, but as no episodes survive from any of the Trad stories and no photographs exist of Trad costumes, it's impossible to be sure. In fact, one of the most notable things about the Trad is how little material survives of their appearances; the original episodes were wiped (see the essay, 'The First Lost Episode Crisis') and the surviving audio recordings are so garbled and distorted as to be incomprehensible. Even when the Trad were licensed for an appearance in the old TV Comics, a printing error rendered the strips illegible. With no pictures, film or audio recording of the Trad, they have entered legendary status as an "un-monster"; only the very early fans, those who remember watching the episodes as they came out, have solid memories of these lost stories. These Trad fans hold up the lumbering, slow-moving, easily confused monsters as an exemplar of a kind of Doctor Who that is sadly lost to us forever.

VidFIRED: Removed from canon. In the mid- to late 1980s, the Doctor Who Appreciation Society was one of the earliest and most influential fan organizations; at the time, it was considered to be the singular voice of Doctor Who fandom. At the height of its influence, it decided to perform a comprehensive review of the first twenty-five years of the series' history, removing from canon any video, or "vid" that did not live up to the expectations of the fan committee (chosen from a slate of respected fans old enough to remember the stories at time of first broadcast.) The plan began auspiciously, with only three stories "fired" from the Hartnell era ('The Edge of Destruction', 'The Web Planet' and 'The Gunfighters') and two from the Troughton era ('The Enemy of the World' and 'The Space Pirates'). The group fell to dissention, however, when they reached the Tom Baker era. Some on the committee wished to VidFIRE the entirety of the Graham Williams era, while others pointed out that the Key to Time series deserved preservation. In vain, the group wrestled with the issue, eventually deciding to return to it once they had decided the fate of the rest of the series. It seemed that they had reached accordance once again when they unanimously decided to VidFIRE the entire Sixth Doctor era; however, the effort broke down entirely when a small but vocal contingent demanded to "preemptively VidFIRE Season Twenty-Six". It was this dispute that ultimately led to the fragmentation of British Who fandom. It seems like every fan has one or two stories they wish didn't exist, but nobody can ever quite agree as to which ones they are.

Voord: A Who fan's collection of merchandise, novelizations, videos/DVDs, et cetera. Supposedly, this term got its start from the infamous East End "Whooligans" fan club of the late Sixties, a band of rough-and-tumble enthusiasts of the programme who liked nothing better than a few pints of lager, a saucy lass, and a brawl over whether the first story should be called 'The Tribe of Gum' or '100,000 BC'. According to fan lore, one of the group obtained as the prize item in his collection a prop from the serial, 'The Keys of Marinus' (the title was decided on after an infamous riot that left twelve hospitalized.) In traditional Cockney style, he called his collection his "Voord hoard", which was abbreviated to his "Voord" in everyday conversation. As he boasted to other fans about his "impressive Voord", others took up the term in their counter-boasts, until it entered general currency today.

Whobie: A new fan of the programme. Most whobies assume this to be a portmanteau of "Who" and "Newbie", which is one of the things that mark them as a whobie; the term actually refers to a Doctor Who fan club that sprang up in the early 1970s among a group of naval personnel stationed in Britain. Most of the Seabees (members of the US Naval Construction Battalion) stationed on the base were seeing Doctor Who for the first time, and while enthusiastic, their constant questions about the history of the show irritated British fans. They started to assume that any fan unfamiliar with the programme must be a "Seabie" (as most British fans were unfamiliar with the written form of the term "Seabee", they assumed it ended in "ie") and they started to use "bie" as a general suffix for someone lacking in knowledge and experience. ("Whobie" for Who fans, "Corbie" for Coronation Street fans, "Tribie" for Triangle fans, et cetera.) Even though the suffix has passed out of general use, inexperienced Who fans are still known as "Whobies" to this day.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Retrospective: Lawrence Miles

The thing that's most difficult, when reading through the work of Lawrence Miles (Christmas on a Rational Planet, Down, Alien Bodies, Dead Romance, Interference Books One and Two, The Adventuress of Henrietta Street and This Town Will Never Let Us Go) it determining whether he actually means anything he says. On the one hand, most of his works are highly polemical and charged with arguments guaranteed to infuriate his reading audience. On the other hand, his work is so densely packed with irony that it's hard to determine whether he's actually saying what he believes, or whether he's just enfolded his beliefs in yet another layer of deliberate controversy. When Sam Jones is swayed by the arguments of the Remote, is that because Miles legitimately believes that there's no underlying ethical structure to the universe and we all follow our cultural programming? Or is he just implying that Sam Jones has always been written as a straw woman by every other author, so why not take that to its logical conclusion and have her completely convinced by Compassion's eighth-grade debating tactics? How seriously can you take a man who suggests that pain and suffering is a necessary part of the universe when the story ends with Benny almost literally shoving the argument up the arguer's ass sideways? When dealing with someone who resolutely refuses to take anything entirely seriously, including himself, it's hard to say.

On the other hand, it's possible to be so sharp you can cut yourself. At this point, Miles is as famous for being "Mad Larry" as he is for any of his books; he's managed to alienate pretty much everyone in a position to get him more work, whether in 'Doctor Who' or anything else. His books are notorious for containing thinly-veiled cheap shots and insults towards his fellow authors, and his public statements are, if anything, even more controversial. Even if he is taking the piss, he's never managed to do so in a way that makes it clear to the people he's talking to or about. If your irony is so fine that the only person who knows it's ironic is you, you have probably failed at the task of communication, if nothing else. Even if Miles isn't sincere, he fakes it so well it hurts.

But then again, it's impressive to read someone who commits so fully to their narrative. Miles does an excellent job of getting inside the head of his characters, writing them with absolutely no efforts to impose his own views onto their narrative frame. The ending of 'Christmas on a Rational Planet' is absolutely brilliant in that both the Carnival Queen and the Doctor are fully committed to their respective worldviews, even though they're mutually incompatible and even though they're both entirely unreliable as narrators. The important thing isn't which one of them is "right", it's how they react to their beliefs. The same is true, to a lesser extent, of Sam and Compassion, of Christine and Chris, of Inangela and Valentine. Miles' books don't so much take a side as they throw the arguments up into the air and let you decide where they come down. As a result, you wind up thinking about his books long after you've finished them. (Even if one of the thoughts is, "Seriously, Sam? 'You don't care about people who die in car crashes'? You couldn't come up with an answer to that?")

Of course, all of these polemics and arguments and debates and philosophies would be boring if they weren't written in Miles' prose; for all that he's an infuriating and frustrating human being, he's at the top of the pack when it comes to writing style. 'Alien Bodies' is a fabulously well-written romp with some of the best jokes in the series, and a clear influence on the new 'Doctor Who' TV series. (In fact, I'd argue that it's the last truly influential Doctor Who novel.) 'Dead Romance' is one of the all-time best written novels in the entire range of 'Who' and its spin-offs. His prose drips wit, power, fury, sadness, and horror, sometimes all in the same sentence. Given that, it's no wonder that he was commissioned at least once even after he managed to piss off every single person he's ever worked with. (Although some of the blame for that should rest with the editors. Did Steve Cole never think about cutting the lines that were clearly aimed at other writers? Did Rebecca Levene never say, "No, we're taking out the cheap shot about 'Walking to Babylon'"? But I digress.)

Ultimately, reading Lawrence Miles is both an immensely frustrating and amazingly rich experience. It's difficult to read his books without getting upset, simply because so many of the points he's making are wrong-headed or insulting or insultingly wrong-headed (or wrong-headedly insulting). But at the same time, I've not read a 'Doctor Who' book that's done such a good job of making me re-examine my ideas; Miles has a way of getting under your skin, poking at you and asking if you've really thought about what you've been saying all this time. You wind up looking at the world a little bit differently after reading his books, and that's high praise for any writer. I may not agree with everything he says, I may not agree with anything he says, and I may not even be able to tell you if Miles agrees with anything he says...but it's well worth listening to him say it. It would be nice if, some day, he managed to focus and control his talent for irony and got back in the good graces of the BBC long enough to do another 'Doctor Who' book, because they are well worth reading.

Then again, maybe there isn't any irony at all and he means all the stupid things he's said. That's the problem with irony; there's always the danger that people will start seeing it even when it's not there.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Top Ten Things Lawrence Miles May Have a Right to Be Upset About

It's no great secret that Lawrence Miles has issues with the new series; his blog lets you know in no uncertain terms that he thinks that Steven Moffat is doing things he already did decades earlier, and doing them wrong to boot. (Combined, charmingly enough, with complaints that the production team isn't letting him write for Doctor Who anymore because they have some sort of grudge against him. At some point, you have to wonder if Miles even knows what "people skills" are.)

And yet...I'm doing a re-read right now of Lawrence Miles' Doctor Who novels, and I have to say, if there's one person who could credibly get upset about the new series taking all of his old ideas and doing an extended "house mix" of them, it's probably Miles. To wit:

1) The Time War. It's Number One on the list because it's the most obvious, but it has to be said. In 'Alien Bodies', the Time Lords got into a big war with a mysterious enemy that was also time-active and capable of operating on their level, and they were taking it on the chin. In the new series, the Time Lords had gotten into a big war with a mysterious enemy that was also time-active and capable of operating on their level, and they took it on the chin. The only real difference was that Miles thought that it would be stupid if the enemy was just "the Daleks" at the end of it all. (Mind you, it's easy to act smug if you never had to admit that the Enemy was really the Voord or something.) It's worth pointing out, by the way, that the original plan for the TV show when they weren't sure if they could get the rights to the Daleks was to have the Toclafane act as the destroyers of the Time Lords...and that the revelation that they were the human race from the distant future would have been the big revelation to end Series Three. Worth remembering in light of Miles' comments that the Enemy "came from Earth".

2) The Time Lords. In 'The End of Time', you discover that the reason the Doctor killed the Time Lords along with the Daleks is that they'd become just as bad as the Daleks by the end--the War had twisted them into monsters. Between 'Alien Bodies', 'Dead Romance' and 'Interference', it'd be hard to claim that this wasn't something that worked its way into the popular conception of Gallifrey.

3) 'The Name of the Doctor'. Oh let's see...a story where the Doctor's eventual future death in some vast battle too terrible to be imagined became known to his present self, and in which his future remains turned out to be vitally important to the future of the universe because his biodata--the traces of his entire lifeline--was so special and unique. Huh. And we thought Moffat was dropping an 'Alien Bodies' reference in 'The Impossible Astronaut'.

4)River Song. There's a throwaway line in 'Christmas on a Rational Planet' about Benny's potential child being shaped by exposure to the environment within the TARDIS, and how she would wind up being a potential next step between the human race and the Time Lords. That was a full thirteen years before 'Silence in the Library'. Just sayin'.

5) 'The Runaway Bride'. And speaking of 'Christmas on a Rational Planet', the idea of the ancient Time Lords fundamentally altering the very structure of the universe to make it more fit for habitation by the Time Lords was echoed here, with the "huon particles" that hadn't existed since the beginning of time.

6) The Sycorax. Creepy bad guys who wear skull-masks and use blood control like "a cheap bit of voodoo". You could almost hear Miles' blood pressure racheting up when they showed up on screen.

7) 'School Reunion'. Sarah Jane comes back, but she's older and she's independently investigating a threat to Earth. She gets tangled up with the Doctor again, and winds up discovering that she has a lot in common with his latest companion, who's a fit young blonde woman. I'm not saying that Lawrence Miles was the only person to come up with that idea, but it was a pretty prominent "event" story right before the books lost their claim to being the Official Continuation of Who.

8) The Moffat openings. You know what I mean--'Bells of St. John's', 'The Pandorica Opens', 'The Wedding of River Song'...those really rapid-fire openings that start off with a spectacular set-piece moment that leads into the episode in a totally unexpected way. Now go back and re-read 'Alien Bodies', which opens with the Doctor playing chess with a UNISYC general who tries to have him killed because they found something in Borneo that proves he can die...only to have the Doctor escape by jumping into the TARDIS which is parked sideways halwfway up a building. Moffat was, I don't think there's anything wrong with admitting, influenced by the narrative style of 'Alien Bodies'.

9) River Song escapes by jumping into the TARDIS which is parked sideways halfway up a building. The only real difference is that the Doctor didn't land in the swimming pool.

10) 'The End of Time'. Rassilon's plan is pretty much exactly what the Celestis did. Word for freaking word.

There you go. Ten ways that Lawrence Miles was an incredibly influential figure in Doctor Who on a level all out of proportion to the current recognition he gets for it, and I didn't even mention TARDISes in human form. I think that's pretty restrained of me, to be honest.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Thoughts On Peter Capaldi

In no particular order...

I was really amazed at the number of people who were frustrated with the amount of time that it took the BBC live special to get around to telling us that Peter Capaldi had been cast as the Twelfth Doctor. After all, they could guarantee that people would stay tuned in until the name was mentioned. After that, they could reasonably expect most people to turn off their sets. Is it any surprise that they waited until about twenty-eight minutes into the thirty-minute special to mention the name? And everything that led up to it was about what I expected, a low-key celebration of How Awesome Doctor Who Is, with a bunch of random talking heads from the series reminiscing. Anyone getting highly upset over the special needed better expectation management skills.

At this point, I expect a full, written apology from everyone who insisted that they'd totally heard from someone inside the production team that David Tennant was coming back because Matt Smith had done such a bad job with the part. Written in your own blood, preferably.

I have to admit, Peter Capaldi does look and sound exactly like the sort of actor you'd expect to play the Doctor. Not famous, but having built up a respectable body of work. Not glamorous, but charming and witty. Quirky and unusual, with a reputation for taking a part and making it his own. Eccentric as all hell. If you were to template the "Doctor Who actor" persona, it'd probably be Peter Capaldi. I expect he'll do well in the role, although as with pretty much everyone they've announced, I'll need to see him actually playing the part with live scripts and everything before I can really get a feel for him. (After that, it usually takes me about five minutes to settle in and decide that yes, this is the Doctor. For Matt Smith, the exact moment when I knew he was going to be brilliant was when he said to Caitlin Blackwood, "You know how sometimes adults tell you that everything is going to be just fine, and you know they're lying, but they say it anyway to reassure you? Well...everything's going to be just fine." Delivered not in a tone of reassurance, but with a manic glee that made it perfectly clear that he loved not knowing whether things were going to be fine or not.)

I am not one of the people, by the way, who was rooting for an older actor in the part. I feel like the Doctor should be someone young or at least youngish, because regeneration is a process of physical renewal and it makes no sense to me that Matt Smith's body is going to transform into Peter Capaldi's in a process of bodily renewal. I feel like the Doctor should get his money back for this body. (It's worth noting that the only times the Doctor has ever regenerated into a conspicuously "older" body, Pertwee and Eccleston, we didn't see the transition onscreen. I still think that there were decades of adventures of a younger Pertwee Doctor that we never saw.) That said, I'm clearly overruled here.

My one big disappointment with the whole process so far is finding out that Moffat made no serious attempts to audition anyone other than Capaldi. Given his statements that he believed a female Doctor or a minority Doctor would only work if it wasn't a stunt and the actor/actress in question legitimately won the part, it seems hypocritical as all hell to decide not to give them the chance because he'd already settled on the white male he wanted. I do feel that Moffat has a problem with gender essentialism--the "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" bull-hockey that evo-psych majors peddle to CNN on a slow news day--and I think that he just couldn't see casting a Doctor who wasn't a "traditional" Doctor as anything other than a gimmick.

Which is a shame, because I really feel like this would have been the perfect time for it. He needed to cast against Smith, so it needed to feel like a big change, but at the same time Smith was who his instincts were telling him was the best for the part, and deliberately going against your own instincts can result in some very bad decisions. (Colin Baker was molded as "angry, loud, and annoying" because it was the opposite of Davison's "charming, friendly and happy," without realizing that those were traits unlikely to keep an audience.) I think that a female Doctor, or a minority Doctor, would have been a very effective "pattern break" that would have given Moffat something completely different to do with the character and avoided repetition without having to consciously avoid repetition. And also it's the right thing to do after loudly and publicly insisting that the Doctor is a role that's color-blind and gender-neutral, because saying all that and then not auditioning a single non-white-male actor for the part makes you look like a lying bastard and not in the usual cute way that it does when you lie about how exciting the season finale's going to be, but that's going to be true anytime. This felt like the right time for a change beyond just "white man to white man", and I'm disappointed that it didn't happen.

Still, that disappointment will probably last until about five minutes into the Christmas special, when Peter Capaldi will show us all why there's never been a bad choice for the Doctor. Bad scripts, bad writers, bad script editors, bad directors and bad producers, yes. But never a bad Doctor.