Wednesday, 29 April 2009

From "Science Fiction Audiences"

By John Tulloch and Henry Jenkins.

Jenny: Yes, but there are planets and vast forces who are evil in the show and who seek to impose their own autocratic rule, such as the Daleks who want to be supreme rulers of the universe.
John: That's sort of a law, in a way, sort of like a system.
Fred: System- but chaos. Because Davros's dream is to dominate the universe through creating chaos. He even says that.
John: Chaos, or just sort of restrict everything?
Adam: Nothing but Daleks and slaves.
Fred: Which is an ultimate order in a way.
John: Yes, well, I suppose then you could think that chaos, the fringes of chaos become law. (laughs)
Jenny: The ultimate dialectic. (laughs)
Adam: Organized chaos.
Jenny: The Doctor's usually on the side of more naive, independent groups rather than large structure which has a lot of power. It's usually the mining company, the imperialistic planet, the non-human invaders who are trying to use other planets.
John: The mad scientist.
Int: Is Doctor Who a mad scientist?
John: No, no.
Jenny: He's very detached and objective. He doesn't make emotional statements. He doesn't show emotions. That's alwys the function of the female side of the partnership, if you like.
Joan: Yes.
Jenny: ... That's often I think why they give Doctor Who an assistant who's very illogical usually. The most logical of the assistants is still being, acting more or less 99 per cent by intuition and good luck or whatever.
John: The second Romana wasn't. And neither was the first in fact.
Fred: I don't think Leela was either.
Jenny: Oh yes she was. She was all instinct, completely.
John: Yeah, but that wasn't emotion.
Jenny: Oh well, I mean not so much emotion in the sort of wet and flowery meaning that we may associate, but non-logical thought processes anyway. Non-deductive thinking.
Joan: Yeah.
Fred: I don't even agree with that, because I think Leela was very deductive in her thinking. She just based her thinking on different premises, that's all.
Jenny: But she often didn't know why she felt a certain way. She just felt fear.
Joan: Yeah.
Jenny: ... all she could say is, "I sense danger."
Joan: Whereas Romana's more like you're saying, the first Romana. You know, the stunner.
Fred: Yeah, the stunner. That Romana, yeah. (men laugh)

What seems clear in the discussion is the pleasure that this group of intellectuals get in playing around with ideas accessed from a range of generic and social discourses. And this in itself (this extensive competence in "ideas") is both a protection against the threat of "sexism" (in so far as there is always a handy "idea" to deflect attention) and a key to their liking of the show. The Doctor's "powers of mind" (rather than the American "if it moves, shoot it" physicality) are obviously something the group shares and enjoys. And in this game of intellectual dexterity, it is the "progressive" qualities of the show (anti-multinationals, anti-imperialism, liberationism, etc.) which are articulated as a coherent discourse and therefore foregrounded. Even the intellectual game itself can be foregrounded as a source of pleasure -- and this is as much to do with the friendly (i.e. confident) rivalry of former tertiary students as to do with the "artificiality" of the interview situation.

Int: What did you mean when you said you thought Doctor Who was the ultimate dialectic?
Jenny: Well, because ... (men laugh)
Adam: Trendy university student.
John: Yeah, history student.
Fred: Trying to convince us that she's read Marx, that's what it is. (men laugh)
John: Yeah right, right. (laughter)
Jenny: John said, was walking about this sort of fluctuation between chaos and order and the tinges of grey in between, and just on whatever level we approach it, whether we see it as law becomes chaos as much as chaos can come back into being law, or order or whatever you want to call it, and, er, as I said before I see him as the ultimate harmonizer.

The group dynamics here are interesting. It is a moment of threat to the consensus of the "why we like Doctor Who" meta-discourse. Although contained by other, safer subject positions (science fiction, social progressivism), the "sexism" debate is very close to the surface: because while not articulated as such, the debate about "women = intuition, male = reason" has, for a moment, completely divided the women from the men in the group. However, this threat is immediately displaced to a different terrain. The "healthy" rivalry of tertiary-educated people reincorporates the female/male division as a competitive "joke". From this point the discussion regroups via the safer debate of "does the Doctor always remain unaltered?" The unified interpretive position is resecured, is back in control: "who has the best memory of Doctor Who?"

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