Jodie Whittaker and ‘Doctorishness’

Not all criticism of Series 11 is sexist. (Although by god when it is sexist you can smell it a mile off.) Absolutists aside, I’ve seen plenty of sensible critique.

But that doesn’t mean assumptions about gender aren’t a factor. For me, The Thirteenth Doctor is as iconically the Doctor as any we’ve seen. So when people who are not (obviously) sexist say they feel Jodie Whittaker’s female Doctor lacks eccentricity and gravitas, that she’s not ‘Doctorish’, I do wonder what expectations are at play, and to what extent those expectations are rooted in gender. There are still strong, unspoken cultural taboos against women being funny or authoritative. It can be done brilliantly and yet still read as ‘off’ because it subverts expectations.

There’s a further layer of expectation to overcome. It’s perfectly possible for a woman to act precisely like a male hero: the arse-kicking, wise-cracking “strong female character” who holds her own in a man’s world by behaving like a male stereotype. It’s an assertive female character we do see slightly more often in drama. But when women are strong in a different way from men I think we arguably find more resistance. The Thirteenth Doctor is certainly not above the egoism and speechifying of past Doctors, but I wonder if there’s a tendency to undervalue her particular style of quirkiness and moral indignation because it’s often expressed in a less bombastic way.

I’ve seen some saying the Thirteenth Doctor hasn’t had her ‘big Doctor moment’. I’d argue she’s had loads. It’s just that Whittaker doesn’t grandstand. She foregrounds the Doctor’s sincerity, urgency and a sense of searching inside herself. ‘Big Doctor moments’ needn’t involving standing on Stonehenge with a microphone.

It’s different from recent Doctors, but by no means unprecedented. It reminds me of Peter Capaldi’s speech in ‘Thin Ice’ about the value of a human life; underplayed in a searching way that seems almost confessional. It reminds me too of Matt Smith’s marvellous “we’re all stories in the end” speech.

I’m conscious that there’s a risk of pigeon-holing the first ever female Doctor Who as “the empathetic one”. Whittaker is a quixotic bundle of energy and personality, it’s just that she’s also very grounded. For me her performance is of a piece with the general change in tone that the show has undergone this year, to a less grandiose, more personal style. I’d go so far as to say we’d have seen some of her more self-effacing traits in a male Thirteenth Doctor because it feels so organic to the new era.

And I like this vision of Doctor; this human, real, vulnerable hero who still triumphs through wit and determination. I like it in male Doctors too: Peter Davison’s breathless sense of not being entirely in control; Patrick Troughton’s fallibility and indignation. Again these are not new traits in the Thirteenth Doctor, only the emphasis has shifted. What’s different is that male actors are allowed to subvert male stereotypes without having to prove their credentials. Whittaker, at least to some, does have something to prove. Despite the striking variety of performances that have come before her in the role, she can’t just be the Doctor and make the Doctor her own. She also has to measure up to expectations; to be funny in the right way, authoritative in the right way. To be at the more arse-kicking, wise-cracking end of the Doctor’s personality. And I think it’s worth questioning where our gut feeling about that “right” way comes from, whether we’d be holding a male actor to those same expectations, or whether we’re letting unexamined assumptions get in the way.

Jodie Whittaker is a great Doctor. She’s silly and quirky and funny. She’s passionate and indomitable and loyal. She’s a champion of what’s right, a righter of wrongs. She’s every bit the Doctor, and she’s every bit herself.

One year’s work

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So this is what one year’s creative output looks like (for me). It was a lot tougher to squeeze this year’s art into the photo than it was last year, and I was pleasantly surprised when I got it all together in one place.  (It’s also what one year’s beard looks like.  I was all stubbly this time last year.)

Putting your art out into the world is a strange thing.  I vacillate between bullish self-confidence and agonising self-doubt, often over the same picture, within the same hour.  I can cheerfully post fan art on twitter, on my website, on tumblr, even copying in other accounts, and then immediately cringe and want to take it back and/or issue formal written apologies and point out all the crap bits.

I know I’m far from the best artist out there. I also flatter myself I’m not the worst, and when there’s a particular image I’m proud of, I want it to do well.  It’s like entering your pet dragon into the Best Small Dragon category at the village fair (it really isn’t, but bear wth me). I give it a benevolent little push onto the stage, a bit of encouragement, I’m pleased if it gets a good reception, maybe a ripple of applause, disappointed if the audience runs screaming from the blazing tent.

But I’m also realistic about these things. If after a couple of tries and encouraging nods the whole thing isn’t catching fire then I take my dragon home and we have a nice cup of cocoa and we move onto the next thing.

Okay, now I want a pet dragon.

In a similar vein, I nearly exhibited a few pieces at the FantasyCon gallery in Peterborough. After some exploratory conversations I realised I didn’t have time to get everything framed, packed and sent by the deadline.  I also bottled it.  But it started me pondering about such things so I’m slowly starting to have a few bits of art framed in case I decide to exhibit them at future cons.  I’m quite pleased with how these two turned out.

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My fan art pieces from this year have already found their way onto the internet, here and elsewhere. I’ve done a lot more fan art this year and slightly fewer for Dublin. (I’ve also done a few pieces just for myself, some of which may show up in public in future, some of which were just test pieces.)  I’m still trying to find a good balance, but I have the luxury of coming up with my own ideas and mostly it’s about where inspiration takes me.   This year, inspiration has mostly taken me to Peter Capaldi who has one of those faces that was born to be painted.  I’ve also done old and new school Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, Deep Space Nine, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, Babylon 5, and Twin Peaks.  All favourites of mine, all done out of sheer affection for the source material.

Moving into acrylics last year (instead of scanning and  colouring my line art) has been good for my productivity, and increasingly I’m painting without a preparatory pencil sketch which speeds things further.  My portraits of Tom Baker, Roger Delgado and Jeremy Brett were one-evening paints (2-3 hours), Mira Furlan as Delenn took two nights.  If I painted like that every evening I’d be a lot more prolific, but sadly I don’t…

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The Tom one even found its way (at postage stamp size) into the letters page of Doctor Who Magazine, which would have delighted the 10 year old me who read it from Issue 1.

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Some of my more complex art has taken much, much longer.  I spent a month working most nights back in January for my detailed painting of spacecraft arriving in Dublin.  A more recent one took me 3 months (on and off, working and reworking).  I abandoned it once and overpainted large sections before I finally completed it to my satisfaction.  I’m glad I did  – I’m quite pleased with it now.  If I’ve learned anything over the last couple of years it’s to trust the process rather than throwing in the towel when a picture looks bad.  But it’s hard, sometimes.

I also tried some larger full face images like the framed Capaldi one above, and the Sandman image, which took about a week each. I might try a few more along those lines.

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I was also quite pleased with the raw emotion I got into this Peter Capaldi image, even though it’s not quite as achitecturally solid as some of my portraits.  I don’t want to just mindlessly regurgitate promo images in acrylic, and I go back and forth over whether this looks good or not, but I wanted that sadness in his eyes.Saint_Capaldi_(c_iainjclark2017_500w

My Dublin artwork generally hasn’t found its way here, and won’t until it’s been used officially by the convention so it’s hard to talk about it much (although if you squint  behind me in the photo at the top you can get a preview.) It’s been a huge year for Dublin, which won the 2019 WorldCon site selection unopposed, and things are accelerating. There’s already a t-shirt based on slices of my artwork available, which is a lovely feeling…

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I also took some postcards of my Dublin art along to this year’s FantasyCon…DK-OuJIWkAEh7dt.jpg large

I still feel like I’m finding my way with paint – a medium that, until last year, I’d seldom touched since A Level art – but just doing art is a great way of levelling-up.  As for next year, my wife just got me some water-soluble oils and some liquid acrylic colour, neither of which I have any idea how to use, so that should shake things up for 2018.  I’m also keen to paint more women and more people of colour — something that could probably be achieved by not painting Peter Capaldi all the time, now I come to think of it.

Star Trek Juvenalia

Another bit of juvenalia for you.  This is an A3 pencil drawing I did back in my youth (1988 to be precise).

It’s the companion piece to the Star Trek movie piece here.  In accordance with the source material that one was 16:9 format, while this one was 4:3!  I think pretty much all the photo reference was taken from my well-thumbed copy of the Star Trek Compendium, and I’ve reproduced the lack of resolution perfectly!

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Star Trek: The Motion Picture tat

Back in 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the Next Big Thing.  And then it wasn’t.  Although contrary to popular opinion it did just fine at the box office.

I still have a sneaking affection for it, but at the time it was quite definitely the most exciting thing ever — since the last most exciting thing ever, which was probably Star Wars or a particularly scary bit of Doctor Who.  The complete lack of action in the film didn’t faze the 10 year old me in the least.  And why should it?  In my head the Enterprise and the Klingons were having exciting space battles just outside the frame, and that was enough.

Just in case it wasn’t enough, there was also plenty of merchandise to enjoy, including these lovely survivals I recently came across in the loft…

I can’t remember where I got this one. It looks like the kind of thing that used to come in weetabix promotional boxes, and perfectly characterises the slightly staid, proper, naval approach to Star Trek that the movie embodies. (“Starship Enterprise”.) I don’t remember where all the more interesting characters went, but this is the one I have left.  Here’s to Mr. Scott.

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Meanwhile, here in the UK 45p would buy you this fine poster magazine from the time of the movie’s release.  Here are the front and back.  The poster inside is a huge, grainy version of the small, grainy front cover.

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And here are some interior pages, complete with wildly gushing write-up, and of course that bird guy.  Who can forget that bird guy?  For me, he was the most poignant character in the film.

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The Thirteenth Doctor

So, just for the record, I’m really very chuffed about that Doctor Who casting.

I have the same buzz I did when they cast Capaldi, but for different reasons. It’s not the same-old-same-old safe choice. I really thought they might cast a Tennant clone because of the perceived commercial success that would bring. But we’ve done that already. It’s there on DVD. We haven’t done this. And who’s to say that the boring choice wouldn’t have bored viewers? Maybe moving in new directions is what’s in the show’s longer-term interests.

Interesting that new showrunner Chris Chibnall pushed for a female Doctor, and he’s got one of his leads from Broadchurch! That’s how to put your stamp on a show. I don’t think Jodie Whittaker’s character in Broadchurch was especially ‘Doctorish’, but you know these auditions are a tough process and they’ve had he same Casting Director since Christopher Eccleston was chosen. She only got this part if she aced it.

One starship poster, well-loved.

Nostalgia time again.  I’ve had this tatty old poster since childhood.

As may be apparent if you read my blog waxing lyrical about the movie version of the USS Enterprise, I have a huge affection for this spaceship in its various forms.  This is a massive(ish) A2 pull-out poster of the original TV U.S.S. Enterprise, painted by by one Joe Petagno, and it’s lovely: just painterly enough to be beautiful without sacrificing accuracy.

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Judging from the small print it comes from a magazine called “TV Sci-Fi Monthly”.  I have no memory of the publication or how it came into my possession, but I do remember owning the poster because it graced the wall of my bedroom for several years back in the 1970s.

I also remember thinking the nacelle caps looked a *bit* too much like a pair of eyes staring at me when I was lying in bed, which might explain why the corners are torn from when I nervously ripped it from the wall one night…  It’s well-loved, in every sense.

It must date to around 1976, because on the reverse is an article that talks about Space 1999 as if it’s a current show, alongside a really quite eccentric illustration by Malcolm Pointer of a young Spock in his bedroom, which definitely did not grace my wall except by association.

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Star Wars Weekly

I picked up this little gem at Tynemouth Market recently.

I originally collected Star Wars Weekly right from Issue 1 back in the day (for values of “the day” that include flared corduroy trousers and bowl haircuts) but I no longer have any of them.

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This is issue 11.  It’s the earliest issue I could find, but I also picked it because it’s a cover that has particularly stuck with me down the years: the trench run on the Death Star screen (impossibly annotated with the names of the characters “Luke Skywalker and R2-D2”);  the proton torpedoes coming right through the glass at Darth Vader.  It haunted my imagination, this weird mashup of events and locations, the dreamlike logic of the image on the screen invading the room like your TV coming alive.  My overly-literal young brain grappled with the impossibility and went *bzzzt*, and I suppose those are the things your memory hangs onto.  The bits of cognitive dissonance that get turned over and over.

The inside cover features Luke and Leia snogging.  Feel free to insert the obligatory “incest!” joke here.

I don’t think Star Wars Weekly was ever better than in those early weeks retelling the movie.  Look at Howard Chaykin’s amazing art in that interior page.  It turned a movie into a comic and made it feel like it had always been a comic.  It wasn’t the intricate, photo-referenced adaptation we later got with Empire Strikes Back but a much looser approach that kept the spirit and the pulpy feel of the original.  I think I’m almost as nostalgic about the comic adaptation as I am about the film. After they ran out of movie, my hazy recollection is that the comic went off the rails a bit.  ‘The further adventures of Han Solo on Tatooine’ or somesuch.  Lifesize blue rabbit-men and bounty hunters, maybe? It felt un-Star-Wars-y. and generic.

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Star Wars is one of those fandoms that slots right in around Doctor Who and Star Trek in my experience of the 1970s and 80s.  It’s ultimately proved to be the lesser of those three loves, for a brief part of my childhood it burned brighter than anything else.  In the summer that I first saw Star Wars my “What I did this summer” report for school was literally just a ten page synopsis of the movie.  Our tiny front garden became the Millennium Falcon for the summer holidays.  Our metal cowboy revolvers that fired little red caps became laser pistols.

We had light sabres too.  Here’s the back cover of the comic advertising Luke’s unfortunately-positioned “force beam”.  I used to play lightsabre sword fights with my brother endlessly, until the rounded ends fell off the blade, and the plastic tubes got bent, and the coloured disk fell out, and eventually it was just a chunky orange torch with a big slidy switch on the side.

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One last thing from the issue. This advert for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, back when the title needed explaining.  How that movie ever became a hit when the poster is a Wikipedia entry is beyond me.

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