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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

Doctor Who thing of the day: TARDIS Eruditorum

Philip Sandifer describes himself as “a hopeless geek with a PhD in English focusing on media studies.” He puts this hopeless geekitude to work at his blog TARDIS Eruditorum: A Psychochronography in Blue, at which which reader Brandon tells me Sandifer is:

go[ing] through the entire history of Doctor Who (story by story) under the idea that Doctor Who is actually “about” something. It’s quite well done and has feminist/critical race theory side to it when appropriate.

It’s good stuff. Here’s a taste of Sandifer’s latest post, about the Tom Baker episode “The Hand of Fear,” in which he discusses (among many other things) the departure of Sarah Jane Smith from the TARDIS:

For the first time since Susan, there’s a sense that neither the companion nor the Doctor want to go. There is an obvious, genuine love between the Doctor and Sarah, and here they are forced apart. There’s a reason that, for years after, there was the constant sense that Sarah should come back, and it’s here in her ending – in the fact that the Doctor could come back for her, and she clearly wants him to.

This means that The Problem of Susan here recurs in its most intense sense to date. The Doctor doesn’t return for her. This says bad things about him. In a strange sense, this parallels Baker’s own problems with the role that begin to arise after this story. Perhaps the highest praise that can be given to Sladen as an actress is that she was the only co-starring actress Baker actually respected. (“Slept with” is not a synonym for “respected.”) And after she was gone, Baker was actively resistant to the idea that there should be another companion – he wanted to be the show’s sole star. As it happens, of course, Baker is phenomenal in the part, and he remains so.

But an ugliness creeps in here that I would be remiss not to mention. Not just for Baker, though. The Doctor himself is sullied here. The audience is made to want him to return for Sarah, and he never does. The audience may have been perplexed why he never returned for Susan, but if we’re being honest, Susan is nobody’s favorite companion. Sarah is many, many people’s favorite companion. It’s terribly brave scriptwriting to do this – it’s the first real jump towards making the Doctor less trustworthy instead of more since Power of the Daleks, and the first really, shatteringly decisive one since The Massacre. This is a scene that fundamentally changes who we think the Doctor is.

(The Problem of Susan is something I’ve been thinking about since I started writing fan fiction, and I’ve dealt with it tangentially in a few stories. I’ll have to post those soon…)

Go read, and be prepared to lose the afternoon…

(If you stumble across a cool Doctor Who thing, feel free to email me with a link.)

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