I've been binge watching the "new" Dr. Who. In general I'm a fan, the revival is great and in some ways better the the original (though the nostalgia I get from old episodes will never die.) Dr. Who had a big impact on me as a child he's always been a kind of fictional role model for what it means to be brave, curious and endlessly drivven to understand and explore the world around us. My love for the show also helped me to have a hero that got me through tough time in school for a geeky kid, it helped me to know that it good to be smart, even cool, even sexy.
Yet, as much as I've enjoyed seasons 1-4 (that's how far I've gotten so far) I find something a bit off about the treatment of black and female characters in the new show. To be honest, it's not much worse than what one sees in most media. (and it's, of course, much better than the old show) And so, I'm not talking about some kind of exceptional racism, really the show has some good points in the departments of race and gender and even sexuality... but it's still flawed. For me, painfully flawed. Others have felt the same way (notice this old post on the subject.)
It's disappointing to me, yet quite common that when I read commentary from people who don't care about racism in the way that I do they don't notice these things, they'll even go as far as to say the series is revolutionary for having diversity*. So, all of this criticism, to them, sounds "ungrateful." I guess depending on who we are, we may watch stories differently. When I watch Martha* in season 3 I identify with her, even more strongly than Rose, and not just because she's black but also because she smart and scientific like me. But yes, also because she's black that's part of who I am, a good part of who I am. But, as is typical of most mainstream fiction, the series is written so that all of the fantasy is most satisfying to those who can easily identify with the white male protagonist. (I do of course also identify with the doctor, but not as much as the female characters.) Most contemporary TV shows and movies must be so much more fun to watch if it is easy for you to see yourself as a white male. Part of the fun of fiction is pretending that you are there, that you are in the shoes of one of the characters, or that events happen in your life that mirror the fantasy world. What young woman has ever watched Dr. Who without fantasizing that the TARDIS might come and pick YOU up and that YOU might go on a great adventure with an amazing intelligent man!
Identity influences the way that we see fiction. When men watch Dr. Who their fantasy is (more likely) to be that they are a LORD OF TIME traveling with a whole series beautiful smart assistants (who adore them, weather they are interested or not) through time and space. That's a superior fantasy, isn't it? It gives you more opportunities to invent a fantasy self with agency, and a strong sense of love and self-confidence.
When I was a little girl my mother was disturbed by the fact that I identified very strongly with white male characters in the fiction and sci-fi I watched, and in history and fiction that I read. For Halloween or when playing dress-up from age 5-10 or so I dressed up as Dr. Who, Luke Skywalker, Isaac Newton, Einstein and so on ...almost always a white male. Mother did her best to offer up good black and/or female role models and some would stick (Nat Turner, Dorothy from the Wiz) But the majority of my childhood heroes where white men. My mom even started to wonder if I was gay I think since I'd insist on going by a boy's name often. But, I wasn't gay I just wanted to BEST fantasy, the greatest adventure, to be the HERO and I didn't mind ignoring or changing essential elements of who I am to get there. I wasn't really aware of those identities children are able to ignore them.
It never occurred to me to want to be an assistant to the hero, or a side character, until I got older. And until gender and race started to matter more.
I remember a conversation with my mother about Rainbowbrite. In Rainbowbrite (a girls cartoon) there was one sort of token black character I remember my mom bought me the doll of the black character. I liked her well enough (was here name "indigo"?) but I never pretended to *be* her when I played. Are you kidding me? I wanted to be Rainbowbrite of course... she was the one all of the stories were about! I didn't understand what wasgoing on until another girl at school asked how I could possibly be Rainbowbright if I didn't have blue eyes and blonde hair.
Well, she has the power of the rainbow now doesn't she? I'd think SHE could be any color she likes!
And I'd like to think the same were true of timelords!