Thanksgiving with The Good Doctor (Part 1)

As a former history teacher, let me just say, if you think the history of Thanksgiving is Pilgrims and Puritans sitting down to a turkey dinner, I need you to go hit Google, right now. The short of it, is that it was a harvest festival established by Abraham Lincoln in 1863… that’s right 242 years AFTER the “First Thanksgiving” which wasn’t even… you know what, go look it up for yourself. It’s not the cute play and culturally insulting paper hats that you made in kindergarten. This is not a history blog, so I will not digress down that road anymore.

What I will say, is that if there is one Doctor Who book you read over this Thanksgiving break, it should be Juno Dawson’s The Good Doctor. Without going into spoiler territory, the book is about how The Doctor visits the planet Lobos with her fam, brokers a peace treaty between the native dog-like species of Lobos and the human colonists who were forced onto the planet and later rescued by the natives (sound familiar?) Jump more than half a century into the future, thanks to Ryan losing his phone, and an questionable loss of historical records, and things have gone sideways.

However, the story does not stop on this simple premise. There are traditional Doctor Who tropes that come into play, such as the separation of the group… team… fam. So, of course you end up hearing the story of what has happened from multiple perspectives. It’s a rich story that pulls from the history of colonization, not just of America, but the colonization of the African continent as well. Those familiar with the western African kingdoms will find great parallels with the shift in historical narrative that happened over the course of centuries. There is also a large implication that much of what transpired can be traced to a micro-aggressive comment, meant of course as a joke by Graham, before they left Lobos the first time.

They are small details that could be lost on the average (especially white) reader of this book. You might have an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach, and not know why. Well here is why: this book is a crash course on the long term ramifications of colonization and racism. And that’s just within the first 100 pages, if you are savvy enough to pick up that there are historical parallels.

Now, this book is by no means, the end all when it comes to these types of novels. However, in the frame of Doctor Who, it is a fascinating take. Adelaide Brooke, in the emotionally hefty Waters of Mars questioned if the Doctor every thought about their actions or god-like complex and what happens to those “rescued” without choice. This book does more than just wink at that question or have someone correct the Doctor’s error. This shows the long term ramifications of such a moment, and how the casual racism (or in this case speciesism) can have major effects. There is also an exploration of the loss of knowledge, history, and the revisionist mindset in order to justify the mistreatment of others as well as sexism.

If all of this seems too weighty for you to give the book a try, then consider this: Ryan gets to become an angel, Yaz, the cop, gets thrown in jail, there are simpering and curious monks, shock inducing drones, the TARDIS gets stolen, rebellion, and plenty of references to British television favorites. Oh, also, don’t forget the giant stain glass window of Graham, which is referenced on the cover of the book.

This is just part one of a multi-part look at this book. Please come back for more about The Good Doctor, by Juno Dawson. 

 

You can’t handle the… knife! (Episode 4)

The Doctor pulls A Few Good Men on Cal (would be leader of the tribe,) proving who really killed a tribal elder. This was after Ian and Barbara saved Za from death. So of course the tribe is grateful… just kidding!

Our main characters are back into the cave! However, this episode focuses on the tribe. They wax philosophical, in as monosyllabic ways as they can, about the power of the many over the one, the importance of fire and arrive exactly where we were at the beginning of the story. It’s a boring, tedious exercise for the modern binge watching audience. I’m sure it worked very well back in 1963 when there were no VCRs or DVRs or cassette collection releases.

Despite this, my teen and youngest child still gravitated toward the television to watch the seemingly unending fight between Cal and Za for the fire our companions create. I am shocked every time I watch by how violently it ends: with a Mike Tyson-esq move just before a giant smashing rock is thrown down.

Za tries to force “The New Tribe” to join them (he can’t lose his fire makers or he loses power.) Somehow this leads to a bizarre plot twist to help them escape. I get the show makers were trying to be both cheap and not graphic. However, it still doesn’t completely add up. It’s a minor point, overall. There is not great lines in this episode as in the previous three.

That doesn’t mean there are no reveals. Barbara and Ian beg to go home. It’s not to be. We get the first realization that The Doctor doesn’t fully understand how to work the TARDIS.

“It’s not your fault, Grandfather.” (Episode 3)

The classic Doctor doesn’t apologize quickly… except for at the end of episode 2 and beginning of episode 3 where he apologizes for them being captured by a nomadic tribe a hundred thousand years in the past. Susan then gives the most inane response ever, “It’s not your fault, Grandfather.” Except… it was!

Barbara and Ian has gone from being kidnapped by a smug time traveling alien to this tribe and death looming unless they can make fire for the tribe. The Doctor was over promising what he could do for the tribe and not caring at all about potentially changing the course of history. His level or self preservation was his undoing; leading to their capture and confinement in “The Cave of Skulls.”

Barbara saw this selfishness in The Doctor. When she questions why The Doctor is willing to help Ian and Barbara escape (despite the fact he originally wanted to drive them far off so they wouldn’t spill his secret,) he responds with another now famous line, “Fear makes companions of us all.” It’s the most unselfish thing he will do in the whole serials. Moffat would take this throw away, quick response, and weave The Who episode “Listen” around it. And, yes, I still cry every time a watch it, despite the fact that Gallifrey should have still be time locked… but, whatever!

However, this isn’t some magically turning point. The selfishness of the First Doctor is extremely dynamic and unique. It’s something that the curmudgeon Doctors (Six, Twelve) have tried to duplicate but can’t. Probably because it wasn’t an old man response; instead it was the response of a self absorbed, spoiled young Gallifreyan who lacked real experience in the universe.

After all, it is Barbara who convinces the group they must help an injured nomad, after they escape. Not the Doctor. It is Ian who takes the lead on treating him. Not the Doctor. It is Susan who provides assistance. Not the Doctor. In fact his response is that they must be out of their mind. He argues that their desire to be humane will be their undoing. He is not THE Doctor, yet.

“That’s not his name… #DoctorWho?” (Episode 2)

Barbara and Ian have been kidnapped by The Doctor because the latter is afraid the former will tell on them to tabloids and drive them from their home. So his solution is to… leave their home.

They travel back in time to when men roamed as nomadic peoples. It gets Ian and Barbara to believe what he was saying about their home being a time and space machine. However, they decide to no longer call him “Dr. Foreman,” (the name found on the junkyard.) Ian corrects Barbara when she calls him that and says, “That’s not his name! Doctor Who?”

With that it’s not until the second episode we have the truly iconic question being asked for the first time. A question that Woden would complicate by calling him “Doctor Who” directly; years of fans would pretentiously say, “No, it’s just The Doctor;” and an thumb to the nose Moffat would give when he had Missy respond, “No, that’s his name Doctor Who!” 56 years and the debate over the Name of the Doctor continues.

Maybe they should bring River Song back to settle the debate in the cutest girl’s night out with Jodie’s Doctor.

Happy #DoctorWhoDay: Let’s start at the very beginning (Episode 1)

A racist alien (“Red Indian “comment coupled with a distain for modern man,) locks you in his “house,” electrocutes you and then kidnaps you. What do you do?This is what happens to Ian Chesterton after agreeing to escort Barbara Wright on a home visit because their mysterious student is… inconsistent on the quality of their homework.

For those unaware, teacher home visits still occur, but can be rare… especially when the student is Susan Foreman’s age. The idea of visiting for odd, inconsistent quality homework is now laughable. However, there is something touching about the idea of this marvelous journey beginning because a couple of teachers were so concerned about their student.

If you’d like to check out my deeper thoughts about “An Unearthly Child” click here.