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  1. Beppie
    Beppie at | *

    Great post, Chally! :)

    Ace is one of my favourites too — if I ever get to go to a Doctor who convention, I want to cosplay her character (anyone know where I can get a bomber jacket? ;)).

    As I said to you privately the other day, I think that “Battlefield” is easily the most feminist Doctor Who story that I’ve ever seen — I won’t post any spoilers for it here, but there are lots of great interactions between different women, all of whom are strong in their own way. Ace really shines, but then, she always does.

    In so many ways, Ace was the fore-runner of the modern companions — she was the first one conceived with an ongoing character-arc in mind. Originally it was planned that Ace was going to train as a Time Lord, allowing her to become the Doctor’s equal — and unlike the present day, she would have been allowed to keep her power. As you say, it’s such a shame that the show was cancelled when it was.

  2. Ariane
    Ariane at |

    I was never a Who fan in my own right, just watched because my other half at the time was an addict. But Ace converted me in that series. Anybody that added more explosions was a Good Thing in my book. My fav by a big margin.

    I was once told that girls like astronomy (rather than other fields of physics) because it is a passive endeavour. I looked dumbfounded and said “But I only like it because I am looking at the biggest explosions in the history of the universe – I love things that go Kaboom!”.

    Ariane’s last blog post..Just when I think they’re over-reacting

  3. LizBee
    LizBee at |

    When I was seven, and religiously watched Doctor Who with my dad in the evenings, I saw Ace make her debut, and it changed my life just a little. (Never mind blowing stuff up; seven-year-old Liz liked the bit where she tipped a milkshake over a spoilt child’s head.)

    I’m disappointed that you feel the need to drag down other companions in order to make Ace look better, though. One, she doesn’t need it; two, for all that she was a traditional companion, Jo had a lot of agency, skills of her own that complemented the Doctor’s, and a wry sense of humour that gently subverted the chauvinistic attitudes that surrounded her. True, she was frequently written by men who forgot that she had skills and intelligence, but that can be said for all the Doctor Who companions, including the new ones.

    (For my money, the first feminist companion was the very first one — Barbara.)

  4. Beppie
    Beppie at | *

    Liz, I didn’t see Chally as dragging down the other companions so much as she was noting exactly what you did– that they were often written in a very limited way. Frankly, I was very dissapointed when I was first introduced to Jo Grant in “The Claws of Axos” (not her first story, but the first one I saw), after having known companions like Barbara, Zoe, Sarah Jane, Leela, and Romana. She did strike me as someone who stood around decoratively most of the time. However, I feel that she becomes a much richer character in later episodes like “The Three Doctors” and “The Green Death”. I was actually very sorry to see her go at the end of the latter, and Cliff’s condescending attitude towards her rankled terribly.

  5. LizBee
    LizBee at |

    Beppie, I’m probably still bruised from the “How dare you call yourself a feminist when you like Jo Grant? ROSE TYLER IS THE ONLY FEMINIST COMPANION!” idiocy that dominated fandom until recently. (Possibly it still dominates fandom, and I’ve just tuned it out.) So possibly I’m oversensitive, but I didn’t think Chally’s comment re: Jo was necessary, accurate or entirely fair.

  6. Bene
    Bene at |

    Chally, you’ve got to see Remembrance of the Daleks, for the context of Ace, the Dalek, and the bat. Brilliant stuff. (Dear god, people saying Rose is feminist makes my head hurt…thanks to RTD’s pulling away of every last bit of her agency. But I digress.)

    I also rather like Leela, particularly for the end of Talons of Weng-Chiang (probably its only redeeming quality as omg the yellow-face and Orientalism burns).

    Good post!

  7. Beppie
    Beppie at |

    Ah, I can understand how fandom battles like that one could make one touchy on the issue (although thankfully it seems to have gone over my head completely), but I think it’s clear here that Chally is not casting aspersions on women who like Jo’s character — rather, she is commenting on the contrast between the way that Jo was portrayed and the way that Ace was portrayed. While there can certainly be good feminist reasons for liking Jo at any stage, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with noting Jo was not constructed in such a way so as to encourage viewers to produce a feminist reading of the text, particularly not when she was first introduced. Meanwhile, it seems clear that Ace was carefully constructed as a feminist role model for viewers.

    Again, I’m not saying that Jo can’t be taken as a feminist role model, but I don’t think it’s helpful to ignore the way that the writers did attempt to portray her (and other companions) in accordance with a “helpless damsel” schema at times, and I think it’s perfectly valid to bring that up in order to ephasise the way that Ace was intentionally constructed as a counter-point to that model of femininity.

  8. undercat
    undercat at |

    First of all, thanks very much for writing this! I’m not a fan of Seven or the Cartmel era, but I always loved Ace and thought she was a fabulous character, and this is a wonderful celebration of her.

    It’s just. It’s so very annoying that people in the Doctor Who fandom seem so often to be unable to praise their favorite companions without putting other companions down, and strangely enough, it’s always the female companions who are disparaged in this manner (I’m not accusing you of having misogynistic reasons, rather it’s just what people do – you praise Ace or Romana, you diss Jo, and you do it without thinking. I have however read similar pieces that were misogynistic. Save us from OG).

    Because for all that Jo was portrayed inconsistently, she, like Ace, was awesome. She saved the Doctor more than he saved her, and saved the world more than once when the Doctor was unable or unwilling to. And she had agency (unlike female characters from certain *coughRTD* eras). She was the only companion who said “no” to the Doctor’s “I’ll show you the universe” speech (unlike companions traditionally thought of as strong-willed, like Sarah Jane and Tegan, who both were convinced to stay with the Doctor after his little spiel, or Donna, who had already decided to stay). And Jo screamed less than Sarah did. (And here, look at me do what I just railed against, comparing companions to cast one in a more positive light. Though tbh, when I watched Jo and Sarah’s serials for the first time, I was surprised at how win Jo was and how Sarah came across as less awesome than I was lead to believe. Mind, the Sarah Jane Adventures are better than Who’s ever been at gender issues.)

    Frankly, if there’s anyone you need to cast a steely eye towards, it’s JNT, who explicitly stated he had Tegan written as an anti-feminist character. She was to be there “for the dads”, i.e. to be sexy, and to demonstrate how women’s libbers needed men to do things for them, because he thought that was amusing. But then, JNT was generally fail when it came to companions.

    I’m sorry if I come across as negative, I’m just really, really tired of the fannish, well, it’s a bit older than a trend, of elevating one companion at the expense of another, and pitting female characters against each other (see also Rose vs Martha). And yes, it was a throwaway line, but still. Conditioned by fandom flame wars, I leap to the defense of my favorites.

  9. mimbles
    mimbles at |

    Great post Chally :) I second Bene’s recommendation of Remembrance of the Daleks, I get positively gleeful every time I watch that!

    mimbles’s last blog post..Ultimatum

  10. Chally
    Chally at |

    Thanks Beppie and thanks also for putting it up for me. I wish we’d been able to see her as a Time Lord (or Lady!).

    Wow, Ariane, expectations of being passive are not only everywhere for women, they manifest really strangely! I’ve always thought of astronomy as wonderful and engaging.

    Lizbee, what Beppie said. I think I made the limits on my knowledge of old Who pretty clear, but even without that caveat the point still stands. I’m sorry to hear that that’s been your experience in fandom, but the relevant element of this post focusses on Whovian writing traditions and how the writers broke out from that with Ace. I wasn’t dragging Jo down, I was pointing out that her potential wasn’t realised by those in charge of the show.

    Thanks, Bene. I hear good things about “Remembrance of the Daleks”. I haven’t seen a lot of Leela I’m afraid.

    Chally’s last blog post..Ace

  11. Chally
    Chally at |

    Oh hi Mimbles! Thanks. :)

  12. Ace « Zero at the Bone
    Ace « Zero at the Bone at |

    […] Doctor Who, excitement, fannish happy, pioneering Edit: this post has also been published at Hoyden About Town. Additionally, it has been linked at The TARDIS Gazette and, in a cross-post, The TARDIS Newsroom. […]

  13. QoT
    QoT at |

    Jo did admittedly have a hard time of it, being not-superhumanly-brilliant while paired up with the Third Doctor.

    I refuse to be worried by the fact that just from reading the transcript, I know *exactly* which scene the “Dangerous undercurrents?” line refers to. Mmmmm, delicious Curse of Fenric, BEST EPISODE EVER. (I love love love new Who, but seriously? World War II Enigma-machine-cracking/Soviets/vampires from the future/ocean-pollution-bad moral/time loops FOR THE WIN).

  14. Deus Ex Macintosh
    Deus Ex Macintosh at |

    I also rather like Leela, particularly for the end of Talons of Weng-Chiang (probably its only redeeming quality as omg the yellow-face and Orientalism burns).

    I liked the fact that Weng-Chiang turned out to be a genocidal maniac called “The Butcher of Brisbane”. I’m from Brisbane. (Simple pleasures etc…) The only other mention I can think of it getting was in Jaws when Richard Dreyfuss mispronounced it as Bris-bayne, as in bane of my existence. Leela was probably my fave companion too with blonde Romana a close second. For some reason I remember being incredibly irritated by Sarah Jane Smith as a child.

    Deus Ex Macintosh’s last blog post..Full benefit

  15. Beppie
    Beppie at | *

    DEM — Brisbane also got a mention in “Logopolis”. Tegan mentions it as her hometown.

  16. Chally
    Chally at |

    QoT, yeah, she did have a rough time, didn’t she? I guess all the companions have their own kind of challenges with their Doctors. Martha and her crush – or, more to the point with this post, Seven’s manipulation of Ace.

    Hi undercat, you must have just gotten through moderation because I didn’t see your reply before. See my reply at number 10. I was certainly not bashing Jo, I was pointing out that she was badly done by. Please note that I said ‘main job’, not ‘she was, as a character, really annoying all the time and I didn’t like her and Ace is so much better and feminist’. I have my issues with Jo, but they weren’t expressed here, only my issues with the writers. I know that there’s a lot of ‘my favourite is better than yours!’ in DW fandom, and that has probably influenced your response as well as LizBee’s. It’s pretty sad that female characters are treated that way, I know, but please consider that I personally was writing on a feminist site and was probably conscious of the gender dynamics at work when I wrote that.

    Chally’s last blog post..Welcome, new readers!

  17. amphibious
    amphibious at |

    Tegan was triffic in her ANA/TAA uniform at the start & end of her stint.
    The worst of all, surely, was the Canadian Peri – her only line was/seemed to be “I don’t understand!” in that screeching NA accent.

  18. SunlessNick
    SunlessNick at |

    I haven’t seen a lot of Leela I’m afraid.

    Leela was from a very primitive civilisation, so she was ten kinds of ignorant about a lot of things, but Louise Jameson (who played her) and most of the writers were determined that shouldn’t equate to stupid. Likewise, her respect for the Doctor was based on a critical judgment of his worth as a person; she wasn’t blindly devoted. And she was one of the only companions to learn anything of the TARDIS controls.

    Any companions has to be written on a fine line, because the Doctor is going to be smarter and more knowledgeable than them about almost everything – and they’re going to have to be asking a lot of questions for the viewers’ benefit – so it’s hard not to make them seem dumb. A bit like how in the original Sherlock Holmes stories, Dr Watson is an intelligent man, but in most adaptations he’s made stupid. (Insert obligatory squeeing for David Burke’s and Edward Hardwicke’s performances opposite Jeremy Brett’s Holmes).

    Watson is the one who’s intelligent enough to understand the level Holmes is operating on, and he understands Holmes’ way of working even if he hasn’t honed the skill to apply it himself. That’s what a companion has to be. Leela manages it IMO, and Ace does; Sarah Jane sometimes does. And I think Martha does in the new series.

    Frankly, if there’s anyone you need to cast a steely eye towards, it’s JNT, who explicitly stated he had Tegan written as an anti-feminist character.

    I didn’t know that, but it reminds me of RTD’s admission (well, admission is the wrong word, it was more like boasting) that he’d written Martha to be not as good as Rose.

  19. Beppie
    Beppie at | *

    I didn’t know that, but it reminds me of RTD’s admission (well, admission is the wrong word, it was more like boasting) that he’d written Martha to be not as good as Rose.

    That’s actually not true, however — if you read The Writer’s Tale you’ll learn that the The Daily Mail misquoted RTD’s words (see p. 352). He wrote Martha as someone who feels like she’s second best all the time, due to the Docotor being an idiot and constantly mooning over Rose, even though she was, in actual fact, just as good (which she comes to realise at the end of S3).

    Amphibious — while I certainly am not particularly fond of Peri either, let’s keep it focused on feminist criticisms, not the accent of the character, eh?

  20. SunlessNick
    SunlessNick at |

    I didn’t read it in the Mail; I saw him say it in an interview, though I suppose it could have been poor phrasing.

  21. professor pangaea
    professor pangaea at |

    Quick bit of pedantry: I’m fairly sure that the Doctor isn’t saying “Not anymore …yet,” at the end of that scene from The Curse of Fenric, but rather, “Not anymore — nyet!” as in the Russian word for “no”. There is a whole subplot in Fenric to do with Russians, which is probably why he uses that word. Just thought I’d mention that as it rather changes the way one would interpret that line.

  22. Beppie
    Beppie at | *

    Do you know if that interview is on YouTube, Nick? I’m still inclined to think that he’s talking about Martha’s opinion of herself for most of S3 (“I spent all this time thinking I was second best…”) — I know that Rusty is quite capable of being an arse, but Martha’s story arc is so much about feeling second best, and then overcoming that to realise that she is actually made of pure awesome and is way too good for the Doctor, really, that I want to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

    Professor Pangaea — that makes a lot of sense. I particularly liked the way that Ace interacted with that young Russian soldier (I forget his name) — swapping their pins, etc, and the way that he was clearly impressed with her political awareness.

  23. Chally
    Chally at |

    Thanks, professor pangaea.

    Does anyone have a favourite Ace moment they want to share?

  24. Beppie
    Beppie at | *

    Oooh, favourite Ace moments — so many!

    There’s a very powerful moment at the end of “Survival” when Ace recognises that she’s changing as a result of what’s happened with the Cheetah people, and she’s scared, but so strong at the same time. If only that hadn’t been the last episode before Old Who was cancelled!

    For a more humorous moment, I love the scene in “Battlefield” (don’t read further if you haven’t seen it and don’t want to be spoiled) when the Brig, the Doctor and Sir Ancelyn are all standing around arguing about who gets the “honour” of returning excalibur to Arthur’s grave, and Ace just ducks in beneath them and does it herself — I felt like that moment was about undercutting the valorisation of ideas like honour and chivalry, which, although they sound very nice, ultimately reinforce male privilege. In refusing to buy into that system, Ace asserts her own autonomy.

  25. Chally
    Chally at |

    My favourite is that bit from “Survival”, too.

  26. Bene
    Bene at |

    Quick side note–Peri is supposed to be American, not Canadian. The actress, Nicola Bryant, isn’t either; she, like Ford Prefect, is from Guildford…

    Anyway, I’d have to say besides the Dalek smashing and explodo in Remembrance, I really enjoy Ace’s development in Ghost Light. Those are the only two of her serials I’ve really seen, though.

  27. SunlessNick
    SunlessNick at |

    Do you know if that interview is on YouTube, Nick?

    No idea I’m afraid.

    Martha’s story arc is so much about feeling second best, and then overcoming that to realise that she is actually made of pure awesome

    Thinking back…

    It’s is possible that he was talking about how he was conceiving the Doctor’s opinion, rather than voicing his own – in the sense that he thought that the Doctor should think less of the next companion because of his relationship with Rose (as opposed to that he should be right).

    And it would mean that he wrote Martha successfully as awesome – as I’m in full agreement that she is – rather than unsuccessfully as less than.

    Can I ask, how far into the Sarah Jane Adventures have you seen yet?

  28. Beppie
    Beppie at |

    Nick, I’ve seen all of SJA — if you’d like to discuss SJA, then how about we move across to The Sarah Jane Adventures discussion from a few months ago, so as not to derail this thread about Ace further. :)

  29. Chally
    Chally at |

    Yes indeed. I was trying to be subtle with my “favourite moment” question; this post is meant to be about Ace.

    So, what do you all think about Ace’s use of Nitro-9 and the baseball bat, etc? To what extent are the writers conveying her agency (eg she can defend herself) and where does it cross the line into buying into patriarchal tools/signifiers of power and control?

    And has there ever been a person in this world who understands “Ghost Light”? Because it makes. no. sense.

  30. QoT
    QoT at |

    Chally – if there’s a person who understood “Ghost Light”, I have yet to meet them. I was admittedly quite young when I saw it (though I had it on video, so I watched it several times) but my chief memories are a) “going to Java” somehow means “getting chloroformed to death” and b) the butler is a Neanderthal, and that was significant, but damned if I could figure out why.

    On the Ace/explosives front, one of the things that always sticks with me is that she often (I specifically remember in the Curse of Fenric novelisation, the Soviet soldiers laugh at her for it) used women’s deodorant/air freshener canisters for her explosives.

  31. SunlessNick
    SunlessNick at |

    Nick, I’ve seen all of SJA

    I brought it up because of the remembrances of companions past; there’s a treat in S2 (I won’t say what, but if you’ve seen it already, you know).

    Regarding Ace, I wonder if the Dalek and baseball bat is the best example. The Daleks back then were pushovers compared to now, but the Cybermen were much tougher – and I seem to recall Ace taking out several of them with a bag of gold coins and a catapult.

  32. QoT
    QoT at |

    the Cybermen were much tougher – and I seem to recall Ace taking out several of them with a bag of gold coins and a catapult.

    Silver Nemesis. Also features the classic, “Ace. You remember how I told you to stop manufacturing nitro-9 in the TARDIS?”
    “Yes, Professor.”
    “You wouldn’t have dreamed of disobeying me, would you?”
    “Of course not, Professor. I’m a good girl, and I do what I’m told.”
    “Excellent. Blow that ship up.”

  33. SunlessNick
    SunlessNick at |

    “You wouldn’t have dreamed of disobeying me, would you?”
    “Of course not, Professor. I’m a good girl, and I do what I’m told.”
    “Excellent. Blow that ship up.”

    I didn’t remember that. Heh.

  34. Beppie
    Beppie at | *

    So, what do you all think about Ace’s use of Nitro-9 and the baseball bat, etc? To what extent are the writers conveying her agency (eg she can defend herself) and where does it cross the line into buying into patriarchal tools/signifiers of power and control?

    You know, I have to admit that some of the interviews you quoted in the body of this post bothered me in that they seemed to equate “tomboy” with “empowered woman”, as though we have to adopt a masculine identity to be a feminist role model. However, I don’t think that that is necessarily happening with Ace and the nitro-9 and the baseball bat, etc — for one thing, she’s constantly played off against the male figure of the Doctor who nonetheless abhorrs violence, and for another, that is not all there is to her character. It’s not like she renounces her identity as a woman at all, she’s someone who seems to care deeply about social issues (although her tendency to blow things up may not be the best way to deal with them!) and she’s quite complex in that her bravado is balanced out by her fear that she’s a failure. So there’s clearly much more to her than just adopting a couple of supposedly “masculine” traits and then suddenly becoming a complex character.

  35. Ariane
    Ariane at |

    “You wouldn’t have dreamed of disobeying me, would you?”
    “Of course not, Professor. I’m a good girl, and I do what I’m told.”
    “Excellent. Blow that ship up.”

    That was pretty much the first thing that came to mind when I read the title of the post. Thanks for reminding me of the specific details of the quote. :)

    Ariane’s last blog post..The summer’s almost over

  36. Chally
    Chally at |

    Argh, I had JUST finished writing a comment when my computer went funny, so excuse me if this redone comment is slightly rubbish.

    QoT, SunlessNick and Ariane, she’s quite resourceful, isn’t she?

    Yep, Beppie, some of those interviews bothered me, too. There’s a general recognition in them of something subversive about Ace, but there’s a slight missing of the point; it’s not subversive because Ace jumps across the binary, but because she doesn’t hold much stock in it. (Now what did that comment say?!) I don’t think that Ace’s use of what, pretty regularly in SF, is considered masculine methods means that she’s giving up her womanhood. I think that part of the reason she’s likable, and a major part of what leads to feminist identification with her, is that she goes beyond that tired idea of ‘boys do this, girls do that, and if someone jumps over the line occasionally, they’ll quickly return to their gender roles’. Ace went her own way. With regard to violence, (urgh I had something good here) she doesn’t seem to buy into any clear-cut gendered expectations. And this subversion is more explicit using QoT’s example of the deodorant/air freshener, which pokes fun at gender (although I haven’t seen this particular episode). So while I’m personally uncomfortable with the blowing up and such, and while there are echoes of male power in SF, the dominant note is that Ace acts as consciously as she can, gender aside. It doesn’t require her to give up her womanhood (she seems conscious and proud of it) and it doesn’t require her to adopt certain elements of masculinity in order to be “empowered” (although I could name a few TV shows where that is the case). Also, like you said about the Doctor, their relationship allows both to back out of the rigidly gendered tradition governing much of DW. I like that the Ace approach is a lovely twist on the dominant narrative. Sorry if that made no sense, particularly the bit about the gendered nature of violence. I need to sleep now, but I couldn’t not reply to everyone’s interesting comments. :)

  37. links for 2009-02-26 « Embololalia
    links for 2009-02-26 « Embololalia at |

    […] Whoydensday: Ace (Guest Post from Chally) — Hoyden About Town Ace was a character for young girls and women to look up to. She didn’t take rubbish from anyone and she always tried to do what she thought was right, by her friends back home and by the people she met all over the universe. She was armed with her bomber jacket, her catchphrase of ‘wicked,’ her ponytail and her Nitro-9 explosives. (tags: feminism tv doctorwho) […]

  38. QoT
    QoT at |

    Thanks for reminding me of the specific details of the quote. :)

    No problem! I can neither confirm nor deny having owned Silver Nemesis, Battlefield and Curse of Fenric on video and utterly thrashing them to death as a youngster.

  39. SunlessNick
    SunlessNick at |

    Do you ever find yourself regretting that certain Doctor/Companion combinations couldn’t come to pass? Life Five and Martha – or, more relevantly, Nine and Ace.

  40. Chally
    Chally at |

    Oh, sorry, not that there’s anything wrong with jumping across the gender binary. Glad I put a tiredness disclaimer in that one.

    Oh, Nick! Nine and Ace: such a good idea!

  41. Whoydensday: Old-Skool Feminism — Hoyden About Town

    […] feminist moments in this episode to list, but my favourite (which I also mentioned in a response to Chally’s Whoydensday Ace post) is when the Seventh Doctor, the Brig, and Sir Ancelyn are arguing about who deserves the honour of […]

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