Mary Sues & Doctor Who

I posted an open Whoverse thread over at LP, for those who like such things, in which I mentioned the upcoming Season 4 character of Jenny, and whether she is indeed the biggest Mary Sue ever. I’m not sure though how many of the LP crowd fully appreciate the horror of Mary Sues, however, but I know some Hoydenizens know all about it. I haven’t actually seen the episode yet, but I’ve seen the teaser trailers, so I know a little bit, and I don’t mind learning a bit more so long as no-one tells me too much about how particular crises are resolved. So, just a little bit of Spoiler sensitivity for Season 4, please.

Jenny

Who are the most notorious Mary Sue characters in mainstream entertainment that have caught people’s eye? And what do we all think about Steven Moffat taking over the series helm from Russell Davies? [more] Who else really enjoys Catherine Tate as the Doctor’s companion? And how oh how will we get through 2009 with only 4 specials to keep us warm?



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36 replies

  1. Having seen the episode, I don’t think that Jenny is too much of a Mary-Sue, but I think that she, like all of the characters in the episode, suffered from a lack of development. Without giving away any spoilers, all I can really say is that I felt like the episode should have been a two-parter– they had to shrink a lot of plot and character development into 45 minutes, to the detriment of both. I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to be the weakest episode of the Season, but, having said that, if this is the weakest episode, then it bodes well for the Season as a whole, because it was still enjoyable.
    As for Stephen Moffatt– I was very excited when I heard (the man created Captain Jack, after all), until I found out about some rather MRA-like comments that he made a few years ago, concerning the plight of white middle class men who are apparently forced to live in a state of constant apology. Oh, and he thinks that women are inherently clingy and just want to get married. I have grave concerns about what this will mean for female companions.
    Mind you Russell T Davies isn’t perfect either in terms of his attitude towards women, but at least I know he’s given us three wonderful female companions so far. And there are certain spoilers/rumours circulating about the upcoming Moffatt two-parter that have me worried, but I can’t really talk about those. 🙂
    And as you already know, of course, I am currently Donna’s biggest fangirl. I’ve also been watching some Old Who lately, and I have to say that Sarah Jane is also making me squee.

  2. Can you please enlighten me – who was Mary Sue?

  3. Oh, I left a link on the LP post, I didn’t think I needed to amongst the geeks around here! [link]
    Beppie, interesting link. I left a comment there:

    I thought Moffat did at least write a strong female character for Gina Bellman as the wife in Jekyll. She’s suddenly thrust into a very dangerous situation which she’d been deliberately kept ignorant of and keeps her cool thoughout. She wanted her husband, and watns to save him, but she wasn’t needy.
    The supporting female characters playing the private investigators were strong too, and to this het’s eye a convincing & sympathetic lesbian couple.
    The ending could have been better, but the thing about Jekyll was that I wanted to know more about the characters, even when the story went a little off the rails.
    Also, the article’s from 2004. Perhaps some more enlightened souls have shown him the error of his ways since then. Particularly about how little girls playing at being married is simply imitation of the adult gender roles they see in, amongst other places, TV shows, rather than being a deep expression of a need to be partnered.

    Also, considering that he is a sitcom writer as well, perhaps he was not being totally serious?

  4. “Mary Sue” (or the masculine “Gary Stu”) is a term that’s come out of fan fiction communities, and refers to the author creating an avatar for herself in the form of a character who forms some sort of close relationship (often, but not always, a romance) with the main character/s– a sort of wish fulfilment.
    These days, however, it’s often used to describe any authorial avatar that seems to intrude on the narrative, whether in fan fiction or in the “canonical” source work.

  5. I haven’t seen the episode with Jenny yet, since it won’t show here in the US for a couple of weeks. I was unsure about Catherine Tate as a companion, since she was portrayed as such a ditz on the Christmas episode. However, they’ve made her much less clueless and I’ve enjoyed seeing a companion who is my own age rather than a youngster. And Tate brings some real feeling to the role, without being gaga in love with the Doctor.
    Peggys last blog post..Pohl on Science Fiction and the Changing Future

  6. True, it is possible that he has changed his views since 2004– we can always hope! And I agree, from what I saw of Jekyll (couldn’t catch the whole thing, unfortunately), that Gina Bellman’s character was very well written.

  7. *Hangs head in shame and stands in the corner until forgiven and allowed back into the hallowed halls of geekdom*
    In my defence I have been actually working this afternoon and not able to peruse LP at my leisure, otherwise I would have seen the link. Now I am educated.

  8. Oh, you’re fine, Mindy. I bet you’d pick your ballistas from your trebuchets a lot quicker than I would!

  9. Why wait til it’s on air? All the latest series are on Youtube. Current series in on Saturday night UK time and some kind soul usually has it neatly chopped into 9 minute slices by monday aussie time. The best way to cut through the dross and find the episodes is to use the episode guide on bbc http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/s4/episodes/ to search the name of each ep.
    The new series is very pacey. Catherine Tate is adding a very sassy edge, not getting all gooey eyed about the doctor like some of her predecessors.

  10. From what ive heard of the Grand Moff
    his comments weren’t serious and his only real flaw is an interesting sense of humour that it takes time to adjust to
    a Swiftian parody of MRA/chauvinistic men in this case

  11. Watched the episode with trepidation and I have to say that yes, Jenny is a Mary Sue. That whole ep played like an intro to a spin-off series, was far too hurried, horribly maudlin and predictable. I loathed it.
    I have to say that Tate is pretty good as Donna (I’ve never liked the actress before DW, and really didn’t like her in the Yule ep), but does she have to cry in every episode? It can get tiring…
    Having seen the trailer for the next ep, we’re now dreading that one too. So far this season has been extremely uneven, a disappointment after the wonderful last series.
    Jouless last blog post..good time at Avon Valley Railway

  12. I love Catherine Tate and she is EPIC as a companion. Initially I disliked Donna (the Runaway Bride kinda sucked) but she is wonderful as the series progresses.
    Jenny was a pretty decent character but I was screaming at my computer when I realised it was going to be a single episode. I think she should have had at least two episodes, ideally more. As to her being a Mary Sue, that is explained during the episode. That episode could have been great if it was a double.
    I wouldn’t listen to what I have to say about Sci-Fi though, I’m the woman who screams “I don’t care if she’s a fraking cyclone, stand in solidarity with your sister!” and “Now that you’re back in 50 CE it might be a good time to bring down the patriarchy and break down the gender binary.”

  13. As a long-time Dr Who fan, I’ve watched the role of the female companion broaden over the years. The Doctor’s companions have always been the “Everyman” type, the ones who can ask the questions the audience wants answered (like “how come I can understand what they’re saying?” or “Okay, where are we *now*?”) in the series, allowing the writers to get in some much-needed exposition.
    Outside that, they’ve tended to be an interesting sociological reflection of the way women were regarded by the writers of the time.

  14. they’ve tended to be an interesting sociological reflection of the way women were regarded by the writers of the time.

    Very true. A good anthropology of gender course is hiding in there somewhere.

  15. Maybe it could start with examining why we call the archetype “Everyman”.

  16. Good catch.
    Of course, some of the Doctor’s companions have been men.

  17. One thing I find interesting about some of the female companions from the 70s/80s is how much more explicitly feminist they are than today’s companions (except perhaps for Donna)– Sarah Jane and Tegan, for instance, are both very vocal about people who take condescending attitudes towards them based on gender.
    At the same time, however, I don’t think they could get away with Romana regenerating for cosmetic purposes these days.

  18. I don’t think they could get away with Romana regenerating for cosmetic purposes these days

    No way – is that what it was? I’d either forgotten that or never saw the regeneration episode. (I suspect the latter) Love Lalla Ward anyway.
    Romana and Nyssa were both mostly exceptions to the female companions being “Everyman” asking questions requiring narrative exposition, but of course Nyssa had Tegan (and Adric) to do that, and Romana had a sort of apprentice thing going on which served some of the same expository function.
    (BTW, I recommend avoiding googling /Tegan Nyssa/ in an attempt to find an information page – the slash is overwhelming.)

  19. Well you can’t really blame the actress for a poor scripting decision, and from the little I’ve seen of Lalla Ward she does acquit herself very well. I haven’t actually seen the episode in which Romana regenerates myself– but I’ve heard plenty about it. And I really love Mary Tamm’s Romana too– she could really tell the Doctor where to go when she needed to. 🙂
    And you know that now I just have to run that google search– it’s like telling a small child not to enter a room. 😛

  20. It’s rather delicious that Mr Lalla Ward (aka Richard Dawkins) is rumoured to be doing a guest spot in Season 4.
    I don’t remember that much about Mary Tamm – I expect she coincided with my comp squash night at the time of original Australian broadcast.

  21. BTW, is Lalla Ward related to Rachel Ward? Lalla is a Hon, and Rachel’s Dad was a Hon, but are they part of the same extended noble family?

  22. Sarah Sutton was much better suited to the pants version than the “fairy princess” outfit which made her look like a chocolate meringue
    by the way if you look at a lot of 1980s DWCA stuff you see “Tegan the Wanker” used a lot – apparently she wasnt well liked in Australia at the time of original broadcast

  23. Her accent was very broad, presumably a producer/director decision, and given the power of the cultural cringe at the time that alone would have rubbed many Aussies the wrong way.

  24. Yeah, Tegan’s accent really annoys my boyfriend, but I don’t mind it– I grew up in the country, so I spoke like that as a kid. 🙂
    By the way, I think the correct term to use for the companions is “audience identification figure”– very non-gendered. It’s actually interesting to look at the way that Russell T. Davies has approached the gender issue regarding companions. He’s very careful to keep the male companions in “third place”– they never stick around for more than four or five episodes in a row, and apparently the reason that they didn’t keep Jack on as a companion was because RTD felt that as a male, he would overshadow Tennant’s new Doctor after the regeneration. I guess there are two ways of looking at this. On one hand, the assumption that male characters will always overshadow whereas female characters would not annoys me. On the other hand, however, I can see that perhaps Davies wanted to ensure that the female compaions themselves are not overshadowed, given that cultural assumptions about masculine dominance will inevitably play a role in how the audience responds to the show.
    On a slightly related note, how many episodes of new Doctor Who that pass the Bechdel test (two women, talking to each other, about something other than a man)? From what I can recall, most of the time when two female compaions meet (Rose and Sarah Jane in School Reunion and Martha and Donna in some more recent episodes), when they talk to each other, they’re usually talking about the Doctor– if they’re talking about something else, there always seems to be a man involved in the conversation. I think Rose and Gwenyth had some non-man related conversations in Army of Ghosts, as do Martha and Chan-tho in Utopia, and there are some conversations between the female companions and their mothers in every series so far… Anything else?

  25. Er, the conversation between Rose and Gwenyth takes place in The Unquiet Dead, NOT Army of Ghosts.

  26. On one hand, the assumption that male characters will always overshadow whereas female characters would not annoys me.

    To be fair, that simply could have been a specific assumption about John Barrowman’s personal charisma (I could be enthralled by watching him floss, let’s face it) rather than a general assumption about male/female companion balance.

  27. Belatedly responding to Peggy and hellonhairylegs from upthread:

    I’ve enjoyed seeing a companion who is my own age rather than a youngster. And Tate brings some real feeling to the role, without being gaga in love with the Doctor.

    Big HellYeah to both points. Good on RTD for extending the representation of middle-aged women for the sake of all us aging hoydens, and also for the extending of the imagination of the fanboyz who might just glimpse the possibility that a woman who is not quite so perky can still be an Interesting Person.

    I wouldn’t listen to what I have to say about Sci-Fi though, I’m the woman who screams “I don’t care if she’s a fraking cyclone, stand in solidarity with your sister!” and “Now that you’re back in 50 CE it might be a good time to bring down the patriarchy and break down the gender binary.”

    I absolutely adore the mental image of you doing this!

  28. I see your point, Tigtog. 🙂 It’s just that whenever I’ve heard that decision referred to, it’s always couched in gender terms. Nonetheless, the more I think about it, the more I lean towards my second interpretation– that they are taking care to ensure that strong female charcters get their share of the limelight.
    I have to say that even as a younger woman, closer in age to Martha than anyone else, I find it incredibly empowering to see older women like Catherine Tate in these roles. There are so many societal messages saying that your 20s are your peak as a woman, it’s nice to have some affirmation that yes, I am still going to be bloody brilliant in my 40s and my 60s (don’t forget that Elisabeth Sladen is 60 now, and still going strong in the Sarah Jane Adventures– I haven’t seen this show yet, but I’ve heard lots of good things about it).

  29. stand in solidarity with your sister!
    What, even if she’s a nasty horrible person?
    🙂

  30. I see your point, Tigtog. 🙂 It’s just that whenever I’ve heard that decision referred to, it’s always couched in gender terms.

    Hypothetical: in attempting to be individually diplomatic to other actors about the near-inevitability of them being overshadowed by Barrowman’s TING! quality, the RTD team have inadvertently retreated to a problematic gender perspective. Privilege in action.
    * * *
    WTF is a TING! factor, I hear you cry. Here it is:

  31. Unknown Trooper– I agree, I’m not trying to argue that those limits are non-existant. I’d also say that the fact that Lis Sladen looks younger than 60 also plays a significant role– it’d be nice if she was allowed to have grey/greying hair, for instance.
    At the same time, however, she doesn’t appear to be too much younger– she’s still clearly middle-aged, and for all of that, how many women in their late 50s/early 60s are cast in roles that are all about fighting aliens?
    I’m not saying that the battle is won because Sarah Jane is 60– I’m just saying that it’s a step in the right direction, and I find it personally empowering even as a younger woman. 🙂
    (Though I will note that I also have lots of very awesome older women as role models in my personal life– it’s just nice to see that reflected on telly, even if examples are few and far between).

  32. It is a bit different in the UK, UT. The Queen Mother was a hugely popular figure, and the public was well aware that she liked her gin and had a spiteful streak, but they loved her anyway.
    The Queen and the Queen Mother, as well as positive bevies of elderly thespian Dames of the British Empire, all swanning about as feted, respected and demonstrably competent public figures, does make a big difference to the general perception of older women in the UK. They’re not assumed to be repulsively scary as an obvious truth in the way that the US media is portraying Clinton.

  33. P.S. I want Helen Mirren to be the guest companion on the next Xmas special.

  34. Tigtog– YES. Or Dame Judy.

  35. Just had an even more awesome idea – how amazing would it be if they could get Sigourney Weaver to guest star in an episode?

  36. There’s some speculation about Neil Gaiman doing some writing with Moffat in 2010. That would definitely be two interesting minds at work.

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