Saturday, July 07, 2007

Doctor Who, 2007: Eyeing Up the Talent in Space and Time

We realise, now, that no heterosexual male can watch any ensemble-cast television series without trying to figure out Which One He'd Have. This is a simple fact of modern life, and programme-makers have even come to welcome it: after all, it played a big part in the success of BBC1's Bleak House (or at least, its success among a part of the audience that wouldn't normally watch Charles Dickens), while most new comedy series aimed at eighteen-to-thirty-five-year-olds seem determined to actively encourage it. Though women may prefer the more socially-complex game of Shag / Marry / Kill, men still use a first-past-the-post-system, as part of the same impulse that compels them to make lists of their favourite things ever.

Though it may be very, very gay in so very many ways, the modern-day version of Doctor Who provides rich material for games of Which One Would You Have. A series which introduces a completely new supporting cast in every story, and which obeys all the currently-accepted rules of mixed-gender, mixed-demographic casting - you know, the kind of thing Patrick Moore hates so much - is guaranteed to present the audience with at least one actress of mating-age every week. Since there are thirteen episodes in every season, this suggests the possibility of a thirteen-month pin-up calendar, although it's unlikely that such a thing would be publishable even if BBC Worldwide could pass it off as "ironic". It raises all sorts of awkward questions about polymorphous sexuality, like whether Cassandra would be a better proposition in "human" or "lasagne" form, or whether it's all right to fancy a fourteen-year-old's body if she's possessed by a thousand-year-old alien intelligence.

But story-by-story, here are the front-runners for this year's Which One Would You Have list. My front-runners. Because as we've already established, only my opinions make sense. Readers should bear in mind, however, that here we're talking about characters as much as the actresses who play them.

1. "Smith and Jones". The presence of slinky-yet-muscular CPR addict Martha Jones provides us with a handy Plan B for this season: in the event of an episode which doesn't involve any impressive "local" talent, we can always fall back on the companion. (Those who played the Which One Would You Have game in 2006 may remember how crucial this was in the case of "The Idiot's Lantern", when Billie Piper's appearance as a regular saved us from having to make a really horrible decision.) So although it's tempting to pick Martha as our poster-girl for the all-important debut episode, it's best to leave her in reserve until the mid-season girl-drought. Besides, she spends most of "Smith and Jones" in a white doctor's coat. And whatever fantasies we may have about sexually-unbalanced nurses, the truth is that real-life medical gear isn't appealing at all, often due to the presence of hospital food, vomit, and / or disinfectant (depending on how long she's been on-shift). In fact, dress sense is the key here. Because this episode also gives us the debut of Martha's sexually-confused kid sister, Tish "Show Me An Old Cathedral And I'm Yours" Jones, whose short-skirt-and-boots ensemble suits her chunky-thighed physique rather better than the eveningwear she tries on later.

'By the way, did I mention that I'm helping to
change what it means to be human tomorrow?'

2. "The Shakespeare Code". Now, according to Russell T. Davies, this episode has a "sexy villainess". Unfortunately, Lilith is so devoid of charm, personality or dirtiness of any kind that she seems to come from the same range of historical blow-up dolls as Madame de Pompadour. Or, to put it another way… only a gay man would call this "sexy". (For some reason, gay writers have a habit of creating all-devouring female villains with no actual personality traits. Although for our purposes, even I'd have to admit that Christina Cole is a step up from Maureen Lipman.) Presented with this wall of slippery-smooth non-sex, we're forced to turn to the Elizabethan barmaid instead, and luckily she's used to people doing that. Though she fails in at least one of her barmaid duties by not qualifying as "buxom", she does at least acknowledge the existence of hormones: when offering a bedroom to the Doctor and his blackamoor paramour, she not only makes the obvious assumption but looks as if she'd be quite happy for Martha to invite her in for a Game of Flats. Which is technically an eighteenth-century name for it rather than an Elizabethan one, but I've wanted to use it for ages.

Yet amazingly, there's no Cornish accent.

3. "Gridlock". Sex with a cat-nun is, in many ways, an appealing prospect. After all, it's two transgressions in one. But Novice Haim is past her prime now (presumably she's still a Novice because the rest of her order was disbanded, and there's nobody left to promote her), and besides, there's the question of whether a human male could ever satisfy a hominid feline. Let's not forget, the genitals of a male cat are covered in tiny little spikes. These cause severe pain when the penis is removed from the female, triggering a hormonal reaction which puts her cat-eggs in "ready for sperm" mode. Now, at first, it might seem that a cat-woman would appreciate the lack of nob-hooks on a sexual partner. Yet if cats have evolved to seek this sadomasochistic kick, then sex with a smooth-cocked human would probably be something of a disappointment. So with this in mind, I'm going to go for the obvious and pick the female carjacker with the big sexy mouth instead.

'My boyfriend's given me this great new
mood-patch called "Swallow"…'

4 / 5. "Daleks in Manhattan" / "Evolution of the Daleks". My first impulse is to say "can I have the writer?". But if we're doing this properly, then… well, pick a showgirl, any showgirl. If we assume that we're only allowed to choose characters with speaking parts (because otherwise, we'd have to go through every crowd scene of "The Christmas Invasion" looking for attractive roof-leapers, and even I don't possess that degree of lechery), then we're stuck with either the principal blonde or one of the backup brunettes. None of these really stretch the limits of male sexuality, especially not when we're still wondering whether Novice Haim likes her men barbed or non-barbed, or asking ourselves whether gay men who go for "bears" might also go for Ardal O'Hanlan in tabby-face. Now, if the Daleks had turned some women into pigs… ohhhhh yeah. Udders a-plenty.

That difficult first date.

6. "The Lazarus Experiment". The paucity of female characters in this episode - actually, the paucity of characters of any kind, apart from the regulars and semi-regulars - means that our options are limited to the Jones clan, the woman from Coronation Street, or the party guest who makes the pointless comment about olives and then gets eaten. (Speaking-part actors get paid more than non-speaking extras, of course. So was it really necessary to stretch the budget by giving "Olive Woman" this single, clunking line of dialogue? Is it supposed to make her subsequent death seem more meaningful? Are we meant to feel sorry for her because we've heard her speak, or feel glad that someone so stupid has been bumped off by a monster, or…what?) In fact, this is the point at which we have to play our joker and pick Martha, because the Little Black Dress really does suit her a lot better than it suits her sister. This is the episode in which we get our best opportunity to eye up her pulsing, womanly biceps, and best of all, she looks very, very sweaty by the end of the story. Much of the appeal of the "traditional" horror movie comes from the boy-thrill of seeing a woman in a state of impossible exertion, and since "The Lazarus Experiment" is such a simplistic attempt at a forty-five-minute horror movie that even Heat magazine liked it, it's apt that both of the Jones girls should end up breathless in a loft.

'You name it, and I'll do mouth-to-mouth on it.'

7. "42". Well, clearly, I'm not going to pick Michelle Collins. I may be curious about the genitals of cat-people, but I'm not insane, for God's sake. This leaves us with two other doomed, sacrificial female crewmembers (and the author explicitly said that he was inspired by "The Impossible Planet" when writing the thing-that-passes-for-a-script, so obviously the female crewmembers are bound to be doomed and sacrificial). The woman in the medical section lacks appeal, but then, that's probably just because she's got the bad luck to be in an episode directed by Graeme Harper: no other director on Doctor Who takes the phrase "warts and all" so seriously, or spends so much time making sure that characters look as if their faces are turning septic, as fans of "Doomsday" will recall. This leaves us with the tomboy mechanic, who - like the Elizabethan barmaid - at least looks as if she knows that sex exists in this universe. The "appealingly sweaty" thing also comes into play again, though any character who works this close to the sun may cross the line between "appealingly" and "unhygienically". Still, Martha spends much of the episode trapped in a tiny escape pod with a man who doesn't look as if he changes his pants even when he's not in a crisis situation, and she never complains. Alternatively, we could give the forty-second century a miss and stay on Earth, with the svelte agent of Mr Saxon who'll forevermore be known to us as "Sinister Woman". This might seem promising if you go for the stern type, but she's also the kind of woman who'd be thinking about the Foreign Secretary all the way through the conjugal act. Comparing the end credits of "The Lazarus Experiment" and "42" also raises the question of whether Sinister Woman is related to Olive.

The Space Corps: supplying k. d. lang
fans to the galaxy since 2803.

8 / 9. "Human Nature" / "The Family of Blood". Y'see, here's my problem. If I even suggest that Mother of Mine is worth considering as a sex-symbol - and dear God, just using the words "Mother of Mine" in this context brings on a tidal-wave of Oedipal horror and memories of Little Jimmy Osmond - then many readers will be likely to react with a degree of nausea. Leaving aside the question of whether or not you go for women with big curves, the important thing to remember here is that Rebekah Staton is deliberately made up to look as dowdy and pallid as possible, first as a slavey with bad skin and then as a walking corpse. She doesn't actually look like that. She usually does "slightly glamorous fat birds" rather than "maternal zombie fat birds", and indeed, if she appeared here as she does in BBC3's Pulling - quite possibly the worst sitcom ever made in Britain, in which she provides the only high points - then she'd probably be my choice for the entire series. If you're going on a date with Mother of Mine (feasible, because Father of Mine looks like a bit of a swinger), then you might realistically expect her to put on some lippy rather than looking as if she's just been exhumed. And even if she goes mental with the dessert trolley, you know she's got several lifetimes' worth of experience in her glowing green boudoir. No? Well, bloody sod you then. You can have Jessica Hynes, like everybody else. Telling, though, that it's easier for me to justify "fancying a cat-nun" than "fancying a woman with a big arse"… you people are just sick.

For all you know, that's a look of unbridled
alien lust.

10. "Blink". It's going to be Sally Sparrow, obviously. In "The Lazarus Experiment" or "42", you could have made a case for someone like Kathy Nightingale (good God, they're even named after birds), but not here. Because this is exactly what Shakespeare had in mind when he coined the phrase "foregone conclusion".

'…and I came top of the Bleak House list,
as well.'

11. "Utopia". Ah, now we've got a decision to make. If we can only pick speaking-part characters, and we've already used our joker, then we have to choose a non-human. The question is, will it be the blue insect woman or the '80s-hair cannibal girl? As with the cat-people, there might at least be some scientific interest in mating with a female who's equipped with visible pheromone glands, assuming that you are supposed to mate with her rather than fertilising her eggs while she's out shopping. But as with Martha in "Smith and Jones", Chantho's white coat and laboratory environment make her seem rather antiseptic, and she probably smells like formic acid in the heat of passion. By contrast, cannibal girl really is the dirtiest woman we've seen in the series so far, and the only surprise is that she's not already Big With Futurechild. You just wouldn't ask her for oral, that's all.

'80s-hair cannibal girl: makes you think
of that magic trick where somebody puts
their finger in a guillotine.

12 / 13. "The Sound of Drums" / "The Last of the Time Lords". Notable for being the one story in which we have a reason to be jealous of the Master, and it's clearly not because we want to be as bland as John Simm. The figure of the wife-accomplice, not so much a Lady Macbeth as a woman who just gets mildly aroused by criminal activity, is common in cinema but rare in Doctor Who. Countess Scarlioni in "City of Death" may get a kick out of planning art-gallery raids with her husband (whom she clearly believes to be gay, rather than an alien monster with no understanding of breasts), but at least she doesn't look as if she might have an orgasm while watching the execution of six-hundred-million people. Lucy Saxon's streak of hormonal evil is leaps and bounds ahead of anything in "The Shakespeare Code", and yet her most adorable quality isn't her sadism. It is, as I've already argued, the way she tries to dance when the Paradox Machine kicks in. She also scores points as "Woman Most Likely to Wear Jodhpurs During Role-Play".

Vote Saxon… because there's nothing like
watching posh white girls trying to get funky.

As ever, thanks to for the screencaps, although they probably didn't know I was going to letch over them.