Six Smart Women Discussing Doctor Who

VerityEpisode34-300Our examination of the villains continues, as we look at baddies that have become friends–or at least allies. Join Deb, Erika, Lynne, and Tansy as we discover that there are several subcategories here. Some enemies become friends. Some become allies-of-convenience. Some swing back and forth throughout their contact with the Doctor. It’s an interesting and far-reaching conversation. Hope you enjoy!

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Comments on: "Verity! Episode 34 – Frenemies" (28)

  1. Great discussion! (And you all should copyright “Handwavium” if you haven’t already!) I wish I were enough of a veteran fan to contribute some really substantial example to your discussion, but you covered all the ones I know about, and put me on to the trail of some past stories to check out.

  2. The First Sontarans from Big Finish was absolutely amazing! It’s one of several scripts developed for the television series by not filmed during Colin Baker’s tenure.

    I think the enemies-to-friends trope can be found in all forms of literature, in some form or other.

    One of those examples from Doctor Who I don’t think you discussed is the Ood. We were initially led to believe they were to be feared in Planet of the Ood. In the classic series, this would likely have been a four-part story and we would not have known the Ood were good guys until after the first, or possibly the second, cliff hanger ending. This is more “the misunderstood” trope than the “frenimies” trope, but they overlap, to be sure. After all: where does villainy end and contrary motivation begin?

    I’m more with Erika on the comedy Sontarans, I think. I really, really love Strax, but I didn’t laugh, and made a sour face when those two Sontarans briefly appeared in Time of the Doctor. I definitely do not think a single kind or comic example of an otherwise villainous race of aliens spoils their ability to be scary. But I am concerned that we lose one of the few warrior villains with a fully developed sense of honor as a noble villain if they are always portrayed as imbeciles and fools. The message almost becomes “code of honor = clown”. Clearly some can be idiots, and that can be fun, but when all is said and done, they are an long-standing interstellar race with time travel capability—they’re not entirely dim (to paraphrase a line from Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits). On the other hand, I have to admit that Tansy nailed it with the “I mean, come on” that spoke volumes.

    As always, thanks for an amusing and thought-provoking hour (and some)!

    Oh, and I think I already offered my congratulations to Liz with the twitters, but I’ll do it again: I am so pleased to know that I can listen to Colin Baker speak words you wrote. If any of us get to ride the TARDIS, let’s vow not to tell the sixteen-year-old Miss Myles in order to prevent her exploding with glee and therefore creating a time paradox that might prevent us from ever actually hearing Breaking Bubbles. I’m equally excited to heard Nev Fountain’s story, given how well he knows one of the actors in the piece.

    • We totally missed the Ood which is ridiculous because I mentioned Ood cupcakes, therefore we should have remembered! I think the idea of the ‘Doctor Who monster’ is iconic, and pushing against that idea to challenge whether the monster is actually ‘monstrous’ after all happened as early as The Rescue, with Barbara shooting Vicki’s pet, and the creepy aliens being revealed as kind victims. Ditto Galaxy 4, with its reveal about how beauty does not necessarily equal good, and more importantly looking weird doesn’t mean bad.

      The Ood was a lovely call back I felt to things like the challenge to the Doctor’s biases with the Ice Warriors in the Pertwee Peladon stories. It’s brilliant when the Doctor can look at something scary or ugly and see how beautiful it is (Tennant did a bit of this I feel) but I also quite like that he himself gets caught out sometimes, looking at the surface of things. The Ood worked so well because they look utterly villainous and strange, but have layers to them. I wish we’d seen more development with them after the RTD era, though I adored the ‘Ood on the loo’ from Pond life. They slipped back into being a straight villain in The Doctor’s Wife, though – surprisingly easy to accept them in that role again.

      • “They slipped back into being a straight villain in The Doctor’s Wife…” – Well, Nephew is really an exception rather than the rule, isn’t he? One of House’s Patchwork people. Perhaps the analogy is “Nephew:Most Ood::Strax:Most Sontarans.” :)

      • AntonB said:

        The Ood were intended as a call-back to the classic series aliens who were, in fact, the first example in Doctor Who of ‘frenemies’ – the Sensorites. The Doctor actually identifies the Ood home world Ood-Sphere as being in the same system as Sense-Sphere (the Sensorites planet). The Sensorites were a gentle race (sharing with the Ood a kind of external telepathic communication device on an extended cord) whose appearance was initially read as hostile. (primarily due to their waging a psychological war on the occupants of the Earth-ship the TARDIS crew found themselves on and their habit of looming up outside portholes).

        IMHO The Sensorites is one of the best early Hartnell stories and is well overdue for a re-evaluation. It contains a number of firsts. The first time the TARDIS lands on a ship in flight, the first time the Doctor’s grandaughter Susan displays telepathic abilities (completely accepted as normal by the Doctor), the first time we see a non-human alien race depicted as having individual characters and of course, to bring us back on topic, the first time an initial hostility turns to friendship. It also cements the Doctor’s character as being one who can negotiate between human and alien, being himself simultaneously and mysteriously both human and alien and in some way neither. (This of course is many years off from any hint at the Doctor’s origins or any mention of Gallifrey or Time Lords).

        So here’s a topic for future discussion. Times when our initial reading of a character or alien race or situation is deliberately misdirected and we have to re-evaluate our misconceptions. You could call it – ‘Everything We Know Is Wrong!’

  3. This reminded me: if you’re still considering future “Defend This” style minis, I’d love to hear y’all try and defend Kamelion. Less a villain-turned-friend transition and more a curveball-turned-burden arc.

  4. Henrik said:

    The Doctor is totally already interested in River Song before he finds out that she’s out to kill him. It starts out with him being suspicious and wary around her, which is part of the tragedy for River because that’s only well after she’s already completely come around to his side, and after a few adventures he’s very much along for the ride and appears to be quite excited to meet up with her. He figures it out in ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ but he appears to have taken a liking to her by ‘The Impossible Astronaut’/’Day Of The Moon’, and not just in the bits where it’s *spoilers* a future Doctor, if not already by ‘The Big Bang’.
    Of course before he finds out who she is, and in River’s own words “everything changes”, there’s not that much to work on. They’re both enjoying their time together. After that the stakes become pretty serious. He has to win her over to save both their lives. And I don’t get the impression he’s doing it just for some selfish machiavellian reasons but because he really does care for her. If it was just part of a plan to turn a psychopath or it was just a game to him I think he’d act different in ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ and he wouldn’t get quite so emotional with her and he probably wouldn’t have bothered with his final checks before exiting the TARDIS since they’d already been married for some time then and her killing instincts seemed to have come under control.

    But I don’t think she’s even supposed to be an enemy that’s now good. Not really. Sure, she is technically but that’s not really her story. She’s a villain that turns into arguably the Doctor’s closest ally but her story is the journey between those two points and not a villain like the Ice Warriors or the Silurians or even the Master who then changes after having been a villain in a few stories to being an ally in a few stories just to change things up and explore some new ground with returning “monsters”.
    The focus is their ultimately (unless something changes and I don’t think Moffat would do that to future show runners) tragic relationship, a relationship between two good people who go through some troubles with one trying to murder the other, a weird age difference and the whole meeting in a jumbled order. I think that’s fundamentally different from a story of a villain slowly becoming an ally, even if it’s a weak villain like Turlough, which really can’t be considered a tragedy since it ends reasonably well.

    As for declawing villains by showing others of their species to be less than evil, or sometimes even the very same characters to have motivations beyond simply defeating the Doctor because he happens to be the protagonist, to be a ludicrous idea. The Doctor’s adversaries are declawed when they’re shown to be completely ineffectual on a consistent basis not by showing that there are other Silurians who have a family life and don’t really mind humans or that there are times that evil time lords have goals and plans that line up with the Doctor’s (just as there are otherwise good time lords who sometimes would actively work against the Doctor).
    There can be Silents that are no more evil than our contemporary catholic church as well as Silents that are out to kill the Doctor even if they end up taking the universe with him. Doctor Who’s universe shouldn’t be one in which all Germans, or indeed all humans, are by definition evil because of Nazi Germany in the 1930′s and 40′s. That nuance doesn’t make the monsters less dangerous. It doesn’t make human nazis less evil, it doesn’t make regular non Kovarian Silents any less ambiguous and it doesn’t make the Paternoster Gang less good. What it does is make the monsters more horrible and tragic because they could be good and our heroes that much more good because they could have chosen a less honourable path.
    They can all come off as completely harmless either way but that’s done by treating them much like Cybermen have been treated over the years. Since the Troughton era they’ve been scary pretty much once and that was for 10 minutes in ‘The Pandorica Opens’. One can also make them consistently scary like I would say they’ve managed to a surprising degree with the Weeping Angels even though they’ve returned several times and in vastly different sorts of stories.

    There. That’s quite longwinded enough.

    • I completely agree that making one member of a villainous race a goofball doesn’t mean that all that race are clowns. What I fear is that it means it’s less likely *in the real world* that the showrunner/writers will use that race as a primary villain in the future, because the audience is now primed to see that enemy as a boob.

      And I think that is a very realistic fear. I was a bit wishy-washy about it until The Time of the Doctor, when I think it was pretty well borne out. As I said in the podcast, I was sorely disappointed to see two Sontarans (that were not Strax) acting as comic relief.

      Is it still possible to have truly villanious Sontarans? Yes, absolutely.

      Are they less likely because of the comic role they’ve been fulfilling lately? I say yes to that too.

      *That’s* why I’m not a fan of this trend. In the fictional world of the Doctor, there are probably terrifying Sontarans running rampant in all corners of the galaxy. But I live in the real world, so I fear I won’t get to see that. Boo-urns.

      (Note that I’d love it if I’m wrong and we do get a kickass Sontaran ep in the next couple series, but I’m not going to hold my breath.)

      • Henrik said:

        It’s possible that Strax and other, sometimes outright bumbling, Sontarans might, in the mid to long term, help make Sontarans more badass. They were never really all that impressive even in the old days. When they show up as the main villains in ‘Invasion of Time’ it’s quite a shock not just because an alien race has managed to invade Gallifrey but because that alien race was the Sontarans. At least that’s how it affected me. They’re short, terse and can be defeated by a bonk to the neck. Their most famous military achievement aside from a temporary and terribly mishandled invasion of Gallifrey is a several millennia long stalemate with the Rutans.

        They’re kind of inherently funny aren’t they? So what if we take it to its natural conclusion and have one or a few of them as practically comic relief for a while?

        Great! I say. That will not only get the giggles out of our systems but it will certainly set us up to choke on our laughter when they show up and completely ravage a world as part of their wars and we just couldn’t see it coming.

        I think it’s more likely that a show runner will take the opportunity to make the Sontarans a really serious threat in the future now that the audience has its guard down than before when people, rather than expecting comedy, just expected them to be third tier replacement Daleks.

        And if no one jumps on the chance to shock us with really butt kicking Sontarans that’s fine too. We won’t really have lost anything, just gained a humorous alien warrior race.

        Frankly, I’d rather see the writers invent some new interesting and truly menacing enemies than keep bringing back old ones whether or not they were all that good to begin with just because they happen to have some modicum of brand recognition.

      • My eldest daughter used to have a horror of Sontarans to the point that she would scream at the sight of a picture, but all it took was one Strax episode for her to be okay with watching even the episodes where they’re nasty. Maybe it does make them less scary to show how one example of the race can be a person, but I actually think that teaching you not to be scared of the ‘monstrous’ or ugly or different is one of those awesome things Doctor Who should be doing.

        Piling on the scares to an increasingly jaded audience is what other shows do. Doctor Who is rare in that it has the confidence as a show to take the scares away and look what else there is.

        (I do agree that it would be better if all non-Strax Sontarans were scary to make him more of an anomaly, but I was still amused by the goofy moment in the Christmas special. At least they were still being straight men!)

      • First thing this particular discussion brings to mind is the Big Finish audio Heroes of Sontar, which has all kinds of Sonatarans–both the incompetent ones and the totally serious ones–and it all makes absolutely perfect sense in context. There are reasons for things! Yay good story telling! I love it when you have multiple instances of an enemy alien race, and they actually come across as different individuals. I came out of this audio still respecting Sontarans as a warlike race despite their rather inept representation at times, and all this when I actually don’t tend to love their appearances in general. This one’s now my favorite Sontaran encounter. Also the fifth doctor at his talking-your-way-out-of-danger best.

  5. The 2.5th Doctor said:

    Such a fantastic episode. Keep up the great work!

  6. Thanks for another lovely episode!

    I think it would be good to have another Sontaran story just to remind viewers that Strax is the exception. Perhaps he could be turned back to “the dark side” temporarily? That might make for some interesting drama.

    On those lines, I’d like to see another companion in the Turlough mould – someone who is up to something a bit shady or downright evil in the Tardis. I think it would make a refreshing change to see a companion go off the rails, become a baddie and NOT be redeemed. Sort of like Adam, but with the arc played out over a whole series rather than just a couple of episodes.

    Bringing back the Rani and making her a reluctant companion could work really well, I think. There would be a lot of tension and mistrust between her and the Doctor, and I do like a bit of friction between the leads – I’m one of those people who actually likes a bit of bickering of the Colin Baker/Nicola Bryant sort! It can get a bit wearing if there’s too much of it, but it’s a bit boring if the Doctor and his companions always get along swimmingly.

    • I think the bickering works fine when it’s equal – both parties have to be giving it & taking it in fairly equal measures. Part of the reason that the 6 and Peri vibe is often weird is in stories where he says appalling things to her and she just looks sad or stares at the ground because no one GAVE HER ANY LINES. In others, she teases him right back, and is visibly unoffended by his grumpiness, and it’s kind of magic to watch.

      Ditto the 5th Doctor era – I love Tegan and Turlough because they sass each other equally. Before that, there was a lot of unbalanced arguing, especially as she was a loud character and the Fifth Doctor quiet.

      (Tegan and the Fourth Doctor was lovely, I would have liked to see much more of those two personalities together)

      The Tenth Doctor and Donna is a perfect example of how bickering can be lovely if scripted and performed very well. (needs both aspects to be on the button) I also think Rose and Martha did this very well – bringing the snark up against the Doctor’s high and mightiness. It’s a more important aspect than ever before because I think modern audiences have much less tolerance for the full-of-himself male lead character.

      • Yes, I want bickering where neither party is really putting the other down, it’s more like a game of snark chess where each player is evenly matched. If it’s not equal then it’s bullying, and I have no time for that.

  7. James C said:

    One character that falls into the frenemy class could be the Doctor himself! I think you touched on it with mention of the sixth, but for my money it is the first Doctor who is most clearly in this category. Indeed, definitively in the foundation conceit of the entire series: cranky old bugger kidnaps two humans and does not trust them until confronted by their inherent decency and an emerging understanding of himself as a result.

    Perhaps ‘Doctor as villain’ needs to be an episode on its own!

    • No kidding! In the first three stories alone, he (1) goes to crush a caveman’s skull; (2) sabotages the fluid link to trick everyone into going to the Dalek city; and (3) threatens to put Barbara and Ian off the Ship, and then barely apologizes for it later. Good call, James!

    • Cough, ‘Doctor as villain’ may well already be on the list (and not just cos of 1 and 6). Very good point, though!

  8. This is not connected to anything in the most recent episode, but it is my own happy thing in Doctor Who this week: Big Finish announced that the new Charley Pollard adventures will begin in May, pre-orders start now! My favorite companion with her own series of solo adventures (just as I finish listening to the Sarah Jane Smith audios from Big Finish).

    • HOORAY! I had seriously resorted to making these up in my head and I was perhaps only months away from devoting too much time to writing Charley Pollard fanfic instead of my own novels. So glad they are finally about to be here.

  9. The comedy Sontarans don’t bother me terribly, because one day they’ll kick the crap out of a planet and we’ll be completely shocked, having gotten so used to the bumbling version of them. In general, I like seeing aliens that aren’t *entirely* bad, because that makes it a bit more complex to me, and it gets the feelings all jumbled up. “Do I like them? Do I hate them? Oh no, they have feelings too!” If that were the case with every single baddie, I’d get sick of it. I think it works *because* of the contrast with bad guys that are almost entirely bad.

    Tansy, I’m so envious of your lovely Doctor Who party! My kids would love one, but also have no friends who are fans. Many of MY friends are, but none of those with kids.

    Congrats again to Liz…I’m looking forward to Breaking Bubbles!

    P.S. Any chance of one or more Verities making an appearance at CONsole Room in Minneapolis this May?? :D

    • Much as I’d love to be at CONsole Room this year, I’m not going to make it. I did pledge to the organizers that I’d attend if I was still in the States at the time, but I’ll be moving to Edmonton at the end of February, and it’s simply too expensive to come back so soon. I hope you have a fabulous time! I’ll definitely be there in spirit!

  10. Mandy said:

    Could you really sustain an antagonistic companion-Doctor relationship for more than one episode? With the pace that New Who moves, would it not become Turlough-esque after about thirty minutes? (Unless you applied large quantities of narrativium and handwavium, perhaps.)

    A grumpy old sod of a Doctor who rubs his companions up the wrong way, I’d like to see that. Though I’m not sure that a general audience would; the modern Doctor has been set up in a completely different mode and I don’t think Capaldi will be anything more than superficially different.

    (But I hope that he and The Moff will prove me wrong on that.)

    Oh, and Kate Winslet as the Rani…please *no*! Dearly as I love Kate O’Mara and her vamping*, I’d like to see the Rani return as a much harder, less campy villain. I know most people peg Tilda Swindon as the Doctor but I’d like to see her play a really cold, utterly ruthless version of the character.

    * I saw O’Mara on stage years ago in an obscure Coward play and the auditorium was awash with vamp. She was amazing; a wonderful actress, impossible to look away from and served as producer and (I think) director for that production too.

    • Mandy said:

      Just received a friendly nudge that I completed ballsed the sentence about Tilda SwinTon :-) so let me try again: I know most people peg Tilda _Swinton_ as the Doctor but I’d like to see her play a really cold, utterly ruthless version of _the Rani_.

      Some days you should just stay in bed…

      • I love Tilda’s commitment to playing women who are not sexualised or traditionally feminine (well, Hollywood feminine which doesn’t have a lot to do with real life femininity) and I agree she would make a killer Rani.

        The only reason I’m so hesitant for the Rani to return to the show is that her obvious lack of romantic or sexual interest in the Doctor is SO likely to be the first thing to go, and my research into female Doctor Who villains kind of shocked me when I realised how few of them (especially in New Who) were motivated by anything other than romance or motherhood.

        Yay for female mad scientists performing amoral experiments on humans!

      • Mandy said:

        That would be my fear too; that she’d be running her experiments to save her child [son] and would repent at leisure thereafter. Blah! I want Tilda in a silver lab coat, surrounded by scary science-y stuff and running hideous experiments for the hell of it.

        She could form The League Of Amoral Female Scientists (LAFS)… but who else could she ask to join her?

  11. I was thinking about this episode for a few days and what I’d like to see is a companion turned villain. I thought they would do this for River Song (and they did from the Doctor, Amy, and Rory’s point of view) but was disappointed when they introduced it and solved it in one episode. I would have thought it would have made an interesting dynamic for the villain trying to kill the Doctor but the Doctor caring about the villain enough that he has to not destroy them. (I wonder if Kazaran Sardick could be considered this?) I was thinking we could have a companion who joins the TARDIS but eventually turns his/her back on the Doctor after seeing some of the devastation the Doctor can cause similar to Joan in Family of Blood. If the Doctor and more importantly the audience like the companion even when the companion is at odds with the Doctor, we could go in new directions with the show. I’m not sure that idea makes sense but it is what my strange little mind came up with after listening to the latest episode of Verity. :)

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