The Learned Fangirl The Learned Fangirl - a website about pop culture and the internet Fri, 14 Jul 2017 14:28:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 From Able to Disabled: Seeing Disability on FOX’s “Bones” Fri, 14 Jul 2017 14:28:16 +0000 by Jaime O. Mayer

It wasn’t until I was twenty-nine years old that I saw a character onscreen to whom I could relate. I saw a character’s grieving process eerily similar to my own experience when an able-bodied person becomes disabled. It’s not perfect, but a lot of it rang true. Midway through season 11 of Bones, Fox’s long- running forensic drama, Dr. Jack Hodgins is injured at a crime scene and ends up paralyzed from the waist down. I’ve been a fan of the show–warts and all–for a long time, but it wasn’t until this development in Hodgins’s character arc that I related to the show (any show) on a personal level.

At the end of 2012, my family was involved in a car accident that killed my parents and left myself, my husband, and my older sister with physically disabling injuries, and my younger brother with minor physical injuries but awful emotional ones. I broke most of my lower half starting at the ribs, including my pelvis and both femur heads. My husband had similar injuries to mine, though he added several in his upper half as well, including a traumatic brain injury. He lives with chronic nerve pain, walks with a visible limp, and uses a forearm crutch. My sister suffered broken bones as well, but her most significant injury is an incomplete C4 spinal cord injury and she is now a quadriplegic.

We went from being able-bodied, active 20-somethings to disabled in varying degrees. I was fortunate to have the largest margin for recovery and am now able to walk without a mobility aid. These days, non-medical people who meet me can’t tell that I’m disabled, but that wasn’t always the case. I was non-weight bearing for three months. Not “bed rest:” non-weight bearing. I did not physically leave my hospital bed for routine activities like eating or bathing or using the restroom because my lower half was too broken and fragile. My mobility progression was marked by wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, and a cane, with family and friends taking photos to celebrate each “graduation.”

So, how does this tie-in to Bones and Hodgins? TV and film–when they depict disability at all–usually jumps straight from the disabling accident to “let’s find a cure!” I’m looking at you Avatar and Dr. Strange. I get it. Becoming disabled sucks. I don’t think many able-bodied people who become disabled look back at that moment and think it was great. But I’m not saying that becoming disabled is awful and I’d rather be dead (Example: Me Before You).

But getting from Point A: Dealing with a life-changing injury, to Point B: Making peace with your new condition, is a journey and a spectrum with regard to how each person comes to terms with their disability. In Bones, when we find out that Hodgins is paralyzed (Season 11, ep. 10), I cringed. I figured it would be more of the same, “oh no my life is horrible, oh wait magic cure!” from a show that I enjoy a lot. I expected the show to fail me.
I’m happy to say I was wrong–for the most part. For the next four episodes we see Hodgins’s grieving process as he comes to terms with becoming disabled. The way he deals with it is sped up probably faster than is realistic, but I can give that a pass since it’s a TV show and has to fit within the season’s timeframe.

I was drawn to Bones and how it depicted the cycle of grief/recovery that echoed my own, whether from my personal experience or my family’s. At first, Hodgins is very upbeat. He’s sure he’ll recover feeling in his legs and walk again, and he’s got a positive attitude. It’s understandable: he thinks his nerves are re-growing because he felt phantom pain. But at the end of the eleventh episode we find out that his nerves are actually decaying, and his doctor’s opinion is that he will not recover.

For the next three episodes, we see Hodgins grieving. The sense of no longer fitting in, of his changed circumstances, and his loss are portrayed in a manner that felt very real to me. I lived it. He’s angry, lashes out at everyone, refuses to do physical therapy. He refers to himself and his situation in negative terms, calling his friends’ efforts to help or cheer him up “charity work.” He refers to his legs as “the rest of [him] being the problem.” He snaps that “the world is full of messed up people. I should know, I’m one of them.”

He refuses to accept help and is resentful of adaptive aids even though they enable him to do his job. To him, adding the automated wheelchair lift to the examination platform isn’t an aid but a loud, slow reminder that he’s broken. That the once mighty “king of the lab” has been undone by three little steps. Through his eyes we realize how lacking in ADA accommodations the lab is, watching as another employee jauntily trots up the stairs to the lab’s loft area–a place where throughout the seasons the characters have hung out to wind down. Now he can’t get up there. That aspect of his life is gone, probably forever.

I’ve been there. This was my family’s life. The anger, the sense of loss, the desire to be unbroken again and despairing that it’ll never happen. The jealousy harbored against random strangers as they run around doing menial tasks, ignorant of how important those legs are that they take for granted. For the first time, I could watch a show and say “that was us. We went through that.” It showed the grieving process in an unflinching light for multiple hour-long episodes. The audience doesn’t get a few minutes of unpleasantness and then we’re back to sunshine and rainbows as everyone’s happy with disability. Too often during my recovery it felt like there was pressure to appear heroic or inspirational. Disability had to be painted in a nice light, always with a focus on “getting better” and being positive. I loved the portrayal of Hodgins’s injury because it’s not pretty. His attitude can make you feel uncomfortable, conflicted on wanting to empathize with his situation yet get mad at him for being such a miserable person to those who love him. My family went through this too.

Hodgins’s anger and the way he takes it out on his friends and family isn’t fun to watch, but it rang true. I’m guessing most able-bodied people have no idea it happens and it can be exactly as vicious (if not more so) as it appears on the show. The ugliness is skipped over even though it’s sometimes the most real.

Not on Bones. Hodgins’s uses his disability as a justification for being mean (“You’re going to tell the paraplegic what’s fair?”) more than once, excusing his behavior and implying that no one else can call him on it because at least they’re not disabled. The show demands you to watch, and try to understand. For several episodes, the audience lives with Hodgins’s pain and know why he’s struggling, but you also live the hurt he puts his friends and wife Angela through too. Hodgins’s arc shows his grief but also how it affects more than him alone. It offers a way for people to relate on multiple levels.

This grieving process is usually dropped as shows go straight to the character getting “fixed,” or maybe them becoming ok with their situation. I’m all in favor for being at peace with your circumstances and moving forward, and I honestly think it gets easier once you reach that point, but it can be a long process. And, not everyone gets there. Fortunately, Hodgins does, but it’s gradual.

Hodgins’s grief cycle has ups and downs on his journey to finding his “new normal.” He joins an online support group, investigates and applies for experimental treatment programs, anything to get back to where he was pre-accident. But, that’s never going to happen. Not with his injuries (hematoma that crushed the nerves in his sacral plexus). And, eventually he accepts that, and is able to move forward. He almost destroys his marriage in the process, but Angela convinces him to keep fighting for them. In episode 14 (“The Last Shot at a Second Chance”), when Hodgins tells her he’s miserable and would rather cut ties and separate their lives than continue to make her miserable too, she says, “So change.” Which could sound callous, but it fits with the message of that episode and the stage of grief/recovery Hodgins is at.

During the episode, multiple characters make comments and have discussions with or about Hodgins along the lines of him needing to want to change–and come to terms with his disability–in order to be happy. But he shrugs it off, seemingly content to stay miserable. Angela’s plea, for him to change his attitude, to accept and to fight, signals a turning point. Hodgins is faced with accepting what his new normal is–that he’s paralyzed–and though he can’t change it, he does have a choice in how he decides to live. At the end of the episode, Hodgins returns to their house, ready to move forward.
The next stage in Hodgins’s grieving process sees him moving away from grief and more into recovery as he learns to accept his limitations. Instead of getting angry and despairing about not being able to do something the same way as when he was able-bodied, he finds ways to change his situation so that it works. The show goes over the top in that Hodgins can afford adaptive aids that most people can’t, and the same can be said about some of the “fixes” he rigs up at the lab. There’s also a moment where he comments on being “grateful” about being in a wheelchair because it saves his life. That’s a bit too corny for me, but ok. I prefer positive Hodgins to angry, mopey Hodgins–even if the latter is realistic.

I do have one big qualm with how the show presents this process, because there’s a lot of implied victim-blaming couched in good intentions. This plays out in two ways. First, in the episode after Hodgins is injured, there’s a lot of groundwork laid for his failed recovery to be his fault–even if the show didn’t mean it that way. The effect trumps the intent. In episode 11, “The Death in the Defense,” Hodgins is cleared to leave the hospital with his doctor’s parting warning: “[The] hematoma crushed the nerves in your lower spine but it didn’t sever them. Which means they’re still prone to further damage. Right now, you have mobility above the waist. You can breathe on your own. Protect that.” Seems like a practical piece of doctorly advice to not push himself, but it foreshadows that he’ll fail to protect what he has. A cautionary tale of what not to take for granted.
Hodgins isn’t supposed to go back to work, but he does anyway. Throughout the episode there are multiple instances where other characters (primarily Angela and Cam) argue that Hodgins needs to take it easy, and others (primarily Booth and Wendell) argue for the decision to work being left up to Hodgins. Both Booth and Wendell make “hope” arguments. Booth is very optimistic about Hodgins’s chances, citing hard work as the reason that Hodgins will get his legs back. When Brennan cautions against it, Booth says, “There’s nothing more important than hope.” This is a big setup for the blatant victim-blaming that will occur in Season 12’s premiere.

The well-intentioned setup for victim-blaming continues. Wendell and Brennan argue over Hodgins decision to stay and work. Wendell claims that the lab is a morally uplifting place for Hodgins and he doesn’t want Hodgins to give up. He posits that Hodgins has to fight, referencing his (Wendell’s) own medical struggle in a previous season. Brennan points out that the metaphorical concept of Wendell’s argument has no bearing on whether or not Hodgins will recover. Being scientifically minded and with Hodgins generally sharing the same mindset, Brennan says that Hodgins may be offended by the idea that “he can fight his nerves back into growing given the extreme unlikeliness of recovery.” Wendell counters by stating that his own recovery was unlikely. This exchange again foreshadows the “hope heals” argument that comes up in Season 12. The entire episode smacks of victim-blaming and that it’s ultimately Hodgins’s fault he doesn’t recover because he doesn’t protect his damaged nerves–as his doctor warned.

Now, I can see why the “have hope” and “it’s his choice” arguments may appeal to people. We like to have autonomy and disabled people already struggle to assert rights over their bodies. Going from able to disabled, Hodgins is having to deal with that loss of control, and the sense of having a choice seems empowering (except he doesn’t have power because Cam eventually sends him home). I think the show meant well and wanted it to seem like Hodgins was in control, but to me it just set him up for failure. Because there are multiple instances of people warning him and he doesn’t listen, the decay in his nerves is his fault.

Season 11 ends with things up in the air regarding whether or not Hodgins will recover feeling in his legs. He’s trying out a new treatment plan designed by a consulting neurosurgeon, and lo and behold, Hodgins starts getting nerve spasms. This is problematic. In the episode (Season 11, ep. 21 “The Jewel in the Crown”) where Hodgins recovers some feeling in his legs there’s mention of changing to a new physical therapist, implying that his more rigorous therapy routine and hard work magically restored his legs. Aside from it handwaving his disability away, it’s a bit of a slap in the face to those with injuries that no amount of “hard work” will heal.
Then, for the second, more blatant way victim-blaming is portrayed, in the Season 12’s premiere, “The Hope in the Horror,” we find out that former intern Zack has been impersonating the aforementioned neurosurgeon, and that it was actually Zack who had been consulting with Hodgins’s therapist. When Hodgins goes to see Zack over the emails and ultimately thanks him because it’s working, Zack tells Hodgins the treatment isn’t likely to work. Zack’s reasoning for coming up with the treatment? “I have been told, although it has not been proven scientifically, that hope can sometimes have the power to heal. Hope is what I was trying to give you…”

At the end of the episode, we find out that Hodgins has lost the newfound feeling in his legs, and, as Angela says, “It’s probably for good this time.” This is infuriating and reeks of victim-blaming: Sorry Hodgins, but you didn’t hope hard enough so no legs for you. I wanted Hodgins to stay disabled on the show because the magic cure trope is bad enough, but this victim-blaming almost made me rage-quit the show. What saved it is that Hodgins tells Angela (really the audience) that he’s ok, stating that he’s not in pain and that they’re going to be all right. The truth is obviously a blow, but he’s finally in the mindset where he can take the bad news and move forward.

After that, Hodgins’s disability arc closes and it essentially becomes normalized, present but background. He’s still visibly disabled, but his wheelchair is never seen as a hindrance and he remains a fleshed-out character. He’s not spewing inspiration-porn about the disabled–he’s living his life. We never forget that he’s in a wheelchair, but instead of the grief, despair, and refusal to accept change, he’s embracing his new normal and making it work for him. Yes, the show is ridiculous in showing some of the ways he rigs up adaptive devices (as done in the previous season) that are so far beyond the means of most viewers, but again, I’m happy to have the show portraying a disabled man at work, equally as diligent and competent as his colleagues.

All hail the King of the Lab.

Jaime O. Mayer shares her Seattle home with her patient husband, two needy cats, and surrounded by too many fish tanks. Her nonfiction is available in the Invisible 3 anthology, and her short fiction is forthcoming in Cast of Wonders. She blogs infrequently at and can be found on both Twitter and Facebook.


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Is The End Near for the New Golden Age of Black Television? Fri, 07 Jul 2017 14:15:13 +0000 by Inda Lauryn

The day after Netflix cancelled its show Sense 8 after its second season, mainstream and hipster outlets such as Variety and Dazed noted a cancellation pattern for several “diverse” shows. Many of these shows featured people of color in lead or primary roles in ensemble casts and centered experiences that were not white or cishet. This pattern felt familiar to the 1990s in terms of networks building audiences of color only to abandon them with no reasonable explanation.

For many, the past few years represented a new Golden Age of Black television that had not been seen since the 1990s. Audiences were not at a loss to find Black representation in several varieties and intersections on shows that both had predominantly Black casts or “diverse” multicultural casting. Fandoms found Black characters to love in shows such as Black Sails, This Is Us, Master of None and Into the Badlands as well as those that centered Black lead characters such as How to Get Away with Murder, Underground and Queen Sugar.

Black audiences organized livetweets or found themselves gaining traction as they engaged with their favorite shows in various fandoms. Frankly, Black women often drove these efforts and were sometimes recognized as influencers when it came to making or breaking a show. Yet Black audiences were devastated when several shows centering Black characters were cancelled, including Pitch, Rosewood, The Get Down, Underground and American Crime. But Sleepy Hollow had also received its walking papers earlier after alienating its audience when the show killed off its Black female lead.

May 2017 seemed to bring a halt to this expected new Golden Age of Black television that not only showed signs of diversity in terms of who was represented but also equity in terms of how they were represented. Furthermore, for many who remember the 1990s, this pattern felt familiar in terms of networks building Black audiences only to abandon them with no reasonable explanation. It appears that networks of all tiers are still following an outdated business model, particularly that of the netlets from the 1990s, but fail to regard the impact and influence that social media such as Twitter have given to audience voices.

The Netlets of the 1990s

For most of its life, the Big Three networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, held a lock on network television audiences. Cable had begun getting a hold on the market with about seven in 10 households subscribing by 1996. Furthermore, basic cable was not the only competition to the Big Three as premium cable outlets such as HBO gained strong audiences with original programming such as Sex in the City and The Sopranos. However, in the fall of 1986, Fox launched as a fourth broadcast network as competition to the Big Three. It included programs such as Married… with Children, The Tracey Ullman Show, 21 Jump Street and eventually The Simpsons. It also garnered a young audience with shows such as Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place among other nighttime soaps that failed to last long.

However, Fox became even more competitive when it began featuring programming with Black-led casts. The sketch comedy In Living Color became a ratings winner in 1992 along with the sitcom Martin. The next year, the network premiered the show that would become the protocol for 90s sitcoms that did not focus on the nuclear family: Living Single. In 1994, New York Undercover also generated a devoted Black audience.

Short-lived comedy series such as The Crew and Getting Personal and the dramas 413 Hope Street and M.A.N.T.I.S. included multiracial casts but failed to live past a few episodes. With these shows ending, Fox did not seem interested in taking a chance on shows that centered Black characters, opting instead to focus on hit shows such as The X-Files and Party of Five. It wouldn’t be until the mid-2010s when audiences would see Black characters successfully carry shows on Fox again.

In 1995, the WB seemed to take a cue from Fox. Its daytime and weekend programming focused on children and teens. However, its nighttime programming began with Black-led shows with The Wayans Bros. airing as its first program at its launch. Of its four inaugural shows that was the focus of its Wednesday block, three of them were Black-led shows (The Wayans Bros., The Parent’Hood and Sister Sister) while the third was a dysfunctional family comedy (Unhappily Ever After) in the style of Married… with Children. While the network expanded to include other hit dramas such as 7th Heaven and Charmed, both The Steve Harvey Show and The Jamie Foxx Show brought in Black audiences as well.

Just as Fox eventually turned to younger (and whiter) audiences as it gained traction, the WB also followed this example.

By 1997, the network had premiered the successful Buffy the Vampire Slayer and eventually kept at this audience with shows such as Dawson’s Creek and Felicity. Black-cast programming eventually disappeared from the network. By 2006, the WB announced its plans to shut down amidst competition, especially since it began to lag behind in ratings from yet another netlet that emerged.

UPN also launched in 1995, carrying programming only on Mondays and Tuesdays with its premier. It’s launch included the pilot of Star Trek: Voyager before other short-lived series including Nowhere Man, Marker, Legend and The Sentinel. The network later became home to series such as Veronica Mars, Roswell, Star Trek: Enterprise, America’s Next Top Model and WWE Smackdown. However, the network soon found an audience with various Black sitcoms including Moesha, Malcolm and Eddie, In the House, The Good News, Sparks, All of Us, Girlfriends, The Parkers, and Everybody Hates Chris. There were also infamous missteps such as The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer and Homeboys in Outer Space.

By 2006, The WB and UPN ceased operations to merge as the newly formed CW network. Much of the programming from both of these networks were transferred to this one station. However, around 2008, the network decided to stop devoting its programming to half-hour comedies, opting instead to focus on developing hour-long dramas.

This, of course, meant most of the Black-led shows from the network were cancelled despite many of them including The Parkers being the highest rated show in Black households during their runs.

The rise of the netlets into full-fledged networks showed a business practice many networks (and some industries beyond television) would follow later: build from the ground up with loyal Black audiences then abandon this audience rather than expanding for a more mainstream, read: whiter, audience.

The Beginnings of the New “Golden Age”

In her piece for Variety, Maureen Ryan noted the cancellation of several “diverse” shows but pointed to an attitude that may help explain the boom in shows with diverse representation: “Hollywood is way too quick to pat itself on the back for the smallest and most overdue steps forward when it comes to diversity, inclusion and representation — and the industry is far, far too quick to let the backsliding begin. And when that backsliding does begin (as it has many times in the past), many who mouth easy platitudes — instead of doing the real work of increasing the diversity of the industry — very easily and even reflexively turn a blind eye to the return to the status quo.”

This definitely appears to be the case with one show in particular. On September 6, 2013, Fox premiered the pilot episode of Sleepy Hollow. Black audiences were excited to see a genre show with a dark-skinned Black woman in the lead role. Throughout its first season, the show trended during its livetweets and even co-star Orlando Jones joined in with fans during both East Coast and West Coast airings. Audiences loved the supernatural aspects of the show, the historical references and the sometimes campiness with a resurrected Ichabod Crane learning the wonders of his new modern world.

However, for Black women, the draw was explicitly Nicole Beharie’s portrayal of Abbie Mills. Abbie was an ideal leading lady with an emotional story arc that included a shady family history that eventually unfolded throughout the show’s run, love interests that included an Asian coworker and Latino ex-boyfriend, and perfect chemistry with the show’s leading man. The Black female fans of the show eagerly waited more than half a year for the show’s second season return at the end of the short first season.

These same fans noticed some remarkable changes in the show’s tone and writing once it returned. Not only was Abbie Mills becoming more relegated to the role of support for her white male counterpart, but she was also sidelined as a potential love interest for a white female supporting character who was never fleshed out to her full potential. Furthermore, a role that should have been fulfilled by the actress portraying sister Jenny Mills was inexplicably given to another white male character. During season two, the show introduced Nick Hawley, a dealer in weapons and artifacts acquainted with Jenny. However, he had the same skillset as Jenny and functioned exactly as she would have had his character not been in the scene. With this in mind, Hawley had no other function than to be a white male stand in for the white male faction of the audience.

As the show rolled on, it became clearer to viewers that Sleepy Hollow had pulled an old-fashioned bait and switch. The show built a solid and loyal fanbase, particularly with Black women, then undid every element that faction of the fanbase praised about the show. As Sleepy Hollow relied more on tired tropes and storylines, the Black female fanbase became even more disenchanted with the show, particularly with fan rumors and speculation of bullying and mistreatment of Beharie behind the scenes.

Finally, at the end of season 3, Sleepy Hollow killed off Abbie Mills, much to the dismay of its fanbase who still watched to support the show for Beharie. Interestingly, Abbie sacrificed herself, becoming lost in a purgatory in the middle of the third season, which led to some speculation that that was supposed to be the end of her story. However, Abbie was rescued and she sacrifices herself again later, but this leads to her death. Those familiar with the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer know that Buffy was resurrected on more than one occasion and her character was never permanently killed. In fact, one death resulted in the co-existence of two slayers, one of them a Black girl named Kendra. While it was hinted that Abbie was only dead in a sense, she is given a burial and her story comes to an end with her giving her life in service to others.

Replacing her with a racially ambiguous woman of color did nothing to bring back this base, who mostly agreed to radio silence when it came to the show. When it returned for season 4 sans Beharie and with a new direction, former fans stayed away in droves and watched its eventual demise as it tanked in the ratings and finally got cancelled.

Fox and Friends

Interestingly, Sleepy Hollow not only recalled Fox’s beginnings in the early 90s but also showed that the network would keep its trend of calling on Black talent to gain an audience base but abandon it seemingly at a whim. The bait and switch occurred again in 2015 with the show Gotham, which touted Jada Pinkett Smith’s character Fish Mooney only to drop the character during the second season. However, her return in season 3 indicates the network learned the value of her character, but Fish Mooney might have a permanent death after her resurrection, much like Abbie Mills, at the end of this season.

These were not the only shows from Fox in recent years to launch a show with the promise of a strong Black lead or supporting character. Empire has been a consistent ratings winner since its 2015 debut and also debunked the longstanding belief that Black-cast or -led shows would not perform well in an overseas market. Wayward Pines and Rosewood did not fair as well and joined a host of other short-lived shows including Almost Human and Minority Report, both of which created an engaged fandom among genre fans yet did not survive to see a second season.

However, with its cancellation of the show Pitch after one season, Fox’s habit of producing shows with strong Black women lead characters, gaining an interested fanbase, then abandoning that base without a clear explanation threatened to alienate this essential part of the fanbase.

Pitch is uniquely pulled in viewers who were not even baseball fans with a show that made Major League Baseball its entire premise. In fact, the show had the full cooperation of the MLB with official uniforms and scenes shot in the actual San Diego Padres Petco stadium, meaning it had to be a costly show the network had invested in.

Pitch created as much excitement as Sleepy Hollow had with its debut. The show’s lead Ginny Baker became an aspirational figure in real life, mirroring the onscreen phenomenon created around the character. However, with its Friday night time slot, perhaps the show did not get the kind of ratings it needed to justify an obviously big budget. This may not provide a reasonable explanation either as its show The X-Files spent four seasons in this slot before being moved to a better Sunday time slot. Yet, Fox cancelled Pitch after only one season of ten episodes.

Like other shows sacrificed at the chopping block at the end of the 2017 spring season, fans of the show began a campaign to get another network or streaming service to pick up the show as Fox had no plans to revive it. These efforts went ahead even though two of the shows male stars, including lead Mark Paul-Gosselaar, had been signed to other shows. On June 9, 2017, fans organized the #PickUpPitch campaign in hopes that streaming service Hulu would pick up the show for at least a second season.

Queen Sugar and Underground

Queen Sugar made a statement about the progressive steps television needed to take with the promotion and eventual airing of the OWN series. With lauded filmmaker Ava DuVernay as the showrunner, Queen Sugar held the promise of being a remarkable series for and by women. DuVernay cemented this with the announcement that the show would have a team of all women directing the show. Many of the other crew members, including cinematographers and directors of photography, were also women.

Queen Sugar had another blessing in its favor: it was greenlighted for a second season before the first episode ever aired. So far, the gamble seems to have paid off. Audiences were struck by the beauty of the portrayals of Black people, especially the stunning cinematography that lit and photographed darker skin in beautiful ways. The also did not shy away from social issues, often making reference to current events and including real-life programs and organizations devoted to social justice.

Perhaps the network home of OWN, under the ownership and word of Oprah Winfrey, provided a safety net for the show along with the fact that it is the network’s highest rated show. However, not even the devoted Black female audience that made it a ratings winner could convince the network to pick up another show primarily led by Black women canceled by its network home: Underground.

Debuting in 2016, Underground took off quickly and built a strong fanbase among Black audiences, even those who proclaimed they were tired of so-called “slave narratives.” The show trended during livetweets and sparked dialogue among history and television fans alike. The show kept its momentum with fans during the second season and developed its Black female characters even further. The show even took a risk when it devoted an entire episode to a recurring character, Harriet Tubman, delivering a speech to abolitionists.

Yet, executives at WGN cancelled the series after two seasons. In it’s official statement, Tribune Media President and CEO Peter Kern said, “As WGN America evolves and broadens the scope and scale of its portfolio of series, we recently announced that resources will be reallocated to a new strategy to increase our relevance within the rapidly changing television landscape. This move is designed to deliver additional value for our advertising and distribution partners and offer viewers more original content across our air. Despite Underground being a terrific and important series, it no longer fits with our new direction and we have reached the difficult decision not to renew it for a third season. We are tremendously proud of this landmark series that captured the zeitgeist and made an impact on television in a way never before seen on the medium. We thank the incomparable creators Misha Green and Joe Pokaski and the great John Legend, along with the talented creative team and cast who brought the unsung American heroes of the Underground Railroad to life. We are grateful to the loyal fans of Underground and our partners at Sony Pictures Television. It is our hope that this remarkable show finds another home and continues its stories of courage, determination and freedom.”

Amid discussion that the new owners of Tribune Media, Sinclair Broadcast, are avid Trump supporters, WGN cancelled Underground along with its highest rated scripted show Outsiders (that also had a strong Black fanbase) and fans immediately launched campaigns to have both shows find new network homes. Outsiders appears to have accepted its fate as a cancelled series, but Underground producer John Legend still holds out hope another network will pick up Underground. However, both BET and OWN declined to give the series a second life, OWN citing its $5 million per episode price tag as the reason for not picking up the series. At the moment, the show appears to be a blatant victim of the Trump administration.


When promotional trailers for Netflix’s original series The Get Down began to appear in early 2016, it touted two things: its $120 million budget and the creative force behind the series, Baz Luhrmann. Ironically, it received little promotion beyond this mention, not even a consistent home page teaser within the streaming service.

Netflix also made some other questionable decisions regarding the direction of the expensive show. The Get Down aired in two parts, the first episodes premiering in August of 2016 and the second part of the season held until April 2017. (The second part had not completed filming before the first part aired.) Even more baffling, the first part had six episodes while the second only had five episodes when the entire series was advertised as having 12 episodes.

Yet The Get Down found its audience. The show touched on the nostalgia of the early days of hip hop and rap as well as a pivotal time in the history of New York City that ultimately had cultural repercussions far beyond New York. Furthermore, the show featured Afro-Latinos and queer characters as fully realized characters and central to the narrative. Although at times the show appeared to be a 12-hour music video, Baz Luhrmann’s stunning cinematic style shined through making it a visual triumph.

The audience for The Get Down not only performed as fans typically perform, but they also pointed out disparities in the ways Netflix treated the casts of the show in relation to another popular series Stranger Things, which with its 1980s setting also relied on nostalgia as its angle. While the children of Stranger Things constantly made red carpet appearances and attended other Hollywood A-list events, the similarly aged young stars of The Get Down received no such treatment. Despite fans’ willingness to overlook the show’s white creative helm, the Black fans of the show seemed to hold no weight when it came to saving the ambitious project.

However, Black fans fared much better with another Black-led show. Coming about a month after The Get Down, Luke Cage was a clear ratings winner, temporarily disabling Netflix’s servers in less than 24 hours of its premier. Fans livetweeted the show (and the wait for Netflix to fix its service so viewers could finish the show) and provided analysis and commentary for days afterwards.

Many factors may have contributed to the show’s success. From the beginning, the Black showrunners and writing room were a point of promotion. Fans acknowledged the complexity and variation in Black experiences of the fictional Harlem community. Furthermore, comic book fans were already familiar with many of the characters, particularly Misty Knight, and latched on to see how they would be further developed. But perhaps Luke Cage’s connection to the Marvel Extended Cinematic Universe would have protected it even if it had not fared well.

Luke Cage is a spinoff of another Marvel series Jessica Jones (itself a spinoff of Daredevil), which introduced the Luke Cage character. Cage’s character is part of the Defenders series that combines the lead characters from each of Marvel’s Netflix shows. However, while a second season of Luke Cage has been announced, its release was pushed to 2019 in favor of another Marvel series centering The Punisher. So while the highly successful show has proven itself a draw, it still does not appear a priority for a network looking to maximize its potential audience.

Netflix also drew Black audiences with several acquired shows, most notably British series Chewing Gum. With its crude humor along with writer and star Michaela Coel’s charm, this show about an array of characters in a London council estate has a devoted following and provides Netflix with a hit show it does not have to produce itself. Meanwhile, original series Dear White People seems to have a mixed reception with many viewers comparing it both favorably and unfavorably to the film. Set on a college campus of a predominantly white institution, this show had a ready made audience from a film that created lots of buzz and possibly resonated with a Millennial audience. Otherwise, Netflix does not have much more of an investment in shows with Black lead characters, which it could do considering it has now surpassed cable in terms of subscribers.

Premium and Basic Cable

Cable outlets may have learned the value of Black audiences within the past few years and decided to tap into that audience with competition from outlets such as Netflix. Premium network Starz has a strong Black audience with shows such as Power, Survivor’s Remorse and its newest hit American Gods. However, American Gods also seems to have pulled a bait and switch as well with the show eventually favoring secondary white characters over the Black protagonist and other Black and brown characters that initially drew audiences. Fandom communities took note of the limited scenes of characters such as Bilquis, the Jinn, Mr. Nancy and Salim while Laura Moon and Mad Sweeney not only received full character development but also entire episodes devoted to their backstories. After one scene in the second episode, Mr. Nancy was not seen again in human form until the last episode of the season. Bilquis finally received more character development, but the Jinn and Anubis still have no story arc other than their relationships with other characters. Even the show’s protagonist, Shadow Moon, began to get less development and did not appear entirely in the season’s penultimate episode. With Black characters appearing only one or two times before being sidelined, Black audience interest in the show dwindled up until the season finale. However, it is unclear how much Black audiences will anticipate the second season with many fans glad to finally get some background on Bilquis and putting together fan theories on the true reason Mr. Wednesday chose Shadow.

Starz fares better with Black-led shows in terms of representation and intentionally targeted a Black audience with many shows. Both Power and Survivor’s Remorse have lasted to see fourth seasons. But like Luke Cage, these shows have well-known names behind them: rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson serves as a producer of Power while LeBron James oversaw the creation of Survivor’s Remorse. With these shows, Starz has critical favorites and a steadily growing audience. Power provides a strong lead-in to the comedy Survivor’s Remorse, and it appears the network has allowed it the room and time it has needed to find its footing. However, IndieWire notes that the industry still has not taken note of the ratings draw of Power even though it is Starz’s second highest rated series. Michael Schneider notes, “African-American audiences consume more television on average, and networks such as OWN and VH1 have also found success by targeting that demographic. ‘Power’ is a phenomenon even as its audience skews heavily African-American – around 75 percent of all viewing. (The audience makeup for network’s comedy ‘Survivor’s Remorse’ is similar.)”

Starz has also drawn in a Black female fandom during the third season of its series Black Sails, a series that works as a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The third season saw the introduction of a Black female love interest for one of the main characters, John Silver. Fans had previously criticized the show for its depictions of people of color but willingly gave it a chance for redemption with the introduction of the character Madi in the third season. So far, the Black female fandom has engaged with this ship of John and Madi and has expanded the show’s original audience.

Interestingly, the Black female following for Black Sails follows a pattern among Black female viewers who often boost a show with the promise of a Black female love interest, particularly a dark-skinned object of affection. In fact, this drew many Black female fans to the WGN show Outsiders. While the Black female love interest was not dark-skinned, Into the Badlands had a strong following among Black women with a Black female love interest opposite the Asian male lead. However, Black women were devastated by the loss of the Black love interest, and many have decided not to support the show just as they did with Sleepy Hollow.

Still-Starcrossed and Renewed Hope

Perhaps this disappointment with the cancellation of Outsiders and the fridging of Veil, killing her for the further plot development of another character, from Into the Badlands helped boost excitement for the latest show to come out of ShondaLand: Still Starcrossed. With a lead-in of the first ever Black Bachelorette, the show tapped into Black female romance fans as well as those who love period and costume drama. Furthermore, this show features a dark-skinned female lead who finds herself in the middle of a love triangle as well as many other tropes familiar to romance fans. However, these tropes take on different meanings when they center a marginalized person. This may be part of the more diverse representations of blackness many fans hope to see in television.

Still Starcrossed may have also represented the hope that this new “Golden Age” of Black television is not yet over or a passing fad as it appeared to be in the 1990s and early 2000s, but the show already seems to be headed for cancellation with a change in time slot from Monday to Saturday. There is still hope for science fiction fans who eagerly anticipate the latest in the Star Trek franchise, Discovery, which has both Black and Asian female leads. The CW is adding to its superhero lineup with Black Lightning, which focuses on a Black family headed by a Black male and may include a Black female lesbian character if all goes according to canon. And the new TNT series Claws, with three very different Black women in lead roles, is setting itself up to be a hit summer series of 2017 as it already has the interest of Black women.

In the meantime, Fox’s Lethal Weapon has been renewed while Rosewood officially received the axe. Fox’s 24: Legacy has also been cancelled, ending a Black lead in a now franchise series. All of these shows featured Black men in lead roles and as authority figures in or with law enforcement. Lethal Weapon’s Murtaugh is portrayed with a wife and children while Rosewood still had his mother in his life and his Black female assistant was a lesbian. In its function as a spinoff of a successful and popular show, 24: Legacy had the difficult job of winning over devoted fans with Eric Carter essentially becoming the new Jack Bauer, but this incarnation did not translate into a new life for the series.

Yet there may be some hope that many Black audience favorites will find a second life. Many people from these shows including Aisha Hinds are now early contenders for Emmys, which could be a selling point in trying to get Underground a new home. However, no matter what the networks decide in terms of cancelling and renewing its shows, network executives still seem to be looking at outdated methods to determine audience interest.

For instance, they have only recently learned to use DVR usage and streaming services in metrics to determine viewership of television shows. It is unclear as to how executives consider social media influences such as Twitter trending and Tumblr discourse to not only estimate ratings but also to more accurately reflect audience demographics beyond white, male and young. As Isha Aran notes, the pressure put on shows featuring marginalized people tends to not only tokenize them but also “contributes to the baseless logical vacuum that if one diverse show doesn’t work, then it somehow proves that inclusion isn’t worth pursuing, that any form of diversity is a risk.”

Considering that “diversity” has actually been shown to be good for business, it does not make much sense that television networks and streaming services would get rid of the very shows that help them expand their overall audiences. When Variety reported on the results of a study from the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, the outlet included a very telling statement from the center’s chairman Darnell Hunt: “The problem, as we have pointed out in earlier reports, is that the Hollywood industry is not currently structured to make the most of today’s market realities. The studios, networks, talent agencies, and academies are demographically and culturally out of step with the diverse audiences on which their collective future will increasingly depend.”

This out-of-touch mentality has cost Black audiences beloved cultural entities over the past few years. Yet, network executives who remain overwhelmingly white and male still seem to hang on to old-fashioned (and dangerously wrong) notions that the only piece of the audience that matters most resemble them. Schneider’s piece for IndieWire notes, “‘[African-American audiences] are underserved in television, and yet we keep seeing reminders, especially now, of the power of the black dollar,’ [Starz CEO Chris] Albrecht said. ‘But if you look at the demographics of the [Hollywood] executive suits, it’s not a surprise that there aren’t more shows targeted like this (Power).’” In the meantime, Black audiences still cling to the remnants of an already fading renaissance in representation for the marginalized.

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New Galaxy, Same Problems: Mass Effect Andromeda Thu, 06 Jul 2017 02:47:05 +0000 The problems with Mass Effect Andromeda are not the kind that earn games poor ratings or the kind that cause fans to become irrationally irate–although, to be honest, Andromeda has a few of those, as well, including a fairly horrifying animation problem which left all the faces inhumanly wooden until a recent update–but the kind which reveals some of the deep-seated issues which have always plagued human (particularly Western) civilization.

One of these issues is especially clear in science fiction and fantasy: that of cultural uniformity, or the practice of making a culture homogeneous across all its members (with one possible exception… for instance, Garrus Vakarian in the original Mass Effect trilogy who constantly told Shepard and us that he “wasn’t a very good Turian”). We–Westerners, especially Americans–tend to do this not only to our aliens and our elves, but to actual people, both people of color within our borders and to pretty much everyone outside of them.

All Chinese people practice Tai Chi and all Japanese people like Anime and all Africans (we overgeneralize them into a continent rather than a country, usually, which is even worse) wear grass skirts and run barefoot.

These are of course idiotic things to say, but they are the things we think even if we know them to be ludicrous if we say them out loud.

But that doesn’t stop us from doing the same thing in our books, movies, and games. Andromeda is no exception.

For the most part, Andromeda keeps the same species (and cultural homogeneity) from the original series, where humanity (of course) is unusually diverse in terms of its colors, ages, accents, and stories about their families and home towns. Although BioWare has more than your average amount of human diversity, especially in Andromeda, where there are people of a variety of colors on the Tempest (your ship), the Hyperion (your ark), and the Nexus (the central hub), its aliens suffer from both physiological and cultural monotony.

Until Mass Effect 3, in fact, we hadn’t even met a female of either the Turian or Krogan species. Andromeda distributes genders fairly well, even having several significant figures of both genders across multiple species (although why they all have two genders, with the exception of the Asari, is still not terribly clear).

Yes, all the models are the same across the gender-species distribution (all female Turians have the same body, all human males have the same body, etc.), but there is far more variance among the familiar–humanity–than among the alien. This is the same thing we do among ourselves, particularly in the US. We talk about how we vary from state to state, region to region, discuss our local cuisines and traditions, identify with our cities and our neighborhoods, but when it comes to other peoples, other cultures, we assume they are all the same. We even go so far as to believe–which has been demonstrated scientifically–that they (whoever they are) all look the same.

In Andromeda, the Kett–a race of evil aliens who want (ironically) to turn all other species into Kett through genetic manipulation–all look the same across classes. They all wear the same thing, sound almost entirely the same, and are indistinguishable from one “level” to the next. Their culture, such as it is, consists of a cult-esque religious devotion to homogenization, which they call “Exaltation.” Although they seem to have “levels” within the hierarchy (which are distinguished by appearance, voice, and difficulty to kill), it is still fairly difficult to tell them apart from one another.

Andromeda‘s friendly species, the Angara, are only marginally better in terms of diversity–they at least come in different colors and have a few choices of accents, which is actually a little confusing (ranging from accents which sound African, Caribbean, Australian, and European), if somewhat more realistic (the confusion comes because most of the regular Mass Effect species sound the same). However, they are strangely Noble Savage, and their culture is almost completely uniform, despite their horror at the thought of being Exalted.

The hallmark of Angaran culture is emotion; the Angara emote openly and publicly in a way that–probably in spite of the intention of the developers to encourage their players (especially their male players) to be more openly emotional–is almost uncomfortable and seems very childlike. Add to this the Angaran fear of aliens (their only other encounter with alien species is the Kett, who want to kill or kidnap them and turn them into Kett), and the species as a whole reads as supremely innocent and in need of protection. When you add to this the fact that Ryder (via the player) is able to use technology native to Andromeda (created by the species who engineered the Angara, we learn) and the Angara can’t, and that Ryder and company essentially are able to rescue, terraform, and revitalize all of Heleus in the short span of time they are there while the Angara have had centuries and failed.

Now I know that this is “just a video game” (take that with the mountain of proverbial salt that it requires), but it’s time that we stop excusing our latent bigotry as “just entertainment,” because it isn’t. We do it every day to people who don’t look like us, don’t speak like us, and don’t believe what we believe. We have to recognize the humanity in those different from us, and that means that we need to see them as individuals, not as representatives of their race, their sexuality, their religion. They may be a part of those things, but no individual represents the sum of their culture.

So while this is a problem with Andromeda–especially because Ryder is the savior of an entire galaxy in which she has just arrived and about which she knows next to nothing–it isn’t Andromeda‘s problem, it’s a problem with our entire culture and has been since Europeans first decided they were better than everyone else and started engaging in imperialist practice. We stopped seeing other peoples, other cultures, as people and started seeing them as chattel, commodities where one is the same as the next. And in order for us to stop doing this in our stories (our movies, our games, our books), we have to stop doing it to each other.

New galaxy, same old problems.

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Are All the Men Really Necessary? A Critical Look at Wonder Woman Fri, 16 Jun 2017 21:30:24 +0000 By Michi Trota

Gail Simone famously said, “If you need to stop an asteroid, you call Superman. If you need to solve a mystery, you call Batman. But if you need to end a war, you call Wonder Woman.”

Wonder Woman was always going to have an uphill battle to fight, thanks to the dour, existential crisis-laden landscape the previous DC Extended Universe films had created, not to mention the absolutely skewed standards women-led action films are expected to achieve in order to be considered successful. Under the dynamic direction of Patty Jenkins and a considerably layered performance by Gal Gadot, Diana of Themyscira, daughter of Hippolyta, Amazon warrior and princess, rose to the challenge and proved Simone right.

As of this review, Wonder Woman has grossed over $435 million worldwide after just over a week in theaters and is currently the most tweeted-about movie of 2017. Critical reviews have been overwhelmingly glowing, and fans are already clamoring for Wonder Woman 2. The film provides a desperately-needed shot in the arm for the DCEU with a story that finally recalls why so many DC superheroes became popular in the first place: hope, and the belief that superheroes can still inspire humankind to overcome our worst impulses. Unlike Superman or Batman, Wonder Woman embraces her power as both a gift and responsibility, rather than finding it an alienating burden. This is still an origin story where Diana struggles to comes to terms with her identity and where she belongs, but while she may be wracked by grief and anger, she never loses sight of what she fights for: justice, peace, love. Allan Heinberg’s script doesn’t run away from Diana’s existential crisis (this is a DCEU film after all), but it does refuse to be weighed down by it, infusing a humor, warmth, and humanity that was desperately lacking in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. The camaraderie among Diana, Steve Trevor, Sameer, Chief, and Charlie should be the blueprint for Diana’s future family among the Justice League. The compassionate, respectful relationship among the four men is refreshing, particularly in a genre that is often dismissive of men showing weakness and emotions other than anger. Diana may question their skills, tactics, or commitment, but she never once mocks her male companions’ displays of vulnerability.

Wonder Woman is the most alive the DCEU has felt since MoS’s drab and joyless introduction. The action sequences still bear Zack Snyder’s signature slow-mo stamp, but under Jenkins’s thoughtful eye, those moments are restrained rather than sprawling (at least until the final act). Themyscira is gorgeously rendered, full of vibrant color and sunlight; while the scenes revert to the expected cold-faded color of the DCEU once Diana leaves the island, they serve as a stark contrast with the aptly named Paradise Island. The entire film is blissfully free of the straight male gaze objectifying women–there isn’t a single moment where Diana is framed as anything less than a person or subjected to gratuitous T&A shots (the lone scene with a mostly-naked Chris Pine is overlaid with an awkwardness that underscores how deeply out of his element and powerless Steve is). Scenes of a world and people devastated by the horrors of war are balanced by small but meaningful moments of unapologetic joy and kindness: Chief’s gentle refusal of payment for goods from refugees; Diana’s laughter at her very first snowfall; villagers dancing amidst the ruins of their town. Diana is a fearsome warrior who in one breath charges headfirst into enemy fire and berates generals for their cavalier treatment of soldiers, and in another coos over babies and finds sheer delight in a simple ice cream cone. It seems that it’s still possible for heroes in the DCEU to find hope and happiness amidst loss. And because this is still the DCEU, even Wonder Woman apparently had to have a tragic love story.

The script had a very fine line to walk with Diana and Steve’s nascent relationship, having to balance Diana’s ignorance regarding the world outside Paradise Island without making her dependent on Steve, and without making Steve the center of her narrative. Heinberg’s script mostly succeeds in the former, presenting Diana’s naivete not as that of a helpless child, but that of a capable idealist who still believes the inherent goodness of humanity will win the day. Gadot’s Diana is the skilled and earnest but inexperienced soldier to Steve’s battle-weary (but notably not cynical) veteran. Pine skillfully plays Steve as both admiring of and frustrated by Diana’s idealism, because in his experience, the cause of war isn’t as simple as the machinations of one individual. But neither is Diana’s idealism played as a fool’s dream–instead, it’s a source of inspiration and strength for those around her (also the God of War is in fact real in her world). The entire No-Man’s Land sequence is a defiant refutation of the idea that a thing can’t be done just because men tell you it’s not possible. Not only can women tread (and stomp, and smash) where men say they cannot, they can inspire others to follow and fight for themselves.

(The fact that Jenkins had to fight for the inclusion of the No-Man’s Land sequence in the final film says a lot about whose perspective was largely shaping Diana’s debut.)

The film doesn’t fare so well with the latter, however, falling into the trap of feeling it necessary to insist on Steve’s relevance as a man in a story about a demigoddess. Steve is ostensibly supposed to be the butt of the joke with his awkward reactions to Diana’s suggestion they share a bed because he doesn’t want to be That Guy, but were those jokes (which obscure the fact that it’s not sex or sexual attraction that baffles Diana, it’s Steve’s specific cultural hang ups about them) really the best way to explore the cultural differences between them? (The less said about Steve’s painfully stilted and unnecessary “average” dialog the better.) The alley sequence in London is a delightful homage to the scene in Superman where Clark saves Lois from a thief’s gunshot, but why did Steve need to throw that one punch knocking out the last assailant after Diana had taken out the entire gang by herself? Despite the acts of kindness Diana has witnessed from her friends, and the many sacrifices that have made her mission possible, the film chooses to focus on Steve’s death and declaration of love as what goads Diana to denounce Ares and defeat him (this is especially jarring considering Diana is not shown mourning the death of Antiope, a woman who loved and trained her). This is Diana’s story after all, and Pine’s delightful performance aside, why does Steve need to have equal footing in a film that’s about Wonder Woman?

Diana’s life with her Amazon family is surprisingly devoid of any meaningful relationships with other women, and little is seen of her life outside of her training as a warrior (the Amazons aren’t just fearsome warriors, they also boast proud traditions of logic, philosophy, scientific innovation, art, literature, politics, and Diana is supposed to embody the pinnacle of all their society offers). Once off Paradise Island, Diana’s interactions are primarily limited to men; it’s men, including Steve (and a severely-underused Etta Candy), who provide her with context and information of the world around her. It’s frustrating to imagine all the lost chances for Etta to share her experience as a woman who wants to do something in the war effort and is limited by her role as “secretary” (all the more frustrating to imagine how much more those conversations could have resonated if Etta were a WOC). Even her creation is now owed to Zeus, erasing Hera as the Amazon’s patron goddess (Hera was both Zeus’s wife and Ares’s mother, and her hand in Diana’s creation could easily have provided Diana with the necessary power to match Ares).

It’s also a man (or god to be exact) who is Diana’s ultimate nemesis–yes, Ares is a often a major antagonist of Diana’s in the comics, but it’s still not a good look in a film that seems determined to isolate Diana as a Smurfette. Not even the nefarious Isabel Maru/Dr. Poison, whose name strikes dread into the Allies, has the chance for any significant interaction with Diana. Like Etta, Maru is frustratingly limited to being a plot device, devoted to a man she’s clearly more capable and arguably more dangerous than. What if it had been Maru, not Ares, who delivered the film’s penultimate argument to Diana about the inherently corrupt nature of humanity, where it’s clear that rather than being ignorant of Ares’s machinations, Maru embraced him and his mission by her own choice? A film that claims to celebrate the power of women to make their own choices only does so in the barest sense when its heroine is isolated from other women (unless she’s on a magical island of mythical women warriors, apparently).

It’s as if a world where the actions of women also matter can no longer be realistic once Diana leaves Themyscira. The film manages to acknowledge that Diana is a complex woman capable of great feats and terrible mistakes, and that she doesn’t need men to validate her existence or choices, but that should be the minimum bar to clear, not an accomplishment. And Wonder Woman would be the first to say that she is not the only woman deserving of such acknowledgement.

This is the conundrum of Wonder Woman: a superhero film that at last gives one of comics’ greatest female characters her due in a well-produced, record-breaking profitable action blockbuster, and yet still hesitates to fully embrace much of the feminist ideals that make up the core of her story. Is it a fun action-packed romp of a movie with a kickass heroine? Absolutely. Is it an in in-your-face feminist story? Not quite, especially for a movie that goes out of its way to reassure audiences that there’s still room for men in a powerful woman’s story. Is it intersectional? Only in the barest possible sense. Wonder Woman jokes about men not being necessary for women’s sexual pleasure but shies away from embracing the bisexuality of its heroine (living on an island of women does not mean Diana’s ignorant of sex). It celebrates Diana’s heroism and complexity but shows us little of the complexity and heroism of the women affected by the war Diana has come to fight. At least on Paradise Island, WOC are somewhat visible but still relegated to the background and in roles that replicate racist dynamics, particularly regarding Black women, and while Sameer and Chief are engaging characters whose experiences with oppression as MOC are openly acknowledged, they’re still given scenes repeating racist stereotypes (the “smoke signals” scene is particularly baffling in light of the thoughtfulness with which Chief’s character was otherwise approached).  

It’s also a movie that has moved women to tears, shattered box office expectations, and single-handedly injected hope back into the DCEU franchise. Since the premiere, social media has been covered in images of fans of all ages celebrating Wonder Woman, of little girls posing as warriors and princesses alike. Despite audience fears and critical skepticism (not to mention an often baffling lack of media tie-ins and merchandising), Wonder Woman succeeded in an industry where predecessors like Elektra, Catwoman, Supergirl, Barb Wire, and Vampirella were left to fail under half-hearted marketing, poor production, and sexism-riddled stories. Overcoming the assumptions and inertia in Hollywood when it comes to the viability of women-led superhero stories is, by itself, still a considerable achievement. Wonder Woman is flawed, particularly in its presentation of feminism, but it’s still managed to shove open the door for superheroines in Hollywood a bit wider, and hopefully audiences will continue to clamor for more in her wake (Captain Marvel is slated for 2018, but frustratingly neither DC nor Marvel have committed to any films about WOC in their respective universes).

Wonder Woman was always going to carry an entire world of expectations on her shoulders for her on-screen debut, and if joyous fan celebration over the film is inexorably interwoven with disappointment in its shallow feminism and lack of intersectionality, it’s a testament to the power and influence Wonder Woman commands as a cultural icon. She and her fans deserve a story that truly lives up to the ideals Diana herself is supposed to personify: the willingness to fight against all odds for a just world in which we are all represented and valued for our whole selves. Hopefully Wonder Woman’s success at the box office means Diana and her fans might yet get that story.

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Book Review: Intellectual Property: A Very Short Introduction Wed, 07 Jun 2017 14:26:09 +0000 by Raizel Liebler

Intellectual Property: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press 2017) by Siva Vaidhyanathan effectively lives up to its name, serving as a hundred-and-one page overview about intellectual property. What can be covered in such a short overview? The big three of  IP — copyright, patent, and trademark, but also mentions of rights of publicity, geographic marks, trade secrets, data protection — and even moral rights and IP issues in fashion.

This is a lot of ground to cover, but the best element of this book is that all the discussion about what the law is, is grounded in a historical and policy context of how we got here in our discussion of what is and what isn’t intellectual property and what is therefore protected. There are economic and political reasons why some products of the mind are legally protected — and some aren’t, which Vaidhyanathan delves into.

While this book is highly recommended, it isn’t without minor flaws. The mentioning of specific cases without their formal names or citation is something that should just not happen; a listing of cases wouldn’t have lengthened the book by more than a couple of pages. Additionally, some of the discussed cases that are mentioned as in progress were decided before the book was published. But that is also a big part of the importance of the book’s discussion of IP rights — they are always shifting slightly, but we are all part of the process of determining what they should be.

Overview: Highly recommended. An interesting, easy, and thought provoking read that gives new insight on IP rights to everyone from that relative that talks about “patenting that book you wrote” to law classes.

For example, when I teach an Intellectual Property class again, I may use this book as the text, supplemented with case law — cost-effective for students !


Here to Finish the Fight, Together: On Female Mentorship in the CW’s Nikita Fri, 02 Jun 2017 14:51:27 +0000

Alex: You were right about getting close. It hurts.
Nikita: Yes, it does. But if you felt nothing, you’d be one of them.
– 1×07 “The Recruit”

Who knew a bank robbery might be an excellent introduction to a legendary team of government agents? The writers behind the CW’s Nikita did, kicking off the pilot episode with a tense stand-off between their title character and her new mentee, and security guards who had no idea they were in the middle of a set-up. It’s an episode that, while heavy-handed in its exposition, nonetheless does the job: your average viewer meets two women who will determine the course of not just their futures but the future of the world in four exhilarating seasons.

Nikita Mears and Alex Udinov are also one of the most memorable female teams and mentorships I’ve found in television.

Nikita and Alex 1x03 - Nikita - The CW 2010

Mentorship is an oft-cited word in career development, but it wasn’t always about working towards a promotion or corner suite office. The word can be traced back to The Odyssey, where Odysseus trusts his son Telemachus to his old friend Mentor for guidance while Odysseus is away. Mentor is a teacher, a confidant, and an adviser to Telemachus, and his help is invaluable to both father and son as they resume rule over Ithaca at the end of the epic.

Today, mentors can be many things. For some, they are supervisors and managers who provide career guidance and support as one moves through the ranks. For others, they are colleagues and professionals who are paired with mentees in their field to offer advice, networking, and an example of at least one possible career path. Not all mentors and mentees know each other before the start of the mentorship, but they are connected via the industries they work in, similar career paths, or similar backgrounds. Belle Rose Ragins and Terri A. Scandura define a mentor as “an individual influential in the work environment who has advanced experience and knowledge and who is committed to providing upward mobility and support to careers.” Forward motion characterizes the mentor/mentee relationship–a mentor is not useful if they aren’t able to provide both knowledge and support for the future.

In Nikita , the mentor/mentee relationship plays out between Nikita Mears (Maggie Q) and Alexandra “Alex” Udinov (Lyndsy Fonseca) over the course of four seasons. Both women come from backgrounds where they suffered abuse, though Nikita was an American orphan, and Alex’s wealthy parents were killed by the rogue black-ops agency Division and she was subsequently trafficked as a sex slave. Both women are Division agents—Nikita before the start of the show, and Alex during. Both women hate Division but find purpose in what they learn from the rogue black-ops agency, continuously a point of internal and external conflict throughout the series.

Initially, neither of them are looking for a mentor/mentee relationship. Nikita rescues Alex from a violent almost-rape by Alex’s drug dealer, and she forces Alex to get clean, weaning her off drugs in isolation. Alex fights her every step of the way, culminating in a suicide attempt from which Nikita is barely able to save her. Nikita reveals that she knows who killed Alex’s parents, and that information motivates Alex to continue living to seek revenge against Division. It’s a decision that Nikita doesn’t approve of or want, and it provides a tense conflict that drives the first season of the show.

Nikita and Alex in 1x02 - Nikita - The CW, 2010

For Alex, the only constant is Nikita, and the reveal of Nikita’s culpability in the death of Alex’s parents drives an immoveable wedge between them. This reveal also happens at a point when Alex no longer needs Nikita to be a mentor—Alex has learned the essential skills to become a formidable agent, and is now more than capable of handling herself. Subsequent seasons expand their relationship by exploring the uncertainty they feel with each other without the shared goal of Division’s implosion, and how their roles shift as the world around them changes.

Stella Carter wrote about the lack of female mentors on television, springing from thoughts she’d had while watching Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy’s work relationship on 30 Rock:

In all of the films, shows, and books I can think of, the woman’s mentor is normally a male, either gay or a potential love-interest. If a woman happens to give the heroine some mentoring, it’s limited to certain advice-giving incidents, which are often questionable and sometimes destructive.

While female friendships aren’t too rare in TV, the focus on mentorship in Nikita is multi-layered. The viewer isn’t asked to simply believe that Alex and Nikita are the perfect mentor and mentee–the series takes time not just to build their relationship with each other, but all of the people and events that have influenced the way they interact with one another.

Nikita and Alex in 2x17 - Nikita - The CW, 2010

Alex and Nikita’s relationship often mirrors parts of the mentorship they’ve received from others. The first person to figure as a mentor in Nikita’s life is Carla Bennett, a prison counselor who Nikita later discovers has ties to Division. Carla’s work brings her to Nikita, a drug addict, and the older woman helps her to get clean, telling Nikita “this is a safe space.” The phrase becomes a touchstone for Nikita even during her post-Division days, proof of how deeply Carla had influenced her. In flashbacks, the viewer sees Carla and Nikita’s relationship in those early days, one in which Nikita quite obviously relied on and appreciated Carla’s support:

Nikita: When he said I got the job, I just wanted to run.
Carla: That’s because you have been told all your life that you’re not worth it. And when you’re young and you hear that over and over again, that starts to sink in. You’re so much stronger now. You’re a wildflower.

Carla is the first person to believe in Nikita unconditionally, and she also more than hints at the future she sees for Nikita, even if the younger woman can’t see it herself:

Nikita: Why are you doing this for me?
Carla: Because one day, you’re gonna do this for somebody else. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

At Division, Michael Bishop’s influence doesn’t quite reach mentorship levels, though she does respect him immensely. While Michael and Nikita eventually end up as a couple, they start off as trainer and recruit. Their connection develops over five years of training and missions, and Michael’s support helps Nikita to pursue her quest to shut Division down completely.

Despite intense efforts on Division psychologist Amanda Collins’ part to mold Nikita in her image, Nikita never quite took to her the way she did to Michael. Nikita’s rejection and rebellion became the main point of contention between the two women, leading to almost every single conflict from the first day of Nikita’s stay in Division. It was Amanda’s inability to fully crack Nikita that played a role in Amanda’s treatment of Alex–Amanda herself speaks of the similarities between them that interested her.

On Alex’s part, it is her father, Nikolai Udinov, that the viewer sees most often as a pre-Nikita influence. While Nikolai is dead at the start of the show, there are several flashbacks within the series that provide a look at Alex’s early teen years. Nikolai was partial to walks in the woods around the Udinov mansion, taking his daughter with him and teaching her survival skills. He instills a deep sense of independence in Alex, reminding her over and over again that the only person she can rely on is herself, as well as a fierce devotion to her family. Her growing disinterest in taking over Zetrov, the family business, isn’t obvious to Nikolai, but his words stay with her as she wrests control of Zetrov away from Sergei Semak, the man responsible for the attack on her family.

Alex and Nikita in 3x02 - Nikita - The CW, 2010

While the first season focuses on Alex and Nikita’s often-violent mission to dismantle Division by placing Alex as a mole on the inside, the dynamics between them are no less a mentorship, albeit an unconventional one. In Mentoring at Work: Developmental Relationships in Organizational Life, Kathy E. Kram describes the advantages of seeing mentorship as a “two-dimensional” concept, wherein the mentor provides both career and psychosocial guidance:

…the greater the number of functions provided by the mentor, the more beneficial the relationship will be to the protégé.

At the start of their mentorship, Alex is an unpredictable young woman who lashes out violently, the consequence of her family’s deaths, and her being sold into slavery. Nikita is more controlled, but driven by righteous anger towards Division. She doesn’t particularly like the idea of making Alex a mole, but is hard pressed to argue against the reasons Alex comes up with to convince her, all geared towards using Division’s own weaknesses against it.

As is advised for mentorships, they communicate regularly–via a shell program installed by Nikita on the Division network–and follow each other’s progress. Alex is able to provide Nikita with information as well as tactical support as Nikita takes apart Division’s various missions on the outside. Nikita assists Alex in a less obvious way: she is there for Alex as the younger woman is trained and sent out into the field. They meet up once Alex has graduated as an agent, and Nikita continues to protect her during missions, trying to prevent Alex from having to kill anyone for any reason.

Several characters comment on the bond between Nikita and Alex over the course of the show, even when both women are on opposite sides. Early in season 2, former Navy SEAL Sean Pierce informs his mother Senator Madeline Pierce that he knows how to get to Nikita:

Sean: Specifically the people she cares about.
Madeline Pierce: Michael?
Sean: Alex.
Madeline: Her former mole?
Sean: There’s still a bond between them. Trust me.
– 2×08 “London Calling”

Percival “Percy” Rose, Division’s Director, uses Alex’s trust in Nikita against her, revealing Nikita’s role in the Udinov attack and effectively severing their relationship. Amanda attempts several times to use Alex as both bait for Nikita, and a bargaining chip to get what she wants from Nikita.

Both women seem aware that they work best together, even during the points in the series when they work for opposite sides. In season 2, Nikita and Alex find themselves face-to-face in Alex’s family mansion in Russia, fighting towards different goals.

Alex: If they follow us–
Nikita: They won’t. I’ll disable their cars. It’s a trick Michael taught me. If you can delay your enemy for even a few minutes–
Alex: It might be enough to save the day. You taught me that.
– 2×09 “Pale Fire”

In a season 3 episode, they are able to rescue and return a kidnapped young girl, Liza Abbott, to her family. When Liza asks if they’ve ever rescued anyone as young as her before, Nikita and Alex exchange a look, remembering their own history–that “there was one other girl.” Nikita tells Liza that Alex will take her home to Liza’s parents, and when Alex asks why, Nikita says simply, “I got the last one.” Even as Alex has begun to build a life for herself, Nikita continues to shore her up and provide touchpoints to remind Alex of everything that Alex is capable of doing. It’s easy to see how both women have begun to move away from needing each other to get a job done, but that there is a mutual respect between them that has only grown stronger.

Nikita and Alex 3x02 - Nikita - The CW 2010

Georgia Chao writes of the post-mentorship point thus:

In the final redefinition phase, a new relationship begins to form where it may either terminate or evolve into a peer-like friendship characterized by mutual support and informal contact.

Nikita and Alex are forged together by their experiences before, during and after Division. While it would have been easy and predictable for the writers to pit them against each other in shallow ways after the first season, they chose to go another route. The sense of friendship, respect, and admiration that both women feel for each other is hearkened back to again and again. Each mission that Nikita goes on that Alex is not a part of feels just slightly off. Each time Alex walks out by herself, it seems strange if Nikita isn’t there to watch over her. And yet, both characters are undeniably strong and capable, their skills enhanced by the presence of the other, their most positive characteristics strengthened by each other.

There is never any doubt that they answered a question in each other that they might not have realized was there to ask, and it is clear that their mentorship, and later friendship grounds them in every choice they make. It’s this quality that makes Nikita difficult to forget, four years after the series finale, and the reason why I and many other viewers return and rewatch.

Fandom, Antifandom, and Feedback Loops: How Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series Screws the Rules of Internet Content Creation Thu, 18 May 2017 15:00:55 +0000 by Deborah Krieger

The conceit of Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series (Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged) is simple, but effective: Since 2006, YouTube user LittleKuriboh condenses one or more episodes of the original Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters series into videos of between four to fourteen minutes that parody the content of the original show.[1] Rewriting the dialogue to include jokes, pop culture references, and moments of fourth-wall breaking, LittleKuriboh substitutes his own voice as the audio of his videos, where he plays nearly all of the characters, using vocal mannerisms that roughly approximate the voices of the Duel Monsters English dub.[2]

In the decade since its inception, Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged has become an internet culture touchstone. Some of its YouTube videos reach millions of views, its Facebook page sits at nearly 1 million likes, and the series has developed an extensive fandom surrounding “fanon,” the canon within LittleKuriboh’s fan creation.

The fandom and antifandom aspects and practices surrounding Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged are the focus of this essay. Namely, there are several ways that LittleKuriboh and Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged mediate fan interaction, both within the canon of Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged episodes as well as behind the scenes. Additionally, LittleKuriboh has developed varying relationships with fans and antifans of his series, as well as imitators of his form. The fandom aspect of Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged is significant because while LittleKuriboh’s series not only parodies the plot elements of the source material, it also has created its own internal series canon as a text in its own right that is consistently referenced and remediated in subsequent episodes. Classic lines such as “screw the rules, I have money,” delivered by Seto Kaiba in the show’s first episode, have become memes in the show and in the larger internet culture. LittleKuriboh has scripted later dialogue for Kaiba that riffs off the original quote, such as “screw the money, I have rules” (Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Movie, 2008) and “screw the rules, I have green hair,” (“… In America,” 2006), a reference to the character’s green hair in an earlier version of the anime. “Screw the [x], I have [y],” is to this day a popular meme and commonly referenced trope.[3]


Though no longer released on a weekly basis, Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged has reached 74 episodes spanning four seasons of the original five-season run of Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters, and shows no signs of stopping. LittleKuriboh has also released two abridged movies (based on Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie: Pyramid of Light from 2004[4] and Yu-Gi-Oh!: Bonds Beyond Time from 2010[5]) and countless supplementary videos, including “Let’s Play” videos starring Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged characters and Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged characters advocating for charity.

While the series is certainly well-known in the Yu-Gi-Oh! fandom, it is not universally loved by Yu-Gi-Oh! fans. The contentious relationships between and within the Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged and Duel Monsters fandoms have several incarnations: fans of Duel Monsters who resent the parodying and irreverent (and often offensive) content and interpretations of their beloved characters[6]; fans of both series (a category in which I include myself); fans of Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged who categorically hate the other fans of Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged for their perceived annoying behavior [7]; fans of Duel Monsters who dislike the fact that elements from Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged have become Duel Monsters accepted fanon and fandom practices, and so on.[8] With the use of memes originating from Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged becoming commonplace in online spaces, it has become increasingly difficult for antifans to avoid some sort of contact with Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged. Indeed, Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged has become so popular that voice actors of the original Yu-Gi-Oh dub have referenced various catch-phrases and lines from their abridged counterparts. For example, Wayne Grayson, the dub voice of Joey Wheeler quoted “Brooklyn rage,” at Youmacon 2008 [9], and took part in a panel with LittleKuriboh at Youmacon 2009, where both actors performed their versions of the character in conversation with one another.[10]

As the series’ popularity has grown, so has the form of the anime abridged series: nearly every well-known anime has been made into an abridged series. [11] Some are more prominent and successful than others, such as Naruto the Abridged Series [12] (created by YouTube users MasakoX and Vegeta3986) and Dragon Ball Z Abridged [13](created by Team Four Star, which includes YouTube users Lanipator, Takahata101, KaiserNeko, and MasakoX). At a certain point in time, it seemed as though every anime fan with a computer microphone, an ability to download footage, and time on their hands was making an abridged series, though none have reached the level of cultural saturation and establishment of LittleKuriboh’s original work.

Fanon and Thiefshipping

One of the more prominent ways the Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged canon has made itself at home within Duel Monsters fandom is with regards to the pairing of “Thiefshipping,”or the pairing of male villains Marik Ishtar and Yami Bakura.[14] While the original Duel Monsters English dub has little focus on romance, and skirts all potentially slash ships (or gay or lesbian relationships) as a rule, LittleKuriboh has largely created (or merely revitalized) the fanbase for this pairing, both within Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged episodes proper and in the context of side videos.[15]

For example, in the side series “Marik Plays Bloodlines,” begun in 2011, Marik plays “Vampire: The Masquerade” in the popular YouTube “Let’s Play” format.[16] Over the course of this series, Yami Bakura, who is also present, makes increasingly obvious sexual advances towards the oblivious Marik, providing endless shipping fodder for fans of this couple.[17] While Marik and Yami Bakura are not at all concerned with romance or sexuality in the original series, LittleKuriboh has reinvented Marik as naive, juvenile, and obsessed with his own sex appeal (an easy interpretation, given the character’s costume) and Yami Bakura as flamboyantly gay, with his attentions focused on Marik. Not only has Thiefshipping in the Duel Monsters canon become popular, with over 1,400 fanfics in the archive, but the fanon version of Thiefshipping [18], using the abridged characterizations created by LittleKuriboh, has also become a popular pairing in its own right.[19]

The pairing of “Puzzleshipping,” or Yami Yugi and Yugi Moto, has also been teased and expanded within the text of Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged.[20] For example, the 2015 episode “Puzzled Shipping,” [21] a clear reference to this ship name, features Yami Yugi and Yugi pulling a sword out of a block of ice, with the sounds of their efforts clearly meant to reference sexual activity. [22]

“It’s not as good as it used to be”

With many ongoing series across media there is often the perception that the work is decreasing in quality, and Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged is no exception.[23] Fan discussions reveal that some viewers of the show have found its humor obnoxious or less enjoyable than before. Indeed, a short comment thread on the “Headscratchers” TVTropes subpage for Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged contains the following comment:

“Am I the only one who thinks LK’s [LittleKuriboh’s] Marik schtick is getting rather old? I used to enjoy it, but pretty much every line out of his mouth now is either how he’s a poorly closeted homosexual, or how sexy he/his outfit looks.”[24]

In a comment thread on, a user asking for abridged series recommendations in 2013-2014 is told to watch Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged, “although lately it’s not as good as it used to be.”[25] A comment thread on regarding episode 33 (“Harpoonshipping,” 2009) contains a litany of complaints, including “that was probably one of the worst abridged episodes I have ever seen,” “he made an episode around his own OLD joke. TAS used to be awesome because it made fun of the series. Now he’s… out of material and trying to make fun of himself and taking it too far,” and “it’s a pity that entertainment becomes crap over time, and this is like the 60th episode. How will he handle the remaining 180 is beyond me.”[26] A 2016 Reddit thread comparing various abridged series contains the following illuminating comment: “I don’t enjoy it because it encourages blinding nostalgia. […] Also, the jokes are really rather lame, and the only good jokes are now obnoxious memes for thirteen year olds,” [27] highlighting the divide between fans of the original and of the abridged series in stark contrast.

Fans as Obstacles, Fans as Friends

LittleKuriboh’s behavior with regards not only to fans and antifans, but also towards creators of subsequent abridged series, has gradually shifted over the course of Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged’s existence. Earlier Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged episodes and content tended to mock the fanbase, with thinly veiled shots taken at those who have flagged his videos on YouTube, leading them to be taken down. In episode 24 (“Egyptian Exhibition Expo 2007,” 2007), Seto Kaiba claims to be busy flagging YouTube videos “to compensate for the fact that [he has] an extremely small penis.” [28]

In episode 48 (“Penguin Ex Machina,” 2010), Téa Gardner weathers an attack by strange monsters referred to as “internet trolls;” she expresses apprehension and worries that “they’re going to flame me to death.” [29] LittleKuriboh also expresses his frustration with fans’ insatiable demand for new episodes in a side series of videos by choosing to have several of the monster creatures that appear needlessly scream “where’s the new episode?” in an annoying, endless fashion. [30]

Most significantly, LittleKuriboh created a side video in 2008 to address his perception of his imitators called “Dan Green Presents Abridging 101,” where he brandishes a Yami Yugi plush toy and sardonically lays out a codified set of steps for fans to make their own abridged series.[31] Using the hypothetical example of a Neon Genesis Evangelion abridged series, LittleKuriboh suggests that plagiarism, using computer programs to create different voices, and substituting musical cues for writing jokes will bring aspiring abridgers success, as well as “get[ting] lazy” and taking absurd amounts of time between making videos, which serves as both a moment of self-critique and a call-out to the fans for having unrealistic expectations.[32] Much of the sarcasm in this video has gone over the heads of fans, however: several of the comments on the YouTube video reference how the commenter found LittleKuriboh’s advice helpful in creating their own work.

In another side video, a 2009 song parody of Eminem’s “Without Me,” titled “Without Yugi,” LittleKuriboh raps about the inception and early years of Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged in the voice of Yugi, concluding a verse with the following:

And while he’s not the first one to fandub Yugi

He is the first one that’s not a newbie

To make the show seem kinda funny

Though it doesn’t make him any money

(HEY!) There’s a concept that’s broke!

Twenty million other users steal his jokes

But no matter how many imitate LK

It won’t change the fact that he’s here to stay [33]

In more recent years and in more recent content, however, LittleKuriboh takes a more playful and even welcoming attitude towards fellow abridgers and a more apathetic one towards his critics. LittleKuriboh has now done guest voices on Dragon Ball Z Abridged and become a permanent member of the collective that makes the show [34], invited fellow abridgers to do voices on Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged beginning with episode 47 (“Beyond the Fourth Wall,” 2010) [35], and also created Naruto: The Abridged Comedy Fandub Spoof Series Show [36], a parody of Naruto the Abridged Series, itself one of the older abridged series on YouTube. The Comedy Fandub Spoof Series Show, begun in 2009, now has nine episodes and an abridged movie based on the Naruto feature film, Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow (released in English in 2007). [37]

LittleKuriboh seems to have warmed to the idea that there is now, for better or for worse, a bona fide YouTube abridged series community, whose celebrities include LittleKuriboh and the members of Team Four Star. Rather than highlighting trolls or particularly strong fan reactions, LittleKuriboh’s meta-humor has of late become more self-deprecating, acknowledging fan complaints in a less combative way. A dialogue exchange in episode 67 (“Toon Pangs,” 2016) provides a good example:

Tristan: I can’t believe we’re in London! The Tower Bridge sure is pretty!

Téa: Tristan, you know full well that’s the Golden Gate Bridge.

Tristan: Don’t be ridiculous. Magneto killed that bridge in X-Men 3: The Last Stand.

Joey: Yeah, Téa. Too soon.

Yugi: Eh, that bridge is overrated. It takes too long to get anywhere. And it’s not even that funny.

Yami: As Pharaoh, I created the original bridge. It was terrible and barely worked. But it was the only one around, so everyone loved it. [38]

Additionally, a 2012 tweet from LittleKuriboh cannily addresses the endless fan refrain about the perceived decrease in quality of his series: “I want to make ‘Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged has sucked since…’ into a thing now.” [39]

LittleKuriboh has used the same concept of substituting dialogue about “bridges” for discussing the state of abridged series as a whole in his Naruto the Abridged Series parody. In episode five of this series (“MILKSHAKE NO JUTSU~!” 2010), the characters Naruto and “Joekage” (based on the Hokage from Naruto proper) discuss the creation and spread of the abridged series as a medium in the following exchange, using Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged, Naruto the Abridged Series, and Dragon Ball Z Abridged as lightly disguised examples:

Joekage: Personally I don’t see what’s so important about a bridge. I mean, come on. First one guy [LittleKuriboh] makes a bridge [Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged]. And everybody uses it, they’re like, “Ooh, look, a bridge. That’s new.” So, like, these other two guys [MasakoX and Vegeta3986] make another bridge [Naruto the Abridged Series]. And it’s kinda like the first one, but people use it anyway because the first guy is like “Oh, their bridge is pretty cool too, check it out.” And then these three other guys [Team Four Star] are like, “Oh, we’re going to make the best bridge ever [Dragon Ball Z Abridged], we’re going to combine our talents and be like, ‘Oh, look at our bridge, it’s totally amazing, ooh.’” and it’s like, it turns out really good, and it’s the best out of all the other bridges. Everybody subscribes to it.

Naruto: Subscribes to it?!

Joekage: I mean er… Everybody crosses it. Because it’s a bridge. Yeah. And before you know it everybody and their mother is making a bridge! So there’s a bridge. Everywhere… Nobody even knows why they’re making a bridge anymore. They just want people to cross it. They don’t care where they’re going. The first guy is like, “I’m going to go to conventions to promote my bridge!” It’s like, it’s just a bridge. It’s not a big deal. Get over it. [40]

In a conversation with LittleKuriboh conducted over Facebook in April 2016, I roughly confirmed that the “three other guys” mentioned in Joekage’s speech refers to Team FourStar; in his own words, LittleKuriboh replied to my question by saying “probably,” remarking that he made the video a long time ago. Additionally, in an interview I conducted with LittleKuriboh in 2013, he refers to Team FourStar as “good friends.”[41] Thus, in the years since he made the “Dan Green Presents Abridging 101” video, we can conclude that LittleKuriboh’s relationship to his admirers and fellow users of the abridged series medium has gotten much more positive.

Beyond Children’s Card Games

While LittleKuriboh has stayed out of using his series to address larger geopolitical or societal issues, a noteworthy exception was made on November 10th, 2016, in the wake of the presidential election. In a video simply titled “processing” [42], LittleKuriboh takes a snippet from a particularly tragic scene in the source material where Yugi loses his soul in a duel. In the original sequence, Yugi’s alter ego Yami has become despondent after Yugi’s soul is lost, and only manages to snap out of his misery when Joey grabs him forcefully and yells at him. LittleKuriboh maintains the spirit of the original text while substituting his own dialogue that on one level addresses the aftermath of the duel but is also clearly meant to be a rallying cry to his viewer base begging them not to lose hope in the wake of the election.

Yami: No matter how much you all hoped, no matter how much you believed, none of it was enough. I wasn’t enough. I have failed, and all hope is lost. We should all just give up. I should just—

Joey: (grabbing Yami by the collar and throwing him to the ground) Snap out of it, Yug! […] It’d be real easy to give up right now, to turn on each other and ourselves and just throw in the towel, but the truth is sometimes the person you want to win doesn’t win. And it makes you confused, angry, full of feelings that have been amplified ‘cos it feels like the loss to end all losses. But win or lose, this is not the end. We can’t give in to despair. We can’t look at this and say “well, it’s time to cry and hate and lash out and give up.” We have to be true to what we always fought for: love, unity, honor. None of those things have been destroyed, so we gotta hold to that. We have to take a breath, congratulate the other guy, and accept every loss and victory from now on with grace, no matter what fear might tell us. It’s too soon to know how things will play out, but we can’t just lose hope in ourselves or each other. So stand up. Stand beside me and everyone else who ever loved you, because we do. We love you, and we keep walking forward together.

In a bizarre and unexpected twist, the comments on the video are full of similarly worded sentiments, with fewer trolls present than expected. [43]


Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series has demonstrated over ten years a constantly changing relationship with not only the original source material and the fans and antifans of the project, but also with countless YouTube users and potential abridgers hungry for internet fame. LittleKuriboh’s creation has not only begun a genre in and of itself, but its ten-year existence allows for many opportunities to observe and remark upon the changes that have arisen between content creators and fans; these changes have since spilled over into more established forms of media such as feature films and broadcast television, and promise to continually restructure the paradigm of how consumers and creators engage with one another.


Deborah Krieger is an arts and culture writer who can’t believe she got to write about Yu-Gi-Oh! in multiple academic settings. She can be found at @DebOnTheArts on both Twitter and Instagram, and runs her own blog at



[1] “Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series,” Abridged Series Wiki,!_The_Abridged_Series

[2] Zephra C. Doerr, “Abridged series and fandom remix culture,” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 9, 2012,

[3] “Screw This Index, I Have Tropes,”

[4] “Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie: Pyramid of Light,” Wikipedia,!_The_Movie:_Pyramid_of_Light

[5] “Yu-Gi-Oh!: Bonds Beyond Time,” Wikipedia,!:_Bonds_Beyond_Time.

[6] “Yu-Gi-Oh! Confessions,” Tumblr blog,

[7] “Does Anyone Else Find Yugioh [sic] Abridged Annoying,” forum on,

[8] “Yu-Gi-Oh! Confessions,” Tumblr blog,

[9] Cyberlink420, “Wayne Grayson quotes Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged,” 2008:

[10] falconzero621, “REAL Joey V.S. ABRIDGED Joey!” 2009:

[11] “The Abridged Series,” TvTropes,

[12] “Naruto The Abridged Series,” Abridged Series Wiki,

[13] “Team Four Star’s [sic] Dragon Ball Z Abridged,” Abridged Series Wiki,

[14] “Thiefshipping,” Urban Dictionary,

[15] “Yu-Gi-Oh! Confessions,” Tumblr blog,

[16] “Marik Plays Bloodlines Part 1,” YGOTAS Wiki,

[17] LittleKuriboh, “Marik Plays Bloodlines—6,” 2015:

[18] archive,

[19] DeviantArt,

[20] “Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series,”,

[21] “Puzzled Shipping,” YGOTAS Wiki,

[22] LittleKuriboh, “Puzzled Shipping,” Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged, 2015:

[23] “Do TV shows always get worse as they go on?” Forum on Ask MetaFilter,

[24] “Headscratchers / Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series,” TvTropes,

[25] “Dragon Ball-General: Does DBZA Ever Annoy You?” Forum on,

[26] “Does Anyone Else Find Yugioh [sic] Abridged Annoying,” forum on,

[27] “YGOTAS is literally the best thing ever,” Reddit thread, 2016:

[28] LittleKuriboh, “Egyptian Exhibition Expo 2007,” Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged, 2007:

[29] LittleKuriboh, “Penguin Ex Machina,” Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged, 2010:

[30] LittleKuriboh, “Cr@psule Monsters 2,” 2008:

[31] “Dan Green Presents Abridging 101,” YGOTAS Wiki,

[32] LittleKuriboh, “Dan Green Presents Abridging 101,” 2008:

[33] LittleKuriboh, “Without Yugi,” 2009:

[34] “LittleKuriboh,” Abridged Series Wiki,

[35] LittleKuriboh, “Beyond the Fourth Wall,” Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged, 2010:

[36] “Ninjabridge,” Abridged Series Wiki,

[37] “Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow,” Naruto Wiki,

[38] LittleKuriboh, “Toon Pangs,” Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged, 2016:

[39] LittleKuriboh, Twitter post, December 16, 2012, 4:52 pm:

[40] LittleKuriboh (alias Ninjabridge), “MILKSHAKE NO JUTSU~!” Naruto: The Abridged Comedy Fandub Spoof Series Show, 2010:

[41] LittleKuriboh, “Interview: A Conversation with LittleKuriboh,” By Deborah Krieger, August 25, 2013.

[42] LittleKuriboh, “processing,” 2016:

[43] Quora forum, “Why is YouTube so Right Wing?”

Doctor Who and Extended TARDIS Time: What Happens When There’s Too Much Exposure to The Doctor? Part 2 Fri, 12 May 2017 15:07:09 +0000 By Tai Gooden

Does prolonged exposure to The Doctor have a negative effect on a companion? Part one of this discussion explored the companions of the Russell T. Davies era. After the Tenth Doctor regenerated, the show also appointed a new showrunner. Steven Moffat took the reins and gave the Eleventh/Twelfth Doctor’s companion more importance than ever.


Amy (& Rory) and Eleven

The Eleventh Doctor started his incarnation with a burning TARDIS, which landed in the yard of his next companion Amelia “Amy” Pond. Out of all the modern companions, The Doctor and Amy’s relationship spans the longest amount of time in Earth years, but their TARDIS time together wasn’t continual. Amelia was seven years old and praying to Santa Claus for help with a mysterious crack in her wall. Her prayers for a policeman were answered when a newly regenerated and very alien incarnation of The Doctor showed up. The Doctor told her to wait a few minutes while he took the newly repaired TARDIS for a test run.

He inadvertently returns 12 years later and discovers that Amelia has grown up to become Amy Pond, a teenager who works as a kissogram. Amy was ostracized by most people in her community because of her belief in a magic “raggedy man” who travels in a blue box. As a child, she only spent a couple of hours with The Doctor, but he had a profound influence over her life. She wrote stories and made drawings about The Doctor, often sharing them with her childhood friend Rory Williams.  Amy felt abandoned by The Doctor (and her dead parents), so she built up an emotional wall around herself and didn’t allow anyone to get too close to her, including Rory, by adulthood her fiance.

After saving the world in 20 minutes, Amy has to wait another two years for him to return again but finally gets her overdue chance to travel in the TARDIS. The first couple of stories featuring Amy showed her being reckless and making impulsive decisions without thinking about the consequences. For example, “The Beast Below,” Amy is on her first adventure and proudly ignores all “Keep Out” signs as she digs into trouble. But, her intelligence shines as she helps Winston Churchill and Professor Bracewell save the world from being exposed to an army of Daleks by tapping into their emotions.

Amy’s backstory and unique relationship with The Doctor as the first companion to meet him as a child made her different from her young contemporaries who had heart eye emojis for the Time Lord. But, that didn’t mean she wasn’t attracted to The Doctor. After several adventures together, including a brush with the Weeping Angels, Amy tried to physically seduce The Doctor when he returned her home on the eve of her wedding to Rory. The Eleventh Doctor counters this by inviting Rory into the TARDIS.

Unlike Rose, Amy was not as possessive over her turf in the TARDIS and welcomed Rory without a grudge.

However, their adventures began to test Amy’s relationships with both The Doctor and Rory. In “Amy’s Choice,” the trio found themselves faced with different alternate realities – one where Amy and Rory established a normal married life and another with The Doctor. The baddie in the story, Dream Lord, secluded Amy and asked her to choose between Rory or an adventurous life with The Doctor. In the end, she killed herself in one of the realities because of her love for Rory. This episode was a pivotal breakthrough in terms of her personal development and the trajectory of her relationship with Rory. Amy discovered the power in her choices, the deepness of her love for Rory, and the value of her life both with and without The Doctor.

Amy’s love for Rory was the grounding force in her life that helped her not become too wrapped up in The Doctor’s world. Amy admired The Doctor, but she also got to see Rory’s valiant qualities develop and appreciated what he brought to the team. Their ability to travel together with The Doctor brought them closer together because of their shared experience. When Rory was beginning to be wiped away from existence in “Cold Blood,” the Doctor tried to have Amy hold onto memories of him but she lost concentration and didn’t remember him. The Doctor shouldered significant guilt over losing Rory and continued to take Amy on adventures.

As they became a duo again, Amy and The Doctor’s similarities made them an interesting team. They were eccentric and adventurous, which made for lots of laughs and chemistry. Both of them shouldered some of the weight from their pasts but they learned how to become more open with their emotions. Viewers began to see a less guarded Amy who expressed a myriad of emotions as she met the tragic Vincent Van Gogh and reunited with Rory in “The Pandorica Opens” after he waits for her for 2,000 years. Amy was stubborn, loyal, and fiercely determined to find a solution – both strong traits needed to survive with The Doctor. However, she always managed to find balance in her life and started the beginning of season six leading a normal life with Rory.  It was the first time in modern Who that a companion wasn’t “all in” and tried to balance two worlds. Amy seemed to have it all – love, happiness, and adventure.

Amy’s arc with The Doctor became complex than previous modern Who companions. Fans watched The Doctor leave a message for Amelia to search for Amy and release her from the Pandorica. Amy became a woman who was kidnapped by Madame Kovarian, a leader of the Silence movement, and gave birth to a child conceived in the TARDIS who was half-human/half-Time Lord. Amy’s daughter was brainwashed by Kovarian to kill The Doctor. In, “A Good Man Goes to War,” the child turned out to be River Song, the woman known as The Doctor’s wife and Amy’s childhood friend in a previous incarnation. The Doctor also broke Amy’s faith in him in “The God Complex” when they faced a foe who killed by feeding on a person’s faith. This was an emotional ride for her character because she had always had agency in her travels with The Doctor and now things were happening to her which were beyond her control. Amy went through a myriad of emotions during this time – shock from finding out the Doctor’s part-time lover was her daughter, anger over her child being ripped away from her, and sadness because she didn’t have the chance to raise her child. River and The Doctor tried to comfort Amy and explain that River’s previous incarnation, Melody aka “Mel,” was raised by Amy because she often guided her as they grew up together. Once again, there was guilt on The Doctor’s side because he was the primary reason behind Amy’s kidnapping and River’s life as a trained assassin.  However, Amy was not going to remain broken and exacted her revenge against Madame Kovarian for corrupting River, telling her that River got her cunning nature from her mother.

As their time goes on, Amy and Rory started to travel infrequently with the Doctor in favor of maintaining a normal life. However, they couldn’t manage to permanently break ties with The Doctor, who had become attached to the couple. After The Doctor helped them save the world from mysterious cubes in “The Power of Three,” Rory’s father encouraged them to continue their travels as long as The Doctor brought them back safe. Unfortunately, the married couple would never return to their normal lives, due to Rory being touched by a weeping angel, a predatory alien race which resembles statues, in the following episode. The Weeping Angels were known for creeping up on a victim in the literal blink of an eye and sending them back to the past to die as they consumed the person’s future energy. “The Angels of Manhattan” saw Amy and Rory once again making an executive decision without the Doctor. They committed to create a paradox and destroy the Angels. Their plan worked, but one last Angel took Rory back to the past in front of Amy, River, and The Doctor.  Amy had to make a choice and she allowed herself to be touched by the same angel so she could die with Rory in the past. Amy remained married to Rory and became a successful writer, thereby still having a great life. She had autonomy on how she ended her travels with The Doctor, even though she broke his heart.

Amy’s long tenure in The TARDIS proved that a companion could travel with The Doctor long term and experience inconceivable trials but the story could still end with a semi-happy ending for the traveler.


Clara and Eleven

Losing Amy and Rory emotionally rattled the Eleventh Doctor, prompting him to go into hiding until he met a mysterious woman named Clara Oswin Oswald from 19th century London. The Doctor was sulking in his TARDIS in the cloud until Clara brilliantly passed a one word test administered by his friend Madame Vastra to earn his help. He was woken up out of his emotional slumber by this woman from days past who is as dashing and driven as he was before losing his friends. The plot thickens when she died at the end and he discovered her name is the same as a woman he met (but never saw) in an earlier adventure with Amy. From that point forward, he was curious about why versions of this woman keep popping up across time and set out to find the modern version of Clara.

When the contemporary Clara Oswald first meets The Doctor in “The Bells of Saint John,” she wanted nothing to do with the bizarre Doctor. This version of Clara was also resourceful and helped The Doctor bring down the Great Intelligence’s plan to upload people’s souls through an alien Wi-fi network. She took on traveling with The Doctor out of pure wanderlust and curiosity and he was intrigued by the mysterious woman. Clara was a woman who seemed secure in her life, yet her background was much more of a mystery than her predecessors. Each adventure slowly chipped away at Clara’s true identity, revealing in their second adventure (“The Rings of Akhaten”) that The Doctor was at her mother’s funeral. When she questioned him about it, he said she reminded him of a friend who died and Clara became upset, calling him out for using her as a replacement. She leaves the TARDIS but they soon reconcile.

Like Martha, Clara did not need The Doctor to help her find purpose or to validate her importance.

The school teacher was relatively smart and a loner, but there was not a lot of development for Clara in her first season, so fans knew she would her story would take time. In “The Name of the Doctor,”she had different versions of herself helping all of the past Doctors (excluding the War Doctor), thereby making her the “Impossible Girl.” This (sort of) made her the longest running companion in the show and the only one who had experience with all of the Doctors. The big mystery was solved and Clara’s cleverness was appreciated, but her character progression in the TARDIS was still unclear. She was there and going on adventures, but she didn’t seem to be changing in any way.

Clara played an important role in the Eleventh Doctor’s final story “The Time of The Doctor.” After attempts to send Clara back to Earth to protect her as he fought thousands of alien enemies on Trenzalore, The Doctor was aging quickly and expected to die because he had no regenerations left. Clara spoke up and defended him to the Time Lords, begging them to help The Doctor by granting him another set of regenerations. It worked and The Doctor was able to stop the war using his regeneration energy. Interestingly, as The Doctor gives his final soliloquy before regeneration, it was a vision of Amy Pond he sees, but he wishes Clara well. He abruptly becomes the Twelfth Doctor, leaving Clara stunned and confused. This was the second time that a regeneration takes place in front of a companion and it once again had an interesting affect on the companion/Doctor relationship.

Clara and Twelve

The Twelfth Doctor’s first series with Clara was a difficult, yet necessary journey in terms of both character’s development. The Doctor had become a man starkly different from the gangly, eccentric one he was as Eleven. Twelve started his journey as an aesthetically older, darker man whom Clara found it hard to bond with because she wanted the old Doctor back. In their first story, he tended to insult and confuse Clara but she still believed in his ability to save her if she was in distress. At the end of the episode, she got a phone call from the Eleventh Doctor shortly before their last encounter, who encouraged her to stay with him.

As trouble brewed with a mysterious woman named Missy, Clara found herself increasingly frustrated with the Twelfth Doctor and his extreme lack of a moral compass. She became a much more opinionated, outspoken companion and frequently challenged The Doctor’s choices. At the same time, she begins to fall in love with a fellow teacher and ex-military man named Danny Pink. As she slowly built a relationship with The Doctor, she struggled to balance her romance with Danny. When The Doctor came to Coal Hill School as a caretaker, Danny found  himself caught up in the action and was shocked at how Clara fearlessly plunged into dangerous situations.

“I know men like him. I’ve served under them. They push you and make you stronger until you’re doing things you never thought you could. I saw you tonight. You did exactly what he told you, you weren’t even scared, and you should have been.” -Danny Pink

Danny warns her to let him know if The Doctor started to push her too far. However, Danny also said he would leave her if she didn’t tell him the truth because he wanted to “help” her. This made his offer as a supportive shoulder an issue because 1) Clara didn’t ask to be protected from her decisions and 2) giving her an ultimatum made Danny as problematic as The Doctor. After admitting her love for Danny, Clara’s relationship with The Doctor took a dramatic turn in ‘Kill the Moon” when he abandoned her and one of her students at a lunar colony, forcing her to make a decision about whether she should kill a creature emerging from the moon or allow it to live. Clara felt as though The Doctor had pushed her too far and took solace in Danny, telling the Doctor to never come back to her again. Danny asks her to leave The Doctor alone, but Clara is far too addicted to the thrills of time travel and ends up lying to both men so she can lead a double life. She was being pulled in two different directions and felt like she had to constantly lie and sneak to have what she wanted in life.

The Doctor’s imprint on Clara is perhaps the strongest yet as she took on many of his traits. She acted as The Doctor in “Flatline” when he became stuck in his TARDIS, using the sonic screwdriver and a companion named Risgy to solve the mystery. And, when she decided tell Danny more about her life in the TARDIS, he died in a car accident. She turns on The Doctor and starts throwing his TARDIS keys into lava in an attempt to make him change the past. “Dark Water” shows how The Doctor’s dark, manipulative side is reflected in Clara as she lured him to a volcano and put a sleep patch on his neck. He refused to go back and save Danny, citing a time paradox. The Doctor reversed the sleep patch on her and was hurt by her betrayal of him, but he continued to help her try to locate Danny in the afterlife. It was a selfish and cruel move by Clara, who showed no remorse for her actions against The Doctor.

At the conclusion of the series, Clara is furious over Missy orchestrating Danny’s death and attempts to murder her, but The Doctor insists on doing it himself to protect Clara. The Doctor assumes Danny has been saved and declares he is going to return to Gallifrey, but Danny is still deceased. Clara chooses to lie to The Doctor again and allows him to leave partially from her guilt about how she treated The Doctor over Danny. Constant lies to protect someone’s knowledge or spare feelings has been a trait of The Doctor and now Clara was using his own tricks against him. Series 8 gave fans the character development they requested and showed a darker, more conniving side of Clara Oswald. The Doctor and Clara reunited for a Christmas adventure, where Clara found herself under the spell of a dream crab. After defeating the dream crabs, Clara’s interest in traveling with The Doctor became renewed and they began a new chapter in their relationship.

Series 9 Clara showed Clara becoming dangerously immersed in her adventures with The Doctor. After a rocky period, the pair had found their rhythm and Clara held her own even better than before as she came face to face with Missy on her own. The Doctor starts leaving her to her own devices more often and she does well each time, easily leading groups and solving complex situations. But, her behavior became increasingly risky as she starts to take more chances alongside The Doctor, forgetting that she was still mortal while he had a new set of regenerations. Her faith in The Doctor also played a role in her impulsive behavior because she assumed he would always find a way to save her if she was in distress. She was starting to play a dangerous game that was noticeable to The Doctor, who kept telling her to exercise more care with her actions.  

Clara starts to challenge the Doctor less when it mattered the most. For example, his decision to bring a young woman named Ashildr/Me back to life who would be the cause of his separation from Clara. After battling Zygons, sleep dust, and a myriad of other creatures, Clara met her demise in “Face the Raven.” In an attempt to save Risgy, she took the deadly Chronolock and placed it on the back of her neck, assuming either she or The Doctor would find a way to rectify her impulsive action. The Doctor and Clara discovered it was orchestrated by Ashildr/Me and there was no way to save her. The Doctor wanted to take revenge on Ashildr, but Clara convinced him to not do it and allow her to face the consequences of her actions.

Clara’s death was the first one for a companion in the new series and was a reminder of what can happen when a companion has too much faith in The Doctor.

Clara was suffering from the traumatic loss of Danny, and she paid the price with her life. Her loss was shocking to many fans, but the blow was lessened when The Doctor forces the Time Lords use an extraction chamber to retrieve Clara from her time of death. He hoped to take her far away, but he had to remove Clara’s memories to help her survive. However, in one last act of Doctorish defiance, Clara altered the device so The Doctor lost his memory of their time together. In the end, Clara partnered with Ashildr in her own TARDIS and decided to take the long way around to Gallifrey – a fitting end for the most Doctorish companion of all.


Twelve and Bill (and beyond?)

Now, the Twelfth Doctor is on an adventure with a new companion, Bill Potts. Series 10 is only a few episodes in, but Bill has quickly become a fan favorite. She’s a Black queer woman who constantly questions The Doctor. They share a student/teacher relationship and Bill is well developed despite her short tenure so far. It is unclear if Bill is in it for the long run or if she will leave after one season like Martha Jones, but fans are interested to see how her arc will run. Like her predecessors, time may have a negative effect on her development as a woman, or she might find herself having it all in the end like Amy Pond. And, with Chris Chibnall taking the reins over the show in 2018, something unprecedented may happen with Bill. Either way, the companion journey with The Doctor is imperfect, impossible, frustrating, liberating, and fantastic.

Extended TARDIS Time: What Happens To Companions When There’s Too Much Exposure to The Doctor? Part One Fri, 05 May 2017 15:37:47 +0000 by Tai Gooden

The British show Doctor Who centers on the titular character The Doctor, and his adventures through time and space in his 1950s police box / time machine, the TARDIS. Doctor Who captured the hearts of the British television audience as they watched The Doctor battle otherworldly foes and liberate lands across the universe. Now Doctor Who is a BBC juggernaut and worldwide phenomenon.

One of the key factors to Doctor Who’s success is The Doctor’s ability to regenerate his body when he is fatally wounded. This has allowed over a dozen actors to step into the Doctor’s shoes and put their own unique spin on each incarnation of the character. The different iterations of The Doctor are often referred to by the order of their appearance (First through Twelfth) and each version has developed his own iconic traits. Throughout the series, each Doctor has had a rotating cast of fellow travelers (commonly known as companions) to join him in his exploits.

The companion role was designed to be an audience surrogate so viewers have a person to identify with in the TARDIS. Each companion is as different as The Doctor with different personalities, strengths, and backgrounds. Differences aside, Doctor Who companions are able to live the average Whovian’s dream. They are journalists, mechanics, or food service workers dragging through an uneventful life and waiting for the day when something magical happens. Then, one day their lives are sent on a different trajectory via an encounter with an incredible, mysterious man known as The Doctor. They learn about the TARDIS – a bigger on the inside space with the ability to travel almost anywhere in space and time. And he senses something special in them and offers a chance to leave the daily grind for a life amongst the stars. Of course, they say yes and their lives are never the same again.

The life of a companion sounds enviable, but traveling with The Doctor has negative effects. The Doctor is captivating, but he is also dangerous. He is a virtually immortal Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who has been involved in countless battles with death and destruction. He often holds millions of lives in his hands and has the ability to alter past events. He steps into situations and appoints himself as an authoritative figure and everyone follows because of his ruthless reputation in the universe.

Rapper Kanye West once said “No one man should have all that power” – a phrase which applies to The Doctor.

He can sometimes become calculating and impetuous as he makes decisions based on his moral code, which often differs from what most humans would do. At first, The Doctor brings out the best in his companions and they begin to challenge their preconceived notions about the universe. But, as they spend time together, some companions change in unanticipated ways. Unhealthy bonds begin to develop between the two and brings an interesting question to mind – does prolonged, consistent exposure to The Doctor have a negative effect on a companion?

When examining this question, there are a few obvious factors to consider. The companion’s personality type and circumstances versus The Doctor they are paired with makes a profound difference on how the character develops as a companion. And, a companion who witnesses his regeneration will experience a shift in the companion/Doctor dynamic.

Nine and Rose

The Russell T. Davies era (2005-2010) featured several women (and a few supporting men) who were fortunate enough to travel with The Doctor. Rose Tyler, the first companion in the modern series, met The Doctor as a 19-year-old working in a clothing shop. She was like most women her age – restless, impulsive, and desiring something more. The first story of the new series, “Rose,” introduced her before The Doctor and showed a day in her life. She woke up, went to work, ate lunch with her boyfriend Mickey, went back to work, and was preparing to go home when a chance encounter changed her life. Rose was chosen to take a nightly deposit downstairs at the end of her shift when she ran into The Doctor. She was somewhat terrified by by him but she jumped into action and helped him save the world from the Autons. Rose was unexpectedly faced with the choice of running away in the TARDIS or staying behind to take care of her boyfriend and mother. At first, she declined out of fear, but The Doctor persisted and her curiosity got the best of her as she sprinted into the TARDIS. Before she left, she told Mickey thanks for nothing and disappeared in the TARDIS. It was a mean spirited way to leave, however it’s easy to see how a person could be caught up in an emotional wave after meeting The Doctor. Rose had obvious affection for Mickey, but he seemed like a blithering, skittish idiot next to the dashing Doctor.

Rose and the Ninth Doctor spent one season of the show together, but the actual amount of her timeline with him is up for debate. Their first two adventures in the TARDIS seemed like only a matter of hours for the pair, but on Earth it was over a year before Rose returned in “Aliens of London.” Her mother Jackie Tyler, was upset and did not trust The Doctor after he took Rose away for a year, leading her to believe that Rose had died or been kidnapped. Mickey was accused of her murder and ostracized by the community, yet he didn’t tell anyone about Rose running off with The Doctor. Both Mickey and Jackie forgave Rose for her impulsive decision. Rose had some remorse for leaving them and thought about staying with her family. Mickey proved himself an asset to The Doctor in “World War Three” with his computer hacking skills and was offered a spot in the TARDIS, but he declined. At this point, Rose encouraged Mickey to come along, but The Doctor pretended he was a “liability” so Rose wouldn’t discover Mickey’s fear of time travel.

Rose’s relationship with Mickey and Jackie became strained due to conflicting feelings about her association with The Doctor. There is no sign of an official breakup between Rose and Mickey, so he continues to treat Rose like his girlfriend. Mickey is justifiably jealous of The Doctor, but he doesn’t want to feel like he is holding her back. Jackie is proud of Rose’s actions to save the world and is willing to learn more about The Doctor. But some of her suspicions about The Doctor having an unhealthy influence on Rose are not far fetched. In the same episode, Rose gets a phone call from The Doctor and tells him that her mom wants to do dinner with him. He abruptly refuses and tells Rose she has two choices – stay there or hop back into the TARDIS. His ultimatum further widened rift between Rose and her home life. She doesn’t hesitate and starts packing her clothes, prompting her mom to ask her to stay. Rose’s father Pete had passed away when she was a baby, so Jackie fears losing her daughter to dangerous time travel if something happened to The Doctor. Rose’s taste of traveling had her hooked, so she made the choice to leave again. The choice made sense for Rose – she didn’t believe she had a future on Earth and for the first time she felt like she mattered. She talked Nine out of murdering a Dalek, one of the Doctor’s archenemies, in cold blood and connected with women in service positions to help them through trouble.

Rose’s great qualities – her compassion, adventurous spirit, and practical thinking – became magnified in her travels and was a needed asset for the emotionally broken Ninth Doctor. Rose’s companionship brought him back from a dark place and forced him to come to terms with his feelings.  She often challenged The Doctor’s decisions and his war hardened exterior began to soften as she brought happiness back into his life.

However, Rose was often selfish in her interactions with her loved ones. After returning to Earth in “Boom Town,” Rose called Mickey to the TARDIS to bring her passport and they made plans to grab food and a hotel room. She spent her time with Mickey talking about her travels with The Doctor, which prompted Mickey to tell her that he was dating someone else.  Rose became upset with him for spontaneously dropping her for another woman, which was ironic considering she had done the same thing to him. He says things were happy between them before The Doctor and he made her feel like he meant nothing. Suddenly, trouble ensued and Rose ran off toward The Doctor without thinking of Mickey until long after the problem had been solved. She realized Mickey deserved better than her and sadly left with The Doctor. Rose’s epiphany showed a bit of maturity on her part, but her desire for those around her to stay frozen in place for her return was unrealistic.

Rose’s final episode with Nine, “The Parting of Ways” is a battle between the positive character development she gained with Nine and her continued loyalty to him at the expense of Mickey and Jackie. She was willing to risk her life to help The Doctor face a Dalek fleet, but he made the tough choice to activate the emergency program to return her to Earth in the TARDIS. A hologram of The Doctor explained that he will more than likely die and the TARDIS can never return to him again. Rose was heartbroken and frantically tried to make the TARDIS take her back. Mickey heard the sound of the TARDIS and despite their negative last encounter, came rushing to comfort Rose. Jackie and Mickey tried to reason with her and believed the Doctor made a wise choice because he cared about her life. Rose became upset and countered their thoughts with perhaps her most poignant quote in the series.

“It was a better life. And I don’t mean all the traveling and seeing aliens and spaceships and things..that don’t matter. The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life. (To Mickey:) You know he showed you too. You don’t just give up, you don’t just let things happen, you make a stand, you say no, you have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else runs away.” – Rose Tyler

Rose surmised a brilliant plan to break into the heart of the TARDIS in hopes that it would send her back to The Doctor. Mickey said she would die if she left and she told him it was a risk she was willing take because there was “nothing” for her on Earth. Mickey was hurt by her words, but he and Jackie helped her with the plan and she absorbed the energy from the time vortex, which allowed her to travel back to The Doctor. It was an incredibly selfless act for Mickey, who had to watch a woman he loved disappear and potentially not return to save the man she left him for. And, Jackie had to deal with the prospect of losing her only child in a war. Rose gained the power to disintegrate the entire Dalek army and save The Doctor and Captain Jack Harkness, a Time Agent from the 51st century who met Rose/Nine in an earlier episode. Jack had become a recurring traveler and was murdered by the Daleks until Rose brought him back to life and made him immortal. However, the time vortex was too much for her human mind, so The Doctor kissed her to transfer the energy into his own body. He soon regenerated into the Tenth Doctor and Rose’s journey with him started a new chapter.

Tenth and Rose

The Tenth Doctor and Rose became one of the most popular pairings on the show for several reasons. The Doctor had regenerated into a man who complemented Rose both aesthetically and personality wise. He was charismatic, dashing, and witty yet he still had an underbelly of fire and rage that showed he was the same Time Lord. Their star crossed lovers storyline captured the hearts of Whovians who enjoyed the newfound romantic element in the series. Her initial distrust of the new Doctor quickly grew into her becoming more enamored with his attractive incarnation as they set off among the stars. It was at this point where Rose’s personality began to change. “Tooth and Claw” took Ten and Rose back to 1879, where they run into Queen Victoria. She thought a fallen tree on her original travel route would lead to an assassination attempt, so she stayed at Torchwood Estate – the home of Sir Robert MacLeish. The Doctor used psychic paper to convince her that he was a doctor of medicine and he traveled alongside Rose to the estate. They discovered that Torchwood Estate was hijacked by monks who have brought a man infected with lycanthropy to pass the infection on through royal blood via the Queen. Ten and Rose were annoying throughout the episode, making rude remarks about the house guest’s heirloom from his father and trying to make jokes in front of a very scared (and suspicious) Queen Victoria.

They stayed at odds with Queen Victoria throughout the episode and she became very annoyed over their excitement about a deadly werewolf in the estate. After giving them royal titles for saving her life, she banned them from the British empire. The Queen told them they consorted with darkness and thought it was fun, but their travels would have consequences. Their actions and smug attitudes caused Queen Elizabeth to form Torchwood, an organization designed to eliminate alien threats which would play a role in their separation later in the season. Torchwood would later play a major role in the series as a covert organization above government jurisdiction that used alien technology against foes and often resorted to violence to solve problems. Interestingly, Captain Jack Harkness later became a key member of Torchwood.

To be fair, some of Rose’s not-so-great moments were justified by her circumstances. When The Doctor encounters past companion Sarah Jane Smith in “School Reunion,” Rose discovers she is not the first person to travel with The Doctor. This leads to a war of (ageist) words between Sarah Jane and Rose which Sarah Jane initiated when she said Rose wouldn’t know about dissecting an animal because she hadn’t made it to that level of school. She snipply asked Rose “how old are you anyway?” before Rose said animals are dissected in schools anymore and asked Sarah if she was from the Dark Ages. The pair got into a one-up match about their travels with The Doctor but Sarah Jane quickly ended the argument because she knew how intense a relationship can be with The Doctor. A part of their banter takes place in front of Mickey, who convinced Rose and The Doctor to investigate strange happenings at a local school. Rose confronted The Doctor about her fate with him and questioned how he could drop Sarah Jane if he cared about her. He tried to explain how hard it would be for him to watch a companion grow old and die while he continues to live, calling it the “curse of the Time Lord.” This episode was when The Doctor realized the extent of Rose’s unhealthy attachment to him but he was already more emotionally invested than he is willing to admit. “School Reunion” concluded with Rose having a change of heart about Sarah Jane and taking her advice to travel with The Doctor because it is worth an eventual broken heart. However, Rose still believed youth she would be “different” than the others and travel with The Doctor forever. She is also upset when Mickey asks to join them in the TARDIS, a move prompted by his “tin dog” conversation with Sarah Jane. Rose’s heart is put to the test in the following episode (“The Girl in the Fireplace”) when The Doctor develops a brief romance with Madame de Pompadour. He jumps through a mirror to save Reinette, leaving Rose and Mickey abandoned on a spaceship, despite not having a plan for how to get back to his companions. Rose stares in shock at a wall as Mickey looks on sadly, horrified that The Doctor chose Reinette, but he finds a way back to her and she forgives him.

Nine & Ten and Mickey (plus goodbye to Rose)

While Nine and Mickey had their moments of poking fun and bumping heads, Ten and Rose’s treatment of Mickey was terrible. Rose consistently sent Mickey mixed signals throughout her time with The Doctor, flirting with him and saying she missed him, but acting in ways which suggested otherwise. She called for him when she needed him and strung him along, knowing he didn’t have the courage to leave her for good. In “School Reunion,” Sarah Jane Smith tells Mickey that The Doctor and Rose treat him like a third wheel – or in her words “the tin dog.” The Doctor and Rose have depended on his skills before but they ridiculed him for expressing fear because he was not as well versed in alien affairs. When the Tenth Doctor assigned tasks, Mickey was always an afterthought and often relegated to being the watchdog. At the beginning of “The Rise of the Cybermen,” Mickey had been holding down a button on the TARDIS console for a half an hour while Ten and Rose reminisced over the good times. He realized they forgot about him and once again felt resentful of their relationship.

After the TARDIS fell out of the time vortex onto a parallel Earth, Rose wanted to chase after that world’s version of her deceased father, who was a successful businessman. Mickey discovered his parallel grandmother was alive as well and they both went separate ways to explore this new world against The Doctor’s wishes. As Ten stood in the middle, Mickey said the Doctor will always choose Rose because he was just a spare part. Rose, who was in earshot of this conversation, said nothing and left Mickey on his own. Rose began to tell The Doctor about Mickey’s origins and his grandmother’s death and admitted they take Mickey for granted. However, neither one of them comes to his defense in “The Age of Steel.”  Mickey meets Ricky – the parallel him who is a braver “freedom fighter” – and Ricky dies in an encounter with the Cybermen. Ricky’s best friend Jake insulted Mickey in front of a group, telling him that he was nothing. The Doctor simply said they should move on and Rose remained silent again. As the group surmised a plan, Ten inadvertently left Mickey out of the plan. Mickey insisted on taking a major role in disabling a transmitter and said days of being the “tin dog” are over and as he ran off with Jake. After successfully destroying an EarPod transmitter on a zeppelin, Mickey made a wise decision to stay in parallel Earth and travel with Jake to liberate other cities. Rose was sad about losing Mickey, but realized there is nothing left between them anymore.

Mickey’s short time with The Doctor and Sarah Jane’s influence led to him being the true winner in the TARDIS trio. Before he traveled in the TARDIS, Mickey had settled with his life and become comfortable. But The Doctor’s relationship with Rose forced him out of his comfort zone and gave him a chance to expand his horizons. He had just enough exposure to The Doctor to realize his true worth and tap into his full potential. Sarah Jane also gave him the boost he needed to get out of his own way and experience life in the TARDIS. And, getting to see Rose and Ten fawning over each other was the push he need to release his feelings for Rose and move forward with a brand new life on another Earth. Mickey Smith’s arc from being a bumbling boyfriend who called The Doctor a “thing” to a man liberating cities from Cybermen was an incredible development. Unfortunately, audiences didn’t get to see Mickey’s progression during his travels with Jake. When Mickey made a brief return in “Army of Ghosts/Doomsday” he was a smarter, more valiant hero who ran toward danger. He realized how The Doctor had helped him become better and helped to save the Earth from millions of Cybermen. He had gained everyone’s respect and had no intentions to pick up where he left off on regular Earth or in Rose’s life, even after she ended up stranded on parallel Earth.

In “Doomsday,” Jackie was horrified when Rose chose to return to regular Earth instead of seeking safety in parallel Earth. The Doctor warned Rose that she would never be able to see her mother again if she stayed with him as he closed the void between the worlds. Rose said she made her decision to stay with The Doctor a long time ago and willingly gave up her mom for The Doctor. Love was powerful, but Rose didn’t even take a minute to say goodbye to one of the most important people in her life. Rose was swept away during a plan to trap the Daleks in a void and caught by Pete, who saved her from being caught in the void. Mickey, Jake, and Jackie stood silently as Rose mourned The Doctor. Mickey and Jackie continued to support Rose as they made a life on parallel Earth. This marked the end of Rose’s consistent time with The Doctor, although she made a brief return later in the series. She eventually got closure with The Doctor, who left her with a war version of himself on parallel Earth. This was an awful decision by The Doctor for a few reasons. First, Rose had spent lots of time and effort to reunite with him. Second, the “metacrisis” Doctor wouldn’t have been any more dangerous on “regular” Earth than he was on parallel Earth. And, he didn’t give Rose a chance to make a decision about traveling with him again. He prompted the metacrisis Doctor to tell Rose he loved her and he sneakily disappeared in the TARDIS forever. His decision probably hurt Rose once again because she said she wanted to be with him. Mickey’s ending was much better; he got to spend time with his parallel grandmother before joining Rose and The Doctor for one last adventure. He played a hand in saving the day one more time before meeting Rose’s replacement companion, Martha Jones, marrying her, and starting a life as a freelance alien hunter.

Ten and Martha

Martha Jones’ time in the TARDIS picked up soon after the Tenth Doctor lost Rose. Unlike Rose, Martha was from an upper middle class background and secure with her life while she worked in residency at a local hospital. Martha was the first full-time Black companion in Doctor Who who was specifically written to be a Black woman.

While Mickey traveled with The Doctor, he was written through a colorblind lens, so his race was never addressed in the plot. However, Martha being a Black woman was discussed during her time as a companion.

Martha didn’t need to be “saved” but she welcomed a break from her regularly scheduled programming. She was immediately taken by Ten’s charismatic ways and followed him soon after they met. From her first episode (“Smith and Jones”), Martha’s problem solving abilities were put into the spotlight as she fielded several phone calls from disagreeing family members while on her way to work. Her curiosity, intelligence, and calm demeanor impressed The Doctor as her hospital was abruptly transported to the moon. The medical student gave The Doctor her last breath at the end of the episode because she believed in his ability to save the day. Despite his flirty nature, The Doctor was still reeling from Rose’s departure. His love hangover was trumped by his intense loneliness and he offered Martha a trip in the TARDIS. Her one time trip in the TARDIS led to a couple of years worth of adventures together as Martha faced several difficulties.

The Doctor treated Martha similar to Mickey (minus the intelligence insults) by putting her in Rose’s shadow. In their first TARDIS adventure, “The Shakespearean Code” he looked Martha in the eye and said that he KNEW Rose would have the answer for what they should do next. It was the first of several moments when The Doctor would bring up Rose or mention her in front of Martha and make her feel inferior. He turned a blind eye to her romantic feelings for him and used Martha to fill an emotional void left by Rose. He even took her to New Earth, the same place he went on his “first date” with Rose Tyler as his current incarnation.

After four adventures, The Doctor abruptly dropped her off in her living room with intentions on leaving her forever. He quickly returned and managed to win over her sister in “The Lazarus Experiment” as the trio worked together to bring down her shady boss, whose DNA altering machine has sinister effects. However, this doesn’t stop Martha’s mother from being highly suspicious of The Doctor and wanting her to stay away from him. As Martha jumped into action to help The Doctor against Lazarus, her mother said the monster would kill her if she went back to help. Martha told her that she didn’t care and she wouldn’t leave The Doctor. Martha’s mother was also approached in the same episode by a man who warned her about The Doctor being a dangerous person. This makes her feel concerned for Martha and causes contention between them throughout the episode. However, Martha’s defiance came from a more respectful place, whereas Rose had a more caustic approach toward her mother over The Doctor. Martha almost left The Doctor because she didn’t want to be a random passenger, but he convinced her to continue traveling with him. Martha was deeply infatuated with The Doctor at this point, so she was delighted to be thought of as “more than just a passenger.”

Her contributions to conflict were often thankless, but her belief in The Doctor and what he stood for from a universal perspective kept her around. She found herself in racist settings more than once and was even left to her own devices in “Human Nature/Family of Blood” when The Doctor had to disguise himself as a human. While he ended up as a professor at a boys school, Martha was a maid, which would have been customary for a Black woman at an all-White school in 1913. She endured mistreatment from The Doctor as John Smith, other staff, and the boys at the school but she continued to protect The Doctor and keep his essence safe in the fob watch. The Doctor repaid her by dreaming of Rose and falling in love with a woman at the school, thereby crushing Martha’s heart once again. By the end of this story, The Doctor started recognizing Martha’s value as a companion.

Unrequited love aside, Martha was a brilliant companion whose intelligence, self confidence, and bravery shined in every situation as she made careful decisions, often while being left to her own devices. She loved Ten but she never became so absorbed that she lost herself while traveling in the TARDIS. Martha gained a universal perspective of the world around her and acquired expertise which would help her take her career to unimaginable heights. She often used her skills as a medical student to help others and managed to bring down one of The Doctor’s nemesis, The Master, without timey wimey/ Time Lord magic on her side. She walked the Earth as a disciple for The Doctor, prompting the world to say his name and bring him back to form. But, in the process, Martha’s family had to endure being enslaved.

When all was right with the universe again, Martha’s work to save the world was erased from history. This tied into the erasure of Black women’s contributions to society, further diminishing Martha’s impact in the Whoniverse.

However, The Doctor thanked her for her work to save the world. He assumed they would continue their travels, but Martha had had enough of being the “replacement Rose.” She knew the sacrifices both she and her family had made because of their association with The Doctor and also realized that he would never value her in the same way as Rose. So, Martha made the decision to walk away, return to her residency, and take care of her family. Before she departed the TARDIS, she had parting words for The Doctor:

“I spent a lot of time with you thinking I was second best. But you know what? I am good.” – Martha Jones

She left a phone with The Doctor in case they need to reach each other and is seen breathing a sigh of relief as she walked out of the TARDIS. Martha’s time with The Doctor was shorter (both on screen and in estimated Earth years) than Rose and, similar to Mickey, she came out of her time in the TARDIS with a renewed perspective on the world around her. While some of her reason for leaving The Doctor was related to his unreturned affection, Martha never expressed wanting to travel with The Doctor forever. She was in it for the adventure, but had intentions on returning to her family and pursuing her education. She became Dr. Martha Jones, the badass UNIT employee (later Torchwood) with masterful skills in medicine and otherworldly encounters. The Doctor felt the pain of her loss, admitting to his next companion, Donna Noble, that Martha was brilliant and he “destroyed her.” Martha herself came back for a couple of stories during Donna’s run, but she had changed into a much more authoritative figure who had long gotten over her crush on The Doctor. She was now a Doctor and her focus was doing whatever it took to help save Earth.

Ten and Donna

Donna Noble’s first time in the TARDIS took place during a one off adventure (“The Runaway Bride“)before The Doctor met Martha. After the Tenth Doctor burned up a sun to say goodbye to Rose, Donna suddenly appeared in the impenetrable TARDIS wearing a wedding dress. The Doctor’s sadness turned to curiosity as he returned the scared woman back to Earth to figure out how the hell she got into his spaceship. Unlike her predecessors, Donna was a bit older woman who worked as a temp and was not attracted to The Doctor. She was oblivious to the previous alien happenings on Earth because she was caught up in her own world. Donna lived with her belittling mother and optimistic grandfather who encouraged her to find her spark again. Her encounter with The Doctor allowed her to discover several sides of his character  – fun, rage, loneliness, and unpredictability. After discovering Donna was a pawn in a scheme by the Racnoss, The Doctor’s fury took over and he nearly killed himself while punishing the alien race until Donna told him to stop. His feelings were hurt by Donna when she rejected his offer for a spot in the TARDIS. However, Donna promised to “do something” with her life and asked The Doctor to find someone so he would not be alone.

Two years passed and Donna was back into the same rut. She regretted her decision to not travel with The Doctor and began to investigate paranormal activities in hopes of meeting him again. Donna finally struck gold in “Partners In Crime” when they crossed paths at Adipose Industries to figure out why a popular fat pill was making cellulite literally walk away. At the end, Donna had her bags packed and was ready to go with The Doctor, but he warned her that he just wanted a platonic traveling partner. She hilariously tells him she’s not romantically attracted to him because he’s too skinny.

Donna’s character had already shown significant growth from her first appearance, where she was screeching at The Doctor and freaked out by all things alien. She hadn’t lost her edge and outspokenness, but her mind was more open to traveling. Her compassionate nature and ability to be an ally for those who were suffering was seen in “Fires of Pompeii” when she convinced The Doctor to save just one family. “Planet of the Ood” also showed a more sensitive side to Donna as she wept over the Ood being enslaved and abused by humans. She was shocked to see so much evil in the universe, yet she continued to travel with The Doctor because there was still beauty and wonder in her experience.

The Doctor and Donna teamed up with Dr. Martha Jones after she called him back to Earth to help fight the Sontarans. Martha had changed dramatically, sporting an all Black UNIT uniform, a weapon, and an engagement ring. Donna and Martha had a great repertoire and bonded over their experiences with The Doctor. However, Donna was concerned about how The Doctor’s effect on Martha and made a remark about her being a full-blown soldier. Martha offered Donna sage advice about what happens when a person gets too close to The Doctor:

“…you need to be careful, because you know The Doctor’s wonderful and he’s brilliant, but he’s like fire. Stand too close and people get burned.” -Martha Jones

As Donna continued to travel with The Doctor, she offered him what he needed – a friendship with someone who would challenge his decisions. Donna developed into a fearless, witty, and knowledgeable woman who helped liberate other species across time and space. Her praises were sung by the Ood, statues were erected in her image, and she had become much more confident in who she was as a woman. When all of The Doctor’s previous companions and associates came together for the series 4 two part finale (“The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End”) Donna saved them all by touching The Doctor’s severed hand, creating a meta crisis Doctor, and using his knowledge along with her humanity to save the universe. Sadly, it was too much for her brain and The Doctor wiped her memory to save her in one of the saddest scenes in modern Doctor Who.

Donna did not want to go back to the person she was before and wanted to continue on with The Doctor, but she ended up losing all memories of her adventures. Her fear of regression showed how she was aware of The Doctor’s positive influence on her personal growth.

Donna’s story brings up the always cautionary tale about how all is well with traveling in the TARDIS until it doesn’t end well.

Despite a glum ending to their time together, Donna is last seen remarried and gifted with a winning lottery ticket from The Doctor. While it may seem her time with The Doctor was in vain, Donna’s impact on him and others across the universe means she was an powerful companion. After losing Donna and letting his other companions resume their lives, the Tenth Doctor decided to be alone until he (reluctantly) regenerated alone.

Part Two!

The Russell T. Davies era seems to prove that a companion’s wisest decision may be deciding to walk away from The Doctor. But, can a companion stay for a while and still come out a winner? Can a TARDIS traveler balance life with The Doctor and a regular existence? Part 2 will explore those questions by examining Amy Pond and Clara Oswald.

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Hitting the Restart Button: Mass Effect Andromeda Thu, 04 May 2017 14:53:33 +0000 Back in March—the day it came out—I started playing Mass Effect Andromeda. But I am an academic and it is spring, so I’m still playing Andromeda because I don’t have time to do pretty much anything but grade and scrape together conference papers in the spring. That said… Andromeda has me doing a lot of thinking, not about exploration or space, specifically, but about what happens when all of the proverbial sh*t hits the fan all at once.

Because, let’s be honest, that’s kind of what American politics looks like right now.

Andromeda is interesting to me, particularly at the moment, because it hits the restart button on the civilization we came to know and love (a lot) in the previous Mass Effect trilogy. I suppose one might say that it’s a sign of developer laziness, using the Andromeda Initiative fiction (AI sent a whole pile of people in arks to the Andromeda galaxy 600 years before the start of the game, somewhen in the middle of either ME1 or ME2, but definitely before the events of ME3) to keep the same species (there are new ones, too, who live in Andromeda), the same technology (mostly), and the same general aesthetic. You could call it “lazy,” I suppose, or you could call it “realistically efficient” and “not a waste of really expensive design and art assets.” Besides, people LIKE them, so why get rid of them entirely?

But that’s not what I find compelling about Andromeda. What I find compelling is the fact that I’m playing it to escape to a fantasy where civilization has gone to proverbial and literal hell and we get a chance to start over, to rebuild civilization the way we want it to be built rather than relying on centuries of imperialistic assholery. Sure, imperialistic assholery is one of your options as you play as Pathfinder Ryder (male or female, your choice!), but you can also choose protectionism or expansionism or science!

For example, on Eos, you have an opportunity to ally the colonists (okay, you have to be rather imperialistic, but you can be benevolent imperialist if you try hard enough) with some outlaws who have found a water source on an otherwise mostly-desert planet. You can also exchange water access for natural gas, using the fuel to kickstart the economy on Eos. Or you can not do that, as one of your companions reminds you that it would pollute the air and start the global warming process, and Eos is already having all sorts of atmospheric problems without you and your fracking adding to it.

I love that Andromeda gives us the chance to go back, in essence, and not make the same mistakes again—or, at least, to try not to make those mistakes. It isn’t always possible. You can be hostile to the Angara, but you do have to try to get along with them to a limited extent. You can also try to be nice to the Kett, but that ends rather quickly when they immediately try to shoot you. You’re only human, after all (even if there is an AI embedded in your brain… thanks, Dad).

There are a lot of things about Andromeda which are enormously problematic. You have to be imperialist—there just isn’t a way around that if you want to play a character in a game about space colonialism. You can’t not settle on alien worlds. You also don’t really have the choice to settle on unsettled worlds—you can settle on worlds that are mostly ruined, and then fix them, but you have to share space with the Angara, the Kett, or both. Also, dinosaurs. (I feel like someone really wanted to throw in a call-back to Tomb Raider, so Havarl has dinosaur-alien-wildlife, but, alas, no T-Rex… exactly.)

There are also the cultural problems that Mass Effect games just continuously run into—they’ve managed to give us more or less gender parity among alien species this time (there are male and female NPC krogan, turians, humans, salarians, angara, and kett), but the Angara as a people are a bit disturbingly New World.

One of the benefits of the original ME trilogy was that humans were characterized as the new-comers to the galactic empire—and took it over, more or less, anyway, which presented a rather problematic white-savior (human-savior, really, but same difference in space opera) complex, but at least we were the newbies.

In Andromeda, the council races are the newbies, but they are somehow more technologically and intellectually advanced than the Angara and definitely less “savage” than the Kett (who do a lot of screaming before your AI figures out what their words mean and look very… bony in a creepy bone-mask sort of way). The Angara, much as I like Jaal (the Angaran companion on Ryder’s ship), are so very New World “Noble Savage.” It’s downright uncomfortable sometimes.

Ryder can fix their problems for them after a few days (weeks?) on their planets, Ryder can operate the ancient technology on their planets and they can’t, and Ryder is capable of saving them from not only the Kett, but themselves. They are designed as being very overtly emotional—this is, apparently, a cultural trait among Angara which is frequently discussed—which is a standard Noble Savage trope that was applied to the indigenous peoples of North, Central, and South America from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. (I don’t think this was intentional on the part of BioWare’s designers, but it is nevertheless true.)

It’s also—necessarily—expansionist in a way that calls back to the era of American Expansionism from the nineteenth century which led to the genocide (intentional and unintentional) of millions of indigenous peoples in the Americas and the extermination of native plant and animal species. This is, in fact, why I feel terrible about shooting any of the bugs or hostile creatures on any of the planets in Andromeda, because I just keep thinking “This could be an American Bison.” I feel terrible about doing my (Ryder’s) job, because I can’t shake the legacy of imperialism which necessarily accompanies the project of colonization, even in space.

So in many ways, there are huge problems with the pioneer fantasy being presented in Andromeda, and they sometimes get in the way of my enjoyment of the game because I can’t help but feel the significant weight of centuries of white guilt (which is in and of itself also problematic, but so is everything). I also know that this game wouldn’t be interesting if there weren’t alien cultures to encounter and if Ryder was a clueless wanderer instead of an expansionist badass, so I get it. But that’s because our narrative fantasies in the West are almost all imperialistic, which makes me uncomfortable, as well.

But our stories are what they are, and as much as I would like to see gaming stretch its narrative bounds, this game is not where that is going to happen, and that’s okay. It may seem like I disapprove of Andromeda, but I really don’t. I’m enjoying the game (the vast majority of the time) and I am really finding a lot of catharsis in being able to found a new human-Council civilization that isn’t completely based on genocide and violence, but, rather, curiosity and discovery.

Andromeda, so far, is giving me the chance to begin again, to jettison the baggage of the industrial revolution, of slavery and racial oppression, of American Exceptionalism and Western imperialism and radical religious belief (pick your favorite—since we can trace radical Islam all the way back as a reactionary development in response to the Crusades and Inquisition, which themselves were pretty radical militant Christianity… just sayin’). In Andromeda, we are able to start over with people who, although diverse in appearance and beliefs (if not in space-suit-size), all share the common desire to build a civilization that works, that brings together the best they each have to offer, and which is capable of harmony and progress.

Because, right now, when I unplug my headset, the world I find myself in is far more dystopic than the chaos of Andromeda where everything is likely to kill you in the next five minutes. At least there I know that the people I’m working for and with have good intentions. They aren’t beholden to any corporations, because there aren’t any yet. They aren’t trying to vie for power because there is so much of a vacuum that survival is far more important than politics… at least so far (because there are hints that, even in another galaxy, people are still people—aka, assholes). But in Andromeda, I have the ability to make a difference with the actions I take and the words I choose to a degree that I simply don’t here on earth in this petty country called the United States.