13 Days of Doctor Who: The Alien within Us

banner by Studio DI am so thrilled to be a part of Erica O’Rourke’s and Eliza EvansThe 13 Days of Doctor Who! In anticipation of this year’s Christmas special, you have thirteen chances to comment and win prizes, and in the meantime you can fall into a Whoubliette of posts about our favorite Oncoming Storm. At the end of the post, you’ll find everything you need to enter to win the grand prize of the S6 Doctor Who DVDs or  a prize from me. (Um, spoilers ahoy!) Are you ready? Allons-y!


As the thoughts for this post coalesced in my mind over the past two weeks, and while I whittled it down into something manageable to read, the following tweet from The Mary Sue showed up in my stream:

Nothing could have made me happier. I have grown to like Amy Pond when I’m not figuring out how to steal her husband Rory’s affections, but I feel like the two of them have run their course. Moffat, who rarely listens to me, has given me a few weeks during which I will close my eyes, cross my fingers, and wish on blue leather journals for an alien companion in season 7. Classic Who had more than a few near- and non-human companions, but since the reboot, we’ve had a stream of humans at the Doctor’s side. An alien companion would make an interesting choice for novelty alone, but for me, there’s more to it.

Doctor Who is packed full of aliens; we zip away to alien worlds in seconds and defend the planet against alien species when they invade. No fun having all of space and time at our fingertips and then only hanging out with a bunch of the same ol’ species we can see without a big blue box. Most Who aliens are episode antagonists and are treated in one of two ways by the writers*:

  1. Some aliens are big, bad, baddy bad bad guys. They have no redeeming qualities; they’re malevolent and don’t care about human life or our dominion over the planet. If you encounter them en masse, you get practically the same experience as you do when you encounter just one of them. Cybermen are perfect examples, and so are Sycorax, Krillitanes, or the Silence.
  2. Some aliens have layers. They may land anywhere on the good guy <—-> bad guy continuum, but they reveal flaws, senses of humor, and other aspects of humanity that make them more interesting to the story. To access a multi-dimensional alien character, you have to encounter them in small numbers or alone, instead of in large quantities. (And, um, it helps if they aren’t trying to kill you at the moment.) Enemy species examples include the Cult of Skaro, who defy Dalek tradition by adopting individualizing traits like names and distinctive armor, and Blon Fel-Fotch Pasameer-Day Slitheen, who could get misty over babies and then, minutes later, hatch yet another plan to wreak destruction.

When we see Raxacoricofallapatorians in a group, we worry; it takes serious firepower to destroy them and—there’s just no nice way to say this—they are plum crazy and make lots of indiscreet noises. But Blon on her own? Devious, but charming and a little lost. Almost fun. And on her own is the only way we’ll ever get to see her pain, to identify with her in any way, and to cheer when she gets a second chance at the end of the episode. She transforms from a one-dimensional enemy into a character. The story is richer for it.

Most episodes don’t have time to flesh out the alien antagonist. It’s more important to understand Vincent than the Krayfis in “Vincent and the Doctor”; we pity the Gelth as requested but they won’t stop reanimating our “Unquiet Dead.” But the show shines when it lets us see the complexity beneath the colorful skins and varied lumpy-bumpies of the alien characters, when it gives us a Sontaran who’s willing to nurse your infant but also hopes to defeat you on the glorious fields of battle. It reaches its heights when it turns one of the creepiest looking alien species ever invented—the Ood—into paragons of peace, intelligence, and sensitivity, even after teeny supplemental brains fall out of their mouths. And we accept it, and we will fight against the humans who want to silence this song.

The concept of The Other is present in philosophy, literary theory, and anthropology. To a certain degree, it’s common sense: We learn who we are, and define it, by figuring out what we aren’t, especially when we are overwhelmed by options for defining ourselves. (Everyone in the First World is, at this point in human history.) Confronting The Other means opening ourselves to what we might be, too, only we don’t know it yet. We too might feel self-loathing, rage, yearning, and incalculable sadness and wish someone would order us to extinguish ourselves. We might think we’ve done the right thing, patched up what’s broken, only to find we’ve made things worse. (We may, in fact, just want our Mummy.)

Bearing witness to The Other allows us to embrace flaws and difference and commonality at the same time. These are powerful elements of story, primal ones that everyone knows in their bones. And I would love to watch an alien character travel in the TARDIS, with the Doctor and another human companion, learning to love humanity for the best of what we have to offer, in spite of our frailties and arrogance, and racing against time to save us. Can’t you just see it? It’s time once again, I think, for the whole human race to embrace its inner Other.

*Obviously, this is a drastic simplification—there are neutral aliens, like the Reapers from “Father’s Day” and the Adipose infants; there are aliens who are engineered by outside forces; there are nice aliens like Madame Vastra and Jabe from the Forest of Cheem, and boy howdy do we have some jerk humans.


Prize time!

Every comment on this post (one per commenter, please) is an entry for the grand prize of this blog hop: the Season 6 DVDs, with all the eye-drives you can handle. Here are the specifics:

To enter the grand prize giveaway, please leave a comment with your name and email address. You may enter once at every stop on the blog tour for a total of thirteen chances. The Grand Prize giveaway is limited to the US and Canada, due to regional restrictions on the DVD. Individual contest will close at the discretion of the author, but the Grand Prize contest will accept entries on any site until midnight CST on December 24th. We will post the winner on December 25th, and notify the winner via email.

In addition, I’m giving away a prize of my own. If you know me at all you know I love snail mail. So I’m giving away one box of Doctor Who postcards—there are a hundred of them in this box, and I will send them anywhere that Canada Post will deliver (but they are not the most zippy of postal services, so I can’t say when they’ll get to you). My contest will close at midnight EST on December 27, and I will email the contest winner directly and edit this post with the name of the winner. Every comment on this post is an entry for the postcards, so please use a valid email address in the form!


Tomorrow’s stop on the blog hop is at Patricial Riley’s site, Tangled Up in Words. Make sure to check it out and comment for another chance to win the Season 6 box set!