Speculative Fiction, Intersectional Feminism, and Dirty Jokes
#Racefail and the Mickey/Martha Pairing
March 4, 2016Posted by on
Sorry for the lack of content in this space. A lot of personal issues, some health-related and some not, have prevented me from having the energy to write as much as I’d like. I currently have a few posts, including the two parts of the Phil Sandifer response I promised, as well as a piece about gender essentialism and a possible piece about gun culture in the US (relating to the recent Kalamazoo shooting) on the back burner. Until then, accept this trifle as tribute.
I’m about halfway through listening to Shabcast 16 with Jack and Kevin, and am enjoying it mightily. (Listening to two smart people bash on a terrible sci-fi trilogy is always an entertaining time.) I have a lot to say about the issue of violence in media, but I at least want to get to the end of the show before I dig into that. Instead, I wanted to talk for a moment about why I’m not particularly bothered by the Mickey/Martha pairing in The End of Time, Part Two, while acknowledging the obvious #racefail readings that others, including Jack and Kevin, bring to that relationship, and acknowledging the strong possibility that the production team really did have the “put the two black characters together to wrap up the loose ends” kind of attitude towards the whole thing.
More or less, I’m not bothered by the implication of a Mickey/Martha pairing because the pairing makes a whole lot of sense. The two of them actually have a whole lot in common, aside from the obvious class differences etc. — both have not only traveled for some time with The Doctor, but after traveling worked for paramilitary organizations to defend the Earth from assault. Both characters suffered greatly during their time traveling with the Doctor (emotionally or physically), and both arguably became better, more broad-minded people during their journeys. They both have a strong line of heroism in their characters, and I’d argue that the two are the most “badass” characters in the whole of the RTD/Gardner era, at least by implication and by the time we leave their stories. If we look at it from a writer’s perspective of wanting to wrap up loose ends in an efficient manner, pairing off Mickey and Martha seems like an easy decision to make, without the racial issues ever coming into it at all.
(Of course, there’s then the criticism that it is these two characters who become the “badass hero” archetypes, rather than, say, Mickey and Donna or Martha and Rose or whatever. If there’s a racist element to having the two major black characters of the first five years of New Who both joining paramilitary organizations, it’s probably beyond the scope of both the typical criticism of the pairing (did they have to put the two black characters together?) or of this brief blog entry. Sorry.)
I suspect that some of the root cause of these kinds of representation arguments is simply that our N is incredibly small: when you’ve only got two or three major characters of some under-represented group in a series, it’s incredibly easy for problematic patterns to occur. Martha is the only black woman who is a major character in the entire series, so what happens to her suddenly has to represent not just Martha the character but Doctor Who’s Stance on Black Women. This is the major argument for aggressively increasing diversity at every opportunity; were the background of the series filled with dynamic, individual, and richly-detailed black women, Martha wouldn’t have to stand in for her gender and race nearly as much. As it is it’s hard to see how many of the problems Martha represents are blind spots of the production team, and how many are simply matters of metaphorical drift created by the small sample size.
Moffat, of course, by and large has completely solved the racial problems represented by Martha and brought on by Davies by the simple expediency of not having another PoC companion. I will be discussing the issues of racial bias in Doctor Who at a lot more length in a future blog post for sure.