Ten Things About Who: Aliens of London

Ten points of discussion inspired by the 2005 Doctor Who episode, Aliens of London.

It’s been a few weeks since we departed the Cardiff rift. Apologies – pressures of work, and all that. But we continue a revisit of 2005’s Doctor Who series with the TARDIS’ return to the Powell Estate.

A quick reminder that my collection of Ten Things About Who posts for the 2012/13 series is now available for Kindle devices and Kindle e-reader apps for the bargain price of £1.99 – that’s 14p per episode discussion Thanks to everyone who’s bought it so far – if you have, please do leave a review or, at the very least, a star rating. And if you haven’t bought it yet, you can do so at mtthw.mn/whoebook.

1. A quick recap…

OK, so I said that The End of the World starts with what is, for Doctor Who, a rarely-used device: a “previously…”-style recap, that has “rarely been needed since”.

And then, two episodes later, that device gets used again. Still, I’m right – it tends not to be used much after this. To be honest, its usefulness in a series where the setting can change so drastically from episode to episode is debatable. But notice, even here, that it’s a recap of events solely from Rose. There’s no glimpse of Platform One or Victorian Cardiff at all.

Conceptually, it fits – this episode is a thematic sequel to the first episode, and deals directly witht he consequences of Rose’s impetuous run into the TARDIS at the end of that episode. For me, the recap here feels alien, if you’ll pardon the expression.

While what we now call “classic” Doctor Who used the old B-movie serial of replaying the previous week’s hangover to remind viewers of where they’ve got to, this “remember this from three weeks ago?” style of reminder has never sat well with Doctor Who. And it really isn’t used much after this. I promise.

Continue reading “Ten Things About Who: Aliens of London”

How the Daily Mail selectively quotes in order to lie about attitudes to gay people

From today’s Daily Mail:

Most people still oppose gay marriage and the adoption of children by same-sex couples, a Government report revealed yesterday.

More than half believe homosexual marriages should not be allowed and two thirds think the adoption of children by same-sex couples should not have become legal nine years ago.

Unfortunately for the Mail, perhaps, the Office for National Statistics’ Population Trends Autumn 2011 is available to the public. And within the section concerned, Civil Partnerships Five Years On, we see that the information around which the Mail has hooked its “Look, look, Britain’s as homophobic as we’ve been telling you” hat comes from two 2006 Eurobarometer survey questions, included for cross-Europe comparison but not collated by the ONS:

Eurobarometer is run by TNS Opinion and Social on behalf of the European Commission. In 2006 two questions were asked to around a thousand respondents from each of the EU25 countries25. Given the small sample sizes for each country the results can only be indicative of the main differences and general ordering of countries.

(My emphasis.) So the ONS explicitly warns against using the Eurobarometer survey results in the way that the Mail has done.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. Just as we shouldn’t be surprised that the Mail has ignored other statistical information within the same report that shows that the proportion of the population that believes same-sex relationships to be wrong is substantially smaller than the proportion which doesn’t.

Update: Ruminations of an Englishman examines the original Eurobarometer and finds that while 45% disapproved of gay marriage, 46% actually agreed…

Meanwhile, the Pink Paper swallows the Daily Mail’s spin hook, line and sinker. They should be ashamed.

The myth of the racist children

ANTI-BULLYING RULE THAT BRANDS CHILDREN RACIST” screamed the Express, who always assumes its readers can’t cope with headlines in mixed case (and, indeed, that SEO is about repeating the same keywords over and over in a URL…)

‘Racists’ aged THREE: Toddlers among thousands of children accused of bigotry after name-calling” said the Daily Mail.

The Evening Standard followed with “Children as young as three should be reported for ‘racism’, Government-funded group claims“, and the Telegraph added to the pile with “Children as young as four reprimanded for racist behaviour“.

The general gist was the same in each case, despite the differing levels of hysterics in the headlines. By recording incidents of racist behaviour, children would be branded for life if they uttered anything which the teachers might consider to be racist or homophobic.

But wouldn’t you know it? There’s not all that much in truth in the way the papers have covered the story.

From Show Racism the Red Card, the organisation campaigning against racism in football and society:

It is vital to understand that the recording and reporting of racist incidents by schools is NOTHING to do with labelling or punishing children. It is ludicrous to suggest that future employers will be turning away candidates because they uttered a racist word at nursery. Baseless stories such as these are simply scaremongering and continue to erode belief in the value of recording racist incidents.

Recording racist incidents means that schools are able to identify patterns; do incidents rise in response to particular local or national events? Are the incidents all of a particular nature or between specific groups of young people?

It helps schools to identify whether any strategies that they have put in place are having an effect and to identify whether there are any specific training needs for staff or pupils.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it creates a school environment where young people know that they will be taken seriously, where all young people feel valued and where racism and discrimination are not accepted. It is beneficial for the Local Authority to collect this information, so that they can gain a better understanding of issues within schools and offer relevant help and support.

Of course, if children grow up with respect for themselves and each other, they’ll end up as adults who are far less likely to fall for the tabloid papers’ catalogue of hatred and self-pity that they rely upon for newsstand sales and website page views. So maybe there’s some self-interest in their misrepresentation of this story?

The BBC Governors are spastics

Does the headline of this post offend you? It should. It’s insulting not only to the subjects (the BBC Board of Governors), but to a whole section of the population. It’s an insult that was prevalent in the school playgrounds that I grew up in, but that’s no excuse. Quite rightly, if anybody bandied such an insult about on the BBC, they would find themselves in contravention of the Corporation’s guidelines on taste and decency in short order.

But now there’s another insult doing the rounds. It, too, has its etymological roots through associating a person or thing with a section of the community — and implying that, as a result, the subject of the insult is all the lesser for that.

This time, though, the BBC Governors have decided that, because it’s a term freely in use in school playgrounds, it’s perfectly acceptable for a Radio 1 DJ to use such a derogatory term.

That insult is “gay”.

Apparently, because schoolchildren now use “gay” to relate to anything substandard, it’s okay for Radio 1’s resident crap DJ, Chris Moyles, to use it too.

> The Committee noted that the word “gay”, in addition to being used to mean “homosexual” or “carefree”, was often now used to mean “lame” or “rubbish”. This is a widespread current usage of the word amongst young people. The Committee was familiar with hearing this word in this context.

The governors are well aware of why using “gay” as an insult is offensive; for some reason its ubiquity in this form excuses a racist, homophobic cunt (another offensive word, in common usage as an insult but with a very different meaning from its original one — does that make it okay, too?) like Moyles, who should be setting an example rather than following the rules of the playground.

* [BBC Appeals to the Governors Jan-Mar 2006](http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/pdf/apps_janmar2006.pdf) (PDF)

What does Denise Pfeiffer know?

At the beginning of this week, there were a spate of letters in the Guardian on the subject of civil partnerships. One of them nearly prompted me to writein response, and the only reason I didn’t was that a previous letter of mine on the same subject was printed just a couple of months ago. I did remember, though, the name of the letter’s author: Denise Pfeiffer. Well, with a surname like that it sticks in your head.

In today’s Evening Standard, along with a typically sensible and reasoned letter from Jonathan at overyourhead.co.uk, Denise Pfeiffer’s at it again. Now, as far as I’m aware, the letters page doesn’t go on the internet, so I’ve taken the liberty of transcribing it. Here it is, in full (although I suspect, from my own and Jonathan’s experience, that the Standard have edited it down for length):

The Government is giving homosexual couples the same legal rights, pension, immigration and tax benefits as married couples, but where does this leave heterosexual couples who do not want to go through the process of affirming commitment through a religious or a civil marriage?

What about spinsters and bachelors in sexless partnerships, or elderly same-sex relatives who have bought a house together and have looked after each other for years? Is the Government saying that these types of relationships shouldn’t receive the same legal rights as homosexual partnerships? The one thing gay civil partnerships have not brought about is equality.

Denise Pfeiffer, Leicester

It doesn’t take a genius to work out the answer to her first question. Where does it leave unmarried straight couples? Exactly where they were before. If they can marry, but choose not to, then they have a legal equality with gay couples who can choose to marry under the Civil Partnerships Act, but choose not to. It’s a choice. It’s fantastic. If you choose not to, then fine. But starting this week, for the first time, we get the same choice. Deal with it.

Terrance, as usual, says it best (although he’s the first to admit he’s reiterating Jonathan Rauch):

If people want to strengthen marriage, then it would be much more effective to let same-sex couples marry and send the same message to everyone: if you want the rights and priviledges of marriage, get married.

So, let’s be clear. [Straight unmarried couple] Madner and Schreiner, and couples like them aren’t losing any rights. They’re losing an alternative to marriage, but they still have the right to get marriage and enjoy the benefits thereof. They still have the priviledge of having more options in protecting their relationship than same-sex couples do.

This whole thing irks me. There is a whole coterie of people who rise up against gay couples getting any form of legal protections, and yet call themselves Christian. And yet, what they are doing is ensuring that people at their lowest ebb – when they or their loved one is ill, incapacitated, dying – are more vulnerable than they need to be. That’s not Christianity, that’s the complete opposite.

Incidentally, it turns out that Denise has her own Wikipedia entry! Rather coyly, she describes herself (oh come on, who else is going to write about her?) as “press officer for a UK media watchdog” – sounds really official, doesn’t it? Almost like she works for Ofcom or something. In actual fact, it’s MediaMarch – which Nick Barlow describes, quite aptly, as occupying “the part on the Venn diagram where Mediawatch and Christian Voice intersect”.

Ta-ra Tara, hello homophobia?

After the producers of cult TV hit Buffy The Vampire Slayer killed off a recurring character who was also an out lesbian, this article examined the accusations of homophobia aimed at a show which was historically regarded as being gay-friendly. Written for Gay.com UK.

In the US (and, in a few weeks’ time, on Sky One here in the UK), Buffy: The Vampire Slayer will be hanging up the stakes and garlic for the last time, as the series reaches the end of its seven-year run. It’s generally perceived as going out on a high, with its final season garnering much critical acclaim. US site PlanetOut.com described it as “the gayest show on television”, and is picking out a fetching funeral outfit for the final episode later this month.

For UK terrestrial viewers, though, who are one year behind, the series is coming to the end of a much more difficult batch of episodes.

The sixth season of Buffy was a tortuous period in the series’ history. On screen, Buffy Summers was brought back from the dead by her friends, who later discovered they’d not rescued her from hell, but wrenched her from heaven. Rupert Giles gave up sunny California for his native rain-drenched West Country England. Xander and Anya bored everyone with their marriage plans for most of the season, before it all ended in tears at the altar with not a single vow exchanged. But most heinous of all, Tara Maclay – beautiful, shy, funny, bewitching, lesbian Tara – was killed.

It was that last action that many fans found hard to take. Amber Benson’s character, introduced a season and a half earlier, had become an instant favourite since her first appearance in the near-silent episode, _Hush_. Not initially conceived as a lesbian character, the chemistry between Benson and Alyson Hannigan as Willow was so electric from their very first scene together that the characters were soon an on-screen item. Willow’s growing discovery of her own sexuality, her coming out to both ex-boyfriend Oz and her larger group of friends, was handled deftly and sensitively in a manner that earned production company Mutant Enemy much praise.

As Willow and Tara’s relationship blossomed throughout the series’ fifth season, Amber and Alyson became the American darlings of the gay press. Any criticism of the series’ handling of the relationship was mild, and aimed at the sometimes comedic presentation of Willow’s coming out (in _Triangle_, she herself describes her orientation as “gay now”, while a robot replica of Buffy summarised the character’s sexuality in an on-screen caption as `GAY: 1999-PRESENT`). Generally, most people were simply happy that two regular characters in the same show could not only both be gay, but be shown having a loving, intimate and sexually charged relationship. In American television, Willow and Tara were unique.

Even in the troubled season six, the couple were still setting the screen alight, despite fractures in the relationship based on Willow’s over-reliance on magic. In the much-vaunted musical episode _Once More, With Feeling_ (available on [DVD](http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00008N6ZH/thislitheunoffig), (http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000070WPE/thislitheunoffig), [script book](http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0743467973/thislitheunoffig) and probably tea-towel by the time you read this), Tara sings the standout song of the episode, I’m Under Your Spell, about how bewitched she is by her girlfriend (ironically, unaware that she really _is_ bewitched, as Willow has cast a spell to ensure her girlfriend does not remember an argument they had the previous episode). The song ends with Tara floating over the couple’s double bed in what seems to be orgasmic delight. The top of Willow’s head can be seen doing something further down Tara’s body – it doesn’t take much to guess what.

As Willow’s deception is uncovered, the couple break up, and stay apart for the rest of the season. In the episode _Seeing Red_ (to be broadcast today, 8 May, on BBC2 at 6:45pm), the couple finally reconcile and spend pretty much all of the episode making up for lost time in bed. In the last few minutes, though, a stray bullet aimed at someone else fells Tara at her girlfriend’s feet.

That fans of the show, of the character and of the actress were upset at Tara’s death comes as no surprise. That the upset spilled over into anger and fury aimed at the show’s makers, though, took producers Mutant Enemy completely by surprise. But was it justified?

Tara’s death can certainly be justified dramatically. It propels Willow down a very dark path in her grief that shapes the concluding episodes of the season, and sends her character on an arc that continues until the series’ end a year later. In terms of character development, it can also be argued that Tara didn’t have anywhere else to go. Apart from one spell gone awry in season five, she was practically perfect in every way – acting as a surrogate mother not only for Buffy’s sister, Dawn, when she was left without anyone else to look after her, but also for the rest of the gang. And while that sort of emotional stability is something that most of us hope for in real life, in terms of television drama it becomes stale very easily.

While the series’ previous big death, that of Buffy’s mother Joyce, had been far more emotionally charged a year previously, the fact that Tara was gay threw the situation into a much more complex light. As author Keith Topping, writer of the critically acclaimed Slayer series of episode guides, noted, “the amount of Internet bandwidth used to discuss the possible subtexts surrounding Tara’s death… could have filled Wembley Stadium.”

In a series of blunt and frank essays, the first of which is entitled [It’s Not Homophobia, But That Doesn’t Make It Right](http://www.xtreme-gaming.com/theotherside/homophobia.html), former television writer Robert A Black argued that to kill off one of the only lesbian characters on television, only for the surviving partner to go on a homicidal rampage, conjured “images of the many dead and evil lesbian characters that have appeared on American TV and movie screens before. For Mutant Enemy to have placed these images on the screen and not expected viewers to hearken back to the homophobic stories of the past is as naïve as if they had placed a swastika on the screen and expected the viewers to think it signified good luck.”

Even critics such as Black acknowledge that the course of Tara and Willow’s relationship had, up until that point, been incredibly positive for the gay community as a whole. “Today, there are several gay and lesbian characters on American TV, but none of them are in a steady long-running relationship,” he wrote. “The fact that Willow and Tara were together was what made them unique. The relationship was greater than the two characters individually, because together they gave the gay community something it could find nowhere else.”

Topping agrees. “Willow and Tara, whether by accident or design, have been positive role models to gay people everywhere,” he writes in [Slayer: The Next Generation](http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0753507382/thislitheunoffig), which covers Season Six and the fallout over the character’s death in some detail. “They’ve shown that you don’t have to hide your sexuality or to be an outsider, that ridicule and homophobia are products of ignorance.”

But, as Black notes, when you can count regular gay or lesbian couples on television not on one hand but on one _finger_, killing one half of that relationship carries a far greater impact than any death of a straight character could ever do. “It can be difficult for the heterosexual community to understand how important it is to see one’s self reflected onscreen. It’s so common for heterosexuals that we take it for granted, often to the point where we don’t even think it matters at all. But to a marginalized segment of the population, where there is a constant feeling that one’s very existence is being denied, that onscreen reflection can be priceless.”

The most eloquent critics of the decision to kill Tara are at pains not to label the show’s producers as homophobic. “A group of homophobic writers and producers could never have given the world the Willow/Tara relationship in the first place, and there’s no reason to assume that they have all suddenly turned homophobic now,” says Black. “On the other hand, even if Mutant Enemy didn’t intend to tell a homophobic story, they were still capable of placing a homophobic image on the screen.”

The argument gains strength given the juxtaposition of Tara and Willow’s make-up shagging with the death straight afterwards. Buffy has always portrayed sex and death as being metaphors for one another: the ‘siring’ of a new vampire has always carried strong sexual overtones, and when Buffy herself lost her virginity to Angel (a vampire whose soul had been returned to him) he reverted to the ultra-evil serial killer he had been in centuries past. But in a series where death is generally no hindrance to continued appearance in the series, redemption has generally always been on offer — at least, as long as you’re straight.

The only other recurring gay character in the series at this point had been Larry, a high school student who was one of two killed during the climax to the series’ third season. The other victim, high school bitch princess Harmony, became a vampire herself and popped up on numerous occasions. For the gay characters to be the only ones denied any chance of redemption, it can be argued, sends a terrible message to the audience — a message that may be unintentional, but is no less damaging for it: sex is bad, but gay sex is worse. Producer David Fury admitted in an interview in May 2002 that “in retrospect, I can see the cliché. That was not our intent. We wanted to show them together and happy. It created the impression in a lot of people’s minds that [Tara’s] death was linked to them having sex.”

The show’s producers, especially series creator Joss Whedon, say that the negative reaction to the loss of Tara from the show took them by surprise. “It was an episode that was clearly about male violence and dominance,” Whedon told _E! Online_, “and suddenly I’m a gay basher.”

In America (and for satellite viewers in the UK), a year’s worth of episodes have gone by since the events of Seeing Red. Willow’s still gay — and making the faltering steps back into coupledom with new girlfriend Kennedy. While played almost completely played for laughs, Tom Lenk’s Andrew Wells brings the total of recurring gay characters by the series’ end to three — which is three more than most TV series have ever achieved.

Amber Benson will be missed from television screens both sides of the Atlantic. Not only because there’s one less positive gay character, but also because she’s of normal build, with a curvaceous beauty that is so rare in an industry where most actresses can only succeed if they’re genetically cross-bred with a stick insect. Still, her own career now has some great opportunities ahead. She has written and directed an acclaimed film, _Chance_, and is co-author (with Christopher Golden) of the remarkable animated series [The Ghosts of Albion](http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/ghosts/) for BBCi’s website. And thanks to DVD and video, Tara and Willow can remain together for as long as we need them to be.

* Originally published on [Gay.com UK](http://uk.gay.com/) _(original article no longer available)_