Classic Dr. Who: The Green Death

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I’ve been watching some classic Dr. Who to remind me of what I used to love so much about the show. I’ve pretty much hated new Who since Donna. Why did she have to be assertive and screechy? Why was the fact that she was not-typically attractive linked to her not being romantically attracted to the doctor? (Unlike those more conventionally attractive companions, who were blond or slim and feminine even while saving the world and disgustingly infatuated. Please.) And finally why the hell didn’t they let her die the hero’s death that she wanted instead of consigning her to her dead-end hopeless life where she didn’t even have a memory of all she’d become? In other words, I stopped being able to ignore the writers’ and producers’ misogyny. And it’s only gone down from there, until each episode of new Who is a torture of waiting for the moment I, as a lifelong female fan of Dr. Who, will be betrayed. I keep watching, hoping they will prove me wrong, and they keep meeting my low expectations.

Sometimes I think the writers of new who think they’re writing for The Highlander: There can be only one! No one can be as smart, resourceful or interesting as the doctor and there certainly isn’t any space for another timelord any more, even when the convoluted logic of the show would allow for it. Like that episode with the doctor’s daughter–they killed her off real quick didn’t they? And don’t even get me started on Clara. It’s the wasted potential that gets me the angriest.

Anyway, this wasn’t intended as a post about misogyny, but about how so many social concerns have remained the same over the 50 years of the show’s history. (Although misogyny is one of those things.)

Take The Green Death from 1973. It was produced either just prior to or smack in the middle of the 1973 oil crisis and during the economic uncertainty of the decade.  The series takes place at the site of an old coal mine in Wales, where laid-off coal miners are protesting the loss of their jobs. Concern about fossil fuels, unemployment and problems with the economy sound familiar? The facility is being used for a new oil refining process that is being touted as clean and having minimal waste byproducts. UNIT is called in to investigate some suspicious green deaths, and ultimately is ordered by the prime minister to protect the site/blow up the mine, against the advice of scientists, to contain the infection. Profit and productivity are king, with death, pollution and the environment afterthoughts that can be cleaned up later.

Sounds a lot like today’s fracking. It especially echoes the current situation in Balcombe, England, where the government has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money for police to protect the energy company that is conducting fracking from…taxpayers. And where fracking is touted as clean and having minimal waste byproducts, while meanwhile it is poisoning our ground and water, and using up clean water and creating shortages.

There are also the “kooks” who believe in alternative energy sources like wind, solar and tidal energy and who are protesting the pollution and destruction of the environment.

Change a few words, and The Green Death isn’t about the 1970s oil crisis; it’s about fracking and 2013’s struggle between climate change deniers and everyone else. We have made some progress in the acceptance of alternative energy sources and the idea is no longer so fringe, although it is not by any means mainstream.

What else hasn’t changed? The misogyny. I was probably too steeped in the 80s brand of misogyny, or I just didn’t want to remember, the patronizing treatment of Jo, by the doctor and everyone else. Surprisingly, the brigadier seems to treat her as an equal more than anyone else. (Although thank god female actors aren’t expected to whimper today as much as they were in the 60s and 70s, especially the young ones. How did they even stand themselves? And did all that really make men feel manly?) All the men talk down to her, and she plays scatter-brained blond for them and offers to fetch them coffee. No doubt her mother told her men don’t like smart women. And the doctor engages in underhanded manipulation the equal of anything under Moffat, when he tries to prevent Jo from making her own decision about leaving him for the “kooky” professor (who totally has the same 70s haircut as Jo).

But actually, is the misogyny the same, or is it worse? I’m jumping back and forth between the Pertwee and Baker eras as episodes sound interesting and not in any particular order. In my head cannon, audiences loved Sarah Jane Smith because she had agency, and Ramona, in both her incarnations, was supposed to keep an eye on the doctor–and was just as smart and resourceful, and of course was a timelord herself.

I’ll see as I watch more episodes. What’s my memory of the show, what’s actually in the show, what’s the subtext. I’ve already learned that the doctor was emotionally manipulative even on the early shows  (Hartnell’s doctor doesn’t count, he was obsessive scientist manipulative in that he didn’t care about anyone but himself, and so much changed when he left the show and the creators decided to keep going.)

Oh, does anyone know if those are real Welsh accents? I could understand them remarkably well but I can’t understand a thing Stacey on Gavin and Stacey says. And I just love the doctor’s pride in his cross-dressing talents.

The Green Death

Some Tips for TV Ladies (and all others) Who Want to Go On Living

Trigger warning: violence against women, violent images, violent self defense suggestions

Since I finished Orphan Black, and I’m not allowed to watch The Wire without my husband, I’ve been looking for a new TV show to inhale watch on Netflix. Someone mentioned MI-5 was good and there are a lot of episodes so I thought I would give it a try.


I got to the second episode and it was WTF, hell, no time.

Meet Helen, a trained agent, who makes no attempt to save her own life.

Helen, a trained agent, makes no attempt to save her life.

Helen, a trained agent, makes no attempt to save her life.

Helen is admin, not a field agent, but at the beginning of episode 2 when she’s angling to get into the field, she very clearly states: I’ve taken all the trainings.  This could be a cool story line, right? The woman stuck in a gendered class of employment who longs for something else and believes she has what it takes to make it as a field agent. Wrong.

Helen is not the hero of her own story. She’s motivation-bait for her coworker, Steve (or something, I’ve blocked it out of my mind already). Steve is the hero, and Helen is here to make sure he goes down the proper path of fulfilling his mission, feeling a shit-ton of grief and making the right choice of taking the next step in his relationship with the woman in his life.

Presumably, training for British spies involves at the least self-defense, unarmed combat, weapons training, negotiation–actually I have no idea what training for real spies is like–but on TV it seems the men get training in all those areas. And Helen has taken all the trainings, remember? She said so. Her superiors allowed her into the field, so she must have taken them and done well.

But when her life is threatened, does she do any more than gasp and look blondly terrified? Why, no, she doesn’t. Sure there’s a thug with a gun, but the mastermind criminal holding her–not very securely I might add–is threatening to put her hand in boiling oil (which eww, as a call out to the specifically gendered violence against women in areas of Asia, is disgusting).

Never mind that she’s got one hand completely free (the one you can’t see in the screenshot), her feet are untied and, oh yeah, he’s not holding her in a very secure way.

So what could our trained Helen do?

She could stomp those little black boots on his toes or instep and break them. I bet the pain would make him take notice, maybe even loosen his grip

She could kick his knees and do some serious damage because she’d be kicking against the joint. Knees aren’t meant to bend that way, but they will under pressure

She could head-but him, not my personal favorite, but she could break his nose

She’s also got that free hand. Maybe he has a gun on him. Maybe he has a knife. She could elbow him in the ribs and then slam her fist into his nose/temple/throat. She could gouge out his eyes, hook his nose or mouth and cause some distracting pain. Or my personal favorite (I am not a bloodthirsty person, but depictions of women on TV drive me to it. The writers had a CHOICE. They MADE THIS ONE. We don’t all get choices all the time. In real life, women are assaulted and killed without a chance to defend themselves, but this is NOT REAL LIFE.) Anyway, back to my personal favorite and the favorite of women everywhere: she could grab his testicles and twist/yank/squeeze his brains out.

Oh, wait, did I mention that he’s not holding her very securely? That arm is not around her throat. There is absolutely no reason that in terror for her life Helen could not turn into his hold so she’s facing him and make it a lot harder for him to dunk her in oil without dunking himself. And then she could attack him in any of the ways mentioned above but face to face, because, yanno, she’s a trained agent.

But no, she dies and poor Steve finally finds a negotiating point and manages to save himself…too late for Helen, who’s just another incapable, weak woman sacrificed on the TV altar of women are victims… to keep us real-life women victims too.

Try this at home. Well, don’t try it on your friends and loved ones. Find someplace that teaches women, specifically, self-defense, and then go beat the hell out of the padded attackers. It’s scary. It might give you an adrenaline headache. You might hurt your hands on the punching bag. You might have to be told 100 times how to punch correctly. Or, hell, you might have untapped skills as fighter. You might feel really good slamming all your aggressions out on a punching bag or a man in a head-to-toe padded suit. You might find you like hitting things. It’s made me feel a little better just to list all the ways Helen could have wrecked serious damage on the bad guy and been the hero of this episode.

(Also, MI-5? I wanted to give you credit for making the villains white supremacists, but the only character of color was totally sidelined and not able to be a hero in this narrative that I’d imagine directly affects him. Instead, we got white savior Steve.)

Maybe next time I’ll talk about a show that pleasantly surprised me.


Once Upon a Time

Luther, why do you fail me so?

Seeing is Understanding, and Five Things I’ve Learned About Teaching Self-Defense, Blair MacGregor

The Narrative of Women in Fear and Pain, Kate Elliott

Somewhere out there is an excellent post by Julliet Marillier about self defense and women that I can’t find. Does anyone know what I’m talking about?

Some Thoughts about Call the Midwife

Complete with spoilers. You were warned.

I’ve been sick. I’ve been watching a lot of TV.

So Twitter friends told me about Call the Midwife and for the most part I find it fascinating. You don’t get too many TV shoes that focus so exclusively on women’s lives, and while there’s at least one baby born and delivery scene per show, there’s so much more. I particularly like that the main women characters are friends. I know, what a novel idea! Women! Can be friends! On TV, just like in real life. Some of the minor characters have rivalries and are catty, but in about a proportion that’s way more true to life than most depictions of women’s lives.

And the childcare, childbirth, reproductive options and economic situation is fascinating. In a lot of ways, it seems like the 1950s wasn’t that much different from any of the centuries that came before in terms of giving birth (although sanitation and penicillin are no small miracles). In other ways, it’s clearly a time of transition, where old ways and new technology and new ways of thinking are butting up against each other, sometimes clashing and sometimes co-existing. A lot of times I want a running commentary on the science–like we don’t treat pre-eclampsia this way anymore, or we now know that’s a myth, or the fatality rate from TB was such and such.

I’m also constantly wondering how much has been dramatized for the program and how much is based on the memoirs of the Jennifer Worth. I guess that’s what the book is for. I think we often think that our time has a monopoly on certain kinds of social situations, and shows like these make us see that isn’t so. I’m thinking of the white woman who had a one-night stand with a black man and had a black baby in the extremely white London neighborhood. Or the twin sisters living with one man. In a marriage? It’s not exactly clear. Or the sister and brother who possibly have an incestuous relationship that the nuns know about and look the other way.

OTOH three episodes of Call the Midwife really pissed me off. The first is the one with the story involving a white woman’s affair with a black man and subsequently giving birth to a black baby.  CTM is extremely white. I’m willing to give it some leeway for time and place yada yada, while acknowledging this is probably white obliviousness/privilege, both past and present, and laziness on the part of the producers. What I am not willing to forgive is only having black extras for this episode. If, going forward, they had continued to include black extras it wouldn’t have bothered me quite so much. But it is so incredibly egregiously messed up and racist to have one episode with a slightly more diverse cast and then to go back to white, white, white everywhere you look.

OK, crap, the second one totally fell out of my head. Some other time then.

The third is the abortion episode. I was both surprised and not surprised that there was finally an abortion on the show. After all, abortion, illegal or otherwise, is, has been and probably always be a fact of women’s lives, whether the government, the media and men want to acknowledge that or not. It actually wasn’t too terrible–except for the framing. The voiceover at the beginning, older Nurse Lee, says something like I wish that I could say all the women were brave and all the women were happy. And then in opposition to this we get the woman who desperately wants an abortion because she already had 8 children. Basically, CTM is telling me that this woman is not brave. Well f** you, CTM. Any woman who knows that she is at the end of her capacity with 8 children, who knows what she wants and goes after it in spite of the opposition of sanctimonious Nurse Lee, the public health system, social mores and the law IS a hero. And it is definitely not her fault that her only option is a woman without the training or compassion or something to give her a sanitary illegal abortion. Plus the plot didn’t make sense. One minute the woman is in a coma and her children are kissing her good bye, and the next she is miraculously recovered because they got a new flat outside of London and she can gallivant through the fields? How does that work if she was in the hospital? Still, I was happy they didn’t kill her off to punish her for daring to have an abortion.

I hope that they do more abortion episodes in the future. Was there any British equivalent of the Jane Collective?

Some Tips for TV Ladies (and all others) Who Want to Go On Living

Trigger warning: violence against women, violent images, violent self defense suggestions

So, you know those things you think you know? Or better yet, you know that quote by Mark Twain?

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

I am here to tell you about the dreaded choke hold. It’s not the end game most writers think it is.

You know what I mean. When the bad guy gets his hands around the woman’s (and sometimes even a man’s–hey, strangulation must be pretty respectable if it’s done to men, too) throat. That’s it, right? Unless someone else comes to save the damsel in distress or, sometimes, she finds something conveniently to hand to smash into his head.

I was watching Alias when I thought of this post, but the chokehold comes up at least once a season in any TV show with violence. Alias is only egregious because Sydney is supposed to be a highly trained, deadly CIA agent. We see her fight, and win, many times during each episode (yay, that’s great! Women who know how to fight!). She knows some kind of martial art. She knows how to use weapons and do other spy things. She’s kind of like a female James Bond. So why, the moment she’s in a chokehold, does she fail to do what any trained, professional fighter would do to break the hold?!


(I’ll tell you my suspicions: 1. rape culture 2. most writers don’t actually practice a martial art/take self defense classes 3. most TV writers are male, why would they question what they know? 4. everyone else is doing it, it must be true 5. writers can be lazy (I can say that because I’m a writer and it’s soooo easy to be lazy))

But back to Alias, Sydney and chokeholds. First, let’s have an anatomy lesson: elbows bend.

End of lesson.

Getting out of a choke hold is often one of the first things you learn in a self defense class, probably because it’s incredibly easy to learn and therefore gives students a feeling of power and control. And because any able bodied person can do it and many physically handicapped people can too. As suggested by the review above, it depends on anatomy and physics rather than body strength, agility or fancy martial arts knowledge.

If someone has you in this position, what you need to do is shoot one arm straight up into the air, rotate your body sharply away from your upraised arm, and bring that arm down, as hard as you can, on the other person’s elbows. Remember that anatomy lesson? Their elbows MUST bend under your blow.

That’s hard to picture from the description so I’m linking to a random video I found on the internet. Elbow down self defense for choke hold.

You are also weakening their hold on your neck by turning your body away from them and you’re ensuring that you get both their elbows, not just one. Now, as with all self defense moves, the more power and strength you put into it the better. And just because you’ve broken out of the choke hold doesn’t mean the other person will automatically stop trying to hurt you. Follow through is essential.

Keep in mind, I am not bad-mouthing the heavy thing to the head tactic. I just want to tell you the more direct route.

For Alias, this was bad, lazy writing. Sydney would know this move and she would have used it (or some other similar move instead of hanging out until the last possible second and searching through his clothes or whatever she does(. For all the other TV shows and movies that use this? BORING. A lot of women know self defense. A lot of women take martial arts. A lot of women save their own lives when they are attacked, whether that’s by a stranger or someone known to them. It’s not the 1960s Mad Men world anymore. Wouldn’t it be cool if some of the women on TV reflected our reality? Wouldn’t it be cool if we all knew how to protect ourselves?

But hey, if even super competent heroes like Sydney can’t get out of a chokehold, what ordinary woman could, right? Why should you—yes, you, sitting there reading this—think you could? Learned helplessness, you say!? Excuse me while I go practice some self defense.

Some Tips for TV Ladies (and all others) Who Want to Go On Living

TW: violence against women, violent images, violent self defense suggestions

Snow Falls, Episode 3, Season 1 of Once Upon a Time doesn’t start out too badly. Snow White looks pretty cool in her forest garb and she’s obviously doing all right for herself hiding out in the forest from the evil step-mother. She pulls off a nice bit of highway robbery, which I liked for the reverse gender roles: female highwayman robbing the prince. Who doesn’t like to watch people being competent? Almost everyone does; there’s even a name for it: competence porn. It’s why heist movies, James Bond movies and doctor and cop shows are so popular. IMO it’s one of the reasons for The Good Wife’s popularity. Every character, but especially every woman character, on that show is competent in a realistic, everyday kind of way. Alicia Florrick, Kalinda Sharma, Diane Lockhart, Amanda Peet’s character, even the  opposing attorneys are all good at what they do. It’s still sadly rare to see competence porn involving smart, ambitious, kick ass women.

Which is why when the fail comes in Snow Falls it is such a let-down. I had forgotten exactly how much fail, in terms of logic and physical self defense there is in this episode.

So, in spite of her successful theft and later giving Prince Charming a well placed knee in the gut and a shove in the river, when the real baddies come after her, she damsels. That’s right, she wimpers while they pin her to a tree. I’ll give her a little bit of a pass because it’s three against one and she does try to escape when Prince Charming interferes, although she’s forgotten the first rule of self-defense: don’t leave anyone mobile enough to come after you when you run away.

I’m not going to focus on that because later we have the classic grab from behind around the throat. I think this kind of grab is one that most women are afraid of in real life, compounded by seeing it thousands of times on TV where the woman is helpless. The thing is SHE IS FAR FROM HELPLESS.

Once Upon a Time

The thing about self defense (and common sense) that Hollywood and TV forget or don’t care about because it would ruin their limited idea of what  constitutes a good story, is that if someone is close enough to hurt you, you are also close enough to hurt him.

So I’d like to repeat here: SHE IS FAR FROM HELPLESS.

She’s already halfway to a protective response if this guy were trying to strangle her, which he’s not. But if he were, she has her hand on his arm. She can pull his arm away from her throat and tuck her chin to protect her throat and her ability to breathe before focusing on getting away from him.

In terms of offense, bad guy is just as exposed to Snow here as she is to him. Everything on his body is in close proximity her hands, feet, elbows and her head (she can head butt him if she has to).

We all know how to kick and stomp our feet. His feet, with all their tiny little bones are right there, hard to miss if she slides her foot down his leg as she stomps. His knees are also right there, all ready to bend backwards under a good hard kick. His eyes are exposed to a being stabbed with her fingers. She could cause serious injury with any of these responses.

If, for whatever reason, she doesn’t want to cause permanent injury but thinks he’d be deterred by pain, his balls are within EASY reach of a grab and wrench. She could clap both her hands over his ears at the same time. I’ve seen her elbows, they are pointy and made for slamming into someone’s ribs.

That’s it for this week. I’m not feeling very well so I can’t seem to think of a snappy ending.

Updated to add: Right, now that I’m no longer sick, I remember how I wanted to end this post. I kind of got my hopes up for Once Upon a Time but I should have taken a clue from it’s lame title: Snow Falls. Not Snow Storms or Snow Drifts or anything else kind of cool.

Some Tips for TV Ladies (and all others) Who Want to Go On Living

TW: violence against women, violent images, violent self defense suggestions

So you know that thing you do when you yell at the TV? And of course the TV doesn’t listen to you? Well here it is, on the epic fail of women on to defend themselves in TV land, my living room rant, brought to you. Welcome to my head.

Luther. Guilty of fail. every. single. time.

Season 1. Episode 4 (untitled as far as I can tell)

A woman unwittingly enters the home of serial killer. She has received a phone call from no less than the police telling her she is in danger. She locks herself in the bathroom (with a DEAD BODY, in case she was in doubt). The killer pounds a hole in the door, sticks his head in and laughs manically:

BBC One, image from Luther, season 1, episode 4

And she:

BBC One, image from Luther, season 1, episode 4

Cowers. Now don’t get me wrong. This is a SCARY situation. The adrenaline and the terror must be overwhelming and probably almost paralyzing. But her life is AT STAKE. And she is in a bathroom where there are many DANGEROUS POINTY THINGS. After the kitchen, she probably has chosen the best room in the house (if she couldn’t get out the front door that is) to lock herself into.

He is unable to reach her because the hole is too SMALL.

This is what she could use as a weapon based, on my own bathroom:

Toilet bowl brush — good for stabbing right down his throat (which would choke off his maniac laughter), into his eyes (if he can’t see, it’s harder for him to hit her) or into his windpipe (ditto, if he can’t breathe). Also he seemed pretty fastidious, as many TV serial killers are, so waving the business end in his face would probably freak him out. But in self defense it’s best to injure with the intent to neutralize the threat.

Deodorant spray — I imagine this would hurt a lot if sprayed in the eyes. Also is this stuff flammable like hairspray? I don’t have hairspray, but I totally remember making hairspray flamethrowers in high school (what, you didn’t do that?). Light it up. MAJOR DAMAGE.

Free-standing toilet paper holder, shelving, metal garbage can, hair dryer, etc. — all that adrenaline could be used to batter the shit out of this guy, and from a little bit of distance too

Scissors — by the time he’s close enough for her to use these, he’s awfully close. Still, last ditch effort because it’s her LIFE. Stab hands, eyes, throat, ears, etc.

Shower curtain — if it weren’t wrapped around the dead guy she could wrap it around the killer’s head and/or body to suffocate him/limit his movement (I don’t actually recommend this one, but it’s got to be better than nothing, right?)

Shoes — she’s wearing pointy heeled shoes. If she nailed one of those suckers in his eye or throat she’d do some serious damage.

Lastly, her fists, the palm of her hands, the edges of her hands, her feet, her head — everyone can use their own body as a weapon, not just the bad guys. TRY SOMETHING. IT  CAN’T BE WORSE THAN WHAT HE HAS PLANNED because he’s a sexual predator/serial killer!

His throat and eyes, two of the main areas you should concentrate on in self defense are exposed and vulnerable. She could gouge out his eyes. She could punch him in the throat with either a fist or the V of her hand between her thumb and the rest of her fingers. Any of these things could incapacitate him enough to prevent him from harming her. Since his head is so exposed, she could try hitting him in the temple. You can kill someone like that.

If he got in the bathroom, she should kick his knees to break/dislocate them, stomp on his feet to break the little bones there and aim for all the other vulnerable places already mentioned.

Instead, she waits for the police to come rescue her. And she’s lucky, they DO. But I was PISSED, because if this wasn’t the moment, with an immobilized killer with a door between them, for self defense, I don’t know what is. Another missed opportunity for a TV lady to act like a real person. Sigh.

In the search for some crumbs to make me feel better about watching TV, here are the things she did right:

She listened to her instincts/the phone call from the police and got as far away from him as possible
I think at least once she screamed for help. She knows the police are on the way, she should be giving them and anyone around a clue to where she is
She put a locked door between him and her. While a small room with no other exits is NOT the best plan, she might not have made it to the front door, so it might have been her best option.

Sooo, that was Luther. I could probably do this for every episode. Hell, episode 3 literally had a woman in a refrigerator. Instead, next time, I’ll do something a little lighter, less violent, physically or psychologically, maybe even a little family friendly: Once Upon A Time.

Serious part here. I am not a self defense expert. I have taken three different kinds of self defense classes as well as karate in my life, which I think were of differing usefulness. One of places I took self defense, the Center for Anti-Violence Education, teaches self defense to kids. One of the things they teach the kids is that EVERYONE has the skills to protect themselves, either by avoiding a dangerous situation, getting out of a dangerous situation or telling someone about a bad thing someone they are supposed to trust is doing to them.

Women can protect themselves, but we are socialized not to trust our instincts and into victimhood by the depiction of passivity in the media (among lots of other things). If all you see on TV and movies are either women as victims or women as superheroes (ala Buffy, which we can’t possibly imitate), why would you believe you could? If you never take a self defense class or a martial arts, why would you believe you could?