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17 May 2005 @ 16:42
not quite a thinky but still slightly thinky "Doctor Who" fandom essay  
So, I've been working on this rant-cum-essay on and off all, and I've been a bit on the squirrelly side, regarding posting it... But I figure what the hell.

Okay, remember how a few weeks back I was sad, because there had been over the course of one week-end major polarisation of Doctor Who fandom, mainly in regards to the new fans versus the old fans, and the Doctor/Rose fans versus the folks who are very anti-Doctor/Companion? What bummed me out was seeing about a year's worth of fannish evolution smushed into such a small span of time.

However, in the last 2 weeks, what has really started to depress me is an alarming homogenisation of current series "Doctor Who" fanfic, particularly Doctor/Rose. I realise that the series has only been airing for 8 weeks--that's barely 2 months. And as such, long, plot-driven stories are rare because they take time to write, which is part of why I'm pouncing on them like catnip when I do find them. So we have been seeing a plethora of missing scene and episode codas posted each week.

The thing that's alarming though is the sameness of a lot of the stories posted since "Dalek." I don't know if it's a case of hive mind so much as it's writers reading each other's work and picking up trends. But there are a depressing number of clichés that have surfaced in Doctor/Rose fanfic of late. I say depressing because we're much too young a fandom to have glaringly obvious clichés already. But if you go to fanfiction.net or Teaspoon or time_and_chips (the main forums and archives for Doctor/Rose fanfic and fannish discussion thus far) you'll find increasingly common patterns:

The Doctor and/or Rose is upset. They comfort one another. They may or may not be sharing a bed due to nightmares (a plot idea that I really though had great potential when I first saw it, which now makes me cringe every time it's been cloned since) There is kissing, which leads to sex, which leads to heartfelt "I love yous." End scene.

I'm not kidding. If you were to randomly sample anything shorter than 2000 words currently up at FFN, I think 8 out of 10 would fit this bill, and that's not a happy statistic. I wish I could just laugh about this. But it's getting to the point where I'm half-way through reading a vignette and then have to walk away from my computer because they all go the same way.

Every kiss leads to sex.

Every orgasm leads to "I love you."

It's as if there's a recipe out there that everyone's following to turn out "The Perfect Betty Crocker Doctor Who Fanfic" and all the Bree Van de Kamps are lined up next to their differently-coloured iced cakes at this long table and you taste a slice from each cake and they all end up tasting exactly the same and you can't tell one from another, even if, if there had only been one cake and you were really in the mood for cake, you would have really loved that cake. And now all you can think is "I've gone off cake forever, now."

Does that make any kind of sense?

Fanfic which is based on other fanfic does not equal good fanfic.

I think part of the reason I sometimes have these conflicted feelings about identifying myself as a Doctor/Rose fan is that there have become different kinds of Doctor/Rose fans on a scale of "I love the canon relationship with all its flirting and subtext" to "OMG they are SO DOING IT ON THE CONSOLE ROOM FLOOR!andalsothedoctorswillyisginormous." And if you're at one end of the scale, you end up resisting the idea of being automatically identified as being at the other end (tho pretty much everyone admits that the one story where the NC-17 language was replaced with **** was A Very Bad Idea. Hurrah for solidarity.), and there's plenty of room in the middle, but it's lonelier there. And there's a very clique-ish "us against the world!" thing going on as well, which turns one's own preferences into a kind of fannish political statement.

What I love about the on-screen relationship I really want to see reflected in fanfic. I don't want every story's plot to be a race to the finish line of The First Kiss, or The First Fuck. I love fanfic which has the same range as the series--from humour to drama, and everything in-between. I love exploring their relationship, their reliance on one another, the giant age gap, the shared love of adventure, the rows and the sniping, the tactile nature of it, the genuine caring, the genuine frustration. I adore that, and fanfic offers a medium where you don't always need exploding aliens as an A plot to justify your character driven B-plot, because television is a visual medium and prose doesn't have the same requirements.

But I'm getting bummed at the sameness. I'm getting bummed at the volume of short fics tossed off in the hours after the episodes air, which may have a kernel of a really good idea at their heart, but aren't given time and care to develop into an actual story.

(And I'm frankly getting very tired of the Doctor's enormous penis. Honestly, with 900 years experience, don't you think it really would be all about how he uses the equipment, not how big it is?)

Maybe in 2 months time, when we're faced with months and months wait between the 13th episode and the Christmas special, and the only way to get new Doctor/Rose or "Doctor Who" current series adventures is from fan fiction, that is when we'll really see that kind of variety, of stories of every stripe and colour, length and complexity, and startling simplicity become more than the exception, but the norm. These first two months have been a shakedown cruise, after all, for many of us--first time writing in a new fandom, first time writing for many, and the series is new and shiny and feeling its way along just as we are, so maybe that's a big part of it too.

But when I see people complaining about the quality (or lack thereof) of fanfic based on the new series, my initial instinct is to leap to my fandom's defence and point out the wheat among the chaff. But lately, it's been harder to deny that not only does the chaff exist, but it's getting harder and harder to find those kernels of goodness among all the chaff. And I worry that there's an element of "if I write a certain type of fic because there's an audience for it, then I will get positive feedback, because I'm giving people what they want" rather than writing a story for the sake of the story, and not giving people what they want, but managing as a result to maybe give people what they didn't realise they wanted until they got it. There's no real challenge, giving people what they've said they want. That's easy. That's working at McDonald's, handing out Big Macs and fries. And as we all know from "Supersize Me" one cannot live on McDonald's alone, forever. Sure, you crave it once in a while, but as a steady diet, it kills you a bit at a time.

Clichés become clichés when they go from something true in the moment, to something over-used and commonplace and taken a short-hand for truth, in lieu of establishing truth. But it's getting to the point where a lot of us are feeding on each other's fan fiction, instead of the series itself. So we're getting a fuzzy Xerox copy of the characters that subscribes to whatever "popular" view of the characters presented by a handful of influential, prolific authors. Whether its conscious or subconscious, the end result is a depressing sameness to the output of the sub-fandom.

As for clichés, hey--I'm as guilty as the next gal of jumping onto moving bandwagons. I've written "chipfic." I've written a post-"Dalek" hurt/comfort coda. It's not as if the same ideas that have occurred to many of us at once aren't valid ideas, worth exploring, and that no one has explored them well. It's that so many people all seem to be saying the same thing, with little variation to make them stand out. It's gotten to the point where, if I have a post-ep story idea, I have to stay away from the fandom until I've finished it, and once I have, I am seriously debating posting it because I don't want to end up just another anonymous vendor of generic fiction.

(and before anyone laughs, I was actually delighted to have been completely mistaken for Ponygirl, after "Dalek" aired, because I quite like Ponygirl's work. But it doesn't change the fact I do worry that my work stands out not one bit.)

But not every story has to end with the Doctor and Rose going off for chips. Or falling into each other's arms. Or screwing like space-bunnies. Or declaring their undying love. There's room for taking things one step at a time, instead of jumping straight to the end. Cause the journey really can be the best part.

ETA: I'm not trying it single any one writer out. This isn't about pointing fingers and assigning blame. What I'm getting at is that it's not just one writer. It's the trend appearing in a large number of writers' work that's depressing me. My show is too damned young to have this many fanfic cliché already.
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mood: depresseddepressed
 
 
 
ljc: doctor who MIBtaraljc on 17th May 2005 21:43 (UTC)
well I watched original series, but was not quite Old Skool, so I don't know if it's entirely n00bs vs Old Skool, but you're right that there's an element of that. Certainly with folks like mr treacle around, there's almost a knee-jerk desire to write smut just to make his head explode.
R.J. Anderson: Ninth Doctor Grieverj_anderson on 17th May 2005 22:07 (UTC)
Don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying a person has to have grown up watching Who and be familiar with the Doctor's entire backstory or even a significant chunk of it. Just a few -- even a couple -- eps of the original series, or taking the time to read up on the OS a little to get an idea of what the Doctor and his past companions were all about, would help.

And much as I sympathize with the desire to get up the noses of obnoxious, ignorant people who seem to think that all fic is trash to begin with and that fic with romantic elements is an Utter Betrayal of the Spirit of All Things Who (bet he'd just love my explanation for Susan then), I am not sure that an influx of 9/Rose (or 9/Mickey, or whatever) smut is really going to help matters any. I mean, they're not going to read it anyway, and even if they do click onto it by accident or in a sudden fit of curiosity, it's only going to cement their bigotry.
Doyledoyle_sb4 on 17th May 2005 22:30 (UTC)
All curious now - what's your explanation for Susan?
R.J. Anderson: Fifth Doctor Surgeryrj_anderson on 17th May 2005 23:29 (UTC)
It's all written up in fic form in Scent of Yesterday, the third story in my Synaesthesia Trilogy (which is old as donkeys now). But anyway, since the odds are against you reading those...

[SPOILERS HO]

Basically, a future incarnation of the Doctor finally gets snagged by marries a human companion, and eventually they have a daughter that she all unwitting decides she'd like to name Susan after her mother. There is some strange angst on the Doctor's part that his wife Thea doesn't quite understand, but all seems well and they trundle about the universe with the baby until they land on a strange, desolate planet where they meet a very upset scientist named Maroe who's been stranded there as the result of a faulty time-travel experiment. They're discussing how to help her -- or rather, Thea is arguing that they should help her and the Doctor is uncharacteristically digging in his heels and saying that they can't. Then all of a sudden Maroe vanishes back into the past, carrying the infant Susan with her, and the Doctor's wife suddenly realizes to her horror what's been going on:

Something in me snapped then, and I found a voice: low and rasping, it hardly seemed my own, but it would serve.

"You knew," I said. "You knew this would happen."

"Yes."

"Because you'd already met our daughter before, in the past."

"Yes."

I closed my eyes. "What did you write on Susan's bracelet?"

For a long moment the Doctor did not reply. His head was bowed, his eyes fixed on the hat crumpled between his hands. Then he said quietly, "'Dear Doctor: this is your granddaughter. Her name is Susan. Please take care of her. Yours, the Doctor.'"

"Oh, no." I breathed through my hands, fast and shallow. "No. It was bad enough already, without this."

"Thea--"

"No, don't explain. I know the logic. You knew Susan would end up in the past, away from me. And you knew it would happen here." I paused, letting the pieces click into place in my mind, appalled by the picture they were forming. "You knew that it was your fault Maroe wound up here in the first place -- because your TARDIS had caused the temporal surge that threw off their calculations. Stop me when I'm wrong."

"You're not." He spoke in a whisper.


So basically, the 11th Doctor wrote his first incarnation a note containing the message that he remembered as having been attached to the wrist of the infant Susan when he saw her for the first time all those years ago. And then the First Doctor, who knew his own handwriting and had no reason to doubt his future self's word, dutifully raised Susan as his granddaughter, figuring that her origins would become clear eventually...

Are we confused enough yet? :)
Doyledoyle_sb4 on 17th May 2005 23:36 (UTC)
I like that idea of a future regeneration fathering Susan and sending her back - I love the cyclical thing, the thought that she's going around in the timeline.
R.J. Anderson: GHW - art by Annethrj_anderson on 18th May 2005 00:00 (UTC)
Yeah, and it's one of these uninterruptible cycles. The Eleventh Doctor can't save Susan from what's going to happen (although he's strongly tempted to try, and indeed almost does try) because he knows that it's going to happen, and also because he knows that it will turn out for the best in the end -- that Susan will be loved and taken care of.

And, of course, this doesn't preclude the grown-up Susan showing up in a later story of the series, which she does. Though she's older than her own mother at that point, which makes life interesting. :)
teh nos'nostalgia_lj on 20th May 2005 13:18 (UTC)
I once did fic where Eight shags his future female self and then they have a baby which is either Susan or Susan's parent. And then Susan gets dumped with One by whoever. I am a bad person.
Rachel Cobleighreveilles on 18th May 2005 14:41 (UTC)
This story is practically canon in my head. I'm convinced, I like it, it makes sense, it's angsty...and they'd probably never make an episode out of it because it would require knowing First Doctor backstory. :(

I also like the idea of the Doctor consistently taking on human female Companions over the centuries because he's got this dawning suspicion that one of them might turn out to be Susan's mother and he strongly suspects that he's involved in Susan's parentage but he's avoiding one Companion after another because none of them are working for him. The more of his regenerations that he goes through, the less time that he has left to see this quiet (perhaps not even fully conscious) little personal theory come to pass...then all of Gallifrey goes BOOM and now he's really starting to doubt himself, Rose is kind of cute but also kind of annoying, and things get all shuddery...

I love your trilogies. I've started re-reading them...
R.J. Anderson: Ninth Doctor Grieverj_anderson on 18th May 2005 15:20 (UTC)
LOL, I'd forgotten about that part of the explanation. *imagines Doctor peering in shop window at Rose and going "Ooh, shiny!"*
Rachel Cobleighreveilles on 18th May 2005 18:04 (UTC)
I can't ever see him browsing through a catalog of potential companions, trying to pick one out (though maybe doing a "that won't work: he's gay and she's an alien" commentary as he flips through :). I think he rather likes hurling himself headfirst into people and seeing what falls out.

Speaking of shop windows, jcobleigh burst out laughing during "Rose", when he saw the three bride-mannequins standing ominously in the shop window behind Jackie.