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Rosita and the real next Doctor

Having had a few hours to think about it, I've become more concerned than I was yesterday about the treatment of the character Rosita in yesterday's Christmas special.

When the story began, the opening scenes in the market showed at least one little black kid running around with the other urchins in the snow, and I thought "Ooh! It's not just Rosita, then. We have total colour-blind casting here. Exciting!" Except that the way Rosita was treated then made me wonder if colour-blind casting is really possible in Doctor Who, or indeed if the BBC have actually managed to achieve it here.

Apparently, it says somewhere on the official site that Rosita's name was meant to be a reference to both Rose and Martha. But as people in the thread I've linked to have pointed out, '-ita' is not really very much like '-tha'. So if the character is meant to be reminiscent of Martha in some way, and her name doesn't really convey that, we're left with the uncomfortable possibility that her resemblance to Martha actually rests in: the fact that the actress is black. Because all black people are clearly the same, yo. Would the BBC have suggested that Astrid in last year's special was meant to be a reference to Rose because they are both white? I don't think so.

Add onto that the fact that this character, who is played by a black actress, is a prostitute (not in the script, but also stated by the actress herself in clips on the website), gets to do precious little on her own initiative throughout the story, and at the end is conveniently slotted into the role of nursemaid and (implicitly) sexual partner because it suits the needs of the white man, and you're really treading on very thin ice indeed.

The problem at the end of the story, of course, is that the historical setting means that, if the actress' black skin-colour is taken into account, there is no other way to suggest a romantic happy ending for her and Jackson Lake. A white middle-class man of that era would never have dreamed of marrying a black woman - and the script-writers clearly felt that they could not carry colour-blindness far enough to have him do so. The result is that she is condemned to the racist Mammy stereotype.

And that's shoddy enough where Velile Tshabalala is concerned. But the reason this really worries me is because of the rumours flying around connecting Paterson Joseph with the role of the next Doctor. Currently, Who's production team are trying to be ethnically inclusive by casting black actors in the roles of characters who, ten or more years ago, would almost certainly be played by white actors. But they are still falling into the trap of then writing racist stereotypes into the portrayal of those characters.

If a black actor is truly to be cast as the next Doctor, a major leap forward needs to be taken first if these issues are going to be resolved. Are the Who team really ready to take such a step? On the basis of last night's special, Ah hae me doots.

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( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 26th, 2008 11:45 am (UTC)
Yeah, the treatment of Rosita made me really uncomfortable, even before I picked up on the whole "reference to Rose and supposedly to Martha" thing-- she was just WAY too marginalised, particularly in a narrative where the big bad was driven to evil by a patriarchal society in which her only other option was glorified slavery. It was basically saying that that system was just fine for Rosita, in spite of what it had done to Miss Hattigan.

And then the whole race issue adds a completely new layer of creepiness to all of that.
Dec. 26th, 2008 12:07 pm (UTC)
I agree completely. That whole characterisation of Rosita made me feel really uncomfortable. I am firmly in the Paterson Joseph for the next Dr and completely agree with you Penny on whether they are actually ready to do so.
Dec. 26th, 2008 01:03 pm (UTC)
Yeah. It would be great to feel that they are. It would be really positive and pioneering stuff - quite besides the fact that I've been really enjoying Paterson Joseph in Survivors and want MOAR! But it seems like it would need more attention and sensitivity than the script team are currently displaying, especially with stories set in past Earth contexts where racist attitudes were commonplace. Also, after my disappointment with the character of Evangelista in Forest of the Dead, I am far from convinced that Steven Moffat is the man to guide them towards a really positive portrayal of a black Doctor. So I'm not really feeling very optimistic about it.
Dec. 26th, 2008 03:51 pm (UTC)
I adore Paterson Joseph, he's the only half-decent character in Survivors, plus he was fantastic as The Marquis de Carabas in the BBC adaptation of Neverwhere. Even Nik who absolutely hates Survivors really likes Pateron Joseph and thinks he would make a great Dr.

But I digress slightly with fangurl squee (sorry), I am not convinced Moffat will deliver a postive portrayl of a black doctor, 'though I do think he should do a better job than RTD.

By the way - have we heard anything about new companions? I've not seen anything.

Dec. 26th, 2008 04:09 pm (UTC)
I've been loving Survivors all round, actually - but that may be largely because it just hooked me in at a time when I really needed some good escapism.

I've heard nothing about new companions at all - I think the standard practice is to wait until the Doctor is settled before thinking about that. Apparently he isn't going to have a regular companion during the specials - just a series of one-off characters like in all the previous Christmas specials. Which will probably be a really good thing, as it'll mean there's a chance for the air to clear of the memories of the three major companions so far by the time a new regular comes on the scene.
Dec. 26th, 2008 04:26 pm (UTC)
I really like the idea of "Survivors" - I'm a sucker for anything post-apocolypse, but have found a number of the characters really frustrating. I can't abide Abby she's so irritating. I quite like Anya and Najid, I've even warmed to Al over the last few episodes but Sarah is dreadful and Tom just gives me the creeps and disturbs me. I know that the end of the world probably would bring out the worst in people but I'd like to think people would be a bt better than some of the terrors in Survivors.

I think it probably will be a good idea to clear the air for a bit, especially given how integral the last 3 companions have been.

I'm quite intrigued as to where the next few episodes will go.
Dec. 26th, 2008 04:52 pm (UTC)
Ah, I quite like Abby myself. I suspect how much one likes the series rather hangs on that, as she is so central. As for Sarah and Tom - I find them both terrifying (in completely different ways), and every week I hope that somehow the rest of the group will shed them. But I guess that sort of tension is what keeps me coming back. I do think Sarah is a bit two-dimensional, though, and keep wishing she'd experience some character growth. She makes a poor contrast with Al, who's gradually changed quite a lot because of the sense of responsibility he feels towards Najid.
Dec. 26th, 2008 05:19 pm (UTC)
"I do think Sarah is a bit two-dimensional, though, and keep wishing she'd experience some character growth. She makes a poor contrast with Al, who's gradually changed quite a lot because of the sense of responsibility he feels towards Najid."

I know exactly what you mean. It seems strange that they haven't bothered to develop her at all, I mean even Tom has experienced some character growth, but he's still very disturbing, Sarah is also disturbing, she's a nasty piece of work and you can't understand why the group would keep her especially after she grassed up Anya.
Dec. 26th, 2008 12:53 pm (UTC)
Indeed. I think I need to watch it again now, in the knowledge of how the female characters' story-lines get wrapped up at the end. I've a feeling I may have been too generous in my review of it last night, and that what we're really looking at here is a story with some great elements (Doctor as own companion - tick, v. good) but some hideous gaping fatal flaws as well... :-(
Dec. 26th, 2008 01:23 pm (UTC)
It's not even true that an inter-racial marriage was unthinkable. Vanity Fair, which is set several decades earlier, has two black characters who both end up marrying English people of their own class. Granted, one is a plantation heiress and the other a footman, so it's not as good a witness to middle-class behaviour, but the point remains. (Long John Silver, in Treasure Island, is also explicitly married to a black woman.)

This all further weakens the script's suggestion that nursemaid-plus-fuckbuddy is the optimal outcome for Rosita.

I am convinced that this was a line that sounded better inside RTD's head than it did when delivered.
Dec. 26th, 2008 01:35 pm (UTC)
(Though that last bit - where it sounded much better inside your head - can happen to any of us.)
Dec. 26th, 2008 04:12 pm (UTC)
Hehe - yes, indeed it can. :-)
Dec. 26th, 2008 02:06 pm (UTC)
I thought that the trailer was trying to imply the Doctor thought Rosita was Martha when she had her back turned and was screaming "Doctor!", from her skin colour and hair. Then I spent ages trying to work out whether I or the BBC was being racist, or both or neither.
Dec. 26th, 2008 04:13 pm (UTC)
Ah, you may well be right. I'll have to look again and see if his facial expression suggests he thinks he's recognised the actual person, rather than just the situation of someone screaming for him to help.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 26th, 2008 04:17 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it was that way for me, too. The words bubbled up as I was getting up this morning, but the thoughts had been niggling since last night.
Dec. 26th, 2008 04:26 pm (UTC)
Ah, you found a way to watch it then. Good good. ;-)
Dec. 26th, 2008 04:26 pm (UTC)
Interesting thoughts. I noticed the Rosita/Rose references since they were blatant. The martha stuff though? Don't see it at all and I prefer to think that its not just because of the skin colour thing...

Generally I thought the character was just awfully written. The inconsistency of her acting as an incredibly independant figure at the beginning leading the "doctor" in some ways (I believe she was the one who said somethign about having to disable the traps) and taking initiative to save them followed not long after by meekly doing as she was told and then being written out of the story pretty much points to me not as implicit racism but as poor writing. Maybe I'm just giving too much benefit of the doubt though...

And though unrelated to the point of this post but still on the episode - what the heck were those cyber shade things (is that what they were called)? The costuming struck me as awful. In the first shots I thought they were an almost smokey kind of insubstantial thing before I then realised that they were actually men in fur suits with long strips of material attached all over themselves and stupid masks... What was that all about?
Dec. 26th, 2008 05:08 pm (UTC)
Yeah, she certainly was a badly-written character who suffered from the fact that a companion wasn't really necessary at all in this story, since the Doctor was taking on that role instead. But while that would be merely a bit rubbish if the character were played by a white actress, I think it carries more sinister overtones if that character has in fact been cast as black. It raises all sorts of questions about what was going through the writers' heads when they wrote for her. Did they know she would be played by a black actress? If so, did they think about how their portrayal of a black woman as servile and rather superfluous was going to come across? I've a horrible feeling that the answers to those questions are, respectively, "yes" and "no" - which does make me worry about the prospect of the same team trying to write for a black Doctor.

And as you say, there seems to have been some idea of her being the real 'brains' in the relationship between her and Jackson Lake - but as soon as the real Doctor turns up, that has to be left behind, really. We could have done with some screen time devoted to the two of them on their own, before the rest of the story begins. That might have made a big difference in establishing her as strong and autonomous (but of course was hardly possible in an hour-long story).

Yes, the shaggy animal things were indeed called Cybershades - don't ask me why! From the appearance of the one which came out of the woodshed (or whatever it was) in the trailer, I actually thought they weren't meant to be real creatures at all, but something like kids who had seen real Cybermen playing around with a sort of pantomime Cyber-mask they had made and a black blanket draped over their shoulders. I was really quite surprised last night when the story went on, and it turned out to be meant to be a proper creature.

And this has all got rather long, hasn't it? Don't mind - I'm just thinking out loud, really. ;-)
Dec. 26th, 2008 10:49 pm (UTC)
Well, that was another huge steaming bucket of frantic tosh, wasn't it? Enormous fun, but I wish I didn't have to feel so bad about finding it so. Satire done with a shovel, characterisation with a trowel, and the most shameless not-sure-where-or-when-we-are costuming since the great days of Hammer. Why can't they get actors portraying Victorian characters to change their hair? Having said that, I was extremely pleased to notice possibly the first reasonably accurate portrayal of clergy dress I've ever seen in period drama. And the CyberKing stomped past St Paul's at least three times!
Dec. 26th, 2008 10:57 pm (UTC)
I meant the programme being tosh, not you. Happy Christmas.
Dec. 27th, 2008 01:35 pm (UTC)
Yes, don't worry - that was understood! :-)
Dec. 30th, 2008 06:18 pm (UTC)
I think- and I've thought it all along- that the decision to drop the serial form and deliver stories in a single episode was a mistake. I don't think it's an accident that many of the best New Whos have been two-parters. A lot of what was wrong with this special was down to there simply not being enough time to develop the characters or tell the story properly.

Dec. 30th, 2008 06:41 pm (UTC)
Yes, you may well be right there. Single-episode stories with a larger season arc work well for shows such as Buffy, where there is a regular cast of 6 or more people and a relatively stable setting. But Who these days only has a regular cast of two (three if you count the TARDIS ;-) ), and the setting changes every week. So while those central two characters may well be rather over-explored, everyone else gets short shrift. Perhaps what's really needed to make the format work is a TARDIS crew of four again?
Jan. 1st, 2009 01:33 am (UTC)
Rosita puzzled me as well. We watched this via iplayer so I hadn't seen any trailers for it. I kept expecting her to have some key part to play, particularly with the bit about her being sent home to the Tardis while the doctors investigated. I thought that had to be leading up to something, but instead, at the climax of the story, she was again sent off to safety while the doctors dealt with it. Ultimately, there wasn't anything she did that couldn't have been worked through without her, storywise.

While I thought the nursemaid line appropriate, since I dislike seeing racism of past eras swept under the rug in modern day fiction, I'd rather she'd taken a more proactive role in her own ending rather than having the men discuss it (even if Jackson had picked up on the doctor's marriage implications, doesn't the lady get a choice?). Really, I was all the more perplexed that she was left behind, since I'd come to the conclusion that she was destined to be the real doctor's next companion, so this was a token introduction for her and she'd get some proper storytime later. Eh.

I liked the episode in general, but I thought a lot of it was a bit contrived. Particularly the save the son bit at the end. It's probably my least favourite of the Christmas specials, which was a shame considering it made such a refreshing change visually.
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )

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