Author Archive

Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express

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Here’s my main question from Mummy on the Orient Express: how do you go from slapping someone and saying you never want to see them again, to having one last adventure for the sake of all the good times?

Mummy on the Orient Express was a really fun episode, one of the best of a strong season. But it really wanted to be a standalone episode, at a point in the season where it needed to focus more on the characters’ emotional arcs than on the monster of the week.

And sure, it tried to explore the idea that Clara no longer wanted to travel with the Doctor, bringing things around so that she does want to continue her adventures, at least for now, by the end of the episode. But while the episode was internally consistent, it didn’t make any sense from a broader perspective.

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Outlander: Would You Like Some Rape With That Rape?

Ugh.

That’s really the only word to describe my feelings a few hours after finishing reading Outlander. I picked up the novel 100% because I was enjoying the TV show, and after I turned the final page, I found myself eager to start Book 2 straight away. I was addicted to these characters and this world. I had to find out what would happen next.

And then the minutes passed, and the bitter aftertaste set in. All the things that I’d cringed from, or skimmed over, or wanted to kill with fire while reading came back, and the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t believe that this was actually something I had read.

Outlander uses rape like it is literally the only plot device in the world. Need to create some tension? Add a rape threat! Want to show someone is villainous? Make them a rapist! Have to show that 18th century Scotland is dangerous? Rape! Want an amusing anecdote about a character? Rape! Need some romantic scenes between your two protagonists? Rape, dammit!!

I wrote last week about the show’s seeming addiction to rape to create tension, but compared to the book, it suddenly seems mild. Positively restrained. I lost count of how many times the protagonist finds herself either threatened with rape, or very nearly raped, before the male hero swoops in to save the day. If I added in the number of times our romantic hero “wouldn’t be denied” or won’t take no for an answer, there’d be more scenes or rape or near-rape in the book than consensual sex scenes — and believe me, there are a lot of those as well.

And it boggles my mind, because there’s so much that is good about this book. The historical setting is richly described. The characters are great. It’s a fantasy/historical/adventure novel with a female protagonist whose struggles and decisions are front and center in the story, and that’s great. But any attempt to enjoy the story is ruined by the casual appearance of rape, again and again and again.

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Doctor Who: Kill the Moon

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I really didn’t expect to enjoy Kill the Moon.

The drama and its solution seemed obvious from the trailer. “Should we end one innocent life or let the seven billion innocent people on earth die?” Well, sorry, but that one innocent life is probably going to have to go, and if the protagonists can’t do it, that person (as I thought it was from the trailer) will probably go into self-sacrifice mode before the episode is over.

However, although the moral dilemma was kind of wearying, Kill the Moon actually managed to be one of the more interesting Doctor Who episodes of late.

Or, to put it another way, look at all those female characters doing things. Look at them! This I really did not expect.

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Outlander, Rape and the Female Gaze

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I hate when great TV shows come with a “but.”

“It’s usually a lot of fun, BUT some of the jokes are kind of offensive.” “The plot is super addictive, BUT don’t expect any answers that make sense.” “I love the characters, BUT it’s kind of lacking in girls.”

It’s an amazing show, BUT it has rape in pretty much every episode.

Like many other people, I started to watch new Starz show Outlander recently, and fell into a deep, deep hole of obsession. People have called the show “Game of Thrones for girls,” and although that statement is wrong and offensive on many levels, Outlander does feel like epic television made with its female audience in mind. It’s a fantasy-ish, historical-ish story with a capable, compelling female protagonist and a female perspective underlined by frequent voiceovers. Although it has nudity, like Game of Thrones, it never feels like it’s for the audience’s benefit – except perhaps for the frequency with which highlander love interest Jamie is without his shirt. It’s been said that it’s shot with a “female gaze,” but generally it just feels like a non-objectifying gaze.

And it’s so refreshing to watch a show that is gorgeously shot and gorgeously acted and generally epic feeling, without constantly worrying about what misogynistic thing will come along next.

But. But. What is with all the rape? I’m not sure there’s been a single episode of the show so far that didn’t have at least one threat of rape against the protagonist, Claire. I wish that was an exaggeration. But if characters aren’t actively trying to rape her (episode 1, episode 4, episode 8), they’re threatening to do so, or joking about it, or, at best, the male protagonist is sleeping outside her door to protect her. In a massive crime against pacing, Claire is almost raped twice in one episode, by two different threats, with the two scenes within half an hour of one another. One is fairly graphic, and one is incredibly graphic, with added threat of mutilation since a straight rape threat has already been used up this week.

It’s constant. Everyone is talking about how this is the perfect show for female viewers, made with them specifically in mind, and yet this comes up week after weeks. Some people will inevitably argue that it’s “historically accurate,” but is the show really incapable of having tension without it? Can it not think of any other threats to a timetravelling woman in 18th century Scotland? And do we really need two instances in one episode? At least space them out a bit and create the illusion that something else will happen to Claire.

After tackling the first book in the series (as I said, deep hole of obsession), I know that this stance reflects the books, and that several other casual references have already been deleted in creating the show. But is this really what we consider a fantasy show full of the “female gaze”? One with romance and gorgeous scenery and a great female character and a very attractive male lead, but where the rape threat is constant and from all sides? On the one hand, it could be said to reflect serious and very real fear, a part of the genuine female perspective that the show is exploring. But every episode? In a show that should ultimately be enjoyable and escapist to watch? It’s too much.

And it’s depressing, considering that the show is otherwise amazing. The casting, the chemistry, the scenery, the music, the costumes… everything is just wow. And yet, we still have this.

Doctor Who: The Caretaker

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Yay for present day episodes!

Considering that the major complaint about Clara is that she’s been more of a cardboard cutout than a character, it was exciting to see an episode with at least the potential to be all about Clara and her life outside the Doctor.

And did it succeed? Well, sort of.

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Sam Pepper and Youtube Abuse

Over the past few days, more allegations of Youtuber abuse have come to light, this time against Sam Pepper.

Laci Green’s video above is the best summary of what’s happened (click through to the video page for more links), but for those who can’t watch: popular Youtuber Sam Pepper posted a “prank” video where he sexually assaulted random girls on the street with a fake hand. When the Youtuber community responded with disgust, he posted another video claiming that it was all a “social experiment.” And in the past few days, several videos have been posted accusing Sam Pepper of abuse and rape.

This isn’t the first time that these sort of allegations have been seen in the Youtube community. In March, a flood of stories came out against several popular Youtubers, in particular Alex Day (probably most well-known for his Alex Reads Twilight series). The difference between then and now is that now, people are actually responding.

Not that people didn’t talk about the issue in March. But they only talked about it on Tumblr, where the allegations arose. No major Youtuber mentioned it on the platform where it mattered, despite the fact that the accused were using their status as Youtube Celebrities to abuse teenage fans. There were a few vague videos on the importance of consent, and that was that.

So on the one hand, it’s really heartening to see so many Youtubers responding to this, both on Youtube and on Twitter and other platforms. But on the other hand, it has really depressing implications. Sam Pepper is getting called out and discussed on Youtube because he posted video evidence on his own Youtube channel. And as Laci Green points out, he wasn’t called out after doing it once. He has made several similar “prank” videos in the past, including lassoing random strangers and handcuffing strange women to him and demanding that they kiss him in order to be released. I don’t know what happened with this particular video to create such a strong backlash against it. I wish I did. But the fact remains that he happily posted evidence against himself again and again before he finally got a reaction. And when there isn’t any video evidence, as has been the case with other Youtubers? It’s pushed under the rug, addressed on Tumblr but ignored on the platform where most of the viewers actually are.

The swift and decisive reaction to Sam Pepper might leave people in the community feeling like they can pat themselves on the back for a job well done. And maybe I’m being cynical for disagreeing with that. Maybe events this year have led to more awareness, and a greater willingness to act when allegations come to light. But the facts remain that Sam Pepper posted several similar videos before this, and that other popular Youtubers act in a similar way without widespread criticism. It remains a fact that I no longer have enough fingers to count the number of Youtubers accused of taking advantage of and/or abusing their teenage fans this year, and yet this is the first time I’ve heard the abuse explicitly mentioned by a popular Youtuber.

Youtube still has a serious problem of abuse in its culture. And I really hope that this will be a turning point, with more safeguards, more discussion and more clear condemnation of abusers in the future, and not a moment where people get up in arms for a week, and then sweep it under the rug again.

Sleepy Hollow: This Is War

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It’s been a long, long hiatus.

After obsessing over this fun new show last fall, I’d kind of forgotten all about it. It’s been nine months since the end of season one aired, and that’s a long time to wait for a cliffhanger to be resolved.

Luckily, it took approximately 0.1 seconds into the “previously on Sleepy Hollow” for me to remember how great this show is. It’s not the most serious show, or the most emotionally devastating show, or a show designed to make you really think. But if you want a diverse, fast-paced supernatural adventure genre show with lots of emotion and fantastic character moments in the mix, then it’s basically the best thing on television right now.

And I’m so glad that it’s back.

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Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper

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Sixteen-year-old Avery Roe wants only to take her rightful place as the witch of Prince Island, making the charms that keep the island’s whalers safe at sea, but her mother has forced her into a magic-free world of proper manners and respectability. When Avery dreams she’s to be murdered, she knows time is running out to unlock her magic and save herself.

It’s hard to know where to begin when talking about Salt & Storm, because everything wowed me. The beautiful prose, the complex characters, the haunting magic system, the vivid emotions, the richness of the world… it’s a truly stunning book. And every line of it hums with female power.

The novel explores the relationships between different generations of women — the young not-yet-a-witch Avery, the magic-hating mother who keeps her hostage, and the witch grandmother she longs to return to, but who may not want her back. All three of these women play vital roles in the story, and they all have different personalities and expectations and dreams and powers of their own. Each female character has different definitions of happiness and freedom and love, and the exploration of those differences is what drives the novel.

Avery’s relationship with her mother is particularly fascinating. Avery’s mom hates magic, despite having the ability to control love herself, and she’s determined to prevent Avery from becoming a witch at any cost. Unsurprisingly, the relationship between Avery and her mother is full of hate and resentment, with Avery desperately fighting to set her own destiny. But Avery’s mother is probably the most interesting character of the novel, with a heartbreaking story of her own, and the exploration of her relationship with Avery and why she acts the way she does leads to some of the most compelling scenes I’ve read in a book in a while.

Avery herself is also a fantastic protagonist, not least because she’s not always likeable. She’s a very angry, short-tempered and often selfish main character, who makes mistakes, misjudges things and hurts others with her words as often as she hurts herself. She’s volatile and passionate, and her dedication to her island and her magic drives the story forwards. She feels incredibly real, both powerful and vulnerable, and even when she’s making bad choices or being cruel, I can’t help but like and support her.

At its heart, Salt & Storm is a novel about choices, and about accepting that sometimes you can’t choose. Avery struggles for freedom throughout the novel, saying she’s do “anything” to win her powers, and the novel then goes deep into what “anything” can really mean, and whether the “freedom” she fights for is really freedom at all. Gorgeously written and emotionally compelling, Salt & Storm is my favorite book of 2014 so far. Highly, highly recommended.

The Falconer by Elizabeth May

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I am so in love with this book.

The Falconer is a fast-paced, action-packed highly addictive Victorian fantasy novel, full of fighting and vengeance and fae and apocalypses and steampunk weapons and the occasional ball. Set in an alternate 1840s Edinburgh, The Falconer follows Aileana, a high society inventor, who has dedicated herself to killing fae after one of them murdered her mother. In between her attempts to salvage her tattered reputation, she develops new weapons and patrols the streets of Edinburgh with Kieran, a mysterious ancient fae who hunts his own kind. Her only goal in life now is to find the fae who murdered her mother and get her revenge, but things are complicated slightly when the wards trapping the most dangerous fae under the city begin to break.

The Falconer somehow manages to be both high-stakes action/drama AND quirky and funny and fun. A comparison to Buffy isn’t quite fitting, as The Falconer is a lot darker in tone, but they do have similarities. They’re both apocalyptic with a sense of humor, and The Falconer follows Buffy’s lead in exploring the impact that secret demon fighting has on your life, your relationships with family and friends, and your social standing (perhaps the 19th century version of getting expelled). Add in the forbidden supernatural romance, and you’ve got a book that will definitely appeal to fans of the show.

And Aileana is a fantastic female protagonist. She’s incredibly intelligent and a badass fighter, but she’s far from the kickass stereotype some people might expect. She was emotionally broken by her mother’s death, and the hate that drives her is far from a strength. In fact, her “strength” as a character isn’t that she can fight fae, but all of the other traits that struggle through her darkness. Her loyalty as a friend. Her genius for inventing. Her determination to succeed, whatever the odds. Her sense of humor, her resourcefulness, her emotional insight. Mix all of that with the desperate desire to find and kill her mother’s murderer, whatever the cost, and you’ve got yourself a fascinating protagonist.

Meanwhile, the plot is full of brilliant twists, and the secondary characters are all so vivid and layered and compelling that you’ll find it a difficult book to put down. The one downside to the book is that it ends with one of the biggest cliffhangers I’ve ever seen. It not only finishes mid-scene, it practically finishes mid-sentence. And although that’s dramatic and gasp-worthy and will have you scrambling to find out when the next book comes out, it might also be beyond irritating when you find out that Book 2 isn’t out until next year.

But otherwise, The Falconer is a really fun, twisty, half-Gothic, half-steampunk adventure, with great characters and lots to keep you turning the pages until the end. Highly recommended!

Doctor Who: Listen

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I was so ready to have nightmares from this episode.

One-off scary episodes are what Steven Moffat does best. There are no long-term plots to manage, or emotional arcs to develop. The episodes don’t even have to be internally consistent. They just have to be absorbingly, atmospherically creepy, playing on subconscious childhood fears. It’s small scale, deeply focussed, characters-in-the-basement-while-the-light-flickers stuff. We don’t have to know or care about anything beyond this particular moment and how terrifying it is.

Which is why Listen only half-worked. Half of the episode is about hiding under the bed while an unseen monster may or may not lurk in the room, while half of the episode attempted to go grand scale, confusing-character-timeline, big picture story. And the two halves just didn’t click.

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