Chicks Dig Time Lords – a Doctor Who interview with Tara O’Shea and Lynne Thomas

IF you go down to the bookstore today or are browsing through Amazon, keep an eye out for Chicks Dig Time Lords: A celebration of Doctor Who by the women who love it.

The book is a fascinating collection of essays and articles put together by female novelists, academics and actresses to set out just why they love the Gallifrey locum so much.

Among those who contributed were John Barrowman‘s sister Carole on why her brother is still afraid of shop dummies, the star of the Bernice Summerfield audio stories Lisa Bowerman, an interview with Ace – Sophie Aldred – and a comic from Tammy Garrison and Katy Shuttleworth, who created Torchwood Babiez.

The duo behind CDTL – Lynne Thomas and Tara O’Shea – kindly spent their precious time answering my questions via email just after The Eleventh Hour aired in America, for which I am eternally grateful. Here is our chat.

What was the idea behind CDTL and where did it come from? Discussions with mates? A feeling fangirls were under-represented in Who fandom?

Tara: When the series returned in 2005, there was some press in the UK talking about how Doctor Who wasn’t just appealing to boys, but also girls, as if it was a new and rare thing. In the US, however, women fans had been part of Who fandom the since the show had originally been broadcast here, writing fanzines, creating fan films, and running conventions.

With the new series of Doctor Who, a lot of girls and women who had never been fans of the original were introduced to the Doctor, TARDIS, and their first companion in the form of Rose Tyler. And they loved it for many of the same reasons the boys did – the adventure, the aliens, the humour and the pathos.

They came to conventions and interacted with other fans on forums like Outpost Gallifrey and Livejournal to share their love, and to meet fellow fans. They also tended to focus on the relationships between the characters (romantic or not), to the chagrin (and some minor grumbling) of some Classic Series fans, who couldn’t understand why this new group of fans were so interested in how little Gallifreyans were made.

So when I attended my first Doctor Who convention in 2005 in almost a decade, and was put on a panel with Mad Norwegian Press‘s Christa Dickson entitled “The Squee Girls”, we were prepared for some vocal scepticism on the part of Classic Series fans.

What we found instead was a wonderful community of fans–both male and female–who were open to new fans and new ideas. Christa and I did several versions of that panel at both Chicago TARDIS and Gallifrey One over the years, adding panellists as we went including my co-editor Lynne. One memorable year, Paul Cornell was our “token male” on the panel, and was declared jokingly an honorary Squee Girl, for not only getting exactly what appeals to women about both the series and the fandom, but being incredibly, delightfully supportive.

The book’s title comes from a tee-shirt that I designed for my first Gallifrey One convention in 2006, which proved very popular. I shared the Cafepress store address with people on my blog, and Christa Dickson even wore one of the shirts on the air during local Iowa PBS pledge drives. I started seeing women and girls I’d never met before wearing shirts I designed at Gallifrey One and Chicago TARDIS, and at the same time, I saw the number of women attending conventions rising as well.

Online, I hung out with a close-knit group of fangirls, most of them Old School fans who were also fans of the new series–and I spent some of the happiest months of my life geeking out with them, and they progressed from just people with whom I geeked out about a favourite television series, to in many cases, genuine friendships “In Real Life” as they say online.

In the summer of 2007, I had Lars Pearson and Christa Dickson staying in my home for a weekend, and I pitched the idea of a slim volume called Chicks Dig Time Lords to them. My original idea was for a sort of girls’ guide to the series and the fandom, but as we discussed the idea, it became clear that an essay book made more sense. I drew up a pitch, including a list of potential contributors, and signed the contract in 2008 to edit the collection.

Unfortunately, only a few weeks after I’d pitched the book to the publisher, I had a series of setbacks in my personal life. It became clear to me and the publishers that I was going to need help soliciting and editing the essays because I couldn’t do it on my own. Lars suggested that Lynne be brought onto the project due to her previous academic editing and writing experience, as well as her connections to the SF/F lit world as a Special Collections Archivist. We regrouped, and worked together to finish the book.

How did you go about getting the contributors?

Lynne: A lot of it was conscripting friends, especially at first. Tara’s original pitch document had a potential list of contributors, including Francesca Coppa, whom Tara knew through the Organization for Transformative Works, Seanan Maguire, one of this year’s John W. Campbell Award Best New Writer nominees, Liz Myles, an administrator for the fanfiction archive Teaspoon and an Open Mind, and Amy Fritsch, whom Tara had known through fandom for years.

Christa Dickson of course, we had both known for years through the squee panels and Mad Norwegian Press, along with Jennifer Adams Kelley, (who has been making fan videos and running conventions since the 1980s), and Kathryn Sullivan (an avid fanzine collector and convention guest minder since the 1980s). Tara also contacted Deborah Stanish, who writes for the Canadian fanzine Enlightenment and was recommended by nearly everyone we know.

Lynne: When I joined the project, I asked some of the SF writers that I know through my work as an SF archivist, including 2-time Hugo Award winner Elizabeth Bear, Campbell Award winner Mary Robinette Kowal, Mythopoeic award winner Catherynne M. Valente (whose novel Palimpsest was just nominated this year for a Best Novel Hugo), best-selling writer Jody Lynn Nye, and interstitial writer/blogger K. Tempest Bradford, all of whom graciously consented to contribute.

Our publisher, Lars, suggested Kate Orman and Lloyd Rose, (Doctor Who tie-in novelists), Lisa Bowerman (Big Finish’s Bernice Summerfield, and Kaara from “Survival”), and academics Shoshanna Magnet and Robert Smith?. Some of our contributors came through other contributors: Robert Smith? recommended academic Helen Kang; Elizabeth Bear suggested costumer Johanna Mead.

Michael (Lynne’s husband, and Associate Editor for the book) suggested Jackie Jenkins (DWM columnist), along with suggesting that we invite the creators of Torchwood Babiez (Tammy Garrison and Katy Shuttleworth) to create a comic.

Sometimes, it was just a matter of asking. I emailed Carole Barrowman (John’s sister) out of the blue. As it turns out, she and her husband are alumni of the university at which I work.

Other mutual friends in fandom helped us secure interviews with some of the women most closely associated with the series and its tie-in universe, such as Sophie Aldred (Ace, the Seventh Doctor’s companion), Laura Doddington (Big Finish companion Zara), and India Fisher (Big Finish companion “Charley Pollard”).

What are your favourite entries in the book? Any that you couldn’t use? Anyone you couldn’t get to contribute and will there be a CDTL2 because of that?

Tara: Amy Fristch’s essay means a lot to me personally, because she’s one of my oldest friends and I was there when her daughter was born. Seanan McGuire’s had me on the floor giggling from the first moment she told me the story, before there even was a book to pitch it to, and Lynne’s essay made me cry–for all the right reasons.

Lynne: I’m really proud of all of the essays, frankly, and I love each and every one of them for different reasons… but I am particularly pleased that Carole Barrowman was willing to tell stories about her baby brother John, and that the Torchwood Babiez folks were able to not only provide a comic, but the artist, Katy Shuttleworth, designed the cover (at the top of this interview).

The fan depicted on the cover is named “Verity” in honour of Verity Lambert, the first producer of Doctor Who, to whom the whole volume is dedicated.

We’re so incredibly blessed to have the stellar line-up of contributors present in the book, but as is the case with most anthologies, many fabulous writers were contacted, and had to turn us down due to work or other scheduling commitments. We’re both hugely proud of Chicks: it was a massive undertaking by of a bunch of really passionate people in our spare time.

What has the reaction been to the book? Do mainly women buy it, or have men welcomed it too?

Lynne: Our publisher tells us that he is quite happy with the sales numbers. Our Facebook fan page is predominantly women, but we have heard from a number of male fans who bought it for themselves, and have really enjoyed the universality of the experiences of the contributors. Reaction overall has been generally positive from readers of both genders, which is always gratifying.

I joke that, like in any good library, there is something in the book to offend everyone. As critical reviews come out, we have found reviews that mention exactly the same essays, but one will absolutely hate the essays that the other reviewer adores, and vice versa. Which means that perhaps we got it mostly right.

What do you make of the recent female characters in Who?

Tara: I’d have to say that of the RTD Era companions, I loved Rose for being a feisty, flawed, clever and compassionate character in series one with the Ninth Doctor.  I absolutely adored Martha, particularly in “Human Nature/The Family of Blood” and the series three finale when she walks the Earth for a year, being a hero without a sonic screwdriver or a gun or any of the magic and alien mayhem Jack Harkness and the Doctor carry with them.

While I think Martha had the best leaving story of all the RTD companions, but I really loved Donna because she was in a way a return to the kind of companion I loved when I was a fan the first time around. I hated that for many fans, a companion can’t succeed as a companion unless she also succeeds as a potential love interest and win the Doctor’s romantic love–which means by those rules, both Rose and Martha “failed”.

Whereas Donna was more of a best mate the Doctor had mad adventures with, and she especially reminded me of my favourite childhood companion, Tegan, for being strong-willed and brave and cheeky. So I have to say, while Rose has a special place for being the companion who brought me back to Doctor Who and made it a real passion, rather than just an exercise in fond nostalgia, if I had to pick, I’d have to say Donna.

However, Donna may be eclipsed by Amy Pond, if “The Eleventh Hour” is anything to go by!

Lynne: I’ve always seen the relationship between the Doctor and his companions as a mentoring relationship from both sides. I think that companions function as a sort of “anchor” for the Doctor, reminding him that his actions affect real people, and pushing him to be better, in the same way that he pushes us humans to be better.

If I had to pick “my” companion, it would actually be Ace from the classic series (Tara had to do the interview with Sophie Aldred because I was frankly too tongue-tied), or Charley Pollard from the 8th Doctor Big Finish audios, but I have great, deep affection for Rose, Martha, and Donna as well. From what I’ve seen of Amy Pond, I already like her quite a bit.

I love them all for different reasons, most of which add up to positing that I could have a go in the TARDIS if given a chance, since I can identify with Rose’s emotional openness and passion, Martha’s professionalism and self-confidence, Donna’s humanity and self-discovery of value, and Amy Pond’s cheek and ingenuity.

Who always seems to have had strong women, so do you think that attracts the Doctor to these companions? Does he search out women with those traits?

Tara: I always saw the companions–both male and female–to be stand-ins for the audience. We see the Doctor through their eyes, and in order for him to remain larger than life, alien, strange and exciting and compelling, frightening and wise and childlike and tempestuous, someone like us has to stand next to him and see him, and accompany him on his journeys.

Someone mortal, and fallible, and flawed and real has to share those adventures and be clever, and brave and become the best person they can be while on those journeys. That’s the role of the companion. They’re our anchors into stories much larger than our own lives.

What’s been fantastic about both incarnations of the series–both the one I grew up with, and the one that inspired me and other women like me to take an active part in the fandom–has been the variety of female characters in the series. Girlie-girls, and tough girls, scientists and geniuses and feisty reporters, get-fit enthusiasts, and temps all save the world.

They come in all shapes and sizes, and they all have adventures, and there’s someone for everyone to fall in love with and cry for when they go, just as they do the Doctors.

Lynne: I think that those who travel with the Doctor (male or female) are self-selecting to a certain degree. To be willing to nip off to points elsewhere in the universe with an alien you hardly know, and to enjoy the adventure despite the dangers, takes self-assurance and bravery on a level that I aspire to on my good days.

I think the Doctor looks for those qualities in a companion, if only because otherwise he’d spend an awful lot more time worrying about them than he already does. On the other hand, while those traits are necessary, of course all of the companions must rely on the Doctor to a certain degree: he’s the one with 875+ years of experience on them, and he’s their ride home.

But he, too, relies on them to keep him reasonable and giving, and to not let all those years of experience give way to cynicism or a lack of connection.

What about women behind the scenes in the Whoniverse – would you like to see more women given a chance to write for the TV show?

Tara: Definitely! Always! We both really enjoyed episodes by Helen Raynor and Cath Treganna in Torchwood, for example, and the episodes in the Whoniverse directed by Alice Troughton. Julie Gardner, of course, as executive producer, needs to be recognized as a driving force behind the whole Whoniverse as well. We always hope to see gender parity in the television industry, and particularly in the Whoniverse.

Will there ever be a female Doctor and how would you – as a female Whovian – feel about that? Could Who fans get past the gender change? Could the character? How would the show change?

Tara: I think while it would be a shock–and it would take a while to think of the Doctor apart from gender–honestly, when you have a character as changeable as the Doctor, two X chromosomes is hardly the strangest thing that could happen. And all of the traits I admire and love have nothing to do with X or Y chromosomes, but the writing and strength of the actor’s performances.

And if they cast a woman to play the Doctor, and kept on writing great stories, then I’ll stick around.

Lynne: Why not? Joanna Lumley has already played the Doctor in the “The Curse of the Fatal Death” Children in Need special. We know that there are female Time Lords like Romana on Gallifrey. We assume that Time Lords always regenerate as the same gender; we have no proof of that.

I think it’s entirely possible for the Doctor to regenerate as a woman…but I also think it won’t happen until the idea of the Doctor being a woman is no longer a novelty or something really noticeable.

Has your relationship with the show changed over time, as the show changes too? In what way?

Tara: I think I have a lot more appreciation for a lot of the original series than I actually did at the time I was first discovering it. It’s easy to laugh at the wobbly sets and paper-mache aliens, but those stories stood the test of time and still appeal to me.

“Black Orchid” was one of my favourite stories, as a kid, prior to the new series, because of its emphasis on character. The new series seems to devote more time to those character moments I enjoyed in the classic era. The Ninth Doctor’s story caught my attention and inspired the passion that turned me from just a passive viewer into someone who volunteered at conventions, and wrote fan fiction, and lead ultimately to the idea for this book.

I watched the original series as a teen, on my own, with few friends to talk with about the stories and characters.  My folks dimly remembered the series from when they lived in the UK, but they’d moved to the US in 1969, and so it wasn’t a part of my childhood the way it was for most of the fans I know now through online fandom communities, particularly LiveJournal and Outpost Gallifrey (now Gallifrey Base).

Doctor Who for me is now a shared experience, instead of a solitary one.

Lynne: One of the things I love about the series is how it embraces change, so it makes sense that my relationship with it has certainly changed over time. The Doctor, despite his changeability, is one of the few constants in our life.

When my husband introduced me to the series and its fandom in the late 1990s, the show wasn’t being broadcast, we lived in Connecticut, and there was no hope of a new series.

In the past decade, we have found a community of friends, had a daughter (who is now seven and watches along with us), moved cross-country, and of course, produced this book. Our perspectives of course change, but the love for the show remains the same.

Do you have a favourite Doctor (mine would be Doctor Dave)? A favourite era?

Tara: Prior to the new series, it was the Fifth Doctor. While he wasn’t my first, his was the Doctor that won my heart, starting with “Castrovalva”. However, Eccleston became “my Doctor” almost immediately, and that hasn’t changed. Yet.

Lynne: My Doctor was decidedly Sylvester McCoy, the Seventh Doctor …  until David Tennant came along; his interpretation has now become my favorite. I’m also rather fond of the Patrick Troughton era, and Paul McGann’s Big Finish work.

If you had the choice, would you be The Doctor or a companion, and in which era?

Tara: I’d like to be a companion with the Ninth Doctor. There was something about the universality of loss, and his anguish over committing genocide in the Time War that made me immediately connect with the character emotionally. I felt like he was a more approachable Doctor than most of his other incarnations. He was flawed and broken and mad and made promises he couldn’t keep, but always with the best of intentions.

And he was the Doctor who couldn’t push that big red button again in “Parting of the Ways”, unlike the Doctor wreathed in flames in “The Runaway Bride”. That was a huge difference for me, and part of why I think the Ninth Doctor will always be “my” Doctor.

The Tenth Doctor needed Donna to stop him, whereas the Ninth Doctor needed Rose to help him learn to start again. I’ll always take a story of hope over one of doom, any day.

Also, frankly, I fancied him like mad. There I’ve said it. Welcome to the shallowness of me. Had to happen sometime. Eccleston’s Doctor was that for me.

Lynne: I think I’d prefer to be a companion to being a Doctor, simply because I don’t want the responsibility that the Doctor carries. If I had the chance to go travelling in the TARDIS, it would be with David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. I love his exuberance and enthusiasm. And yes, he’s very much my type: after all, I married a Doctor Who fan, and we all know what a big fan of the series David is.

I can’t help but trust him because of that.

What do you think about the new Who Matt Smith, the new TARDIS and Steven Moffat taking over as showrunner? Excited, nervous, wait and see?

Tara: I was utterly charmed by Matt Smith’s Doctor, and I adore Karen Gillam as Amy Pond in “The Eleventh Hour”. It was a fantastic fresh start–new Doctor, new TARDIS, new companion, new production team.

My first reaction to the new TARDIS (after the “OMG THE WINDOWS!”) was OMG HATRACK! WIN! Which is pure fannish hysterical glee right there. Also, I loved the mention of the swimming pool. I’ve missed the TARDIS having rooms other than just the console room and the wardrobe.

Having sat on panels with Steve Moffat at conventions, I know how dear the programme is to his heart, and I know what kind of love he has for the characters. I’m a huge fan of Press Gang, Coupling, and Jekyll. The creator of “The Empty Child” and Lynda Day knows how to write compelling young women. The shiny Hugo Awards on his mantle prove that he also writes cracking Doctor Who stories.

But the main reason I am thrilled to welcome our new Scottish overlord is that Steve has kids. I am looking forward to the type of Doctor Who stories Steve isn’t just making for us fans, but for his children and their friends.

Lynne: Pretty much what Tara said (although I’ve never had the honor of being on a panel with Steven Moffat). So far, I’ve loved what I’ve seen.

I’m one of those folks that felt that the series was absolutely placed in the right hands when it was announced that Steven Moffat was taking over, and I have yet to be disappointed. I do believe I need an “In Moff We Trust” t-shirt.

I loved the Russell T Davies era, and I will love the Steven Moffat era.  I have no doubt about that.

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