Nearly fifty-two years, several hundred episodes, and ten regenerations later, my favourite “Doctor Who” story still remains the 1963-1964 classic “The Daleks” by Terry Nation, which (obviously) introduced the show’s now iconic monsters. Whilst I would not expect every member of a modern audience to grasp why this monochromatic, low-budgeted serial appeals to me so much against the far better produced stories that followed, I would recommend anyone curious enough to give it a go, and I would challenge anyone to produce something within similar confines (including a tiny studio, antiquated cameras, a couple of basic in-camera special effects, and little-to-no time for retakes) that would achieve such an authentically epic feel, akin to the early “Flash Gordon” serials that the show was consciously riffing off at that time. Within resources little over the level of live TV theatre, like the equally groundbreaking “Quatermass” serials before it, the crew nevertheless pull off such setpieces as a huge and atmospheric alien cityscape, a swamp full of predatory mutants, and of course one of the most convincing, original, unsettling (as their true, hideous form is only ever hinted at in this serial), and strangely tragic alien species to date.
Nerdgasm over… but another reason that this story particularly grasps my attention is because of the following piece of dialogue from Episode 4 between Ian Chesterton and the Thals (A peaceful humanoid race, to whom the Daleks harbour a genocidal hatred): the moment when the characters actually explore the motivation that makes the Daleks into the utter bastards that they are…
GANATUS: Yes, but why destroy without any apparent thought or reason? That’s what I don’t understand.
IAN: Oh, there’s a reason. Explanation might be better. It’s stupid and ridiculous, but it’s the only one that fits.
IAN: A dislike for the unlike.
ALYDON: I don’t follow you.
IAN: They’re afraid of you because you’re different from them. So whatever you do, it doesn’t matter.
Scarcely the grandiose galactic conquerors of later years, it is ironically the Daleks who see the utterly harmless Thals as the scary aliens. Proudly stuck in their closed-minded fanaticism, they couldn’t care less what the Thals have to say for themselves, or how unlikely it is that they could ever seriously threaten them. The mere fact of their existence is maddening enough… which reminds me somewhat of the negativity I have often seen directed online to trans people: the blanking and dismissal of their lived experiences, the attempts to argue them out of existence with dogma and ideology, attempts to silence them and exclude them from public life, the “conversion therapy” that is still legal in many supposedly civilised places, the horror that trans-identifying children are being more facilitated in following their gender identity than in past times… the last point being particularly telling, I think, as children being educated in gender and sexuality issues from early on, and learning to see non-binary people as nothing particularly alien or scary, would be a massive nail in the coffin of the ideologues’ visions of society. Ignorance is easily manipulated into fear, and fear into hatred, and ignorant, frightened, obedient little Daleks make the best footsoldiers. Which brings me onto the main feature, which is my first reblog: an excellent post by Adrienne of Translucidity blog…
Conversations With The Kids: About Being Transgender
A while ago, I wrote about expanding our family’s bookshelf to include books about gay and transgender people. The books prompted a few questions from the kids, but it wasn’t immediately clear what kind of impact they would have. We read them once or twice, and then they went into the regular rotation on the bookshelf.
I didn’t want to draw too much attention to the idea of being gay or transgender, being afraid that this might backfire by giving the kids the impression that these things are noteworthy for being weird, rather than just a normal and expected part of life. It was better, I decided, to let conversations arise as they may, like anything else.
Gay families come up in conversation more often than transgender people do; as the US gradually edges toward marriage equality, stories about same-sex couples occasionally pop up on the local newspaper. This is breakfast conversation at our house. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much visibility of transgender people in the community – but perhaps that is still too edgy for this mostly-conservative area.
Today Simon, my oldest, happened to come into the study when I was reading Trans Bodies, Trans Selves. Oddly my first instinct was to hide the book, the way I used to slip Clan Of The Cave Bear under the bed as a teenager when I heard my mother coming. However, it’s a hefty volume and there was nowhere on the desk to set it down inconspicuously; and of course I realized in the same instant that the instinct to be embarrassed was silly – the very thing I wanted to work against.
“What are you reading?” he asked, always curious.
“Trans Bodies, Trans Selves.” I held it up.
“What’s it about?”
“It’s about people who are transgender, meaning people who were born with one body – male or female – but feel like they should be the other. People can chose to live as a different gender from what they were born.”
“How do you do that?”
“Well…” I stalled for time, thinking fast, trying to put together a simply worded explanation. “Boys and girls have different hormones. If someone feels like they should be a different gender, they can go to the doctor and the doctor can give them the hormones that they should have. For example, boys have a hormone called testosterone. So a woman could take testosterone and start to look more like a man – she would grow a beard.”
He didn’t ask anything else; my stumbling explanation appeared to satisfy his curiosity for now. I knew as I said it that this was not the most accurate or complete explanation ever. But I think to have tried to convey more nuance might have been a distraction. An eight-year-old doesn’t really want or need the details; it’s enough to plant the ideas where they will eventually germinate. And anyway, subjects which don’t involve either Lego, Star Wars, or Pokemon have a limited ability to hold his interest these days.
As it happens, a similar conversation arose with Gwen the other day. She and Katie were bouncing on my bed (being the largest soft area in the house), when she suddenly asked, “How did you know whether Katie was a boy or a girl?”
“When she was born I saw that she has girl body. She has girl parts, like you do.”
“But what if she is transgender? What if she has…” Gwen searched for the words we had used when reading I Am Jazz, “…if she has a girl body and boy brain?”
So she had been paying attention, and turning the idea over in her head. But now I wasn’t quite sure how to answer her question. How do I know Katie is a girl? How do I know she isn’t transgender? I don’t, of course. And I can’t know until Katie is old enough to speak for herself.
“Well, it could happen that when she gets older, she will tell me that she is a boy. And if she tells me that she’s a boy, then she can be a boy.”
And after thinking about it for a second added: “If you ever tell me that you feel like a boy, you can be a boy.”
She went back to bouncing on the bed.
Some will argue, of course, that it is necessary to protect children from such “adult” subjects until they can understand better, but understanding needs to start somewhere, and the only message one gets by wrapping a subject in discreet brown paper is that it is, in some sense, inherently shameful. Some, of course, may even believe that, but I would suggest that may well be due to them having had the idea of its secrecy and shamefulness seeded in their minds, until it germinated into Dalek-mindedness. All nerdiness aside, the fewer Daleks we raise into the world, the better.
Also, and this is no more than my personal belief, but I have long suspected that children have a more finely-attuned inbuilt nonsense-detector than most adults (This faculty, alas, seemed only to get dulled with age). Anyone afraid to let children make up their own minds about the ideology they have to push is perhaps rather afraid they will not take very long in finding and picking the myriad holes in it.