Doctor Who: The Chair Agenda

You might remember Russell T Davies' so called "gay agenda" on Doctor Who. It's what fans who probably weren't keen on boys kissing boys called it when same-sex relationships were alluded to or seen on the show during his tenure. Calling it an "agenda" is meant to be a negative, as if the writer was trying to advance some political cause, though I wish people didn't think of diversity on television as "political". With Moffat, it's surely a "female Doctor" agenda; he's been showing us Time Lords turning into Time Ladies for the past few years, preparing us for the inevitable, and no doubt raising the blood pressure of the same kind of people who didn't like Mad Max and Star Wars films with women in the lead roles. But from the moment we saw the "only chair on Skaro" on this past season of Doctor Who, the term "chair agenda" has been bandied about, no doubt as a cheeky parody of those other conspiracy theories/heated debates.

But what if there IS a "chair agenda"? What might it be? After collating all the data, I've arrived at the conclusion that yes, such an agenda exists, and it is this, my friends: Heroes stand, villains sit. Make no mistake, Doctor Who has always been about standing. Standing up for what's right, and so on, but the Doctor also travels in a ship with no real seating. This is no USS Enterprise where everyone wants a shot at the big chair! Our heroes operate the console standing, the better to run when it's time to spring into action. Taking only the first story of Series 9 as evidence, Missy is found sitting. Davros always sits. And when our heroes are offered chairs (in a plaza, on Skaro), it is always to compromise them. Clara becomes Missy's "companion" after she sits down with her. Davros is trying to get the Doctor to sympathize with him, to combine the Time Lord's energies with the Daleks'. When the Doctor sits, he becomes more like Davros (and even gets to ride the wheelchair).

If we look for chairs, or the absence of chairs, across the rest of Series 9, a pattern develops. I'm not talking about evil ghosts throwing chairs in an underwater base, though you can count that as supporting evidence if you like, but skip ahead to The Zygon Inversion. First, we have Bonnie taking over Clara's form, relegating Clara to a dreamscape. The only way to communicate with Bonnie is to sit in a chair in front of the television. That connects her to the villain. The chair does.
The Osgood Box room. No chairs. Quite beyond the fact that sitting is a dramatically weaker position than standing, it places all the participants, Bonnie included, in a "heroic" position. Because the Zygon leader stands, the Doctor is able to "turn" her to the side of good. Had she been sitting, it is unlikely he could have shaken her resolve. Villains are comfortable and intransigent in their thoughts; heroes are more furtive, open to moving in different directions, to thinking.

And when heroes die, when they must Face the Raven, they die standing.

In Heaven Sent and Hell Bent, the Doctor does a lot of sitting, granted, but as he says himself, he's no longer "the Doctor". He's too wrathful, having suffered one loss too many. When he sits is when he's most thinking about that loss, or else Clara's picture wouldn't be on the wall.
Throwing a char through a window is either a rejection of evil, or making use of one's evil half; you decide. On Gallifrey, he's sitting, eating soup, and it comes off as threatening. In the Capitol, he sits at the High Council table, shipping the people who crossed him off the planet and into the dying embers of the universe. Only once he's upright again will he start acting like the Doctor. In the diner, he sits on a stool, not a chair, perhaps a midpoint between good and evil, making us subconsciously wonder which way this experience will send him. And similarly, when we get to the very end of the universe, the Doctor finds the series' arc villain Me sitting, watching sun dies. But then she stands and inherits a TARDIS, and becomes Clara's co-heroine in an untold number of adventures.

It may have started as a joke, but you can't tell me the show doesn't actually have a "chair agenda".


Eric TF Bat said...

It started earlier than you think. Rewatch The Curse Of Fatal Death -- they're talking about chairs on the Dalek ship ("I'll explain later") and of course the whole thing with the Master having breasts, the Doctor going from sexy (Atkinson, Grant) to old (Broadbent), and of course the sewers... clearly the first two episodes of season nine were meant as a sequel to that most canonical of stories.

Siskoid said...

Correct. Moffat is only now getting back to what he started in his first Doctor Who episode.

Brendoon said...

I must admit I'm totally bent in that respect, I'm always looking for a place to sit.
The tardis console, for that reason leaves me exhausted!
I recall, was it McCoy or McGann (McGoohan?) who had a comfy chair in the console room?
Waris Hussein, first director of the show thinks Who has gotten altogether too smoochy and unDoctorlike in that respect. While I like smooching I prefer it to be a first person experience, so I tend to agree with him. While the characters can be attractive, actual romantic intercourse (har har, sorry, in the Victorian sense I mean) is where folks can get grossed out if they're otherwise inclined...
I agree about references back to Fatal Death, totally intentional.

While we're on WHO subjects that make people feel uncomfy,(like hard backed chairs) I prefer alien stories, technology and history.
Spooks, gods and possessions weird me out sump'n wicked.

Brendoon said...

Possessions? dang, let me rephrase that. I actually love owning things. It was demons to which I referred. I guess it's the supernatural I don't dig on. I've never tried to read HP Lovecraft...

Sean Dillon said...



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