Book Riot Quiz and Even More on Doctor Who

Grace Lapointe
5 min readNov 28, 2023

Here’s my first quiz for Book Riot: Can You Guess the Last Lines from These 10 Classic Novels?

[Doctor Who spoilers below, mostly for older episodes]

I also blogged about Doctor Who’s recent decision to depict the villain Davros without facial scars or a wheelchair. If Davros invented the Daleks before he became disabled, then it’s no longer his possible motive to create them. “Destination: Skaro” was silly and funny, but it’s already made his character much less ableist than before.

As I said on my Instagram, which is usually private: I’m not saying disabled people or characters are, or should be, always morally good. I’ve also often criticized disabled characters who are perfect, angelic, or pitiful. Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol is a prominent example. He’s at the opposite extreme from villains like Davros — but equally stereotypical and ableist.

In the examples I used from Russell T. Davies’ first era at Doctor Who, the villains’ disabilities explain their evil motives or make them look scary. That’s the main problem, to dig a little deeper. They’re villains BECAUSE they’re disabled and old. Lots of ableist and ageist assumptions underlie these characters, especially because Lumic, Davros, and Capricorn are so similar. (That’s before even mentioning the many disabled villains in other SFF franchises, like Doctor Poison in Wonder Woman or Darth Vader in Star Wars.)

These characters aren’t just disabled villains. Their disabilities are their villain origin stories. Disability (or a set of tacit assumptions about it) is used to explain the character, instead of character development. I want people to question these assumptions, even if they are implicit or unintentional. I’m glad Davies and other people on the show are trying to do that now.

The non-disabled characters in Doctor Who and Torchwood all agree that being a Cyberman is worse than death. In the 2006 Doctor Who two-part story, “Rise of the Cybermen” and “The Age of Steel,” only Lumic, who’s disabled, “envies” them. This is more than merely his personal opinion. Lumic imposes his self-loathing, ableist ideology on others by forcing them to become Cybermen.

John Lumic tries to improve upon humanity through his Cybermen. Lumic says: “The most precious thing on this Earth is the human brain, and yet we allow it to die. But now Cybus Industries has perfected a way of sustaining the brain indefinitely within a cradle of copyrighted chemicals. And the latest advances in synapse research allow cyber-kinetic impulses to be bonded onto a metal exoskeleton. This is the ultimate upgrade. Our greatest step into cyberspace.” This speech from Lumic exemplifies a transhumanist perspective. Lumic views unhoused people as disposable and “upgrades” them into Cybermen.

Without much time to develop Lumic’s character, “Rise of the Cybermen” and “The Age of Steel” show him as disabled, as if this explains why he created the Cybermen. There’s no reason a disabled inventor would necessarily be a eugenicist. For examples of transhumanist and eugenicist villains who are mostly non-disabled, see my analysis of Orphan Black. Orphan Black critiques the racism, sexism, classism, and ableism of eugenics without offering disability as an explanation for villains’ motivations. In fact, as I described in 2022, that show’s character Rachel Duncan eventually rejects a lifetime of eugenicist indoctrination after she becomes disabled.

I think Russell T. Davies listens carefully to cast, crew, and fans’ concerns. It’s hard for anyone to try to summarize all these issues in a quick sound bite for TV or internet. I think it’s great not to want to contribute further to stereotypes with a long history.

Here are some more of my recent thoughts on Doctor Who, my hyper-fixation right now, including ups and downs of Steven Moffat’s writing for the show.

I enjoyed “The Star Beast!” A wheelchair ramp on the TARDIS is excellent! I might blog more about the anniversary specials, with a spoiler warning, after more people have seen the episode(s).

Spyfall Controversy

[CN: mention of Nazis]

In my previous Medium blog post, I mentioned liking Ryan, Yaz, Graham, and the Thirteenth Doctor. Chris Chibnall’s era of Doctor Who had issues too, of course.

I love Sacha Dhawan’s work as Orlo in The Great and The Master in Doctor Who. He has a campy, fun, charismatic take on the Master. Still, I agree with many of the fans criticizing the two-part story “Spyfall” in this discussion on Reddit. The Master (played here by Dhawan, an actor of Indian descent) wears a filter that disguises him as a Nazi officer, a white man. Then the Thirteenth Doctor removes the filter.

As fans mentioned in the thread, some of Dhawan’s Master’s storylines would have worked much better one of the many times a white man played the Master. The Master has looked white loads of times. They’ve been blond. They’ve had blue eyes. Why make a person of color, as the Master, a Nazi officer and Rasputin? (Hilarious “Rasputin” dance aside.)

Worse, the Thirteenth Doctor weaponizes the Master’s race against him here, exposing him to the Nazis. The Doctor (or the writers) didn’t take the character or actor’s race into account at all. Like the Doctor taking Davros’ assistive devices in “The Witch’s Familiar” in my previous Medium post, the Doctor is using a villain’s marginalized identity against them — or at least being dangerously insensitive.

It’s always been consistent with the Master’s character (and other Doctor Who villains’) for them to align with the Nazis. This character calls themselves the Master and creates a “Master race” when they turn everyone into themselves in “The End of Time.” The Daleks have a preoccupation with “purity” and “superiority,” and their battle cry is EXTERMINATE! I love this show, and it’s often progressive, but never politically subtle. Any subtleties are found in emotional moments and characters’ relationships. However, the implications of the story arc in “Spyfall” weren’t well thought-out.

The complex range of good and evil SFF characters can and should be diverse. For me, the question isn’t simply: is this villain a member of a marginalized group? But is that framed as part of the reason they’re frightening, evil, or malicious? Does this further existing stereotypes? And does the Doctor (or another hero) ever use their marginalization against them?

Bonus unpopular opinion: I like the Timeless Children. YouTuber Penney Sound showed how it fit in with narrative threads hinted or dropped decades ago.

It’s my personal pet peeve when writers ret-con details and then pretend they were there all along, but I don’t think that’s generally happening with Doctor Who. The writers and showrunners have been upfront about changes and why they were made.

I recently wrote on Book Riot: “Fans often call Doctor Who a show with no canon. The expanded media complicate — or even contradict — one another and the show. But that works perfectly for this “timey-wimey” franchise, filled with parallel universes and alternate timelines.” Basically, canon? Continuity? What are those?!