In Praise of … The Paternoster Gang
I was delighted when it was announced that the three characters introduced in A Good Man Goes to War were to return to the show, and was an early adopter of the idea of a spinoff. To me it seemed a very natural idea. This feeling has only increased as we have experienced more of them in The Snowmen and The Crimson Horror.
I’ve read with interest comments on various articles from those who suggested it wouldn’t work, and thought I’d set out my stall by trying to address those points and offer my opinion on why it would.
“The idea that aliens could operate so freely in Victorian England is stupid”
This, I feel, misses a huge point, and is really a modern viewers appraisal without considering the time they have been placed in. The Victorian setting is critical, and could be expanded to address this point in a series. When the character of Mr. Thursday faints at the sight of Vastra and Strax, does he immediately think “alien” or does he wonder which “freak show” they escaped from?
Unpleasant as it is to dwell on, the Victorians had a fascination with “freaks”. A Lizard Woman in those times was likely a woman who had a very bad skin disease. Some did ponder if the “Elephant Man” was actually a different form of human. Expeditions to find the “Yeti” were mounted. Stories about Ape People in far away forests could be believed.
If you look at the horrible stories of hate crimes against the disabled that occur today, it is a valuable lesson to repeat that it really isn’t about your appearance, or your ability. It’s who you are and what you do.
“Vastra and Strax cheapen the concept of Silurians and Sontarans / Strax is a one joke character about blowing things up.”
I’d argue that Vastra, Jenny and Strax are atypical of their species, which is a big difference. A Silurian who loves an ape. A Human who can embrace difference. A Sontaran with the capacity for compassion, while trotting out the clichéd sentiments (“I hope to kill you on the field of battle, etc”) of his species as we would say “hello” or “goodbye”.
As much as Vastra and Strax may appear freakish in appearance to humans, it is actually their mindset and attitudes that may be utterly abhorrent to members of their own species. They are freaks, and fandom has always been willing to take characters like them to their hearts. I think this caused that immediate reaction on forums such as this, and an astonishing wave of creativity among fans.
We love the notion of the outsider who fights for their place in a society that may fear and ridicule them. They are Peter Parker, the X-Men and the “Scooby Gang” of the Buffy-verse. Willing to live by their own rules and try to do the right thing by their own standards. A bigger and more engaging concept than “Torchwood” was ever blessed with.
And Strax is so much more than a comedy character. The pathos in him at the end of A Good Man is brilliantly done. His exchange with Rory “I’m not a warrior – I’m a nurse”, to counterpoint how Rory is changing, is great drama. In The Snowmen, he works with the Doctor with knowing, understanding humour towards the end ,and is invaluable in trying to save Clara and again, expressing compassion you would not expect to see in his species.
In Doctor Who they serve the story of that show, in much the way that Jack did. In their own series, perhaps they could spread their wings?
“The Victorian era is limited. They really would have to travel outside that for a series”
I don’t buy this at all. People often complain about a return to the Victorian era in Who, but it is an age of significant social change. It’s a big period with massive advances in scientific understanding coupled with a fascination with the supernatural. An explosion in speculative fiction that has been utilised by, amongst others, Alan Moore in his “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” series. A period that writers are drawn to because some big questions are asked. Who are the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor? A period in which newspaper media exploited the tales of a serial killer to increase sales. A period that saw the writer of the most famous detective also believe in fairies.
A period that saw London become the focus of an Empire, and multi-cultural conflicts became a talking issue. Where intellectuals actually considered Eugenics to eliminate non-conforming traits. An age in which the “improvement” of society lay in the hands of the benevolent rich, who sought to influence it, and make it mirror their own prejudices and beliefs. In which weird views of science gained devotees leading them towards deserved blind alleys.
It’s no wonder that so many writers are drawn to that era. It’s the biggest dark mirror for our own society and the issues it deals with on a daily basis. Beware the politician who encourages a return to “Good old Victorian values”. Your own ancestors would probably not agree. The period is perfect for characters and stories like this.
For me, this is a series that should be made, if money, resources and inclination are in good supply. I can think of no-one better than a certain Mr. Jago to introduce the spectacle:
Mr Henry Gordon Jago (Proprietor, impresario and occasional thief taker)
Is proud to present, for your delectation, the exploits of
Vastra, Jenny and Strax
“SCALES OF JUSTICE”
GASP as Miss Jenny Flint hunts, alone, a killer who is invisible!
SOB as Strax is captured by those who would exploit his appearance in a Freak Show and CHEER as he embraces his freakish nature and leads his fellows to freedom!
RUN as a star descends on Horsell Common. Be astonished by the deductions of Mdm Vastra and the eminent pathologist Professor George Litefoot as they investigate grave robbing. Will a confrontation with an ancient shape-shifting enemy re-awaken old prejudices in Strax?
SWOON as our heroes swing through the rigging of airships powered by cavorite to defeat another plot to reduce London to ashes.
GUESS who the Machiavellian genius is who lies behind these stories!
Who wouldn’t want to see that on their screen? Ignore the calls to make a series more “adult”. Leave the sex to the slash fiction writers. Let’s have cracking adventures with a message to delight an audience of all ages.