Friday, 13 April 2018

Goodreads feminist reviews - Doctor Who Audiodramas: The Ravelli Conspiracy

4/5. Goodreads review here.

 A story with the First Doctor, Vicki and Steven, who find themselves in early 16th Century Italy embroiled in intrigues featuring Giuliano de Medici, his brother Pope Leo X, and Niccolo Machiavelli. More engaging than I expected - I quite enjoyed this historical adventure :) And while I initially thought Peter Purves (Steven)'s impersonation of the Doctor's voice to be a bit meh at first, it grew up on me as the episode wore on. Also, female director (yay representation!).

The TARDIS team ^^!
+1 Ethics and anti-violence - When blackmailed into poisoning Giuliano de Medici, Steven refuses to kill anyone (he also opposes Carla's desire to poison Machiavelli after he's used and betrayed her). The Doctor and Vicki also try to stop the political intrigues and the murderous intent of the Medici ruler, and reach non-violent solutions (with varying degrees of success).

Steven: "I've thought about it, Carla, I've thought about this a lot - What you want me to do is murder! I can't help you, I'm sorry."
Carla: "You value your morals so highly, do you?"
Steven: "I do, yes." 

Steven: "You don't care who's hurt as long as you put the right people in charge. What happens when they decide they like power a little too much? Trust me, they'll soon realize the best way to keep it is by slaughtering a few more enemies."

+-1 Social criticism themes (about political intrigues, the religion institution, tyrannical rulers,...). However, the figure of Pope Leo X, while criticized in some ways, is also idealized in others, with the plot choosing to mainly criticize the tyrannical and violence-friendly Giuliano de Medici in comparison to his more 'reasonable and learned' pope brother. Pope Leo's corruption is also highlighted during the plot, but he's mainly shown in a rather sympathetic light :S.
Giuliano de Medici
Steven: "So there's nothing in this period we need to watch out for?"
The Doctor: "Oh, there's a little backstabbing, I suppose. Some plots, the odd civil war, torture, religious persecution...And the ever-constant threat of violence and damnation should we be foolish enough to criticize the current religious orthodoxy, huh!"
Steven: "Right. Then perhaps we should go." (xD)

Some themes which can be discussed from a feminist viewpoint are addressed, such as -

-The way Machiavelli uses servant Carla (who is in love with him and also bears grudges against the Medici) for his own political schemes is criticized. 

Machiavelli is not seen in a very good light in general, backstabbing the TARDIS team in various ways in 'machiavellian' style  - maybe a cliché, but I'm all for viewing historical figures who spent quite a lot of their time getting drunk and using women in a non-positive, non-idealized light. He was also a pretty sexist dude, seeing women as "weak, lesser and incapable of ruling government compared to the 'strong man'" and promoting abuse against women.

Hell yeah, go criticize this sexist dude, Big Finish

The Doctor clearly has not great liking of Machiavelli:
The Doctor: "It seems to me that you have all you can wish for, heh! Why do you try to claim power and influence for yourself by this foolish scheme?"
Machiavelli: "Have you never been attracted by the thrill of turbulent times, Doctor?"
The Doctor: "Possibly. Possibly, my good man, ha!"
Machiavelli: "We are quite similar, then, I think"
The Doctor: "We are most certainly not!" 

The Doctor: "Cesare Borgia, the very worst of them all, a bully and a tyrant! No doubt a close associate of yours, huh?"
(...) Machiavelli: "Have you ever considered that good ends may sometimes justify brutish means?"
The Doctor: "And does this theory form part of your treaties, huh?"

 -The way Popes used to use women as their 'consorts' for physical and emotional companionship is also addressed, with people assuming Vicki became Pope Leo X's 'companion' because of her interactions with him (which is not the case here, Pope Leo X clearly insinuating he's gay - although this being the Church, pederasty is the word :/). But even though Vicki's fortunately not a target of unwanted "affections", she's still treated in a very entitled way by Pope Leo, who demands she entertain him with poetry and companionship (he basically tells her that unless she has something interesting to entertain him with, he will not protect her from her torture-friendly brother :S). He also asks her to leave her companions and travel with him in order to offer him advice (at least he acknowledges her intelligence - "Is there no end to your talents? Poetry and politics, and now horse-riding!"; "Your wise counsel would be much appreciated" - But still, entitled).
And as usual, women have to gain favour and 'power' by complying to this kind of male entitlement behaviour (Carla later also has to resort to using her 'feminine wiles' and declare she's hopelessly in love with him in order to take back the TARDIS key while he's distracted with his inflated ego :/).

Vicki: "Your Holiness, have mercy, I did not realize that Carla had such feelings for you. But then again, how could she not?"
Pope Leo X: "What? What do you mean?"
Vicki: "How could she not have feelings for you? The luster of your intellect, those piercing eyes...(...) And your wit, charm,..."
Carla: "I'm so sorry, my Lord! I was overcome by your presence!"
Pope Leo X: "Well, I suppose my presence can be quite overpowering."

Also, let's note how men - even members of the Catholic Church - come to no harm if they go a-dallying with as many women as they like, while for women their everything depended on their 'reputation' on that respect. Here with a bonus of heteronormativity (although I'm not keen to defend the Church's homosexual pederasty, of course):
 Pope Leo X: "As leader of the Church, I am forbidden to marry, but that does not mean that I may not enjoy female company."
 Vicki: "Is that...encouraged?"
 Pope Leo X: "Maybe not encouraged, but it is certainly expected that I would take a consort, and so far, well, I have failed to do so."
 Vicki: "Failed?"
 Pope Leo X: "It would do no harm to my, um, public image to be seen arm in arm with a fair lady such as yourself ."
 Vicki: "Because you are expected to enjoy female company?"
 Pope Leo X: "Exactly."
 Vicki: "But, as it happens, you don't enjoy female company?"
 Pope Leo X: "Um, well, controlling an empire leaves very little time for such things."

Carla: "Every Pope needs a consort. And this Pope especially needs a consort, given the rumours." 
Vicki: "But I'm not his consort!"
Carla: "Have it your way. And at least you can be sure that he won't, not with you anyway."

(About Pope Leo Xs sexuality - this would be a good historical LGBT+ example in order to get narrow-minded religious people tearing at their hair (xD) if he hadn't taken advantage of young men in the usual pedophilic way the Church has going on :S (cf Wikipedia, "the pope's familiar banter with his chamberlains – handsome young men from noble families – and the advantage he was said to take of them" Not only age gaps, but power imbalances stemming from class differences and servants vs their lords as well - this happens *a lot* with female servants and handmaids, too). So not super keen to idealize or exalt that issue much, to be honest).

-Other issue that is tackled in a positive way is the patronizing way in which the Medici brothers treat Vicki (who is way smarter than both of them and uses their entitled sexist mindset in her favour more than once). Bonus points for Vicki demanding to be taken seriously and not to be called 'child' (chided, they end up resorting to 'person' a couple of times xD :D).

Pope Leo X: "I will write a letter for this child-"
Vicki (admonishing voice): "I'm not a child!" 
Pope Leo X: "This...person" (:D xD)

Pope Leo X: "I'm sure you can look after yourself, child - uh, girl, uh, young woman-"
Vicki: "Vicki"

Can we also talk about Vicki's complete snark and badassery xD?

Giuliano de Medici: "Prisoner! Guards, seize her!"
Pope Leo X: "No, no, no! Leave her alone!"
Vicki: "Oh, make your minds up!" (xDD) 

Giuliano de Medici: "She's part of it, I know she is! She was in [Machiavelli's] house!"
Vicki: "Well, this is your house, so by the same logic, I must be on your side!" (xDD)

+1 Vicki's actions are proactive throughout the story. She finds herself having to take part in the political intrigues between the Medici brothers and using her favourable relationship with Pope Leo X in order to try to free her companions from prison and get back the TARDIS key (Pope Leo being of an artistic disposition, he thinks the TARDIS is 'Greek art' and wants to take it with him xD). Steven and the Doctor have also good moments (one highlight is the Doctor impersonating a textile merchant, calling the Pope 'my dear chap' and trying to convince him that the TARDIS is not a valuable Greek piece of art xD), but I found Vicki to be the highlight of the audio adventure - Badass, smart, assertive and proactive female companions ftw :D!

"Oh, Steven...Try and get out of trouble till I get back with the Doctor!"
I love how Vicki is allowed to be portrayed as cute and sweet *while* being very proactive, smart and capable :D We  need more female characters like her (Jaylah is another great example of this)!
Machiavelli: "[The Doctor] has gone to the palace to secure your freedom. I little expected you would be able to affect your own release. You certainly have proven a fine and swift negotiator with our Holy Father!"

 Look how smart and capable Vicki is ^^ <3:

 Steven: "Oh, that's just brilliant! Trapped again!" (he's so done xD)
The Doctor: "And with Vicki in here with us, we've no possible means of escape!"
Vicki: "Well...I wouldn't go that far!"
Steven: "Eh? What are you talking about, Vicki? We're as trapped as we've ever been!"
Vicki: "We're not! I've got these keys!" 
The Doctor: "Hah! Where did you get those, child?"
Vicki: "If didn't know if I could trust Carla, so when I saw the guard at the door I said, better safe than sorry - I gave him a big hug and grabbed the keys off his belt. (...)  There you go! We're free!"
  Bonus line of Steven being 100% done xD: "Vicki, we're in the subterranean cells of a 16th Century Medieval gangster with no access to the TARDIS! It's not exactly what I'd call 'free'!"
Look at these dorks ^^
+-1 There are not many female characters in this story - Vicki and Carla are the only ones. They do have some scenes talking together and forming an alliance in order to get the TARDIS key back.

+-1 Carla is initially described as wanting revenge against the Medici and not caring if other people get hurt in the process (which Steven criticizes her for), and backstabs both Steve and later Vicki throughout the plot. However, she is seen in a more sympathetic light when Machiavelli is described using her by exploiting her grudge against the Medici, as well as the intense crush she has on him (problematic relationship with emotional dependence issues - "I have nothing left"; "I will only be satisfied when he's dead").  She ends up as the Pope's companion, so she definitely deserves better :S

 Steven: "Well, Carla, she hates the Medici, Doctor, the whole family! She was telling me horrible stories about what they've done, who they've killed."
Machiavelli: "Yes, poor girl."
The Doctor: "She must have been very easy to...manipulate."

The Doctor: "So, Signor Machiavelli has abandoned you to your fate, has he, huh? I'm very sorry, my dear."
Steven: "He was using you, Carla. If his plan had worked, you would have been arrested and killed!"

Also, special mention to the 'I'm so done with everything' prison guard who keeps losing his prisoners and fears writing long reports more than death xDD

Vicki: "I insist that we not being followed."
Guard: "That's a bit tricky, really. Because we've been doing not at all in keeping the prisoners in the cells as of late. Every time one escapes, I have to write a report, and probably face torture and death myself." (he wrote a lot of reports during this adventure, then xD)
Carla: "If [the Pope] finds out you've disobeyed his orders, given via Signora Vicki, you'll-"
Guard: "Face torture and death?"
(...) Carla: "And have to write an even longer report." (xDD)
Guard: "Ah, go on then. I'm thinking of quitting anyway." (xDD)

And I'll finish this review with some good old Whovian ethics from the Doctor, showing the TARDIS to Pope Leo in order to influence him into controlling his more violent brother: "I wanted to give you a glimpse of this, something bigger, something outside yourself. (...) Your brother and his nefarious associates, they believe they can control the state of Florence, control the future. They believe, if they make the right decisions, frighten the right people, execute their friends, well, then they can bend the universe to their will."
Vicki: "But life isn't quite as straightforward as that."
Steven: "No, it isn't" 
 *cue TARDIS dematerializing in order to scaring the religious fanatics of the day into being a little less violent, perhaps xD* (effect marred by the Pope being kinda idealized, but yeah)


  1. A great pleasure to read your review. I very much like your being so informative and critical of the content. And I really love your feminist criticism :)