So, unlike seemingly every other fat feminist alive, I’m not much of a sci fi geek. For whatever reason, I’ve just never been especially attracted to the genre. I’ve gotten hooked on shows like The X-Files and Buffy, because they were so character-driven, but I don’t read sci fi, I don’t get excited about new sci fi series (or retreads of old ones), and the phrase “world-building” makes me shudder with the memory of some really bad writing workshops.
All of which means I went 31 years without ever watching an episode of Doctor Who, and I never felt like I was missing a damn thing. Then Al moved in, with his hundreds of mass market sci fi paperbacks and his bone-deep internet geekery, and one night he says, “Can we watch Doctor Who?”
Sure, fine, whatever.
Naturally, I got hooked–and eventually hooked on Torchwood, too, which means my claims not to be remotely into sci fi are becoming increasingly questionable. (I maintain that I’m much more into well-written characters and hot guys with British accents, but the line is blurring.) It took me a few episodes to appreciate it, though, because Doctor Who and I seriously got off on the wrong foot, since the villain in the first episode I ever watched was this guy:
Dubbed “The Abzorbaloff,” he was a grotesque blob of alien fat who sucked human beings into his own body in order to live. Pretty much the embodiment of MeMe Roth and Monica Grenfell‘s worst nightmares. And the conflation of fat with evil in this episode was, shall we say, not subtle. (More disturbingly still, the character was conceived by a 9-year-old boy for a “Design a Doctor Who Villain” contest, and that kid originally envisioned him as the size of a double-decker bus. Obesity panic trickling down to the kids, ya think? BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA.)
I hung in there after that episode, though, and after watching this season’s opener last night, I’m really glad I did. Spoilers after the jump, since it hasn’t aired in the U.S. yet. (I just, um… left the country for the weekend.) And those who don’t give a rat’s ass about Doctor Who should totally read the rest of this post anyway, ’cause you’re gonna love it.
Time-Machine mentioned in comments the other day that the villain in this episode was called “The Adipose,” which had us both nervous, to say the least. I’d actually forgotten about that until I sat down to watch the episode and saw The Doctor walking into a building with an “Adipose Industries” sign, at which point the following conversation occurred.
Me: Aw, shit. I forgot about the “adipose” villain thing.
Al: I don’t know what that means.
Al: Oh. [By which he meant, “Honey, I love you and support what you do, but if you think you’re gonna get all offended and loud about this, please LEAVE THE ROOM RIGHT NOW, ’cause I just want to enjoy the fucking show.”]
Me: Well, we’ll see how they handle it, I guess. [By which I meant, “This is gonna be another fucking Abzorbaloff, which is gonna make me officially hate this show, and you’re goddamned right I’m gonna get loud about it.”]
But then things started unfolding, and it wasn’t so bad. The villain was actually the diet industry, which got the eppie some Awesome Points right there. Adipose Industries is a big, evil corporation flogging a diet pill with a 100% success rate. As the show opens, we learn they’ve already moved 1 million units in London alone (a city with a population of about 7.5 million), and they’re just about to launch in the rest of Britain. And I bestow a couple more Awesome Points on the episode for that commentary on the public’s insane hunger (HAW!) for weight loss products.
So, the Adipose slogan is “The fat just walks away,” and because this is Doctor Who, that turns out to be literally true. The pill turns human fat into alien creatures that will eventually leave the host bodies and return to their home planet, which has been having some population issues. If all goes according to plan, it’s supposed to be a win-win–the human beings get thin, and a new generation of alien fat creatures gets to be born and go home. But in an emergency, the alien fat creatures will take not just fat but all human tissue, bones, and hair, literally wasting the hosts away to nothing. And because TV would be boring if things went according to plan, there’s an emergency.
We first see how all this works when Stacy, a fat woman who also happens to be gorgeous, confident (in part because she’s already lost some weight, but we’ll let that slide), and perfectly normal–thus earning the show a few more Awesome Points–begins to feel rumbly in the tumbly. She runs into her bathroom, and things take a turn for the icky, as they tend to do on shows about alien monsters. There’s a creature inside her trying to get out, in the usual freakish-nasty-moving-stomach way. And here is where I start to gird myself for disappointment and anger, ’cause you just KNOW an alien fat creature is going to be a greasy, oozing yellow blob designed for maximum repulsion.
And then this pops out of Stacy’s stomach and into her sink:
O HAI LITTLE FAT DUDE!
And then he makes adorable squeaky noises, and I’m laughing my ass off, and then Stacy dies, which sucks, but then one of the other little “adipose” stands on the windowsill and WAVES like this
and I am officially ded of kewt. (There’s an even better picture of a whole army of little fat dudes here.)
Y’all, the alien fat creatures were adorable. I want ten of them for pets. And with that, this episode gets a million billion Awesome Points for completely subverting my expectations and not taking the obvious eww, fat path–which pretty much any other show would have taken.
In that comments thread where we discussed this episode a little, wiscck said,
See, people? Fat can be cute! And a popular TV show is telling us this!
Okay, I might be reading a bit too much into that…
and I allowed as how I really don’t think she is. It is fucking amazing that given the opportunity to create alien creatures made of human fat, a bunch of people making a TV show decided those creatures should be cute. Does it mean they’re saying fat is cute? Well, not necessarily. But the important thing is that they did not take the obvious opportunity to reinforce the idea that fat is intrinsically disgusting. Furthermore, this episode used several fat actors without treating them as buffoons or mocking the characters for falling for a sketchy weight loss scheme. The villain was the woman running the diet pill business–and, a little less blatantly, the corporation itself–not fat. Not even the advancing army of little fat alien dudes, who were essentially just a bunch of innocent babies. The blame was placed exactly where it fucking belonged, and there was not a cheap fat joke in sight. (The villain did snark about obesity in England, but since it was the villain saying it, I wasn’t bugged by that at all.)
Give yourself a minute to take that in. Popular TV show satirizes the diet industry, with exactly zero fat jokes, zero dehumanized fat characters, and zero ass-covering lines about how the industry is indeed out of control, but we all need to remember that fat is still UNHEALTHEEEEEE!
I mean, sure, lots of things in this episode can and will be interpreted differently by people who don’t like teh fatz. The scenes where the little dudes broke out of people’s bodies weren’t exactly a stunning display of dignity for the fat actors–but the important thing is, they weren’t any different from a zillion other monster-escapes-from-human-body scenes in shows and movies like this. (Well, in fact, they were different, because the escaping monsters were adorable. But the mechanics of it were no different than they would have been with thin actors.) There were no extra “check out the hilarious fatty!” signals in the way those scenes were shot; only a true asshat would see people who were meant to be ridiculed because of their fat there. And lord knows there are plenty of true asshats out there, but at least this show did nothing to actively affirm their asshattitude.
Similarly, I’m sure there are people who will read the advancing army of little fat dudes as a metaphor for THE OBESITY EPIDEMIC BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA. But the way I read it–and the way I actually believe it was meant to be read–was as a metaphor for the culture’s bugfuck craziness about weight loss. Each little fat dude represented someone who spent money on a diet pill–and there were so damn many of them, you couldn’t help but think there’s no way there are as many Actually Fat Londoners as there were people taking the pills. (Well, I couldn’t help but think that, anyway.) And that interpretation is reinforced by what might have been the most brilliant stroke in the whole thing: one of the characters on the diet pill is already thin. Granted, he says he’s lost 14 kilos, so he would have started out as a bit of a chub (and only a bit), but when we meet him, he is manifestly not fat and yet still taking the pill. Nobody ever remarks on that, but it’s right there, and the only thing that could have made me love that touch more is if the character had been a woman.
So. Have I just given entirely too much thought to a friggin’ TV show? Of course. One episode of Doctor Who is hardly going to be seen as a watershed moment for fat rights. But it was a watershed moment for me as a consumer of pop culture, because it was literally the first time in my life I’d seen a TV show handle the topic of fat without once making me feel like I’d been slapped in the face.
Hip fuckin’ hooray for that.