Sunday, December 22, 2013

Freema Agyeman Q&A at Chicago TARDIS: An Interaction Highlighting a Peculiar Phenomenon of Fandom


A couple weeks ago I went to Chicago TARDIS, thanks to the generosity of a family friend. Freema Agyeman was probably the highest profile New Who actor there.


Agyeman's Q&A session highlighted an interesting phenomena I never spent much time thinking about. Fans had the show fresh in their minds. They could recall episodes, events and relationships between characters as if they just happened. Fans showed a sense of emotional immediacy about the show.

Bless her heart, Agyeman did not. Fans would ask her about her favorite episodes, how she felt working with a certain actor, how she felt that her character should feel in a situation, what it was like to do this and that. For Agyeman, though, playing the part of Martha Jones seemed like a distant memory.


I think the Doctor Who experience has become more a memory than anything. A good one and important one, but a memory, nonetheless. Honestly, at her age and point in her career, I'd feel a little pity if her time on Doctor Who remained so immediate to her.

Agyeman has come some ways since playing a companion to the Doctor. Just based on my own knowledge, she played a main character in Law & Order: UK. She now has an important role in The Carrie Diaries.


As the first, and presently only, black female companion to the Doctor, she has an important place in the history of Doctor Who. Her place as one of the most divisively loved and hated companions demonstrates a job well done connecting and alienating audiences.

Martha Jones voluntarily left the Doctor for her own emotional well being and without duress. Her exit portrays her as one of the strongest, smartest and most independent companions in New Who (great that Amy Pond chose her husband over the Doctor but it occurred under duress).

Many young women and girls told Agyeman that they consider her a strong role model for them and others out there. These proclamations show the resonance that Agyeman has had on Doctor Who fandom as Martha Jones. I haven't followed Agyeman much since Doctor Who. Nonetheless, from my perspective, I think she deserves all her praise.

Agyeman or some other Doctor Who actor had once said something about taking a role on Doctor Who is more than take a role, do it then consider it done. Doctor Who fandom has such passion that playing that role will stick to an actor.

It has some positive aspects. Looked at as an investment, an actor could look at it as something of a retirement plan. Many of the Classic Who actors make a run of the con circuit to help pay the bills.

I think many of the professionals who have worked on Doctor Who also see it as a family. Just take a look at Peter Davison's fun parody production, The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot.

The production makes jokes about professionals in the game ignoring has beens trying to get onto the The Day of the Doctor. As parody, they want favors and such, but they won't help each other.

If you see these professional together or hear them talk about each other, they can't help but speak about each other on familiar terms. It also happens when they haven't worked together but have had their own isolated thing to do with the show.

The interaction with fans probably also gives these professionals some sense of belonging. Some familiar and strong relationships have probably also come about through these professional-fan interactions.

Whereas actors without connection to Doctor Who may remain a familiar name and face, how often can they bank on getting a nearly full room for a Q&A session at some kind of convention? Many other actors probably have a much higher chance of becoming a has-been. Spend one season on Doctor Who, however, and an actor can probably get plenty of attention decades later.

The disconnect between the fans' emotional immediacy and Agyeman's distance from playing Martha Jones illustrates how the professional-fan relationship can get peculiar. An instance in this type of relationship between computer game developers and a fan shined a negative light on the developers.

I doubt anyone at Agyeman's Q&A expected her to have the nuances of Doctor Who canon down pat. From the questions, though, fans did seem to expect her to have her experience on the show fresh and clear in mind.

Who can really blame her for not meeting this expectation? She last played Martha Jones semi regularly in 2008. She had cameos in Doctor Who and Torchwood.


That's nearly six years ago! I can hardly remember events from then except for a few random instances. I had the second year at my current job then, and I now feel like I've been there forever without beginning or end, it has all blended together too much.

I would have two reactions if Agyeman still felt the emotional immediacy of her time as Martha Jones, depending on how she kept it. I would feel awed if she could recall every event in her life with such intensity as part of her genetic code.

Otherwise I would have a general sense of worry that this young woman with a long bright future ahead of her put so much energy and free time rewatching and going over the product she contributed to six-seven years ago. Or worse, I would worry about the trauma required to keep experience that fresh.

Yes, playing a companion on Doctor Who has a lot to it and makes for a big, important line on the resume. The part of Martha Jones probably has a lot to do with who Freema Agyeman is now and where she is in her career. It likely made for a big stepping stone.

But the part lasted one season. It was only a secondary part. Even though Doctor Who can play with genre, it still falls within adventure and science fiction.

The world offers us more than one activity. The TV and movie industry offers more than one type of show or role. In fact, both offer a variety.

We, as humans, can't engage in a single activity or a limited series of roles and activities without getting bored. Even in less advanced animal behavior, animals will engage in repetitive, unhealthy behaviors when they find themselves in environments that don't stimulate them. Life needs variety or it grows unhappy, depressed and even self destructive.

I often hear of actors complain about getting typecasted and not able to find different roles to keep their interest. Freema Agyeman has done a great job showing range and finding a variety of roles. From the science fiction adventure of Doctor Who to the procedural fairly serious role in Law & Order: UK. Now she has what sounds like a fun and more lighthearted role in The Carrie Diaries.


I congratulate Agyeman for expanding her experience, showing a range in her acting ability and, in general, becoming successful. On top of being a good actor contributing to a bright future, her diversification of roles will play a large part in that future of hers, too. It probably provides her with satisfaction, too.

I would hate for fandom to discourage Agyeman from sharing her gifts with the wide world and also doing what's best for her professional career. Yes, she has chosen a very public career where she becomes exposed to this kind of scrutiny. She had to know that it could occur.

Yet she remains a human being with her own needs, desires and future independent of our own. She has every right to pursue all of those without the judgment from legions of fans.

To me, her emotional distance from Martha Jones shows her success as a human being that can act as an example for the rest of us. We, too, can transcend our present situations, whether we enjoy them or not, and grow into a more fluorishing human being with a range and bright future for ourselves.

Regarding the phenomena, itself, I noticed that most of the fans who showed emotional immediacy to Agyeman's tenure on Doctor Who tended toward the younger kid category. Their age has a lot to do with their experience of immediacy. Still, I think it also shows how much the technology of our modern contributes to the phenomena.

Until the revival of Doctor Who, exposure by most people in the US came as episodes on PBS. It would often come on as full stories during PBS pledge drives. Otherwise PBS would show 20-minute parts of stories as frequently as the network wanted to show them.

Up to this point, Doctor Who existed in a traditional TV paradigm. Fans would catch the show by chance in their free time or check TV listings then schedule time for Doctor Who. People couldn't re-watch the show unless they caught a re-run. Such infrequency contributes to emotional connection but not as much as we can get with technology today.

Now, though, we have

And on and on with a near infinite selection of purchasing, recording and watching TV shows and movies. We don't need to catch a show by chance or schedule our lives to watch a show we love anymore.

This ability to watch and re-watch entertainment whenever we want -- dependent on the studios making it available or getting illegal access, of course -- has changed our relationship to it. This change becomes especially apparent with children of means. They have more time than adults to spend with entertainment. They also have more capacity and desire to watch the same or similar thing over and over again. They like their consistency.

At some point, this kind of control for more exposure to Doctor Who came in the form of novelised versions of the stories. The industry at some point started releasing audio adventures. These became even more prevalent when the BBC put the show on hiatus during "the wilderness years" between 1989 to 2005. Both these forms of media allow for repeated interaction, but they require more energy to imagine details and everyone has their own interpretations.

Doctor Who is a good, fun show. It wouldn't have lasted fifty years if it wasn't. I can't blame anyone who watches repeatedly, especially if they have the time. Part of this quality comes from

  • Caring about sympathetic characters
  • The excitement of danger
  • Having something at stake
Along with the catharsis of going through all these emotional ups and downs.

We can now get our fix as much as we want, barring any other personalized limitations we face. All these ways for repeated exposure allow fans to refresh their memories and emotional connections to the episodes and characters. Fans can sustain the memories and emotional immediacy through these repeated viewings.

No wonder the fans and Freema Agyeman had different levels of emotional immediacy regarding her time on Doctor Who. Agyeman worked a job. No matter how much she enjoyed her time on Doctor Who, she has had to move on and probably have a very busy life.

I'm even willing to bet that watching TV doesn't always count as leisure time when you contribute to it a lot. Watching yourself on TV, even when seen a lot and professionally, probably remains strange and a little unpleasant.

Fans love the show. They have numerous opportunities to watch each episode numerous times as much as they like. The more they watch, the more it sticks with them and easier it becomes to recall the memories and emotions, the more it becomes immediate to them. As they immerse themselves deeper into it, the more it stays with them.

The experiences between the consumer and professional creators/contributors has always had their differences. Lately, though, the disparity of emotional immediacy between the two has grown more intense. The increased availibility of playback technology has contributed a lot to it.

Does it mean anything beyond an uncomfortable relationship between professionals and fans?

Will professionals feel more obligation to meet the expectations of their fans?

Will fans continue with this implicit demand for professionals to feel the same level of emotional immediacy?

Will technology advance to a whole different form of creativity that blurs the line between professional and fan? Just look at original fans of franchise creating their favorite properties:

And probably many many other examples.

Will things just continue as they are?

Who knows? We can only find out with time. It still makes for an interesting phenomena.

LINKS OF NOTE:

No comments: