Tag Archives: Doctor Who

Do Siblings Make Superior Sleuths?

Mabel-and-Dipper-gravity-falls-32865230-457-551We’ve all seen teams of crime-fighters and mystery-solvers, but are teams made up of siblings better?

It is possible that siblings or family members could work together more efficiently, since they have a shared history and know the capabilities of one another. Nevertheless, that same shared history could be more of a burden than a blessing in some scenarios.

Whether bonds of blood aid or hinder in teamwork, the choice of using siblings instead of strangers, or vice versa, is certainly deliberate.

How Do These Team Dynamics Work?

Throughout the history of literature, television, and cinema, we’ve seen numerous teams of crime-fighters, detectives, and monster hunters. The dynamics of the team members, both individually and as a collective, have also changed throughout the years. These changes reflect both the changes in audiences and the changes in societal views.

Some of the earliest detectives, including Poe’s Dupin and Doyle’s Sherlock, were often portrayed as individuals with genius-level intelligence. These detectives can see everything that regular people tend to miss or dismiss. As brilliant as the detectives may be, they don’t seem to work well on their own. They need a connection to the regular world in order to solve the crimes within it. These foil characters, (Dupin’s unnamed companion and Holmes’ Watson), prove vital on multiple levels.

First of all, the detectives need that connection between themselves and the rest of the world, since their brilliance limits their social skills in many situations.

Second, the detectives must work-out each problem, and so they bounce ideas off of their companions. Through vocalizing their problem-solving processes to their companions, and the reader, the detectives show-off their brains, which simultaneously boosts their egos and keeps them interested in matters at hand; if the detectives determine the cases to be beneath them, they cannot focus on the problems, because solving mediocre cases would not flatter their egos.

Third, whatever characters are created, they have to be relatable on some level to the reader. Few readers will ever match the intellect of such detectives as Sherlock, so readers often view the Sherlocks of detective fiction as brilliant but alien or foreign. Therefore, readers tend to identify with the companion characters, since these characters often resemble regular people.

WatsonAlthough Poe wrote his works prior to Doyle, Doyle’s Holmes/Watson duo has remained more memorable, and in many ways this pairing has become the formula:

If you have two crime-fighters or detectives, one has to be more book-smart and the other person more street-smart.

Don’t believe me? Check out these examples from modern television:

  • Bones – Dr. Temperance Brennan and Agent Seeley Booth
  • Doctor Who – The Doctor and his companion-de-jour
  • Monk – Adrian Monk and Sharona Fleming/ Natalie Teeger

There have been a few team-ups that have altered the formula slightly. Instead of super-brainy and advanced people skills, the team may consist of a more lawful, by-the-book character paired with an easy-going, brilliant but chaotic character. Examples would include:

Other variations have occurred as well. Contrary to logic, the formula shows how two opposite personality types can and do work very well together. In addition, most readers/viewers can relate to one extreme personality or the other, so characters created under this formula are more accepted, and are more likely to become fan favorites.

Siblings or Strangers – What’s the Difference?

The formula above represents a basic technique for pairing characters within a plot line. Certain variables will significantly affect the formula’s dynamic.

With strangers, you can add a socioeconomic factor by making one partner rich and the other poor. You can address challenges of diversity in several ways as well, such as making each partner a different ethnicity, making each partner opposite sexes, making each partner identify under a different sexuality, or by making each partner different religions, and so forth.

In drama, it has become quite popular to pair opposite sex characters as a way to push a heteronormative sexual coupling. If the characters are always fighting these “secret” sexual desires, it adds further tension to their work relationships, especially since most paired characters work for law enforcement, which is an employer that typically frowns on employee fraternization. As a side effect, if the characters try to resist their desires by dating other people, it adds more drama to the side stories.

While sexual tension makes a great spice for increasing conflict in any story, it’s not the only spice in the rack!

Instead of using strangers, using siblings or family members helps writers get away from this overdone forced romance obsession. By having sibling crime-fighters or mystery-solvers, you can add tension to the plot through such elements as sibling rivalry, family loyalty, parental pressures, and an array of third-party interactions. Furthermore, the formula still works. As long as you have two individuals, each person can be one personality type extreme or the other (brains vs. brawn or lawful vs. chaotic).

Audience members also react differently to sibling team-ups. Viewers/readers often relate on a very intimate level when watching siblings work together, since people identify aspects of the character interactions with their own personal sibling relationships. Audience members who have never had siblings may not identify all the sibling nuances. Nevertheless, when audience members see the connections, the familial levels of acceptance, and the bonds between siblings, it can stir a sense of longing inside of viewers; in some regards, it may even let viewers/readers experience sibling relationships vicariously through the characters within the story.

When it comes to detective fiction, one of the most noted examples of sibling team-ups would probably be The Hardy Boys. A modern day mock-up of The Hardy Boys would be The Venture Brothers, although the show focuses more on a whole dysfunctional family dynamic rather than just the sibling dynamic. According to research, sibling team-ups have been fairly popular in middle grade and young adult fiction, since the sibling experience is all too common for people in these age groups.

Surprisingly, not many mainstream books or shows currently utilize the sibling team-up dynamic. Of the few shows that do use this dynamic, two of the most well-known shows are both within the same genre of paranormal mystery. Those shows and their sibling pairs are as follows:sam-dean-supernatural


Perhaps the bizarre nature of paranormal events lends this genre to the sibling dynamic. In other words, with the bond of blood binding you together, as long as you stay together, the monsters can’t hurt you . . . usually. There is also the element that, because you are connected by familial bonds, it could make it more difficult to reject the paranormal events as reality, since to reject what both you and your sibling have seen is, in some respects, rejecting your sibling. Paranormal creatures can also prey on that sibling bond, which adds more tension and conflict.

In the end, can we definitively say whether sibling sleuths are better than stranger sleuths?

I suppose we could compare numbers of cases closed.

With Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, one cannot provide an exact number of cases. According to Doyle scholars, there are 60 stories told to us by Dr. Watson, but within the stories, Holmes boasts solving upwards of 500 other cases, and Watson mentions other cases as well. Of the other stranger sleuths, Dr. Brennan and Agent Booth from Bones have solved cases in nearly every one of their 170 episodes, and they are still hard at work on their next season. Detective Beckett and Richard Castle from Castle have solved about one case in every one of their 127 episodes, and the show is still going.

In comparison, of the sibling sleuths, there are 66 books in The Hardy Boys series, implying that they have solved at least 66 mysteries. In the Supernatural series, Sam and Dean Winchester have somehow lived through eight seasons for a total of 172 episodes, and their new season starts in a week. Granted, the Winchester boys did not solve a case in every single episode, but it’s been pretty close.

So by the numbers, it looks like both dynamics show about the same level of effectiveness. If anything, this comparison proves how well the formula works, regardless of whether the detectives are siblings or strangers.


Kiss Your Problems Away: The Reality behind Drugged Lipstick

If you’re a clever, feisty gal in a sci-fi, fantasy, or spy story, chances are you will use every weapon at your disposal, including your own sexual charisma. Throughout stories in the 20th and 21st centuries, characters have been overcoming obstacles by puckering up with poison.

River SongRiver Song from the Doctor Who series, for instance, uses hallucinogenic lipstick to mesmerize and distract whomever gets in her way. In the Batman comics, Poison Ivy’s kisses could either control her victims or kill them outright. Although poisonous or drugged lipstick has traditionally been used by women exclusively, a few men and even robots have taken advantage of this killer kissing action.

While the ability to control or get rid of your enemies through a kiss sounds remarkable, albeit a little biblical, there is one major hole in this plot device that most of us either excuse or never consider. Namely, how do you avoid accidentally poisoning yourself?

If you have ever put on lipstick or, at the very least, lip balm, you may notice that you involuntarily press your lips together and/or run your tongue over your lips as a reaction to the sensation of a foreign substance on your skin. If there were poison or drugs in your lipstick or lip balm, you could therefore not easily avoid absorbing a small amount of the poison yourself.

Even if you somehow managed not to press your lips together, you would, presumably, need to talk/flirt your way into kissing someone.

Speech sounds

When you talk, your mouth produces saliva as a method to lubricate your vocal cords. Your tongue also moves during the action of talking, since we use our tongues to manipulate the air sounds to create words. Simultaneously, our bodies also use our tongues to move the saliva within our mouths. Simply put, the very action of talking could cause your tongue and saliva to interact with the poison/drug in your lipstick, resulting in infecting yourself before you even get to your target.

Plot holes aside, there does seem to be some legitimacy/history with the idea of using lipstick as a transport for poison.

If you conduct a simple Google search for “poison lipstick,” you will find article after article warning consumers about the dangers of lipstick ingredients, especially lead. In fact, according to “Reading Our Lips: The History of Lipstick Regulation in Western Seats of Power,” lipstick ingredients from the time of the ancient Sumerians have often included such deadly items as vermillion, carmine, and various metallic compounds. According to this article, the fear of these harmful chemicals was so great that, prior to national regulations placed on cosmetic production:

the New York’s Board of Health considered banning lipstick out of concern that it might poison the men who kissed women wearing it.”

Of course, none of these ingredients listed above were used intentionally to poison people. They were simply the best ingredients on hand that did the job necessary to create the right texture and color of lipstick.

During the Renaissance, however, the mischievous use of poison was on the rise. Granted, people were using poison far before the Renaissance, but this era in history marked a change in the social schema of everyday life. Essentially, we were heading out of feudal barbarism and moving toward grand scale politics and political intrigue. With political powers constantly shifting and trade markets making merchants more financially powerful than kings, it was becoming far more necessary to take your enemies out covertly and save face rather than to be caught red-handed. Hence, the use of poison proved a simple yet effective tool to kill or temporarily incapacitate your target.


There are several Renaissance stories that portray characters purchasing poisons that could be delivered through various fashions. In the anonymously written Arden of Faversham, Mosbie hires Clarke the painter to create two different poisonous artifacts: a painting; and, a cross.

According to the story, if the victim looked at the painting, the poison somehow would’ve been strong enough to kill the victim instantly. Likewise, holding the poison cross could also be deadly. Although the cross seems more likely to be an effective murder weapon compared to the painting, since it involves actual contact with skin, neither object was used to do the deed.

Perhaps the choice of including these useless poisonous relics was a deliberate decision on the part of the unknown author. Simply put, there were many alchemists and charlatans during the Renaissance who were selling a wide range of poisonous items, including lipstick and other cosmetics. While the poisons themselves were no doubt effective in many cases, the idea of transferring poison through various items creates too much risk for the person administering the poison. Furthermore, the idea of putting poison in/on a non-food item under the hopes that the intended target would touch or handle the item seems highly convoluted.

In reality, someone wearing poisonous or drugged lipstick would only prove effective under certain circumstances.

#1 The Unknowing Pawn

TV Tropes.org points out that Alexander Dumas’s tale, La Reine Margot, included the use of poison lipstick, but in this story, the murderer gave the poison lipstick as a gift to his target’s girlfriend. Thus the wearer of the lipstick has no foreknowledge of the deadly kiss she would give to her beloved. As an added bonus, the lipstick would also kill the wearer, therefore silencing her from revealing the real killer.

#2 Pre-Injected Antidote User

If someone were going through the trouble of using poisonous or drugged lipstick, they would hopefully know what dangerous chemicals they were going to put on their own lips. From knowing that information, they could, hypothetically, plan ahead and inject themselves with the antidote.

Princess brideDepending on the poison or drug, and how much time they have beforehand, they could even build up a tolerance to the chemical. Consider the case of the Princess Bride when the masked man poisons both cups to rig the choice game. Since he has slowly built up a tolerance to the poison he administers, he was never in any real danger. 

#3 Species-Specific Toxins

In science fiction or fantasy stories, the lipstick wearer may not be attacking individuals of her own species. Therefore, chemicals that can be deadly to one species may be completely harmless to another, so she could easily poison victims without risking her own health.

In a more real-world scenario, instead of species-specific toxin, the lipstick wearer could use allergy-specific toxins. For example, if her target had a deadly allergy to peanuts or shellfish, she could put those concentrated allergen chemicals on her lips to cause her target to go into anaphylactic shock.

#4 Suicide Mission

As far as options go, this last one is not ideal for someone who wants to make a career out of being a femme fatale. Nevertheless, if you have the poison ready, and kissing is the only option to take-out a target, then I suppose it’s a matter of how dedicated you are to the mission at hand.

Spinoff Science: Launchpad McQuack and Other Spinners

Launchpad McQuack

If you’re in your 30s, or if you’re a fan of cartoons from the 80s and 90s, you’ll remember Launchpad McQuack as the lovable, accident-prone pilot originally from Disney’s DuckTales (1987-1990). A year after the show ended, Launchpad crashed into a spinoff series known as Darkwing Duck, which was kind of a Batman-spoof done in the DuckTales universe. The show aired from 1991-1995, so, all in all, Launchpad held on to side character fame for almost a decade.

But out of all the characters on DuckTales, why did the writers select Launchpad McQuack as the spinoff connection? Is there some sort of scientific theory behind creating a successful spinner?

First of all, we have to ask ourselves why we create spinoffs to begin with. Below are some major driving forces behind spinoff creations, as well as examples.

Supporting Character Storylines:
A good show has strong supporting characters, but if they’re not the main characters or part of the main plot lines, the adventures of these side characters may never see the light of day. It doesn’t mean writers don’t think about these other stories. (Heck – I’m sure some of the best spinoffs were born out of writers wondering how certain characters would handle various situations). When supporting characters are strong enough for their own shows, writers can use the pre-established world of the main show as a jumping off point or connecting point to the spinoffs.

Some excellent examples:

  • Joss Whedon’s Angel (spinoff from Buffy)
  • Torchwood (spinoff from Doctor Who)

Similar Dynamic in a New Environment:
Some shows have a great dynamic of characters and situations, but they may be limited by environmental constraints, such as the physical location of the story. To re-create a similar dynamic in a new environment, all you have to do is assemble a new cast in a new town. You don’t necessarily want to make a carbon copy of the character dynamic from the original show, but you need to keep some familiar dynamics to show connections between the original and the spinoff(s). In addition, this type of spinoff series, (which maintains the pre-establish world of the original show), allows for over-arching storyline character crossovers.

A few wonderful examples:

  • NCIS Los Angeles (spinoff from and NCIS)
  • CSI: New York and CSI: Miami (spinoffs from CSI: Crime Scene Investigations)

Cashing in on an Established Audience:
Writers and producers know that diehard fans will stick with a show till the very end. Even after a show is scheduled to cancel, executives know that the best way to capitalize on fan-loyalty involves creating a spinoff series that will start after the original ends. Disney did it with the creation of Darkwing Duck. But don’t think of cashing in as some negative, manipulative action. It certainly can be manipulative, but it’s also strategic. For example, if a show has played out all of its plot points and storylines, it does have to end with grace before it crashes miserably. However, just because the show’s main storylines have come to their inevitable conclusions, it doesn’t mean that all the characters, side stories, or back stories don’t have somewhere else to go. And, if you already have an audience invested in the show, why not give the audience exactly what they want by creating related spinoffs?

A couple interesting examples:

  • Caprica (backstory spinoff of Battle Star Galactica)
  • Frazier (spinoff of Cheers)

Now that we have a better understanding of the why, we still need to figure out how they determine who will be the connecting spinner for character-driven spinoff series.

Looking back at the Launchpad McQuack example, let’s take a look at his character. On DuckTales he worked mainly as Scrooge McDuck’s pilot. He may have been an ineffective pilot, but he was willing to work for little money. I’m sure Launchpad’s naïve loyalty also had its benefits for Scrooge, plus Launchpad helped with taking care of Scrooge’s nephews.

One might argue that what made Launchpad such a good choice for the connecting spinner between DuckTales and Darkwing Duck was Launchpad’s brief and accidental experience being a superhero:

In the DuckTales series, Gyro Gearloose, an inventor that Scrooge knows, creates a super suit that is activated by an unusual code word: “blathering blatherskite.” Scrooge’s underpaid accountant, Fenton Crackshell, says “blathering blatherskite” on a regular basis, which results in him accidentally becoming bonded with the super suit and becoming the superhero known as GizmoDuck. At one point, however, the people of the city start questioning the true identity of GizmoDuck, and for whatever reason they suspect Launchpad. In fact, there’s even an episode where Launchpad accidentally says the code word, causing the super suit to bond to him. Through a series of mishaps and plot twists, the citizens eventually realize that there’s no way Launchpad could be the real GizmoDuck. Nevertheless, that brief encounter with being a superhero and playing with secret identities might explain why the writer’s thought Launchpad would make an excellent sidekick for superhero Darkwing Duck, a.k.a. Drake Mallard.

From this example, it appears that part of the formula for picking the spinner character could involve side-story credentials. Launchpad got to play superhero for a day, messed things up, and then had to be rescued by the real superhero. If nothing else, Launchpad must’ve realized that he doesn’t have the skill to be the man in the suit, but he has the patience, dedication, and state of mind to support the man in the suit.

Concerning other character-driven spinoffs, what other factors could be affecting the spinner character selection process?

Let’s look at the character of Frazier. He was an interesting reoccurring character on Cheers, as one of the regular barroom customers, but there was something different about him compared to the others. For one thing, most of the other side characters had generic backgrounds or were just cardboard cut-out stereotypes. Frazier, on the other hand, was a therapist who was married to a therapist, and the course of his relationship and divorce was played out on Cheers. Therefore, since his character went through a major crisis that would ultimately lead to an identity reconstruction, his character provided writers with the most fertile ground for spinoff storytelling. He was a newly divorced man who could go in any direction, but he was still an established enough character with a fan-following.

Spinner characters don’t necessarily need such an involved storyline to attract fans. Take Captain Jack Harkness from the Doctor Who series, for example. Technically, prior to the start of the spinoff series Torchwood in 2007, Captain Jack only appeared in six Doctor Who episodes. What won fans over? First of all –phenomenal charisma and sex appeal!!! Second, he was also a time traveler, but kind of a Han Solo–Captain Malcolm Reynolds type of guy, which made for a stark contrast against the series’ main time traveler, the Doctor. Third – and most likely the clincher – his whole existence is a mystery, especially since fans saw him die a hero’s death and then be brought back to life by the unfathomable power contained within the heart of the TARDIS.

Looking at these three examples alone, our spinoff science formula starts to take shape. To choose a successful spinner, it would seem you need a character with the right credentials. In other words, there has to be a good reason as to why the character works so well within the dynamic of the original series as well as the spinoff. Next, you want a side character who has a fan following, but you also need a side character who has room to grow and develop as a person, otherwise why make a spinoff series about that character? Finally, just as you need a character who has room to grow, a good spinner needs an air of mystery. Writers have to keep the suspense of the side character’s secret going so that fans are drawn in to the spinoff series. Eventually the secret will be found out, but hopefully by then fans will be deeply entrenched in the dynamic of the spinoff.

River and the Doctor: Our Emotional Connection to Fictional Characters

As a Whovian, I’m addicted to one of the greatest love stories never told – the romance of River Song and the Doctor. What an ingenious concept to have a time traveler meet his epic love in reverse order. From the first time he meets her and then watches her die, he becomes forever haunted, because every time he sees her after the fact he knows exactly what happens in the end – yet he still falls madly in love with her.

Everything about their relationship and the way that the writers reveal the story pulls tight at my heartstrings in ways I could never imagine possible, especially since we’re talking about completely fictional characters. Just thinking about the course of their romance chokes me up inside. In fact, from the moment I heard Phillip Phillips’ song, “Gone, Gone, Gone,” I remember thinking – “Now there’s a song about River and the Doctor!” Oh – and yes many people have linked the song with clips, such as this one:

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself reaching for the tissue box while watching.

The more I thought about the song connection, and the more the song played on the radio, the more overwhelmed I became with a mixed emotional state. Part of me felt absolute romantic bliss that such an undying love could exist somewhere in the universe, even if only in our imaginations, but the other part of me wanted to weep openly at the thought of such an epic love forever tainted with bittersweet sadness – at least from the perspective of the Doctor.

When I get beyond that kick to the gut of emotional turmoil, the writer in me starts to wonder – why are we so affected by fictional characters?

Although there are many potential answers out there, I want to discuss two particular answers, because I think these answers get to the heart of storytelling.

Answer #1 Good Writing

Answer #2 “Human” Connection

There are at least three main elements that make the writing of this love story so good:

  • Character Development
  • Tension
  • Playing with Linear Time

With our characters, we have our epic hero, the Doctor, who is the last of his kind, an alien from another planet, a time traveler, brilliant beyond belief, and possibly the most generous being in existence. So, of course, his love interest can’t be some equally goody-goody character. She has to be a foil to him, but she has to pair well with him too. Bring in River Song – sexy, sassy, slightly psychotic, amazingly brilliant, morally flexible, and eternally devoted to the Doctor.

But we really only learn about River throughout the 11th reincarnation of the Doctor. So what is it about her character that catches us from practically the first moment we meet her?

I think it’s her sense of mystery. She instantly knows who the Doctor is, even though he doesn’t have a clue as to who she is. She somehow has the Doctor’s tool of choice, a sonic screwdriver. And, as dark and sinister enemies come into play, River remains surprisingly calm, like she’s used to it. This type of mystery works amazingly well for perking the viewers’ collective interest. Plus, as the final icing on the Whovian cake, she alone knows the one thing NO ONE knows, the one piece of information that we as viewers have NEVER been given. She knows the Doctor’s name. Talk about imbuing a character with instant power and panache!

Her character is developed even further as she sacrifices herself to save everyone, especially the Doctor. In that final act of her first appearance on the show, she becomes a martyr, an epic heroine, and even more of a mystery. She tells the Doctor about the last place he took her before she came to the library, letting him and the viewers know the details about the Doctor’s final date with his dearest love. She also points out that the Doctor will forever know, (has always known), her fate, yet he will never be able to tell her about it – spoilers, after all. River also leaves her journal in her stead, making sure that the Doctor knows he gave it to her in the first place, and that every piece of information of her entire life with him is in that book, yet he can never open it.

All of this massive character development is done in a matter of minutes on the show, and instantly we’re hooked. So what if we know how she dies? Hello – time travel!!! Now we as viewers have to know more about this woman. We’re compelled to follow her and the Doctor’s love story, because we HAVE to figure out who this woman is, how she gained the Doctor’s trust, and how she found out the greatest secret in the universe.

Which, of course leads us to tension and playing with linear time. We as viewers know where River ends up, but we have no idea how she gets there or how the Doctor will fall in love with her. Plus, every time River and the Doctor meet, they meet at different points in each of their timelines. The tension between these two builds because of what each of them knows about the other one, but can’t reveal due to potential paradoxes and fixed points in time. The tension builds for viewers because we know that they end up as lovers/partners, so every interaction we see we’re voyeuristically hoping to see pieces of their romance fit together.

The fact that their entire relationship is done with no regards to a linear timeline makes us invested in these characters even further. For one thing, we as watchers are constantly trying to figure out where each character is in the timeline and what he or she knows about the other character at that point in time. We also learn about River, our woman of mystery, in pretty much reverse order, which means we constantly know the end results of her life without ever knowing how she got to each point until far after the fact. Optimistically, I think it shows that we do care more about the journey than the final destination.

In addition, the lack of a linear timeline has a jarring effect on viewers. We constantly find out bits of information about each character, but never in the proper order, so we can’t see the full picture. As each piece is revealed, all the other pieces change position instantly, causing us to question what we already know, and, in many ways, making us love and/or hate the characters all over again.

In those moments of questioning and character judging, we come to the second answer as to why we love these fictional characters – “human” connection. (Yes, I realize the irony in using the word human, but just go with it).

As we invest so much of our energy into finding out more and more about these characters, and as the different pieces of the puzzle come into play, we start to connect to the characters because we can relate to them. The act of being in love, or just love, is universal, regardless of whether you’re human, a Time Lord, or something else. The majority of sentient beings have a desire to be loved and to connect with others. I think what really makes us cling to these fictional characters is the turmoil we see them face as they pursue love and the ability to connect. Granted, for plot value, the obstacles that River and the Doctor overcome are far more grandiose than what we as regular people will probably ever  face. But that’s the point – if we can see these two people who are forever locked into meeting each other in the wrong order, who are constantly fighting off enemies, and yet somewhere in the midst of things they still manage to fall deeply in love – after all of that, if they can do it, then there must be hope for the rest of us.

That’s why this love story grabs us. That’s why even as I write this article I’m getting choked up. That’s why these characters have to be so expertly crafted – they represent our hopes and dreams and what it means to be alive.