The Roots of Doctor Who 4/ Xena The Warrior Princess

Now this may seem like a slightly more unusual claim, in fact I would very much doubt that there are many people who would say that Doctor Who owes anything to Xena. However still I do feel that the revival of Doctor Who, during the Russell T Davies era, did in fact owe quite a large amount to the Warrior Princess’s adventures.

Obviously its only the revival we will be looking at here as the original Doctor Who series finished 7 years before Xena started, and it was about as different a show as can be imagined to Xena anyway.

Russell T Davies has regularly cited Xena along with other American sci fi and fantasy series such as Charmed, Smallville and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin off Angel as being among his greatest influences for his take on Doctor Who.

Russell wanted the revival of Doctor Who to be as popular as possible right away, hence why he kept direct references to the original series to a minimum so as not to alienate new viewers, included references to popular culture, and modeled the show overall very much on American genre series which had come to completely dominate the market in Doctor Who’s almost twenty year absence from our screens.

Thus Doctor Who during Davies’ time came to embody all of the tropes of late 90’s, early 00’s American genre series. We had the Doctor become more of a pop culture obsessed, angsty, tragic hero, we had the good guys talking in “Buffy speak” including even the Doctor himself “Wibbly Wobbly, Timey Wimey” and the bad guys talking in big grandiose, pompous, flowery speeches “I reached into the dirt and created new life I AM THE GOD OF DALEK KIND.”, “Purify the earth with fire”, “And so it came to pass that the human race fell and the Earth was no more. And I looked upon my new dominion as Master of all, and I thought it good.” We had kick ass, feisty female characters, we had story arcs, big bads, we had the heroes one true love they never stop going on or angsting about, even when they are not there (Rose, Buffy or Angel, Lana, Gabrielle) we had the person who loves the hero, but the hero doesn’t love back and who angsts about that for a while before becoming their best friend who arguably does the most for them, even more than their one true love (Martha Jones, Chloe Sullivan, Xander Harris) and we had the crazed villain whom the hero feels a certain sense of guilt over and tries to help rather than outright kill (the Master, Callisto, Faith, Lex Luthor).

Of course making Doctor Who more like these American series did pay off for Russell as it did make it very accessible to modern audiences. I have often compared Russell’s decisions to make the show more like recent or current series like Barry Letts decision to do so in the early 1970’s. Both men did it at a point when Doctor Who really needed a huge boost in popularity in order to survive in a new and unsure era.

Of all of these American series Buffy and Angel unquestionably had the biggest impact on New Who. Indeed Buffy’s influence on Who would extend even into the Steven Moffat era, with many having drawn comparisons between the Silence and the Gentleman from Buffy.

However still one should not underestimate Xena’s influence on the revived series and in this article I am going to examine the similarities between both series.

Xena’s Influence on Doctor Who

The most obvious comparison between both shows are the similarities between the central characters of the Doctor and Xena.

The Doctor during Davies’s time was an angst ridden character who had done horrible things to innocent people in the past. He had killed billions of innocent men, women and children in the time war. He is now in some ways trying to atone for this attrocity though there are moments where he very nearly gives into his dark side again, where he very nearly lets loose the rage that in Davros’s words “butchered millions”. However he is able to hold this dark side back with the aid of at least initially a young blonde woman named Rose who starts out travelling with him because she is bored of her life at home. The two develop a close relationship and eventually fall in love though their love is not usually outright stated apart from a few crucial moments.

Though there are moments where the two have huge fights, such as when Rose gets shocked at his ruthless actions, such as his attempt to kill the helpless Dalek, or where she lies and betrays him for the sake of her family in “Fathers Day”. Ultimately the Doctor feels this young, and to some irritating little blonde made him a better person and helped him overcome his dark side and become a better man.

Now Xena is angst ridden character who has done horrible things in her past, slaughtered hundreds of innocent people in her wars and and is now seeking redemption for her past sins. There are moments however where she very nearly gives into her dark urges. However she soon meets a young blonde woman Gabrielle who travels with her because she is bored of life back home with her family. The two develop a close relationship and fall in love though their love is usually only hinted at.

There are moments when they come to blows. Gabrielle is appalled at some of Xena’s more ruthless actions such as in “The Debt” where Xena plans to commit an act of cold blooded murder.  At the same time Gabrielle’s betrays Xena and her trust in order to protect her family, her daughter Hope.

However ultimately Xena believes that this to some, irritating little blonde has made her a better person and helped her overcome her dark side.

Now it is true that the Doctor and Rose did owe something to Buffy and Angel and the Ninth Doctor definitely owed a lot to Angel too. Ultimately however I find Xena and Gabrielle to have been the bigger influence. The Doctor and Rose and Xena and Gabrielle are both about how two people can make the other person better in a relationship. Xena and the Doctor are made better people by Rose and Gabrielle who hold back their darker sides, whilst Rose and Gabrielle are made better people by Xena and the Doctor, as it is Xena and the Doctor who rescue them from their life of mediocrity and allow them to reach their full potential.

Buffy and Angel do not have this same kind of dynamic. Whilst Buffy does put Angel on the path to redemption to some extent, she also is the one who lets his dark side out. Also Neither Buffy or Angel where living boring or dull lives either like Gabrielle and Rose.

Though there are some strong similarities between the Doctor and Rose and Buffy and Angel, such as the idea of the cursed immortal falling in love with a blonde teenager, one of them becoming trapped in an alternate universe in the second season finale.

However ultimately there are key differences, where as with Xena and Gabrielle and the Doctor and Rose the dynamic is virtually the same.

You have the darker, brooding character whisking the younger blond away from her boring everyday life, you have said blonde holding the darker side of the hero back. Even with physical force like Rose standing in the way of the crazed Ninth Doctor and the helpless Metaltron, or Gabrielle striking Xena with her staff to stop her from slaughtering innocent villagers.

I think when it came to Rose and the Doctor Xena and Gabrielle was probably Davies biggest influence.

Another example of Xena’s influence on Davies’ Who was in the character of The Master who bore many similarities to Callisto Xena’s archfoe.

Now obviously the Master as a character debuted many decades before Callisto.

However the classic series version of the Master was a very different character from the version we saw in Russell T Davies’ era.

He was a cold, manipulative, sly, cunning genius who enjoyed manipulating people. He was a megalomaniac, but not a complete psychopath. He usually other than a few instances did not kill at random. Only if he felt he had to (which was often a lot) or for revenge.  He and the Doctor did respect one another, but there was certainly no gay subtext involved. Indeed the idea was always that they were brothers anyway. The two hated each other through and through and tried to kill each other all of the time. In the Masters second appearance “The Mind of Evil” the Doctor tries to kill the Master, even when the Master agrees to leave the earth alone the Doctor still goes out of his way to try and kill him as he believes it is his duty to stop the Master from harming any other life forms.

However the Master in the Russell T Davies era was a complete and total lunatic. He killed people for no reason other than his own amusement, he was a manic character overall and the Doctor now looked on him with pity and rather than try and kill him like the Third Doctor tries to help him. There is also a very strong gay subtext between them, with the brother angle having been completely written out by Russell T Davies.

Now the Davies era Master played by John Simm was inspired by many characters. In my review of him I wrote that he was really a pastiche of crazy, psychotic villains such as the Joker, Hannibal Lecter, John Hurts Calligula from I Claudius and yes Callisto too.

Callisto and Xena have the same type of dynamic as The Doctor and the Master. Xena refuses to kill Callisto for years as she feels sorry for her and tries to help her, even when many people around her including her friends want her to. Even when Xena does finally kill her in “Return of Callisto” she doesn’t actually as she still can’t bring herself to, so she simply does not save her. The Doctor meanwhile as we know doesn’t kill the Master in Davies time even when the people around him including his friends such as Jack and Martha want him to.

Both Xena and the Doctor don’t want to kill Callisto and The Master as it would make their guilt over their past sins worse. The Doctor killed his kind. Now one of them has survived and he wants to help him. If he can only just convince the Master to change his ways then it will ease some of the guilt over the rest of his people’s deaths. If he does kill the Master then he will be just finishing what he started in the Time War. Similarly Xena cannot kill Callisto as she murdered her family and drove her insane as a result. Thus if she kills Callisto now she too will be merely finishing the evil act she committed years ago when she murdered her family.

Thus despite being their bitterest enemies both Callisto and The Master have an emotional hold over the Doctor and Xena unlike any other.

The Master and Callisto also were both driven insane by an horrific tragedy that happened many years ago when they were children. In the Masters case he was driven mad when forced to stare into the untempered schism. Since that day he heard a constant drum beat in his head that pushed him over the edge and turned him into a monster. In Callisto’s case it was watching her family burn to death.

In both cases we are left to wonder what would have happened had it not been for this one tragic event in their childhood. What would The Master and Callisto have been? Would the Master have been like the Doctor a heroic renegade Time Lord? Would Callisto have been sweet and innocent like Gabrielle? We are left to wonder what they could have been throughout the series, but in the end we do see that there is some good in them as Callisto becomes an Angel and ultimately saves Xena and Gabrielle’s souls whilst The Master at the end of Davies’ time sacrifices himself to save The Doctor.

Both The Master and Callisto even utter the line “You Made Me” to the people whom they blame for sending them down their dark path. In Callisto’s case to Xena who burned her family, in The Masters to Rassilon who implanted the drumming in his head.

Finally both Callisto and the Master also have the same twisted sexual obsession with the main hero. Both flirt with the main hero, blow kisses at them and even demonstrate a degree of sexual sadism with the main hero, with both the Master and Callisto even strapping their mortal foes in bondage gear at one point.

The finale example of Xena’s influence on the Doctor Who franchise can be seen in the character of Captain Jack Harkness. Captain Jack much like Xena herself was a somewhat darker character who was redeemed by the main hero from another series. In Jacks case the Doctor’s influence turned him from a coward to a hero, whilst in Xena’s, Hercules had turned her from being a brutal warlord to a hero. Both Xena and Jack also had romantic feelings for said hero too.

Ultimately both go on to star in their own much darker spin off series where their dark past is explored in more detail. Xena and Jack are also both LGBT icons too who embark on same sex relationships and heterosexual relationships on their own series, though their most prominent are homosexual relationships, Jack with Ianto, Xena with Gabrielle. Jack’s relationship with his brother John Grey is also similar to Xena’s with Callisto too. John Grey was left at the mercy of aliens by Jack when they were young. The aliens subsequently tortured Grey for decades driving him completely insane. Grey  returns at the end of season 2 of Torchwood and blames Jack for ruining his life and seeks revenge on him. Just as with Xena and Callisto Jack can’t kill Grey as he feels guilt for how he has turned out.

Whilst Jack had other influences such as the vampire Angel, ultimately I think Xena was also a main influence on Jack too.

I am not the only one to notice the similarities between Jack and Xena. Polina Skibinskaya a writer for AfterEllen.com noted the characters both having a dark past that still haunted them. She also referred to Jack and Xena as a “queer basher’s” worst nightmare as both are “weapon wielding, ass kicking” superheroes in contrast to the normally effeminate homosexual characters on television.

Creators of Xena’s Opinion of Doctor Who

Fortunately unlike Nigel Kneale  the makers of Xena were big Doctor Who fans, including the shows creator Rob Tapert. One episode of Xena even paid homage to the classic series of Doctor Who, “Between the Lines”. This episode sees Xena sent through time and the effect for it is based on the opening credits for Doctor Who during the Tom Baker era.

Many have also drawn a comparison between Xena and Leela the 4th Doctors companion. Though I have never read that Leela was an inspiration on Xena however.

Lucy Lawless who played Xena is herself a life long Doctor Who fan. Apparently she grew up with the show. New Zealand was always one of the places that the show was most popular outside of the UK. Her son is also a big Doctor Who fan and she even got him Matt Smith’s (see picture above) autograph.

Join me tomorrow when I will be looking at how British Horror movies influenced the adventures of the Time Lord.

5 thoughts on “The Roots of Doctor Who 4/ Xena The Warrior Princess

  1. Burrunjor–

    Thanks for the informative article. Just one comment. It seems like Xena being a beginning for both the Doctor and Captain Jack would suggest some additional parallels between the two Who characters. They’re rivals for Rose, of course, and are contrasted as two different types of men for the entire first two-parter. Still, perhaps it was Xena’s darkness that formed them both with similar secrets in their souls.

    Ilana

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting angle. I never thought of that that perhaps Rose was drawn to Jack and the Doctor because despite their differences they are similar men. Its true that whilst on the surface they seem very different like the Doctor and the Brig, underneath they are almost the same man, struggling to contain his drak side. Great comment thanks for your reply.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You could almost include Mickey Smith and Joxer as comic yet flawed side characters. Each with their own background supported by a mother figure. They can not hope to more than ordinary man unable to win the heart of the one they truly love Rose and Gabrielle. Interesting how both side characters marry other side characters being Martha Jones and Meg but that’s probably just the directors intent

    Like

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