I was asked by my brother a while back what my favorite episode of Doctor Who was. That’s not an easy question for me to answer. Not a title I like to give out very easily, because there are so many episodes that i really like quite a bit, and for a variety of reasons. That being said, we have a new, very strong contender in the favorite episode department. “Under the Lake” was a really good episode for a very specific reason for me, and it was a big enough reason that I may call it my favorite for a while. No, that reason isn’t that this was a creepy ghost story just in time for October. That was fun, but not enough to make this my new favorite. The reason this was my new favorite had to do with one thing, well, person. Cass.
I had heard on the Saturday that the episode premiered that there was a deaf character in the show. I was excited about that and excited to gather my children around for a mandatory viewing of Doctor Who (this happens quite a bit, actually). I was also nervous about it. Deaf characters show up in shows every now and then, but it’s not always great. I was nervous that in Doctor Who they could be in any time and have any technology that could be used to “cure” or “fix” deafness. Or maybe the deaf person would be a distraction to the story, meaning the other characters wouldn’t view them as anything more than deaf person, and couldn’t get over it and treat them very differently. Or maybe they would just get being deaf totally wrong (perfect lip-reading skills, completely left out of crucial group conversations, etc.).
I was more than pleasantly surprised. Cass was more than I could have hoped for. I thought her character was a great character, who just happened to be deaf. That almost never happens. It was great to see her signing the whole time, and using an interpreter. What was more, she was a strong female character, many times taking the Doctor on directly, and holding her own. Plus, she was using real sign language, and I think my son Johnny realized for the first time that Doctor Who was a British show. A few minutes into the show he looked at me kind of confused, and said, “I can’t understand her signing.” I explained to him that they were using BSL instead of ASL, because the show was British. That clicked for him, and he followed it up with, “Is the Doctor British?” Prior to this episode, he didn’t realize it because the dialogue was just words on the screen, and there was no difference in his mind, it could have been English or American. Not anymore. Now he knows.
When the Doctor and Clara show up and they speak with the team of the underwater facility for the first time, the Doctor played it perfectly as he told the interpreter that he didn’t need him, that he knew sign language. I was excited for a second, thinking maybe he was really going to be able to sign. I was even more pleased when he tried it and he couldn’t. This happens all the time to my kids. People will come up to them thinking they can “sign” because they have learned a few signs, or saw them on TV once. I have seen the reaction she gave the Doctor on my own kids’ faces many times. I think the Doctor signed “You’re beautiful.” I would have to go back and look, and that’s assuming the signs are the same. I could be totally wrong. Most people mean well when they do this, come up to my kids and use the sign language they know, and my kids do appreciate the effort, but quickly, most folks realize that either communicating through us, or writing it down is more effective.
I also really loved the part where they had Cass reading the lips of the ghosts. It took her a couple of tries to get it right. This doesn’t mean that she is bad at lip-reading. She was actually really good at it. Lip reading is really hard, and not an easy skill for deaf people to just pick up. It’s also not an exact science. Some people are mumblers, so it’s hard to see what they are really saying, some folks have mustaches that partially cover their mouths, which makes it hard as well. Then you throw in accents and dialects, and the whole thing actually becomes very difficult. Being able to read lips is really an astounding skill that takes a lot of skill and practice, and you will still make mistakes. So, no, my 3-year-old can’t read lips. It was great to see on a TV show that it is sometimes hard to read lips.
The best thing about Cass was that she wasn’t jus a side character. Once their leader died, Cass was in charge. She was a good leader, who put the crew first, and at times she disagreed with the Doctor, and was not afraid to let him know and to stand up to him. At one point, the Doctor even says that she’s the cleverest person in the room, when he is not there. It was really cool to see, and it was cool for my two oldest kids to see. They saw a deaf person who was clever, capable, strong, and vital to her team. That rarely happens. Johnny thought it was really cool, and can’t wait for next week’s episode. That was probably the best part of all of it. Deaf kids everywhere were able to watch this episode and see a strong, crucial character who was deaf, and successful. They need more examples of that on TV and in pop culture. I applaud the Doctor Who team for trying to get it right, and I feel like they did.
What did you think of the newest episode of Doctor Who? Did you enjoy it? What are your thoughts on the season as a whole? Let us know in the comments below or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org .