Why did this never happen?
That’s Doctor Who spanking Sarah Jane Smith, with a little help from Roy Crane, the 1940s comics artist. Sarah Jane is the longest-running, best beloved and most iconic of the Doctor’s many companions. She also happens to be, in the eyes of this beholder, the most beautiful woman who ever lived.
From every angle:
Sarah, brilliantly played by the still sadly missed Elisabeth Sladen, was devised in 1973 to be a proactive character in Doctor Who, something more than the usual ‘hapless, helpless assistant’. She had her own job as an investigative journalist that would enable her to initiate and carry her own threads of action within the overall plot. But that aspiration came up against the dominant dynamic of the series, with the central character of the Doctor in charge. Elisabeth Sladen described the result in an early interview she gave about the character:
‘She thinks she can stand on her own feet and she’ll always have a bash at things believing she’s right. But somebody normally ends up telling her she’s totally wrong – and it’s usually the Doctor.’
In other words, she tends to stick her reporter’s nose into situations and ends up making them worse. In one of her stories, for example, the Doctor renders a T-Rex unconscious for study, but Sarah just can’t resist getting some photographs of the beast – whereupon the camera flashes wake it up and it escapes to wreak havoc. And the consequence of that, after the dinosaur problem has been dealt with, ought to have been a sore bottom for Sarah – but, disappointingly, wasn’t.
‘Doctor Who’s young companion Sarah Jane could well do with a spanking,’ wrote a 1970s correspondent to the specialist magazine Janus, and it’s something many people have fantasized about over the years. It has happened in fan art, notably in the quirky collages of Jim Scribner, such as this example showing the outcome of an investigation at stately Wayne Manor:
There’s a lot of spanking fan fiction on the theme, though admittedly much of it was written by me. Perhaps more significant is Kevin W. Parker’s 1990 story Sarah at the Bat, a piece of general Sarah Jane fan fiction not written for fetish reasons, in which she gets playfully spanked by a boyfriend. What will happen if she doesn’t root for his baseball team, she asks. ‘Then you get a spanking,’ comes the answer. And so she does, though only in fun, with ‘swats that weren’t even hard enough to knock the dust off her pants’.
My point is that we only get such scenes in the subsidiary literature, never in the main series itself. And this wasn’t for want of opportunity, because Sarah was always getting into trouble. One story even ends with a humorous tag scene in which she is cheeky to the Doctor, and he takes her sternly by the ear and leads her away.
What happens next is anyone’s guess, and while I like to think it was a good spanking, the truth is that the scene makes absolutely no reference to that as a possibility: it’s just a cute moment of friction between the series’ two regular characters, showing that one of them ultimately has the upper hand.
And that brings us back to my opening question, why the Doctor’s upper hand didn’t land across Sarah Jane’s upended (and very lovely) bottom. A lot of spanking enthusiasts attempting to answer that will start with the assumption that a spanking scene is ‘right’ and natural, effectively claiming that it should happen just because it’s something we’d enjoy seeing – the ethics of which are, at best, rather tacky. The argument will then proceed to posit an inhibiting force, which will usually have something to do with historical period and cultural change: in effect, ‘if this had been made ten or twenty years earlier, she would have been spanked’.
There are two problems with that argument. One is that it tries to use our sexual tastes to make us wish for a less progressive, less tolerant, less liberal world and push us into social conservatism, which again hits ethical difficulties. But the other is, simply, that it puts the blame on the wrong set of circumstances. It’s not about when the series was made: it’s about how all series typically work.
Comic books and television programs are often organized as series of self-contained stories linked by one or more regular characters. It’s an industrial system that makes it easier for the consumer to keep coming back for more, because they invest in those recurring characters and ongoing core situations, whether it be crime-fighting, medical procedures or traveling to strange new worlds in search of new life and new civilizations. But the key difference between series and serials, such as soaps, is that in series the regular characters don’t generate the individual stories: those come instead from the episode-specific characters who cross the regulars’ path, bringing problems with them. And if a spanking is construed, narratively, as an attempt to solve a problem, then the girl on the receiving end will be one of the guest roles, not one of the regulars.
We can illustrate this with the case of the British sitcom Please Sir!, in which idealistic teacher Bernard Hedges (John Alderton) is put in charge of a no-hope class of teenagers sitting out their last year in high school before entering the real world of unemployment and the scrapheap. As with Doctor Who, the dynamics of the situation and character relationships are opportune for a spanking scene, and there is even a promising prospective recipient in the form of Sharon, the provocative class sexpot played in the first three series by Penny Spencer…
… and then by Carol Hawkins in the movie and spin-off:
In fact, one episode even has a moment when the mini-skirted Sharon is horsing around, her head covered and the seat of her panties on show. Hedges tells her, by name, to behave herself. How did he know it was her, she asks, when he couldn’t see her face? He starts to reply that he recognized her by her… and manages to stop himself just before he says ‘bottom’ – though not before it’s obvious that’s what he was about to say!
Hedges might, just might, have recognized Sharon’s rear end from having had it regularly across his knee, but again that’s not a possibility we are actively invited to consider: the joke, and the moment, is smaller than that. Even so, he does administer a spanking in the first series – not to Sharon, but to a one-off character brought in for that episode only.
The title character of ‘Student Princess’, first shown on December 13, 1968, is Ann Collins, played by the fetching 25-year-old Gay Hamilton, seen on the left here:
She’s a student teacher just started at the school, and she turns out to be Hedges’ ex-girlfriend. Her arrival sparks a renewal of their relationship.
But her winning ways make her popular, and Hedges grows jealous of her success. The crisis comes over a gym lesson, for which Ann is suitably and stylishly dressed.
They have an argument about whether or not the class should have been sent off to the gym. ‘Now look, my girl,’ he tells her, ‘I’m not above tanning your backside.’
‘Just you try,’ she retorts. Which is always unwise…
As you can just about see there, Ann is self-prepared for the spanking she gets… which isn’t much, because it’s interrupted after the first smack when the class rush back.
All ends happily with the couple reconciled, but it’s the last we ever see of Ann Collins – and that’s the usual way of things. Think of any spanking scene in a television series, and it’ll usually involve the hero punishing a girl who has come into the series in that episode and will be going out again when the episode comes to an end. She is a character who exists to play a specific role in a specific story; in a sense, she has been created partly in order to be spanked. Afterwards, she goes on her way, a changed individual with her issues resolved, though not necessarily because of the spanking; and then the series resets itself in order to tell a new story next time.
What gets reset is, most of all, the regular characters. Their function is to help tell and resolve every story over the whole series, which means they don’t ordinarily carry major baggage across from one episode to another, nor do they undergo radical and sudden personality changes or character development – the kind of thing that a spanking is meant to inculcate, if it has any place in the story at all. And that’s why heroines don’t get spanked.
That creates a frustrating paradox. As we follow and enjoy any series, in any medium, we are likely to develop an emotional bond with the ongoing regulars, sometimes an irrationally strong and lasting one such as I have with Sarah Jane Smith. So the female characters we will most want to see being spanked are, inevitably, the regulars – who are also the very ones least likely to meet that fate. The consequence is a proliferation of fan fiction and fan art, trying to satisfy the desire for a scene that was never going to happen in the series itself.
For instance, Lieutenant Uhura was never spanked in the original series of Star Trek – but the spanking artist Endart fixed that.
Most prolific of all are the portrayals of a scene that not only didn’t happen but literally couldn’t: a sound spanking for the invulnerable Supergirl!
But there are exceptions to the rule, and an interesting example is the Western family saga, The Big Valley, which ran for four seasons from 1965 to 1969 and dealt with the Barkley family’s efforts to farm their California ranch in the 1870s. It’s a series with a relatively large cast of regular characters, the most glamorous of whom is Audra, the daughter of the family, played by Linda Evans.
Part of the trick of writing for a large cast is making sure that everybody has something to do in each episode. In the middle of the first season, scriptwriter William Norton contributed ‘The Brawlers’, a story about a group of Irish settlers who have been sold, fraudulently, some land that actually belongs to the ranch and are trying to set up a farm there. The episode, which first aired on December 15, 1965, mainly shows the menfolk’s efforts to deal, in different ways and with varying degrees of success, with the conflicts that inevitably arise from this unsatisfactory situation. The role that falls to Audra is the initial discovery of the trespassers, in the pre-titles teaser sequence…
Riding around the perimeter of the ranch, she encounters the Irish family, who have pulled down the fence and are putting up the name of their prospective farm. She has words with their leader, Jim Callahan, played by Claude Akins, ordering him off the land. He won’t take her seriously, and insists, ‘We bought this land and we intend to occupy it.’ She asserts herself by lashing out at him with a horsewhip… whereupon he pulls her off her horse, spanks her and then sends her riding home backwards.
Callahan gets congratulated by his extended family. Audra goes home to fetch a gun.
She explains the situation to her elder brother Nick, who reasonably says there has obviously been some kind of a mistake, that it’s not Audra’s job to sort it out and that they didn’t harm her. On the contrary, says Audra: ‘That big ape, he s…,’ then stops herself before any more of the word ‘spanked’ comes out. Nick prompts her, and she finishes, ‘He hit me.’ Cue some piquantly coy dialog about how and where he hit her.
‘I don’t see any marks,’ says big brother. ‘You won’t,’ replies Audra. It’s only later in the episode, after Audra has come round to the cause of moderation, that we get any plain speaking about what happened: Nick rebuffs her with ‘You’re the one that came screaming for action when you got your backside paddled!’, something she clearly doesn’t care to be reminded of, for her response is to pout and walk silently from the room. But much earlier on she does get an apology from Callahan, along with an offer to show Nick the documents that prove his ownership of the land, both of which are refused – and so the story then gets going because neither side is willing to sit down and talk graciously to the other.
Now, this is the very opposite of the way spanking scenes usually occur in series episodes: this time, a male guest character comes into the series and spanks a female regular. Moreover, the spanking isn’t a part of the progressive working out of the story, but the event that starts it off in the first place: if headstrong Audra hadn’t assaulted Callahan, and if he hadn’t taken reprisals, everyone might have gone into the dispute in a better temper and worked out sooner that the trouble was caused by a third party, the crooked land company. And because it is an initiating event, part of the problem rather than part of the solution, Audra getting over it contributes to the process of resetting the overall series scenario so that she, and everyone else, can start afresh in the next episode.
So from time to time, heroines do get spanked, and some of them are much more iconic characters than Audra Barkley; you can probably think of one or two examples without much effort. I plan to write about them in an occasional series on this site, because they’re often interesting in themselves and sometimes led to further spankings too. But, of course, that will never assuage my eternal regret that this item from a British TV listings magazine…
… just isn’t real!