Why I like Chantho
Chantho is the last of the Malmooth Conglomerate, and the lovely assistant to Professor Yana in “Utopia.” She’s also a big blue bug person. She’s beautiful.
So cat people are pretty ubiquitous across speculative fiction. Dog people (other than werewolves) are much rarer, but still occasionally there. But bug people? More specifically, bug people who aren’t monsters? I really like her little pedapelps or whatever they are - those pincer things down by her chin. It’s such a nice touch that they actually move independently. One of the most interesting and effective alien designs of the Tenth Doctor era.
The main thing everyone talks about with Chantho is her cool little linguistic tic - specifically, beginning every utterance with “chan” and ending it with “tho.” This is so prominent that they named her after it. As far as I can tell, “chan-…-tho” is a discourse-marking circumfix, intended to facilitate turn-taking strategies. This is why I said it attaches to the utterance rather than the sentence. In multi-sentence utterances, she seems to chan-tho around the whole utterance (although I can’t find an example right now). It therefore seems likely that the -tho is a particle signaling the end of a speech turn. Compare uptalk in English. Some dialects of English use rising (question-like) intonation on declarative sentences to signal that they have more yet to say - that their speech turn is not yet over. This is the opposite. My guess is that in Malmooth, starting to talk before you’ve heard the other person say “tho” is the height of rudeness - like cutting someone off mid-word. Similarly, “chan” claims the discourse. Imagine five people all talking at once. Once one of them says “chan” you have to sit down and shut up until they get to tho. It prevents that awkward “you first - no you first” kind of thing. And also you don’t miss the first word of their utterance. So the meaning of chan-…-tho is “SHUT UP I’M TALKING “…” OKAY YOU CAN TALK NOW.” Omitting the chan-…-tho is not only rude in itself, but makes it more difficult for your interlocutor to be polite.
I should mention the point where she says: “Chan I’m sorry tho. Chan I’m so sorry-” This seems like a counterexample to my claim that chan-…-tho is a discourse marker rather than a syntactic one. But in that scene she’s desperate and gabbling. She wants Yana to interrupt her, to say it’s all a joke. And so she’s giving him every opportunity to do so. But that’s getting a bit ahead of myself.
The question that arises is that, if chan-…-tho is a discourse marker almost entirely for the benefit of the interlocutor, what is the point of it when none of your interlocutors recognize it? Chantho is no longer speaking her native language - her people are extinct - but she continues to use their formality markers towards people who are never going to care. She shows utmost respect and gets almost none in return. But when Martha suggests not doing it, she is shocked at the very notion. This is also a testament to the strength of socio-linguistic norms upon speakers. She can break it, with effort, but the result is hilarious. Who would ever say such a thing? It’s the same kind of humor associated with dropping extreme profanity in very polite contexts. And Chantho and Martha giggling together is just about the sweetest thing ever.
But while chan-…-tho is the thing everybody talks about, it is by no means all there is to her character. First off, Professor Yana and Chantho are an obvious parallel to the Doctor-Companion relationship. In this case, they’re going a little farther and having them parallel the Doctor and Martha in particular, with the theme of unrequited love. Chantho adores the Professor, but he doesn’t seem to notice.
Well, he’s clearly fond of her, but all his attention is focused on the Utopia project, and she’s a fraction of his age, etc etc etc. But she also really believes in the work they’re doing, even though Utopia is specifically calling all humans (and she isn’t one) and it’s almost certainly those humans who wiped out her people. And she is not so starry-eyed about the Professor that she won’t stand up to him in defense of that work.
Let me say that again, but without do many double negatives. Chantho is docile, submissive, and generally quiet and passive, not used to a ton of attention. But when Professor Yana goes crazy and starts destroying all their work, not only does she stand against him, but she holds him at gunpoint trying to get him to back down. Despite the fact that this is totally outside her nature, she probably has never even held a gun before, and this is the man she loves. She fights him anyway, because it is the right thing to do. And…it’s not very effective, but it is enough to let the rocket they’ve been working on escape. With her dying breath, she manages to muster the strength to shoot him (a fact which offends him greatly ) She doesn’t know what’s going on and she’s thoroughly unequipped to deal with what Professor Yana has become, but she does what she has to do anyway, even at the cost of her own life.
(mod would like to present you with the AO3 Chantho fanfic page as a unicorn chaser for that last image)
Chantho is probably my single favorite one-off character from the Tenth Doctor era. She’s got a beautiful design and really excellent personality. She is strong without being a battle-axe, and she shows that really awesome aliens are possible even in the most London-dominated parts of the show. AND I get to talk about linguistics. I love doing that.
Linguistics and Doctor Who? Let me love you!