I was never enamoured with the idea of a female Doctor but now we have a woman in the lead role (and an actress I like) , I’m looking forward to seeing what she can do. What I want to do here is challenge the notion of Doctor Who’s “new found” political correctness for the mistruth that it is. The show has always tackled political issues.
Doctor Who’s Origins
In 1963, Doctor Who hit our screens. Back then, it was a science-fiction show perhaps like most others with no indication that it had longevity on its side. As I was born in the mid-1970s, I can only guess at what people made of it back then, but I doubt anyone thought it would still be running 54 years later, albeit with a 16 year gap between 1989 and 2005.
Doctor Who has, since its birth, attempted to do things differently. It’s always been “politically correct”, especially when you consider that an immigrant (Sydney Newman) appointed a homosexual man of Indian ethnicity (Waris Hussein) and the BBC’s first female producer (Verity Lambert). The first episode went to air on 22nd November 1963 – the day JFK was shot. Had Lambert not fought tooth and nail for a repeat showing, it may have died in the cradle.
If it was political correctness gorn mad that led to the appointment of Hussein and Lambert, it didn’t end in front of the camera. In Who lore, The Daleks were created to end a 1,000 year long war between the Kaleds and the Thals. Yet their creator Davros forged them to take no prisoners and to destroy impure races. Quite clearly, this was a critique of fascism – not just of the war that had ended some 20 years previously, but also the ongoing threat of nationalism and the hatred to which it sometimes gives birth. Yes it looked at Nazism, but fascism was not born and did not die with Hitler’s Reich.
At the other end of the spectrum we have a race of cyborgs whose motivating factor is conformity – no emotion, no free thought, no individual expression and a determination to make the whole universe into Cybermen. Clearly, this is a metaphor for communism. While fascism was bubbling under the surface, communism was still a real and present threat in the form of Soviet Russia, and her allies and vassal states. The threat of the loss of liberty, liberal democracy and what makes us individual was a threat to Europe and the western world. The Cybermen are a personification of that.
Critique of Capitalism
In the last series, an episode called Oxygen was a not-so-subtle critique of capitalism. In this episode, The Doctor and Bill visit an industrial spaceship with no oxygen. They soon realise that the employees aboard the ship must purchase oxygen credits from their employer. Many felt this was “political correctness too far” in criticising capitalism. We could read the destruction of the NHS (with many feeling that Tories long-term plan is to do just that) and privatisation for profit of basic human needs into this episode. Many feel that capitalism has become too corrupt and too self-serving since the crash of 2008 and needs reform.
Oxygen was not the first time Doctor Who has critiqued the worst aspects of capitalism. The Tom Baker story The Sun Makers took The Doctor and Leela to Pluto in an age where the planet is run by a nefarious corporation who created an artifical sun to make the plan habitable for human life. They have been extorting residents with cripping taxes ever since. In one early scene, Leela stops a man committing suicide after seeing his most recent tax bill.
Bloody leftie greenie tree hugger types… in The Green Death, a Pertwee story, The Doctor and Jo Grant travel to rural Wales and a closed coal mine to investigate reports of giant maggots and insects. Here, the producers of Doctor Who warned us about environmental exploitation and a lack of responsibility on the part of big business. It was relevant then and it’s relevant today still. In this story, it is pollution that creates the giant maggots that then start killing people. The Doctor and Jo team up with greeny tree hugger types to clean up the environment. Similarly, the Pertwee story Inferno shows what happens when science pushes too far against the environment. In an alternate universe, the living, breathing planet tears itself apart once humans pierce through the crust.
You are, of course, free to watch or not watch Doctor Who for any reason. However, if you’ve decided to stop watching because it’s now all “politically correct”, you’re 54 years too late – it always was.