Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Science fiction has always been used to express political points of view, and some might argue that the best of science fiction is that which does so.

Fritz Lang’s passionate defense of workers in Metropolis. Fred Pohl’s scathing indictement of consumerism in The Space Merchants. George Lucas’ not-so-subtle demonstration that corporatism unchecked leads to imperialism. John Brunner’s still enormously relevant The Sheep Look Up. THX-1138. Dune. Foundation. The Cold War paranoid fantasies of the 1950s: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Them and its collective/communist ants, balanced by The Earth Stood Still and It Came From Outer Space. Even Godzilla.

I’ve always been very pleased that Doctor Who, unlike much of television, a medium not known for risk-taking (with a few exceptions such as The Prisoner), has always had the guts to look to literature for inspiration and embrace political themes, delivering powerful allegories.

The Green Death shows how unchecked multinational corporations under the control of soulless automatons for whom profit has become a BOSS-like god and controller, will eventually despoil the Earth leaving only maggots and slime behind.

At an earlier time where religious strife was tearing apart Northern Ireland, The Massacre delivered a powerful warning. That message was echoed again in Genesis of the Daleks with its insane war to end all wars and the anti-xenophobic subtext of Carnival of Monsters more relevant today than ever.

The Sunmakers was a vibrant and kafkaesque manifesto against out of control government, and the manipulation of public officials by powerful financial interests behind the scenes. In Day of the Daleks, the so-called terrorists may have used the wrong methods (with unintended consequences) but at the end of the day, the Doctor sided with them against the collaborators.

In that glorious tradition, Russell T. Davies has delivered a spectacular Doctor Who allegory in his recent two-parter, Aliens of London and World War III.

From the start, the destruction of a well-known landmark (Big Ben) by a flying craft is used by the villains to whip up fear and take political power. I need not point out the similarities, including the media’s willing or unconscious participation in the process, and their failure to probe the event’s real causes. Interestingly, the pilot of the craft is revealed to be a pig, a short-hand demonization of a culture/faith for which such animal is unclean. But here the pig is a hapless tool, literally built and, shall we say, remotely-controlled by the true villains.

These villains are the Slitheen. To reuse terminology coined by Mussolini, the Slitheen are true corporatists. They use the destruction of Big Ben to take power, trigger a war, and turn Earth into a radioactive heap, in effect a source of cheap energy they can sell. More subtly, these corporatists are not just an alien race, but an actual family. The similarities between another Presidential dynasty, and its close-knit cabal, may have been unintended, but they are there nevertheless.

The “experts” – UNIT in the Whoniverse – are first coopted, then quickly neutralized by the villains, certainly echoing the outing of Valerie Plame and the recent purge of the CIA. At the end of the day, there are no forces in society able to oppose the cabal: the media are supine, the military at best confused, or a tool, the intelligence community beheaded, the political class collaborating or hostage (Harriet).

The all-too-obvious parallels in the script (“45 seconds,” “UN resolution,” “MWDs,” “We believed it the last time”) are almost superfluous because they distract from more than they reinforce the powerful sub-narrative that drives the story. The Doctor telling Mickey that the Human Race is “thick” should be enough of a wake-up call, and by being so obvious at times, Davis shows that, like the Doctor, he does believe that the people are “thick” indeed – but judging on facts, who could blame him?

Russell T. Davies’ answer to the cynical web of lies and purposeful deception perpetrated upon our population by a neo-corporatist cabal is two-fold: 1) blow them up, and 2) elect new leaders. It is a deceptively simplistic response, because it echoes the old Hindu philosophy of Destruction and Creation.

It is not enough to capture, drive away, get rid of the Old State, it must be destroyed. There must be a cost. Penance must be made. We cannot rebuild unless we tear down the corruption, pay the piper and learn from our mistakes, Such a process is not easy, cheap or painless, and it is adequately symbolized here by the destruction of No. 10 Downing Street, which acts as the closing bracket to the destruction of Big Ben at the opening of the play.

Creation is symbolized by the transformed Harriet Jones – what a superb character arc from a meek, ineffectual MP to a leader truly speaking to and from the people! – who is said to be the herald of a new Golden Age, this completing the traditional allegory.

Russell T Davies is, consciously or unconsciously, well aware that we will soon be facing the reality-based equivalents to his foretold Destruction, and in writing Aliens of London and World War III, he has given us more than a superbly crafted Doctor Who story, but echoes from our own future.

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