Saturday, April 15, 2006

Chuffing Marvellous

It may have escaped your attention that Doctor Who has returned to our screens. If you have been living under a rock. More likely, you'll be entirely aware of what the Guardian's leader column today heralded as the return of family viewing.

So was tonight's episode any good? Emotionally, yes, rather, with a rather touching ending (which Russell T Davies expands upon on the commentary the BBC have made available from the website) involving Cassandra, the rather flat character from last series (boom-boom!) getting some closure, rather than simply an "I'll be back, mwahahaha" death scene. The idea of her going back and creating her own myth is really rather good.

Plot-wise, though.... well, it's a Russell T Davies script, isn't it? It was all pretty flimsy in terms of the internal logic of the script (why would the cures for all the diseases not just be put in the disinfectant as a matter of course if it can work on contact with the skin?, etc). As Charlie Brooker, a man of impeccable taste in my general experience, puts it:
it's a jumbled let-down.
He then goes on, however, to say:
having a pop at Doctor Who actually pains me. In my head, it's come to represent everything that made Britain great - more so than, say, the foundation of the National Health Service. Or Marmite. Or the Sex Pistols.
Now, over the last few days its become quite clear that a fair few lib dems would probably follow that general sentiment, if not actually go in for Brooker's brand of exaggeration. Sadly, the only Who fan to have passed through Parliament so far has been Tim Collins (a Tory - who hilariously makes the claim on the Earthshock DVD that Thatcher era Cybermen were better than Labour ones). But, this sad lack of representation not withstanding, I would argue that there is a fairly solid argument to be made that the Doctor is a liberal. Indeed, fellow Lib Dem blogger Alex Wilcock (or a remarkably coincidental namesake!) has put together a pretty good argument for this in an article on Outpost Gallifrey.

So it's nice to see the same kind of themes running through the new series. The anti-war message in The Christmas Invasion may have been rather jarring and unsubtle, but otherwise, many good solid messages have been present in the Doctor's reactions to things without preaching. This evening, his anger at the deprivation of an army of lab-subjects of their rights was entirely fitting with the series. Last year we were presented with villains who were: manifestations of the excesses of plastic around today (Autons), a racial purist (Cassandra), a family of private businesspeople who have infiltrated government and intend to harm the Earth for their own financial gain (the Slithe'en), a Nazi (a Dalek!), Rupert Murdoch (The Editor), foolish amounts of faith in science (the Nanobots responsible for the gas mask disease), an alien who threatens the local area and subsequently the Earth with a nuclear power plant (a Slithe'en again), and more Daleks.

Deliberately left out of the above list, as any fans amongst you will realise, are the Gelth, the gaseous race from the Charles Dickens episode fairly early in last year's series. The reason for this is that, in fact, when you think about it, the villains of that piece are... asylum seekers. Doctor Who is not an infallible bastion of liberal values, it would seem. Interestingly, at the time it went out, we were, of course, in the middle of the "it's not racist to impose limits on immigration" election of 2005. And at the time, it provoked a small storm within fandom when Lawrence Miles, in my opinion the greatest author the novel line produced, reviewed the episode in an extroardinarily over the top way, holding writer Mark Gatiss personally responsible for allowing such messages through. Fans fell on him like a ton of bricks, prompting a full retraction of the personal comments he made, and later, reassured that the series as a whole had not gone off message, he apologised for the whole thing.

The fact remains, though, that the episode's subtext jarred for me, and I agree with him fully that it's not a terribly Doctor Who one to let slip under the radar, especially past someone like Russell T Davies. But should we be worried about such a source of indoctrination for kids? Not really; Doctor Who may be liberal, but frankly most other sci-fi isn't. I don't think it's any accident that Doctor Who feels so British.

Look at Star-Trek: An unpleasantly boring socialist utopia if ever I saw one (society all so homogenised, no money, etc) - oh, and don't tell me the Borg are communists...

And as for most other TV sci-fi, it doesn't take a great leap of imagination to see the American imperialist agenda in most of the Big Boys in Boots that gets heaped out onto our screens.

So: the moral of the story is, it's always nice to see the show on message for its semi-triumphant return.