Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005
A Time Lord goes into politics.

Beware spoilers!

When the first episode of the two-part Dr Who series that has just finished came out I loved it. I also liked the second episode, "World War Three", but less so. There was a foolish anti-Tony Blair crack near the end that gave it relevance to Biased BBC, so I posted about it there. There are some entertaining comments to that post about evil profit-making aliens and the appalling fact that we seem to have surrendered our independent deterrent to the UN several years ago.

It is a pity that one quip obscured the many good aspects of the episode. I particularly liked the way that minor characters such as Mickey and Rose's mother were rounded out. (I agree with Joe Newbery, quoted by Patrick Crozier in the post linked to below, that the Doctor himself should not be rounded out.) Mickey's quiet refusal of the chance to see the galaxy was touching. He stepped out of being a joke character and became a person with self-knowledge. It was sad, too, when Rose's mother pleaded with her not to go. The Doctor was rather a git about that, wasn't he? He could at least have stayed for the meal and done something to reassure her. That he did not was believable: Time Lords don't do reassurance, hugs, phatic communication, or shepherd's pie. They do do status, which is why the Doctor's tact returned when it came to saving Mickey's pride. He made a big show of refusing to have Mickey on board on the grounds that he was a "liability": better to be thought a klutz than a coward.

Patrick Crozier says:

Doctor Who has always been profoundly political. The Daleks are the Nazis. Davros is Hitler. The Sun Makers (a Tom Baker-era story) was all about sky-high taxes. The Sea Devils is all about the Ulster Troubles. It is one of the great strengths of science fiction that it is much easier to discuss political issues than it is with straight drama. That an episode might try to make an (apparently) left-wing point should come as no surprise. You can’t expect it to go all your own way.
I commented:
There is a big difference between using SF to examine the underlying structure of a political situation without the distraction of one’s present allegiances (e.g. the Sea Devils series, as you say) and the kind of over-topical political reference that does the opposite, jolts one into remembering one’s present allegiances - and forgetting about the story. The former can succeed in dramatic terms for me even when I don’t like the politics. The latter would be likely to fail even if I agreed with the politics.
There was one part of the politics that did not have the approval of my anarcho-capitalist side but which had me cheering anyway: when the MP, Harriet Jones, takes charge as the only elected person there, and in the name of the people commands the Doctor to go ahead and do whatever it takes. You tell him, lady! His initial hesitation may have added to the drama but still came across as pointless. Rose's chances of seeing the next morning were obviously increased, not decreased, by his taking action. A scriptwriter who was fully on the job and not wasting his very considerable talents kissing the BBC top brass better after the Hutton Report would have contrived some way to give this pseudo-dilemma two proper horns.

My husband was impressed by the way that the viewer couldn't tell who was going to live and die. No one wore the red shirt. In the first episode the lady pathologist looked done for but she survived. That nice private secretary to the PM did not. Sergeant Price scarpered at the right moment and presumably made it, too. On second thoughts, maybe you could tell he was going to: Russell T. Davies also wrote Mine All Mine and Swansea boys always look out for each other.

A few unclassifiable pros and cons:

- Nearly all those scenes when the Doctor made a joke before escaping were played too slowly. The soldiers had time to shoot him before the lift doors closed, especially since his joke telegraphed what he was going to do. Every time he stopped to negotiate with the Slitheen they had time to hook him by the throat with those big claws of theirs and crunch his bones like matchwood but for some reason preferred to chat.

- The news scenes were convincing. Andrew Marr played himself without exaggeration. I laughed when Rose and the Doctor ended up going home to watch the crisis on TV like everyone else.

- It was ridiculous that the Slitheen could be liquefied by acetic acid. Ridiculous, but in keeping with the traditions of Dr Who. There really ought to have been some foreshadowing of this. Perhaps the policeman-Slitheen could have shouted at a subordinate for eating chips with vinegar on duty.

- A well-thought-out touch to end the show was that Mickey was given a computer virus to wipe all mention of the Doctor from the internet. Yes. That is what would happen.