Sunday, 14 February 2010

Someone call the Doctor

When it comes to significant cultural landmarks, Sylvester McCoy's tenure as the seventh incarnation of Doctor Who is right up there with Glenn Medeiros and So Haunt Me. And yet, despite the fact that his own family must need flash cards to remind them who he is, he's hitting the headlines today for his legacy as the eponymous Timelord.

It turns out that Sylvester's time in the stripy scarf and blue phone box was laden with powerful political subtext, since it occurred during Margaret Thatcher's reign of terror. According to a revelatory article in today's Mail (only twenty years out-of-date) there was a vast liberal conspiracy within the BBC, that felt it could topple the Iron Lady with a weekly science fiction show that relied upon a special effects cupboard filled with egg-boxes and glitter gel.

Margaret Thatcher made a number of enemies during her 11 years at Number 10, including miners, teachers, nurses, children, gays, the Irish and the whole of Argentina. So it's hardly surprising that the artistic community felt compelled to speak out about her ruthlessness - indeed, she's made appearances in more songs than the lyric "Put your hands up in the air, wave 'em around like you just don't care".

1980s Doctor Who Script Editor Andrew Cartmel remains unapologetic about his contribution to the world of science fiction, telling the Sunday Times that "My exact words were, 'I'd like to overthrow the government'. I was very angry about the social injustice in Britain under Thatcher and I'm delighted that came into the show. Critics, media pundits and politicians didn't pick up on what we were doing. Nobody really noticed or cared."

The thing is, if anyone had noticed the anti-Maggie sentiment running through the show, it's unlikely that they would have been particularly surprised. Science Fiction has always been the ideal platform for exploring political ideologies and social tensions, as Avatar and Caprica are currently demonstrating.

Sylvester McCoy has also weighed in on the subject, saying "Our feeling was that Margaret Thatcher was far more terrifying than any monster the Doctor had encountered. The idea of bringing politics into Doctor Who was deliberate. We were a group of politically motivated people and it seemed the right thing to do."

The Mail, however, disagrees, describing the 'Tardis revolution' as "propaganda to undermine the Tory prime minister". Particularly offensive to their delicate sensibilities was Sheila Hancock's portrayal of Helen A, "a vicious and egotistical alien ruler who banned outward displays of unhappiness among her downtrodden people and used a secret police to oppress dissidents". So nothing like the woman who triggered the poll tax riots, eviscerated the NHS and banned teachers from discussing homosexuality with troubled students.

By the end of the eighties, Doctor Who was scoring the same kind of ratings as an Open University broadcast on conversational Polish, and it was cancelled soon after.

So there's a delicious irony in the fact that now the Doctor is more popular than ever. Especially since the resurgence in his popularity is largely thanks to the work of Russell T Davies, an out gay man who was characterised as a second class citizen by the Tories' ludicrous Clause 28.

If there's one things that sci-fi has taught us, it's that the underdog will always rise up and overthrow the evil Empire.

No comments:

Post a Comment