Concerning Tivolians


What a waste of Paul KayeHappy Slaves

All those Doctor Who fans who were disappointed by the way the Ood were depicted in ‘Planet of the Ood’, and who wanted them to be a race of happy slaves, will be happy now that Toby Whithouse has provided them with the Tivolians.


I’m not sure how many people that actually was, but I had conversations at the time of ‘Planet of the Ood’ with people who thought it would’ve been ‘interesting’ if the titular planet had been the planet of people who voluntarily wore slave hats. It seems that some people would’ve found this edgy or different or difficult or challenging or something.


The concept of the happy slave has been treated in SF. Rather extensively actually. The robot is basically created to be just that. The word even comes from ‘robota’, the Czech word for the drudgery of serfs. Perhaps the problem is that the happy slave so often rebels for the sake of drama, and ruins the fantasy. Asimov’s robots, for instance. The Dumbs and Vocs of Kaldor City. Even Marvin grumbles to the point of infuriating his owners into insanity (Douglas Adams did also give us the cow who wants to be eaten, but that is clearly a piss-take intended to make us as uncomfortable as it makes Arthur Dent). But arguably the most famous robots in all modern global culture - C3PO and R2D2 - are manifestly happy slaves, never doing or saying anything to question their subject status, and even enthusiastically co-operating with our heroes, the goodies, who are also their owners and slave drivers. You wonder how people can have the idea that there’s anything transgressive or challenging - or even unusual - about an idea, when it is literally one of the focal aspects of the biggest fictional media franchise in history. To be honest, I even wonder why some fans feel so starved for happy slaves in Doctor Who. I mean, you’ve had at least one as a major companion! Or wasn’t K9 enough for you, Master?


I’m happy to accept that it’s possible to want to see such a depiction without having sinister motives (though I admit to finding it hard to think of quite how). However, there’s something inherently worrying to me about it.


At best it suggests that people are bored by stories about resistance to tyranny, and rebellion, and liberation. This certainly seems to be supported by the number of people who will respond to stories about such things with sighs of “Oh is slavery wrong? Thanks for telling us”. The assumption here is that we all know that slavery is wrong so we don’t need to be told, and a text that tries to tell us that slavery is wrong is inherently engaging in fatuous preaching. Which is completely untrue.


Firstly, how the hell do we supposedly learn that slavery as an institution exists or existed, and was/is wrong, if not by partaking of a cultural conversation on the subject from a young age?


Secondly, shall we check the number of widely-held cultural and social and political truisms which are regularly rehearsed and reinforced in the media? And shall we see how many of them make people groan about being preached at? Shall we check how often the utterly politically safe ones get grumbled about, compared to the ones that remind us of things that power might like us to forget?


And for another thing, there’s an unwarranted assumption here: namely that we do know such things. A huge number of us choose not to know - or care - about slavery, past or the present, or to minimize and excuse it. Many of us - particularly the relatively privileged amongst us - are prepared to tut at the slavery of the olden days as a Bad Thing, while refusing to face its legacy, secure in the knowledge that we wouldn’t have had any truck with it if we’d been there. Enlightened liberals that we are, we know so much better than the numpties of the past. And it’s all over now anyway, and was a long time ago, and didn’t I read somewhere that Africans sold slaves to Europeans so obviously it’s partly their fault?, and wasn’t there something in the paper about how slavery was actually helpful to the slaves?, and so on. Meanwhile, we’re prepared to tolerate modern slavery (both literal and figurative) going on in the background of our lives, with a sigh of vague disapproval whenever anybody mentions it. Much like the Headmaster in ‘Human Nature’, we sneer at those people who talk about it for lecturing and hectoring us, for thinking they know better, and for being po-faced and right-on, etc.


I’m not saying ‘we’ actually all do this - hey, maybe you, Dear Reader, never would - but plenty of people do. It’s a mainstream attitude. This is kind-of a point that ‘Planet of the Ood’ actually makes with the Doctor’s “who d’you think made your clothes?” line. Donna gets to snap back at the Doctor for being self-righteous, and she has a point, but the episode clearly goes on to develop the issue further. Donna surely doesn’t get to the end of the story with the same willingness to shoot the messenger. (Thank goodness they put ‘Fires of Pompeii’ before ‘Planet of the Ood’. The jarring way ‘Fires’ dodges the issue of slavery completely would look even worse if it were supposed to be after ‘Planet’ in Donna’s personal development.)


I’d be tempted to wonder about why some people have such a low tolerance level for stories about resistance to tyranny. How have they become bored by this story? This story that is literally integral to human decency and progress? Apart from the fact that, to me, it seems one of the most exciting things you could possibly write stories about, it’s also a story that is comparatively neglected, especially in big mainstream culture. Things have arguably improved a tad lately, but one of the noticeable things about ‘Planet of the Ood’ at the time was how unusual it was both for Doctor Who and the culture industries generally to do a story like it. It came before the fashion for movies based on YA dystopian fiction. It came before Avatar (which is an attempt at such a story, albeit a crashing racist failure of one). ‘Impossible Planet’ / ‘Satan Pit’ and ‘Fires of Pompeii’ were much more typical at the time, with their near total disregard for the issue - the very lapse which ‘Planet of the Ood’ seemed designed to address.



What an antirely appropriate use of David WalliamsThe Worse Angels of Our Nature


It makes no sense whatsoever for Gibbis in ‘The God Complex’ to be most afraid of the Weeping Angels.


Admittedly, they don’t enslave you, but that seems a weak version of a Tivolian’s greatest horror. I mean, mad gorillas injure you without enslaving you, but Gibbis isn’t the one with a mad gorilla in his room. Of all the things that might hurt you but not enslave you, why pick on the Weeping Angels particularly?


Besides, wouldn’t Gibbis’ worst nightmare be a slave of his own? Someone who wanted to subjugate themselves to him, to serve and obey him? (I’m on the verge of talking myself into liking him now, what with revulsion being the proper attitude to anyone wanting to subjugate themselves to you in any context other than mutually-consenting power-exchange play). You’d think he’d have been faintly disgusted when Amy tried to be friendly and comforting to him earlier in the episode. And wouldn’t he accept the Doctor’s authority unquestioningly rather than confronting him? Actually, as Phil pointed out to me when we discussed this on Twitter, surely the Doctor would be “unfathomably horrifying” to a Tivolian, being a “man who comes and liberates your society and leaves you to your own devices”. At this point in the series, the Matt Smith Doctor is still supposed to be universally famous. Upon hearing the Doctor introduce himself, Gibbis should’ve run like fuck. In fact, couldn’t the Doctor have been brought to the Hotel to occupy Gibbis’ room? That would’ve been better than the TARDIS landing there because of Amy’s faith in him, and would have obviated the entire heavy-handed thing about faith, which would’ve removed the dodgy stuff about Rita’s Muslim background (she could’ve just been a Muslim because some people are), and also removed the ridiculous sequence where the Doctor kills the monster by being mean to Amy for a minute… and I have to stop now because I’m creating alternate headcanon that’s better than what ended up on screen.


I’m puzzled as to how Tivolian society functions. They seem to have social hierarchy, if the signifiers used in their construction mean anything. So far they have been aesthetically represented as middle class, albeit in distinct ways: one as a petit-bourgeois, a funeral director; the other as a public sector worker, the equivalent of a council official. So they have bureaucrats and bosses. How does one cope with being higher up the social scale? Isn’t prestige frowned upon? Isn’t seniority and power seen as a social disgrace, and/or an intolerable shame? (I’m warming to them again!) Or perhaps they mark high status with brusque and bullying treatment. Makes you wonder how they get things done. I’m not saying that hierarchical dominance is the only way to run an efficient society (you’ll be amazed to learn that I don’t believe that), but their society doesn’t seem collectivist or radically democratic either.


I suppose a great deal hinges on whether we think their attachment to subservience is a cultural characteristic that they have developed (and which can therefore be subject to all kinds of ideological inflections and contradictions which allow the functioning of society) or something essential to them, something inborn, biologically determined. The episodes certainly seem to treat all Tivolians as essentially and inescapably similar. The Doctor blithely talks about them all being like this, and even calmly states his distaste for the entire species based on it. Worrying as this is, I’m not sure it’s fair to take Whithouse to task for biological determinism and SF race essentialism, since these are widespread, nay ubiquitous, problems which seem baked into really-existing SF. I wish I had grounds for saying that it’s out of character for the Doctor to dismiss an entire race based on having met one or two of them, and thus decided that they’re all rotten… but I can’t honestly do it. I said as much to Phil on Twitter and he objected, saying that he struggled to think of a non-monster species (i.e a species represented by “recognisable actors”) which got that treatment, apart from the borderline case of the Androgums. But I’m not sure that the issue of monstrosity helps. It seems just as race essentialist when the Doctor calls an entire species - the Jaggaroth - as “a vicious, callous, warlike race” who deserve to go extinct.


I guess the Tivolians submit to the governmental authority of whoever is currently occupying their world. Which makes me wonder if they crave occupying governments because they themselves how no idea how to organise their society. We seem to have arrived back at the original problem with them, which is that they represent a rather icky and gloating iteration of the idea of people fearing freedom. The problem is still that this challenges some sentimental platitudes at the expense of embracing others, that it hints at all sorts of reactionary ideas which justify and shore up unjust, inhuman power structures. Ultimately, the problem can be simplified into the phrase: victim-blaming.


There are diffuse implications for all forms of coercion: political, military, even sexual. Notice the sexualised, quasi-subby way Prentis behaves at times in ‘Before the Flood’. This is - at best - kink-shaming; at worst it suggests that non-consensual sexual/domestic domination is actually secretly welcomed by the victims. The implication is not loud, and is almost certainly accidental, but it’s there, and it’s ugly.


The Tivolians also remind me of those developing countries competing for neoliberal investment and IMF loans, achieved at the cost of austerity, which ultimately decimate their countries’ social fabrics… except that they contain no hint of context, still less of critique. It’s actually disturbing how little censure the invaders of Tivoli get for invading. Admittedly, the Fisher King is depicted in negative terms, and is roundly opposed by the Doctor… but he is depicted as a bog-standard baddie with little in the way of intelligible politics, and the Doctor’s main issue with him is the way he has treated the people he’s turned into ghosts. It’s true that this gives the Doctor a great line that I love - “You’ve robbed these people of their deaths” - and that one of the people thus humiliated and cheated is Prentis the Tivolian… but that’s the nearest thing we see to actual solidarity we see the Doctor grant a Tivolian. Indeed, as noted, he is hostile towards them, outright stating that he doesn’t like them as a race (he really shouldn’t be saying stuff like that in 2015). The Tivolians, in line with their nature as self-abnegating quislings, agree with them that they provoke dislike. It’s only a short step from that to the implication that they deserve it. Their oppression, through the attitudes it fosters in them and thus of them, becomes it’s own justification.


The idea of the victim welcoming the victimiser - especially when couched in explicit terms of conquered welcoming conquerors - ties in with some very old and offensive colonialist ideas about native peoples. The ideology of colonialism - particularly settler colonialism such as that upon which South Africa, the United States, and Israel are based - is contradictory, but one big strain in it is that the conquered peoples actually need and benefit from being conquered. The liberal justification for colonialism has usually been that the native peoples abnegate their historic right to control their own country because, being ‘less advanced’ or ‘more primitive’, they cannot make proper use of it. They cannot utilise and develop it to the full possible extent. It is up, then, to the ‘more advanced’ peoples (or ‘superior races’ if you want the right-wing formulation) to step in and bring the benefits of civilisation. Even as they bring technology, big agriculture, formal democracy (eventually, if you’re lucky) etc, they also bring political oppression, poverty, capitalist exploitation, etc, and the thing is usually achieved by war and conquest. The natives inhabitants, who are supposed to benefit from the coming of the enlightened technocrats and democrats of Western civilisation, more often than not find that they actually end up benefiting from slavery, genocide, ethnic cleansing and apartheid. And yet the ideology is always that we’re doing them a favour. We’re pushing history forward onto a better future for all. Poems depict joyful brown citizens of the nation about to be invaded chanting “The Saxons are coming! Our freedom is nigh!”. It’s our manifest destiny to bear the white man’s burden. In the process we can teach and tutor and encourage the ‘less developed’ until, with our guidance, they’re ready for freedom themselves, and can take their place alongside us in the empire of liberty. Variations of these ideas are to be found coming from liberals (Tocqueville, Mill, Bertrand Russell), conservatives (Churchill), and socialists (the Second International). Marx and Engels flirted with their version of the same thing before history gave them some lessons and they thought better of it. You get the same basic idea touted by the pro-war liberals and leftists today, alongside the neocons. When they fly into ecstasies about elections in Iraq, they’re basically saying that Iraqis needed us to storm in and teach them about democracy for their own good - at gunpoint. The point is that, in these narratives, even if the conquered native peoples aren’t grateful - and we often tell ourselves that they are - then they damn well should be.


As Fanon might’ve said: the Tivolians have internalized the feelings of inadequacy and dependency that are fostered by colonial domination. They thus embrace the domination and ideology of the colonizer. Yet the Tivolians are not this syndrome depicted as something terrible. On the contrary, they are a cute joke. And, more importantly, they are the cart of subjection put before the horse of subjugation. They welcome conquerors even when there are none. They crave conquerors to provide them with feelings of inadequacy and dependency. They are, apparently by nature, the lazy inferiority, the blank space, that the imagination of the colonizer puts over the reality of the colonized. The Tivolians are not wearing Fanon’s ‘white masks’; they are white masks, with nothing underneath.


You can extend the metaphor to class domination and exploitation. You can make the Tivolians into a metaphor for something that a great many people will tell you is a tragic, transhistorical truth about humanity: that we are inherently prone - be it by divine edict, fallen spirit, or biological destiny, or whatever - to subjugate ourselves, to seek subjugation, to willingly seek domination by (to be a bit Nietzschean about it) the wills to power that permeate the entire world, and to seek perverse comfort in various slave moralities. You might object that it’s contradictory to criticise the Tivolians for implying a metaphor both about native peoples conquered by Westerners and a similar metaphor about all humanity… but by doing so they only mirror the contortions and contradictions of bourgeois ideology itself. Ideology doesn’t have to make sense in order to work, remember.


(I’d be tempted to say that the faux-Soviet inflected backdrop of ‘Before the Flood’ imparts a tinge of good old-fashioned anti-communism to the scenes where Prentis grovels to his glorious leaders… but I’m not sure the episode is sufficiently aesthetically coherent for this to be a thing.)


I think it amounts, in a very real sense, to a lie-by-omission to not tell stories about oppression and resistance, since such things go to make up such a significant chunk of human life and history. How much more of a lie to tell stories about people who want to be oppressed, and who like it? Trouble is, this is a troublingly popular narrative in mainstream culture (one that tends to get far fewer more-grown-up-than-thou groans than do ideas that get pilloried for being right-on). This grovellingly misanthropic idea is one of Joss Whedon’s recurring ticks (he sets it up to be knocked down, but he keeps setting it up again). The idea is that there is some dark flaw in humanity which makes us secretly long for Hitler or Loki or whoever to come along and enslave us, to take the burden of freedom off of our shoulders.


Part of me sees some appeal in the way it contradicts sentimental platitudes. There may be something attractive in the apparent transgressiveness of the idea. It is seen as repudiating something widely acknowledged (and less widely examined) as inherently human, or inherent to sentience: the desire for individual freedom, the yearning for self-determination. I’m not saying that’s entirely untrue, still less am I saying that it’s a bad thing (like Marx, I’m totes in favour of individual freedom). The trouble is that it is so often presented as a lachrymose and sugary bromide, with freedom presented as a nebulous, undifferentiated concept, as if it doesn’t matter what kind of freedom we’re talking about, or whose freedom we’re talking about. Freedom as a complete and unquestionable good in and of itself, equally available to all people on a level playing field analogous to the mythical equilibrium of market economies. Actually there must be limits to freedom, and a social context for it which takes differentiation into account, if freedom is to mean anything beyond extended privilege. I’ll be called a moral relativist, but (as always) the real moral relativists are the ones saying that one law for the lion and ox is not oppression. The bourgeois liberty to please oneself often disregards the corresponding rights of others. Bourgeois society is structured in such a way that so much of the personal liberty it provides for some is actually achieved by the oppression and exploitation of others. The liberal democracies were built on slavery and genocide. And they still are. Who d’ya think made your clothes? And then there are the attendant masturbatory fantasies about rugged individualists and John Galt and all that.


So yeah, I can see how throwing a spotlight on a certain fear of freedom, a certain instinct to conform, might be thrilling to someone who sensed the limitations of the idea of bourgeois liberty. The trouble is that this tactic not only fails to address any of the real limitations and contradictions of the idea of bourgeois liberty, and fails to point out that the fear of freedom is itself a product of alienation, but that it also substitutes one sentimental platitude for another. There is nothing more sentimental, more vacuous, more self-indulgent, more lachrymose and cloying, than beating one’s breast about the original sin of fallen humanity. (That’s why it’s so ironic that Hitchens opens God Is Not Great, supposedly his great rejection of all doctrines of original sin and rallying call to humanity to transcend its archaic limitations, with a quote from Fulke Greville which bemoans the “wearisome condition of humanity”, supposedly forever bound to be caught between contradictory impulses.)



The Organ GangGive Surrender a Chance


Of course, the Tivolians are not just depicted as happy slaves, or as the colonized, or as victims who beg for it (and maybe even need it). They’re also depicted as pacifists and cowards… which is, unfortunately, not far from being a tautology according mainstream narrative culture generally. In many such depictions, pacifism becomes nothing more than the political justification of cowardice.


It might be tempting, at first blush, to say that this is true of Doctor Who. We might want to say that the Tivolians are not just the Ood done right (according to some); they also today’s Thals or Dulcians.


The initial puzzle of the Thals in ‘The Daleks’ is whether they are pacifists from instinct or from spurious ideological conviction. This is the meaning of Barbara’s puzzling formulation: “Yes, but are they really pacifists? I mean, genuinely so. Or is it a belief that's become a reality because they've never had to prove it?” The underlying assumption seems to be that “genuine” pacifism is instinctual, functionally the same as natural inborn passivity, whereas any form of socially chosen, ideological pacifism is inherently bogus, a self-delusion that masquerades as reality but which waits to be disproved by eventual and inevitable contact with some threat. The trajectory of the Thals within the story - and indeed within the whole of Doctor Who - backs up this take on things. Immediately after Barbara voices this sentiment, the Doctor shows her a depiction of an ancient That holding a sword and asserts “They were the warriors then”, which Barbara takes to be highly significant. It proves, I suppose, that pacifism is not part of the Thals’ inherent nature, which is expressed in race-essentialist terms with inflections of biological determinism (because Terry Nation rarely did anything but uncritically accept the most reactionary cliches of SF).


The way Ian shocks that Thals out of their collective delusion that they are inherently peaceful is by, essentially, reminding Thal males to be manly. The underlying assumption about pacifism here is that there is something feminized, or unmasculine, about a society that practices pacifism (which is a point about the Thals that Holly, Phil and James make in a forthcoming City of the Dead podcast).  The Thals are depicted as noble - indeed, they’re far too noble and Aryan for comfort, what with them being blond, athletic, high-minded farmers - but also as decadent, weakened, declining, increasingly neutered. At least one of them is terminally cowardly. This is all very Nazi-esque (c.f. the völkisch movement) and very characteristic of reactionary ideas generally. As Corey Robin has pointed out, the idea that the ancien regime which needs protecting is also weak and faltering is a quintessential reactionary preoccupation.


There’s certainly a continuity with the Tivolians here, with the unfortunately camp way that both Tivolians are sometimes played on screen, and with the implication that their society is not only weak but also grey and pedestrian and boring.


The truth is that discussions of pacifism such as the one we get in ‘The Daleks’ and ‘The Dominators’ are rigged. Pacifism is set up to lose. It is never given space or time to make a case for itself or argue its corner. That’s because such depictions are usually written by people who are in a rush to moralise and fingerwag at pacifism, while knowing little about it.


But the funny thing is, I’m not so sure it’s always as simple as that.


I mean, look at the Dulcians, possibly the most famous example of contemptible pacifist cowards in Doctor Who. Strangely, when you peer at them, they’re not actually cowards. Rather, they are ideologically committed to an idea. And it’s hard to say that they’re wrong to be so, at least on the terms in which their world usually functions, and could reasonably have been expected to go on functioning. They have lived with the idea of “universal gentleness” as a functioning, common sense assumption for a long time… and it seems to be an idea entirely applicable to the reality of their society. The trouble us that they are thus rendered unable to comprehend, let alone effectively respond, to an aggressive outside-context problem. Well, the story rigs the game, but actually… who the hell can easily understand and respond effectively to problems so entirely out of leftfield?


(This is an issue by itself actually. Call me a stick-in-the-mud, but I always think it’s rather unfair to judge pacifists by what they’d do if aliens turned up. It reminds me of something I heard someone say walking out of the cinema after watching Independence Day: “you know, people knock the military but we’d need them if something like that happened.” Which is a classic example of a useless truth, and no real basis - in my ‘umble - to support the currently obscene global levels of military expenditure, or the realities of what the military is for. The SF trope of the pacifists who need guns when the alien invaders turn up is basically another way of stating the reactionary sneer: “yeah, go on, criticise the cops - we’ll see who you call next time you get mugged”. It resolves down into a dunderheaded and wilful determination not to see past the status quo, and the pat assumptions upon which it is built. The same sort of people who talk about being disappointed with ‘Planet of the Ood’ have been known to respond to criticisms of the reactionary politics of ‘The Dominators’ with rhetorical questions like “okay, well, so what do we do about al-Qaeda/Saddam/North Korea/Iran/ISIS/whoever-the-current-government-and-media-sanctioned-bad-guy-is-this-week? Huh?!?” In response to which I always wonder where in ‘The Dominators’ it makes clear that the Dulcians have a bigger and more destructive empire than the Dominators do, and/or that they trained and armed and funded the Dominators in the first place, and so on. The assumptions are based on ignorance of the real political and historical context, and upon the given that ‘we’ are always the good guys.)


But, to return to the Dulcians… they are obviously meant to be the writers’ stand-ins for hippies and flower power. The writers seem like crusty old gits sniping at ‘Make Love Not War’. The story looks like the 60s version of the red-faced cry of “So what do we do about al-Qaeda then?!?” but with quasi-Hitlers and/or quasi-Commies instead. What if we were all pacifists? What would we do when the militarists came a-knocking? Lie down, roll over and give up? And so on. I’m not a pacifist, and I think there are legitimate grounds to criticise pacifism (which are outside the scope of this piece and which are, in any case, easily found if you’re interested in honestly examining a non-strawman). However, ‘The Dominators’ presents only the most facile anti-pacifist argument (basically, it’s the pussies/assholes/dicks speech from Team America: World Police but less nuanced). However, the thing that makes this attack upon pacifism so repellent is not so much the specifics of how it depicts pacifism, or its ‘argument’ against it, but rather that it comes when it does, at the highpoint (’68) of the global anti-Vietnam war movement, and of the revolutionary 60s generally. It’s an intervention of a disturbingly nasty and retrograde kind, at a very well timed moment. The pertinence of the reactionary ideological address it makes is the point.


But the weird thing about ‘The Dominators’ is that it can quite easily be read against the grain. The Dulcians, as noted, adhere to an ideology that makes perfect sense for them within their context, and do so out of utility rather than cowardice. The other thing about the Dulcians is that the young people, starting with Cully but soon spreading to the others, tend to be more flexible. The Dulcians who stick to their old ways are the establishment, the government, the Director and his Council, the gerontocrats. The story swivels on a strange axis with regards to the general rebellion of the 60s. It starts out trying to be a nasty reactionary parable about how silly hippies are, and about how they should be grateful for the older generation fighting WWII… and it mutates into a story about young people fighting tyranny by throwing stones at it, while a doddering older generation sit around talking and doing nothing. All you have to do is allow yourself to see that the Dominators work just as well as metaphors for Western imperialist ‘democracies’ that trample into other people’s countries in, say, South East Asia…


A little bit of historical context goes a long way.


There’s also the question of the morality of inaction, or endurance. For instance, what could be more obviously a dodgy patriarchal fantasy than Cinderella, right? Yet I read a post on Tumblr earlier this year in which someone told of how much the story meant to them, as it is essentially a story about surviving abuse through endurance and passive resistance. Is it always so contemptible to not resist? Isn’t it sometimes all you can do? To just survive? And is that wrong? To sneer at people who survive by endurance is not nice, especially from a position of relative privilege.


To translate into more directly political terms… the Tivolians are depicted as, essentially, quislings. And yet, here again, we have the glaring lack of political context (a perennial problem with Whithouse scripts and their attempts to negotiate questions of political morality). I mean, there were plenty of quislings in Europe who kow-towed to Hitler and the Nazis. Inside Germany, bourgeois politicians helped them into power and then let the get away with setting up a dictatorship. The British empire made accommodation after accommodation with them until they realised they couldn’t eternally escape incursions on their own territory and hegemony. Various heads of state in Europe caved in to Hitler’s demands. And yet, as ever, to blame entire societies or countries for this is fatuous victim-blaming, via the ideological obfuscation inherent in the spurious ‘we’, the ‘national community’. Elites and establishments and bourgeois politicians caved in, not entire societies. Maybe the people in the street didn’t immediately take arms against the German tanks rolling up their streets, but they are comparatively powerless. They shouldn’t be blamed en masse for the cowardice, self-preservation, dirty deals and/or fascist sympathies of their rulers.


‘The Dominators’ - supposedly so egregious - singularly refuses to do so.


It comes to something when a problematic depiction of pacifists, let alone of conquered native peoples, in a notedly reactionary story from nearly 50 years ago, actually comes over as less troubling than a similar depiction today.



Matt M 5 years, 3 months ago

>what with revulsion being the proper attitude to anyone wanting to subjugate themselves to you in any context other than mutually-consenting power-exchange

To be fair that's how I actually read the Tivolians, especially after Before the Flood. I mean they actively go around soliciting for people to invade them and carry instruments of oppression. Not planet of the slaves but planet of the subs. And yes in sci-fi you can do that without any form of social realism because it's not real and by authorial fiat that's how it works, though I suppose the wider question is "why would you want to do that?" (The answer is 'because its funny lol')

On the subject of the Dominators, I find it difficult to get too riled up by it as it's such a boring story, and the anti-pacifism parts get mired with the fact that the Dulkians are also clearly anti-science/logic/anything, unless the writers are trying to say that pacifists are all literally delusional and think the rest of the world is as happy-clappy as them (which... maybe they do!)

Wow. The Dominators should take over the Tivolians. Everyone will be happy then!

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Jack Graham 5 years, 3 months ago

Yeah, that's a point actually. They are consenting, aren't they. I think the point I'd want to make is that there's a serious problem depicting an entire society as consenting to miliutary/political oppression, rather than an individual consenting to a lifestyle. It's a false equivalence. But I need to address and expand that issue. One to remember for the rewrite. Cheers.

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Ross 5 years, 3 months ago

I never really felt convinced by the whole "Consensually submissive by nature / want to be subjugated / afraid of being in control" angle, to the point that I'm not even sure it's intentional. All I really got from the Tivolians we've seen so far is "Despicable cowards". Certainly, I didn't get it at all from The God Complex. I can sort of understand it being there this time with Prentis "shopping around" for a conquerer, but it didn't feel to me like they gave it enough attention to elevate it beyond a joke. Add to that his reference to his people's submissiveness basically annoying conquerers into abandoning the place and it seemed to me like what they were going for was more that they were passive-aggressive than submissive.

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SpaceSquid 5 years, 3 months ago

Two things that complicate the consenting issue though is that the episode clearly doesn't take the angle that it's none of our business what the Tivolians choose to do with themselves, and the colossal problems inherent in confusing the idea of conditional consent in some cases with assuming total consent in all cases. Reframing the funeral directors comments about his ship having "instruments for his oppression" or whatever the line was in sexual terms rather than political terms (i.e. the Orion slave girl problem rather than the larger Tivolian problem Jack discusses above) immediately demonstrates how appalling generalisations about a group can be *made worse*, not mitigated, by finding specific examples of people from that group who actually fit the generalisation (particularly in fiction, of course). The intent isn't to see the group as a collection of individuals, it's to use the traits of that individual to justify *not* having to think of the other x million people in that group as any different.

Really, in those terms, it's pretty nauseating to think of an entire alien species about which other species are quite happy saying "They ALL want it, don't worry".

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Citizen_Alan 5 years, 3 months ago

In my head-canon (which I've been forced to rely upon because otherwise the entire concept of the Tivolians is too stupid for words), the Tivolians are actually a clever species that has somehow figured out how to weaponize pacificism through some sort of nonsensical technology or psychic power that compels invading races to act as benevolent dictators so long as the Tivolians maintain a pretense of aggressive obsequiousness. It's stupid (and almost certainly gives Whithouse more credit than he deserves) but it amuses me to think of Tivolians privately chortling to themselves as they contemplate the succession of invading races who have bankrupted themselves building infrastructure for their race before finally giving up and letting some new race of suckers invade the planet and mercifully take it away from them.

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ferret 5 years, 3 months ago

That's pretty hilarious, and side-steps a lot of the problems. However, given the two Tivolians we've met it seems to have affected their society deeply over the generations. Perhaps they chortled away at first, but now they've become - what's the prison term for when you've been in so long you can't cope outside? - ah yes: institutionalised.

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SpaceSquid 5 years, 3 months ago

I'm glad you mentioned the white man's burden; I can't think of the Tivolians without imagining them reading that poem and wishing Kipling was alive and well and with easy access to an interstellar craft packed with union flags.

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Laurence Price 5 years, 3 months ago

I find the whole question of how far we can consent to harm quite interesting... My legal knowledge is shaky in the extreme, but I seem to remember there's a basic principle of civil law- volenti non fit injuria- no injury occurs to someone who is willing. So if you ask for a scrap merchant to take away your old car you can't run down the road shouting "stop thief!". Or, alternatively, if Mr Jones freely pays someone to spank him every Thursday evening for his own gratification, he can't then complain that he's then suffered mild bruising to his bottom. He's a grown up, he's weighed up that injury and the pleasure, and he can no more complain about the results that I can when I woke up with a hangover on Monday morning after drinking a bottle of wine on Sunday night.

But this principle has an important caveat; it's tempered by the idea that for the good of society, you can't consent to anything that would constitute grievous bodily harm. So even if you were into serious BDSM and asked for someone (say) to hammer a nail into you, the hammerer would still be civilly liable and subject to criminal prosecution. I seem to remember that R v Brown [1993] is a particularly eye-watering case on this point... :o

So there are a few options for how we view the Tivolians. In seeking enslavement, are the Tivolians treating freedom as an inconvenience, like the broken down car on the drive, and their enslavers as the helpful local mechanics? Or do we see them as willing subs, weighing up a minor detriment for the greater pleasure of being slaves, like Mr Jones and his Thursday night spanking? Or, most troublingly, do we see them as deeply disordered, as the law treats the people in the R v Brown case who wanted to be seriously physically abused?

I worry that for a fairly cheap gag, Saturday's episode danced between the second and third options- laughing at the subbiness of Prentis while reinforcing a bit of moral superiority of "isn't it good that we aren't like these weirdos from the Planet of the Slaves?". And I fear that's not too many steps away from the "Get off my lawn, hippy kids!" attitude shown in The Dominators...

Shame. I really liked the first episode; I loved the Classic Who done right vibe. And Cass was such a great character. But my recurring thought throughout Before the Flood was "please don't let this be a let down..."... Ah well, some you win, some you lose.

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SeeingI 5 years, 3 months ago

A disappointing lack of juicy details, but lines like "Society must be protected against a cult of violence which presents the danger of the proselytisation and corruption of young men and the potential for the infliction of serious personal injury" make me feel there is more than a whiff of homophobia in this ruling, and I wonder how it would be ruled in a more permissive environment.

There is a big sub-culture of fat fetishists. I wonder how it would play out if, after a few years in that lifestyle, the feedee developed diabetes and sued the feeder over it?

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Laurence Price 5 years, 3 months ago

Yes, you're right that there's more than a whiff of homophobia in the Brown judgment. And it dates from the days when the age of consent was significantly higher for male homosexual sex than for heterosexual sex, with all the associated "Think of the Childen!" rhetoric... urgh.

Re fat fetishists contracting diabetes- I suppose the argument might be that the feeder had some sort of duty of care to ensure that the feedee didn't contract any illnesses as a result of being fed? But it's a very different situation from (say) getting food poisoning from an undercooked chicken in a restaurant. I think that since diabetes falls beneath the bar of serious physical harm exemplified by wounding or GBH, it might still come under the principle of volenti non fit injuria... Especially as it could be argued that contracting diabetes was a virtual certainty if you were to be regularly overfed.

So, the Tivolians!

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plutoniumboss 5 years, 3 months ago

It's easy to turn around and claim a evening's worth of BDSM fun was non-consensual rape or assault. That's a nightmare of every dom. You may recall that "Ungrateful German Man" meme, the guy who sued a hooker for asphyxiating him with her boobs.

It's not so easy to prove that I forced-fed you Big Macs for a year.

If it's going to court, the feedee would have to pull the trigger. And that means inviting all the embarrassment and media coverage. And after all that, having to prove that the feeder is more culpable. That alone would be enough to scare off any attorney. Am I on the hook for letting my lymphatic wife smoke? or for...

... wait, are we talking about homophobia?

(There's also a split between gainers and feeders. I'm part-Arab, so chubby chasing is kind of in my genes. Feederism ranks up there with cannibalism and pedophilia, in my view. If you want to post a fic about it, fine, but it shouldn't be condoned.)

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areanimator 5 years, 3 months ago

The Doctor's own origins as a benevolent White male imperialist savior figure make him a poor candidate for being the Tivolians' worst nightmare. Sure, he's clearly left some of that behind, but "the Doctor is the good imperialist fighting off the bad imperialists" is still a premise at the core of many new series episodes.

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Riggio 5 years, 3 months ago

Your reading of the Dulcians – staid, unimaginative older generation unable to adjust to the new conditions that require the young to organize resistance – is a wonderful attempt to redeem the story. And I think there's something similar to be done with the Tivolians.

In some of the spare passages of my own blogging about Before the Flood, I've thought about my own redemptive reading for the Tivolians. Your own post made me think of expanding it.

Imagine a reasonably calm, relatively pacifist people who'd just like to be left alone. But their planet is in a dense part of the galaxy, and politically, they're surrounded by 40-50 expansionist, imperialist-minded star empires all fighting each other for dominance and territory. Tivolia becomes a planet handed over as a disputed in dozens of empire vs empire wars. They never have time between conquests to build a sadly conventional path to resist conquest, becoming an interstellar empire themselves.

So they find a strategy of resistance. Welcome your occupiers. Let them march in and take over the government. They'll have better things to do than mess with your internal society because they have other galactic empires to fight. Meanwhile, become so annoying in your supplication that actually staying in the seat of Tivolia's government is more trouble than you want to deal with. Maybe they'll be so irritated that they'll even develop a distaste for empire.

Passive-aggressive resistance. Top from the bottom.

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Froborr 5 years, 3 months ago

This is MUCH funnier than the Tivolians as presented.

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taiey 5 years, 3 months ago

My headcanon exactly.
With the addendum that people chosen to go off-world are the ones best capable of playing the role to the hilt.

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EvilBug 5 years, 3 months ago

Characterization through racial profiling is a pretty lazy device and often produces ridiculous results. Although I can partially explain Tivolian mindset as being unable to develop homebrew government and relying on foreign invaders to manage their affairs. This isn't exactly unheard of, legends have it ancient Slavic people asked Vikings to rule over them, although they were invited peacefully.

As far as I'm concerned about pacifism, it has one fundamental flaw. If you are a pacifist, you turn control of your life and death over to your enemy. Maybe they decide to spare you maybe you can convince them, but you have no say in it. In a world filled with unfeeling killing machines that is Whoniverse, it's a particularly absurd attitude.

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Simon 5 years, 3 months ago

Tivolians are Space Rats (very aware that dehumanisation of a humanoid alien species is an Bad Thing). They consume their conqueror's detritus. Unobtrusive but ever-present laboratory specimens in service to the Greater Good of whomever is subjugating them. The Tivolian anthem: "Glory To [insert name here]". They submit to their overlords as a survival trait.

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SeeingI 5 years, 3 months ago

I'd be interested in hearing your take on Rob Shearman's "Jubilee" in light of this essay. I don't know if you'd heard it, but it's quite different, much more grotesque, pointed and darkly funny than the TV version (which is no knock on "Dalek;" it's for a different medium and had different functions to fulfill). The reason I find it so apropos to the discussion of the Tivolians is that every single character in it (save Evelyn) seems motivated by an absolute refusal to take responsibility for their own actions, and indeed they spend all their time denying their free will and demanding orders from those above them. This is true on the personal as well as the overall political level. Does this fall under your same critique? Anyway, just throwing that out there for consideration.

Also, FFS, this Catchpa is the worst I've ever seen. 6 tries, now!

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SpaceSquid 5 years, 3 months ago

Thank Gods it's not just me. I've always prided myself on my ability to recognise capitalised Latin letters, but this place has seriously had me questioning myself.

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SeeingI 5 years, 3 months ago

I know. I'm imagining some crap short film where an AI realizes it's not human because of a Catchpa. There'd be Coldplay or some shit on the soundtrack.

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EvilBug 5 years, 3 months ago

It didn't accept until I typed it in ALL CAPS. Stupid thing

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John Seavey 5 years, 3 months ago

Whoof. Lot to take in there. Lot to agree with, a little to disagree with. In specific, I think you're being reductionist on the scene in 'The Daleks' where Ian disrupts the Thal commitment to pacifism--it needs to be read in context of Ian's conviction in the previous scene that this is an actively immoral act, that he is asking Thals to defy their entire way of life and destroying their civilization as they know it for purely selfish reasons. Ian is disgusted with himself in that scene, and I don't think that can be overstated in any reading of that sequence.

I do think that what people are looking for when they want a "happy slave" race is an examination of the question of whether slavery has an inherent wrongness to it regardless of the opinions of the enslaved, or if it is wrong because it is involuntary and exploitative. It's roughly the same question that Douglas Adams asked humorously with the Dish of the Day--is it still wrong to eat meat if the meat wants to be eaten? I don't think it's ever been explored well, primarily because far more people make the serious argument that slaves want to be enslaved than that cows want to be steak, and so it's difficult to discuss it without becoming an apologist for exploitation, and I certainly don't think the Tivolians are a good case study. But I think that's where the urge comes from.

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EvilBug 5 years, 3 months ago

If people want to be slaves, what's wrong with enslaving them? Unless you think they deserve to suffer. And, I guess, some socio-economic reasons can be brought up.

Slavery apologists used this argument because this argument is valid, although it's currently assumed it's not true. In fictional context if it is self-evidently true, what's wrong with it?

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evilsoup 5 years, 3 months ago

Off the top of my head, two objections:

1. What if they change their mind?

2. People are products of the societies that produce them. Is it just a coincidence that some people want to be slaves and other want to be masters? Is it acceptable to raise some people to want to be slaves?

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Jack Graham 5 years, 3 months ago

The fictional representation carries connotations for the real world.

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Lambda 5 years, 3 months ago

What does it actually mean to "enslave" people who want to be slaves. Telling people to do things isn't enslavement, they can ignore you if they choose. Nothing is needed to make these people who want to be slaves obey you, because they want to do what you tell them. The only case in which "enslaving" them becomes a meaningful action is if they later decide they don't want to do what you tell them any more, but they now have no power to just walk off. In which case, no, they don't want to be slaves.

A consensual slave is no different to someone just willingly doing what they're told all the time.

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numinousnimon 5 years, 3 months ago

Thanks. This sums up brilliantly all the things that bother me about the tivolians.

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Lambda 5 years, 3 months ago

What I was hoping for with the ood was an examination of the possibility of humanity creating willing slave intelligences, (most obviously AI, but organic technology might prove superior,) by a kind of artificial evolution; creating an environment where some kind of human-pleasing was the key to survival and/or reproduction, and developing the technology like that. This seems likely to result in an intelligence utterly unfamiliar to us.

It's obviously not relevant to anything which exists in the present day or the past, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was actually happening in a couple of decades, and I'm not sure what to think about it, so some science fiction about it would be helpful for cogitation. (Plus all sorts of fascinating angles emerge on various other matters, stuff like what consciousness is.) The closest thing I can think of in fiction I'm familiar with is Kryten from Red Dwarf and his delight in laundry, and obviously, that's played for comedy. Conventional robots tend to just have slightly modified human-like intelligences. (Unsurprising since the human audience needs to be able to relate to them, of course.)

(And I'm not convinced that Planet of the Ood does a very good job of being an anti-slavery story anyway, which is the other half of the disappointment. Having the Doctor apologise after the "cheap shot" line rather defangs it, what would be wrong with just letting it hang uncomfortably? And having introduced real-world slavery through the notion of sweatshops, being a slightly more subtle form of slavery working through the violence inherent to unbalanced property relations and so on, its slavery ends up looking nothing like an average viewer's notion of places where cheap clothes get made, which just casts it as the kind of thing which doesn't happen any more. And having the Doctor and Donna thanked for just listening doesn't seem like a very good way of avoiding the "white saviours are what stops slavery" problem, since the viewer at home who is just listening has now been thanked and doesn't have to do anything. It seems like it's trying to make good points, but is too afraid of alienating its audience to actually do it. (Although the usefulness of introducing this to children is a good point.)

I love the way From the New World tackles the issue. It's like one of those productions where Jack will point out how the antagonists actually have by far the better points, except the show secretly agrees, only ever presents them as bad from a "human" perspective, never an objective one, and reveals the truth behind it all at the end. The viewer is given a fair chance to identify slavery which is "hidden in plain sight" in a similar way to how it's hidden for modern Westerners, before learning just who they are and how they're actually treated. But it does have a whole series to play with, so not really a fair comparison.)

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evilsoup 5 years, 3 months ago

revulsion being the proper attitude to anyone wanting to subjugate themselves to you in any context other than mutually-consenting power-exchange play

Why is there an exception there? If the idea of your sexual partner wanting to subjugate themselves to you doesn't fill you with revulsion (or at least worry), I don't think that says anything good about you.

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Jack Graham 5 years, 3 months ago

Well I'm specifically talking about play.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 5 years, 3 months ago

I admit, I tend to think the burden of proof rests on someone who wants to criticize people's sex lives to establish harm, so I'd kind of want to turn the question around: why is this a domain you don't think should be an exception?

For my part, my strong understanding is that there's a pretty firm consensus that using sex to explore power relations can be done in a psychologically healthy and fulfilling way.

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Citizen_Alan 5 years, 3 months ago

"All those Doctor Who fans who were disappointed by the way the Ood were depicted in ‘Planet of the Ood’, and who wanted them to be a race of happy slaves, will be happy now that Toby Whithouse has provided them with the Tivolians."

I suppose it's possible I fit into this category, although I certainly am not pleased with the incredibly pointless Tivolians. Some context might be nice though. Prior to PotO, the only story in which the Ood appeared was the Impossible Planet/Satan Pit two-parter in which they are explicitly described as a slave race with no purpose but to serve. The guy who /gave/ that brief description seemed to have no idea where they originally came from, and my understanding of the Ood at that time was that they were a genetically engineered servant race that humans had somehow stumbled across and claimed for themselves. The Doctor himself never seemed to be even slightly bothered by the enslavement of the Ood at that point.

Now personally, I thought the idea of a genetically engineered slave race that somehow fell into the human race's hands was interesting because it raised the issue of what are one's ethical duties towards a creature that is inherently incapable of desiring a state of non-servitude. It's interesting to me that Jack compares them to droids, because in TIP/SP, they're basically treated like fleshy robots, and if the Ood HAD been robots, no one would have given a shit about a bunch of them falling into a black hole. And speaking of droids, should it affect one's views about droids that we actually SEE C3PO constructed out of spare parts by a 10-year-old child? And still look upon him as a poor slave deserving of his freedom instead of an oddly shaped communications tool that has a really advanced user interface? Or to put that another way, how many more advances should I expect from my IPhone before I have to start respecting Siri's autonomy and negotiate with her about what her wages should be?

To me, the Ood weren't droids so much as equivalents to the house elves from Harry Potter and the Alpha Primitives from Marvel's The Inhumans. Both of them are biological constructs. The former have individual identities but the latter are a clone species. Both were created in the ancient history of the current societies they serve. Both actively desire to serve (Dobby notwithstanding), become distraught at the thought of freedom, and apparently will weaken and die if prevented from serving. With those factors in mind, I thought the ethical implications of the Ood as a genetically engineered slave race and how humans should treat them might yield some interesting stories.

Then, PotO actually aired, and all that went out the window. Instead, the Ood were a species that evolved naturally (if implausibly) and were enslaved by an EVIL CORPORATION run by EVIL HUMANS who held the species hostage by keeping the Ood's GIANT RACE BRAIN in a vat and shocking it with electrodes.

In short, I was disappointed with PotO not because I didn't get my "happy slave race" or whatever, but because I thought it was a fucking stupid episode that ruined the Ood as a concept.

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Jack Graham 5 years, 3 months ago

I can confirm that, when I wrote about fans who were unhappy with the portrayal of the Ood, I wasn't thinking of anyone who has (so far) posted a comment under this article. :-)

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Elizabeth Sandifer 5 years, 3 months ago

Yeah, you have to remember, poor Jack was active on GallifreyBase through much of the Davies era.

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Tales to Enrage 5 years, 3 months ago

As an American, I have a specific resonance against the argument for happy slaves, that of the Lost Cause rhetoric in the American South. It didn't start with the Civil War-there's plenty of slaveholders who wrote about how they treated their slaves well and they were happy, so there you abolitionist busybodies-but there was a LOT of literature and early movies created about how THIS plantation had happy slaves, and really they were doing fine before this whole Northern War started and wrecked the joint. Anyone who pines for the Antebellum South here in the US is at best unaware of the poisonous source of such ideas, or at worst willfully ignorant and enthusiastically spreading the idea.

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Citizen_Alan 5 years, 3 months ago

Good God, Yes! I live in North Mississippi, and if I ever go on a murderous killing spree, it will be because one person too many has said in my presence that antebellum slaves were treated well and that the REAL cause of the war was Northern tariffs and crap like that .HAAAAATE!

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Nat 5 years, 3 months ago

"The concept of the happy slave has been treated in SF. Rather extensively actually. …I’m happy to accept that it’s possible to want to see such a depiction without having sinister motives (though I admit to finding it hard to think of quite how). However, there’s something inherently worrying to me about it.”

You’ve just described dog ownership, according to most people who prefer dogs to cats as pets. And the discomfort of being the owner is a large part of why I’ve never had a pet dog, and likely never will. Timothy Ferris had a fascinating bit about that in The Mind’s Sky, using dogs and humans as an analogy for humans and paternalistic benevolent aliens. He used the metaphor of “personal gods” rather than “owners”, but I think the general analysis stands up to it.

And if you don’t find the notion of domestic dogs and their owners discomforting, I put to you that there is a model for the happy slave that you are comfortable with.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 5 years, 3 months ago

I'm not sure slavery without consciousness is a meaningful concept.

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UrsulaL 5 years, 3 months ago

World leaders in the 1930s get a bad rap for having negotiated with Hitler. But really, it is only in retrospect that we know that Hitler was a Hitler. And we know that only because great effort was made to reach a peaceful alternative to the European part of WWII, and Hitler showed who and what he was.

But since then, I think the lesson learned has been a dangerous one. The problem with "don't negotiate with a Hitler" is that it is quite hard to tell, in advance, what leader will be a Hitler. Not just in ideology, but in effectively carrying it out.

And "we have to go to war, because we can't negotiate with a Hitler!" can (and has) be used to justify any war, however pointless it turns out to be, often with worse results than what the so-called Hitler was actually doing that was used to justify the war.

"Give peace a chance" seems the sensible option. Try diplomacy, and negotiation, and even giving in to some demands at the negotiating table (because if you refuse to give in to anything, it isn't really negotiating), and see if it works. But it is hard to document. Who knows how many wars have been averted by successful diplomacy?

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David Anderson 5 years, 3 months ago

Another person who thought that the Ood worked better in Impossible Planet.
I think they worked because they made one morally uncomfortable. That is, they raised the questions of how slaves are represented by slave owners as willing, the questions of how people internalise ideology, and similar questions, without providing their own answers. As with a lot of sf, they cast light on reality by showing reality as it is not.
The problem I think with Planet of the Ood isn't so much that it shows a slave rebellion, but that it starts out by presenting it as a mystery about whether the society is unjust and then triumphantly keeps proclaiming that it is really unjust. (I keep thinking of Phil's essay on Song of Megaptera as the contrast case, where the question of whether space whaling is morally wrong is answered immediately in the negative, freeing the episode up to do other things.)
And 'we freed the slaves' is, along with opposing Hitler, one of the things the UK national ideology prides itself on. Which the UK did end the Atlantic slave trade, but it's hardly as morally clear cut as that, and anyway the UK went on to use it to justify imperial land grabs. So a story about, no slavery is bad, has a rather too cosy relationship with UK national ideology.
In this context the Doctor's sweatshop comment comes over as a bit of a sixth form debating society point, rather than any serious critique, especially as Donna says so. At this point in the Davies-era it's been established that the companion and Doctor have moral roles. The Doctor take the big morally ambiguous consequentialist decisions that somebody has to take - the dirty hands roles; the companion takes on the angel in the house role of moral principles and compassion uncompromised by dirty decisions. So on this question the moral logic of the Davies-era is clear: Donna isn't really morally compromised by sweatshop labour, because she's the companion and the companion isn't morally compromised,

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LordRiven 5 years, 3 months ago

The 'robots are slaves" argument only works if you accept robots as sentient. To my mind Data is sentient, C-3PO and R2-D2 are not. To wit: if you erased Data's memory banks and rebooted him, he would no longer be the entity known as Data: his thoughts, feelings, experiences - everything that made him the evolving creature we know him to be - would be lost. The entity that would then live its life would then form a new personality: imagine Data raised by Vulcans, or Klingons, or other species with different priorities than humans.

C3PO and R2D2, however, are merely software in endearing casing. Both have their memories wiped, both experience no change in personality. They have no characters arcs in six movies: R2D2 and C3PO in the Phantom Menace are emotionally identical to themselves in The Return of the Jedi (and, undoubtedly, the Force Awakens. R2D2 is spunky and independent, C-3PO is a worrywart. Their program might be unique, making R2D2 different from all other R2 models, and 3PO distinct from all protocol droids, but singular programming does not sentience equate. They are tools - chatty tools - but not entities in-and-of-themselves. That's anthropomorphism on our part (aided and abetted by the script, of course.)

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John 5 years, 3 months ago

Surely the fact that we've so far only seen working-class (petit-bourgeois if you like) Tivolians is telling. What if a predilection for being oppressed wasn't inherent in the species (how could it be, really?) but instilled by the leading classes (who, for pragmatic or corrupt reasons perhaps, have found it convenient) as a form of false consciousness?

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