I think there is something inherently dodgy about the notion of ‘redemptive readings’. It seems to imply a determination to look at a text in a positive way that is at odds with what could be called ‘proper scepticism’. This objection is itself open to the objection that it’s silly to approach a piece of entertainment product with ‘scepticism’, especially when it is part of a series of which one is supposedly a fan. But, this loses sight of context and agency. There are various ways of choosing to watch the same thing. When you sit down to enjoy an episode of a show you like, for fun, you’re a bit odd if you’re not expecting, hoping and trying to like it. When you’re watching it with the express intention of analysing it and then writing about what it means, proper scepticism becomes appropriate. Trying to like what you’re watching becomes a somewhat iffy strategy in that context. Besides, doesn’t the necessity of trying to find ways of praising what you’re analysing tell us something in itself? This muddle also loses sight of the distinctions that are always to be found within the concept of enjoyment, distinctions that are all too often spuriously aggregated. You don’t have to think something is politically or morally correct in order to like it (though, in practice…). No more do you need to think that something is aesthetically sophisticated or beautiful in order to relish its aesthetic. Conversely, you may dislike a beautifully made piece of art which offers praiseworthy political or moral analyses. Or you may take enjoyment from the act of hostile reading itself. I, for instance, very much enjoy hating and criticising certain things, and I don’t see anything wrong with this.
This is by way of a preamble to talking about ‘The Two Doctors’, which has been subject to an attempted rehabilitation from the charge of being reactionary on the issue of race. The re-evaluation of the story has been pioneered and best expressed by Robert Shearman in About Time 6. The essence of his argument is that the Androgums are a comment on the concept of the monster as employed by Doctor Who. They are characterised as generic monsters but it is disarming when people treat them as such because they do not look like monsters. They are treated the same way as the Sontarans – all of them racially evil and hateful – but, because they do not have potato-heads or eye-stalks, this poses a problem. We notice the inappropriateness, even tastelessness, of generalising about the evil of an entire race when they look like us. We don’t blink when the Doctor describes the entire Jagaroth race as vicious and callous but it bothers us when the same racial villainy is implied about aliens who look human. Philip Sandifer recently summarized and expanded the case admirably, here.
I’m enormously tempted by this reading… and, maybe, if I’d approached ‘The Two Doctors’ with the express intention of finding a ‘redemptive reading’, I would’ve happily seized upon it. Apart from allowing me to enjoy ‘The Two Doctors’ (a story that, in many respects, I rather like) with a lighter heart, it would also address an issue that I have criticised in Who in the past. The issue is best demonstrated in ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’, in which the Doctor appears blithe about slaughtering Daleks using biological weapons but cannot make himself gun down Davros because he’s a humanoid (just about).
However, with all due respect to Shearman (which is a lot of respect), I think the ‘redemptive’ argument for ‘Two Doctors’ misses something very important: the Androgums are – in a way – made-up and costumed as monsters.
They are the jumbled ethnic ‘other’ as monster.
They are clothed in garb that is inflected with the ‘ethnic’ and/or ‘exotic’ and are given physical characteristics – red hair, heavy features, florid complexion, warts, etc – that directly connect with very old stereotypes that have been used against several groups to indicate lowness from birth (in very much the same way that David Lynch’s movie version of Dune had recently used similiar characteristics to represent the Harkonnen kinship group as biologically evil).
To be sure, the Androgums are not consistently reminiscent of any particular group of stereotypes. To a certain extent they chime with stereotypes about Scottish people (think, for instance, of the roughly contemporaneous MacAdder from Blackadder the Third… a violent, lecherous, orange-faced, ginger-haired lunatic).
Similar stereotypes – red hair, violence, dissoluteness, primitiveness – have long been used in the representation of the Irish and Irish culture. There is also something reminiscent of the Arab in the Shockeye mix. He seems to be wearing a hat that is somewhere between a turban and a ‘Tam O’Shanter’. He wears harem pants under a decoration hanging from his belt that is halfway between a plaid (it’s hard not to see an echo in Jamie’s tartans) and a rug. He has a curved, scimitar-like blade.
It will be noticed that all these stereotypes suggested by Shockeye represent groups – the Scots, the Irish, Arabs, etc – who have historically been victims of English/British imperialism. As usual, the imperial culture derides, demonizes, vilifies and appropriates the culture of its victims.
Above all, however, if the Androgums recall any set of stereotypes, it is stereotypes about Jews… very, very old ones at that.
It’s hard for us to imagine now but, when depicted on the Renaissance stage, Jewish villains like Shylock and Barabas would probably have worn ginger fright-wigs and huge comedy noses (which is disconcerting in the light of so much effort by more modern actors and producers to emphasize the complex and sympathetic aspects of Shylock). Here is some background, courtesy of Peter Ackroyd in his book Shakespeare – The Biography:
…we must never forget the stridency of the Elizabethan theatre. Shylock would have been played with a red wig and bottle nose. The play is, after all, entitled the ‘comicall History’.
…the stage image of Jews essentially came from the mystery plays, where they were pilloried as the tormentors of Jesus. In the dramatic cycle Herod was played in a red wig, for example; it represents the origin of the clown in pantomime. It was the costume of Barabas in Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta. It is, in effect, the image with which Shakespeare was obliged to work.
Shakespeare refers somewhere to Judas as red-headed, something often found in Italian and Spanish art. Judas was always painted as ‘more Jewish’ than the other apostles, for obvious reasons. As Michaelangelo asks the Pope in that Monty Python sketch: “Are they too Jewish? I made Judas the most Jewish.”
Even hundreds of years after Shylock, Dickens was obsessing over “red-headed and red-whiskered Jews” in Sketches by Boz and The Pickwick Papers. Here he is in Oliver Twist, likening Fagin to the Devil by emphasizing his red beard and toasting fork:
In a frying-pan, which was on the fire, and which was secured to the mantel-shelf by a string, some sausages were cooking; and standing over them, with a toasting-fork in his hand, was a very old shrivelled Jew, whose villanous-looking and repulsive face was obscured by a quantity of matted red hair. He was dressed in a greasy flannel gown, with his throat bare; and seemed to be dividing his attention between the frying-pan and a clothes-horse, over which a great number of silk handkerchiefs were hanging.
Interesting that Fagin is cooking meat the first time we see him. Also interesting that Shockeye too has a fondness for silk.
Shockeye – which, I can’t help notice, doesn’t exactly sound unlike Shylock – is greedy, gluttonous and cannibalistic, recalling many anti-Semitic stereotypes including the ancient blood libel, which asserted that Jews would use the blood of murdered Christian children to make their unleavened bread. (It might be objected that since Shockeye and his victims are supposedly of different races, he cannot be called a cannibal, but this concentrates too much on the sci-fi rationales of the text and ignores the visual impact of a person preparing another person for butchery and consumption.) Shockeye menaces Peri in a way that is half cannibalistic and half lecherous, hardly a million miles away from endless anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish men preying upon young gentile girls.
It’s also worth noting that, in the story, the Androgums are shown to be playing both the Sontarans and the Third Zoners off against each other in an attempt to seize power themselves… exactly the kind of triangulating conspiratorial machiavellianism imagined by the forger of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, or by the Nazis, who fantasized that ‘the Jews’ were behind both capitalism and communism.
In light of all this, it is deeply unfortunate – to say the least! – that the Doctor should end up killing Shockeye with, of all things, cyanide gas.
I’m not saying that Bob Holmes, or the make-up designer, or anybody involved was being deliberately anti-Semitic (or, for that matter, anti-Scots, anti-Irish, anti-Arab, etc). I don’t believe that. But the visual references got in there anyway. These stereotypes – the red hair, the coarse features, the ‘ethnic’ trappings, the scimitar, the libels of blood lust and cannibalism, etc. – are so well established as signifiers for primitivism and inferiority in the cultural discourse of Western imperialist societies that they get rehearsed unconsciously, unthinkingly, naturally, as a matter of course.
Mind you, I do sometimes wonder if Holmes was deliberately drawing on the Jewish villains of the Renaissance stage. Shockeye seems to have been meant to work rather like Shylock or Barabas, i.e. in the way Shakespeare and Marlowe were starting to re-use the old theatrical character known as the Vice. They both recoded the Vice – the stage embodiment of a vice or vices – in the figure of a villainous Jew… who nonetheless acted as a kind of dramatic highlighter, showing up the often less than pure moral condition of the gentiles around him. Shylock conforms to stereotypes, but his plight also shows up the materialism, hypocrisy and prejudice of the Venetians. Barabas is less complex, but even his outrageous villainy can be read as a satire of the emergent capitalist culture of the Christians around him. Something similar is at work in Shockeye and, to this extent, I think Shearman and others have a point when they identify the Androgums as an attempt to interrogate some of the implicit values of Doctor Who. Shockeye’s behaviour seems – at least, at first – to show up the hypocrisy of the Third Zoners, the Sontarans, the Time Lords… not to mention the prejudice of the Doctor. Holmes really does seem to be doing this deliberately. Otherwise why go to all the trouble of having a scene where the Doctor is upbraided for not being progressive in his attitudes, right after he makes an odious remark comparing a minority to monkeys!
The Androgums seem to have been deliberately crafted as an exaggerated reflection of those they satirise. They are considered primitive yet consider humans primitives. They are power-hungry, as are the Sontarans. They assume the right to travel in time, as do the Time Lords. They are very much like Shylock and Barabas. They satirise a culture that despises them by sharing its values and turning them against those who have oppressed them.
Thing is… the production fumbles it. And fumbles it badly. The scene where Chessene can’t help lapping up the gore shows that she’s inherently, biologically, inescapably low and savage… thus justifying all the prejudice shown against the Androgums, removing any chance that they might represent a condemnation of slavery as lowering and degrading the slaves, announcing (in the, so to speak, authorial voice) that they deserve to be enslaved and/or killed, and so disspating any satire of the Third Zoners, Sontarans, Time Lords, etc. So the Androgums end up working very much like Barabas (we’re never meant to be in any doubt that he’s worse than the Christians) and less like Shylock (who remains, until the end, irresolvably ambiguous). After all, in ‘The Two Doctors’ even those ‘generic’ Sontarans are shown to be concerned with honour and to seethe at accusations of cowardice… noble attributes entirely lacking in the crude, philistine Androgums.
The story even compromises its own deliberate aim to poke at the meat industry. If the Androgums are meant to represent that aspect of humanity that is callous about farming and killing animals for food (which they clearly are – just look at the scene where Shockeye is ‘tenderising’ Jamie and saying that “primitive creatures don’t feel pain the way we do”) then this also is compromised by Dastari’s specific comparison, when he says “and he calls humans primitives!” So even we heartless, meat-munching, human carnivores are better than Shockeye.
Moreover, the idea that, as generic monsters in human shape, the Androgums represent a rebuke to the assumptions of the programme is simply untenable. The more one compares them to such generic monsters, the less of a fit they appear. They are not generic monsters in their behaviour or outlook any more than they are in appearance.
Okay, since Grendel (no, the other one) many monsters have wanted to eat people… but this has hardly been a major preoccupation of monsters in Doctor Who, which has largely drawn its quintessential ideas of the monstrous from the nightmares of modernity (fascism, biological racism, industrial genocide, technological warfare, nukes, the autonomous product, etc). And the Androgums are not just carnivores that prey on humans like, say, sirens or werewolves or zombies. They are gourmands (their very species name is an anagram of this word), obsessed with food generally. Since when has an obsession with culinary pleasure been a trait of the ‘generic’ monster?
Moreover, the Androgums are more even than just amoral gourmands. They are ideologically devoted to the maxim that “the gratification of pleasure is the sole motive of action”. They are remorseless nihilists; parodic hedonists. They cleave to the definition of the ethics of Satanism offered by Aleister Crowley: “do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”. They are, in a sense, Satanists.
Added to this is their status as slaves. Since when has the ‘generic’ Who monster been a slave? Since when has the ‘generic’ Who monster been generally considered, by all other characters, to be inherently inferior and in need of genetic enhancement? On the contrary, the more usual strategy in Who is for the villainous monsters to be the ones that think that way about everybody else… which, as noted above, would mean that ‘Two Doctors’ pulls off a nice bit of satire by ultimately painting the Third Zoners and the Doctor as akin to Daleks, were it not for the fact that the text backs them in their assumptions about the Androgums! It’d be like if the Thals turned out to be evil at the end of ‘The Daleks’, or all Silurians were shown to conform to Miss Dawson’s prejudices, or the Mutts in ‘The Mutants’ really were mindless and infectious brutes.
Jews, on the other hand, were a bullied, subjected, exploited and constrained people for centuries in Christian Europe. And, at the same time, centuries of official Christian church-sanctioned anti-Semitism in Europe equated the Jews, either directly or as allies, with the Devil – as did Dickens (see above). The Androgums are far from a perfect fit with anti-Semitic stereotypes… but they fit them much better than they fit the behaviour patterns of the standard Doctor Who monster.
In order to interpret the Androgums as a satire on the concept of the monstrous in Who, one must also – for instance – see the Celestial Toymaker the same way. One must be able to see him simply as a humanoid who displays the villainy of a monster, thus satirising the usual assumption that a monster looks monstrous. However, as has been irrefutably argued by Philip Sandifer (here), the Celestial Toymaker carries unavoidable connotations of China and the Chinese. I don’t think you can argue that he is the racial ‘other’ construed as monstrous without also having to concede the same about the Androgums (with the caveat that they are far less straightforwardly about one specific group).
Most damaging to the Shearman/Sandifer reading is the scene where, upon her death, Chessene reverts back to her ‘true’ form, the original self from which she was unable to escape even with those genetic upgrades. Her racial biology trapped her into villainy. This is not only the crudest kind of biological determinism, it also destroys the idea that the Androgum’s human appearance makes their status and treatment into a mordant comment on Doctor Who‘s usual way of demarcating the evil by way of alien ugliness. Chessene’s ‘true’ and underlying alien ugliness reasserts itself at the end. Her evil inner core is thus represented by the red eyebrows, the heavy features, the warts… just as it was earlier represented by her inability to resist tasting the sacrificial blood of someone outside her own race. Even if you don’t buy the connections I’ve drawn between these features and anti-Semitic stereotypes, it remains impossible to argue that the Androgums are not visually represented as monstrous. If anything, their monstrousness is more clearly and deliberately visually represented than that of the ‘generic’ monsters they fail to resemble. Chessene is the test case. When she looks more or less exactly the same as Dastari, she is treated more or less exactly the same. Her false ‘human’ appearance (apparently good) is explicitly contrasted with her ‘true’ Androgum appearance (bad). The moment of her reversion from the former to the latter is also the moment when her irredeemable monstrosity is finally revealed.
In this moment, her racial ‘otherness’ is her evil.
May 21, 2012 @ 2:47 pm
This is a really excellent rebuke that brings up a lot of important, difficult to ignore points: Thanks for getting this out there.
I have to wonder if much of this isn't due to Robert Holmes himself. He was never the most careful of writers: Look at the cruel feminist-bashing undertones in "The Time Warrior", his admirable-yet-misguided-and-ultimately-failed attempt to rehabilitate "Pyramids of Mars" and, well, "The Power of Kroll". Let us not forget he's also the one who penned the irredeemable racist and sexist nightmare that was "Talons of Weng-Chiang" and it was his tenure as script editor that let "The Seeds of Doom" through and brought down the wrath of Mary Whitehouse and her Thatcherite allies.
I'm not saying Bob Holmes was a bigot, far from it. What I am saying though is that he was occasionally a rather careless and irresponsible writer and even more so as a script editor. He was too bitter and eager to troll everyone in "Time Warrior" to realise how profoundly stupid and self-destructive it was to laugh at Sarah Jane's feminism and too chuffed about doing a Sherlock Holmes meets Fu Manchu pastiche to realise what a god-awfully terrible idea that was from the start. I'm not sure he was ever fully aware of the unsavoury implications some of his words and actions occasionally bore and, given that, what you've identified in "The Two Doctors" makes perfect sense to me.
May 21, 2012 @ 3:02 pm
I agree with you rather than with Dr Sandifer.
May 21, 2012 @ 4:38 pm
Lucy – thanks! 🙂
Josh – This is a tad tricky because, while I'm glad you like what I wrote above, I have to differ with you on 'Time Warrior' and 'Power of Kroll'. I think 'Time Warrior' actually evinces a distinct sympathy for feminist ideas, even as it pokes fun at Sarah's youthful idealism and naivete. Yes, the depiction of a young feminist could have been much better… but I think the story goes to great pains to showcase (albeit in a watered-down form suitable for Saturday tea time) the sexism and misogyny of medieval society, and has no less than two strong female guest characters both of whom seem considerably smarter than the men. Lady Eleanor gets herself described as a "narrow hipped vixen" for her proactivity (a specifically sexist set of insults).
Irongron and Linx chime in their attitude towards women, as with so much else. For Irongron, they're there "to do the lowly work" and for Linx they are a "secondary" part of the human reproductive system. In light of all this, it’s actually rather caustic to see Sarah angrily refusing to make the Doctor coffee, or mentioning that a modern theme park might well employ "buxom serving wenches".
I don't see that Bob Holmes pokes fun at Sarah’s feminism per se. He gives her a genuinely great scene where she upbraids Irongron’s female drudges for submitting to male rule. She’s naive, certainly, telling the women that men “don’t own the world”… when, at this point in European history, they really did own pretty much everything… but her refusal to accept the viewpoint that “women will never be free while there are men in the world” is clearly championed. The irony is that the woman who says this is depicted as strong-willed, opinionated and clearly intellectually superior to all the men she serves. And what’s more, she understands (perhaps without realising that she understands) that the more profound division in society is not between men and women but between classes; this is obvious when she tells Sarah not to give the guards at the gate any stew. Sarah’s outraged outburst in response to her resigned servility – “What subservient poppycock! You’re still living in the Middle Ages!” – might make her look momentarily silly, but it also shows that she is aware of historical progress.
I also think 'Power of Kroll', while far from perfect, is actually pretty good on the issue of native people, certainly when compared to something like 'Avatar' (I say why here: http://shabogangraffiti.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/going-native.html)
I mostly agree with you about 'Pyramids' and 'Talons' though… but I'd be interested to know what you mean about Holmes' "attempt to rehabilitate" 'Pyramids'???
I agree that Holmes could get so wrapped up in the aesthetic games he was playing that he missed some of the implications of the tropes he was playing with… but sometimes he really concentrated on his craft and here's the weird thing… when he did that, he often sounded like an instinctive radical. That's why I find it so jarring that the epithet so often used to describe Holmes by the usually-acute Dr Sandifer is "cynical". I don't buy that. I think he was, at bottom, an idealist and a romantic.
May 21, 2012 @ 6:38 pm
I actually don't dislike "Power of Kroll" either-It's honestly just that I'm just too used to pre-emptively defending my open admiration for the Graham Williams era. I agree it handles the issue of native peoples rather well, though I will hasten to add it is far from perfect.
That's an interesting way to read "Time Warrior". I'm still a bit put off about how Doctor Who's attempt to deal with feminism in the early 1970s was to make its main character more sexist so they could give the feminist someone to complain about, and there I do agree with Phil Sandifer's critique of it. It does seem uncomfortably like Holmes is putting Sarah into bad situations just to make her look silly and naive, and when you do something like introduce a new feminist character explicitly to put feminism in a positive light, then have the character be silly and naive and needing to be guided by, of all people, a male authority figure, that does rather torpedo your intended message in my opinion.
My comment about "Pyramids of Mars" was merely meant as an acknowledgment that Holmes didn't originally write that script and had actually initially shelved it. The original author kept re-submitting it and Holmes kept rejecting it and sending it back with notes. However, Season 13 wound up two serials short and something was desperately needed to fill the gaps and flesh out the season, hence "Pyramids" got a frantic, hurried eleventh hour rewrite in an attempt to make it somewhat workable and Holmes got full credit on the rewrite (the other serial to be tossed in at the last second was, naturally, "The Seeds of Doom", it being literally nothing more then a shelved Avengers script with the names changed).
The problem with this is that Holmes didn't make it work. "Pyramids" should never have been commissioned in the first place and no matter what Holmes did seemed to make it any less racist, dreadfully unpleasant and cartoonishly morally reductive. Also, the show never would have been two serials down to begin with had Hinchliffe and Holmes delegated their time better: They very clearly focused 100% of their attention on at best one or two serials a year and let the rest of the season get away from them. Had they been more hands-on they wouldn't have needed to hurriedly commission "Pyramids" and "Seeds" and we might have been spared "The Android Invasion".
That said, I agree completely with you that when Holmes focused his craft he was nigh without comparison. I also agree that when he got it all together he did seem like an admirably fiery radical. I think what's special about him, and what Phil Sandifer doesn't quite pick up on, is that while yes, Holmes had a somewhat cynical attitude to the world, that didn't mean he didn't also want to make it better. Holmes wasn't a nihilist, he was someone who was deeply upset about injustice and inequality and used his writing as a way to fight back against it and more often than not he was incredibly successful in doing so. I just don't think he was that hot a script editor and that he oftentimes was too disconnected from issues for his own good.
May 22, 2012 @ 5:40 am
"My comment about "Pyramids of Mars" was merely meant as an acknowledgment that Holmes didn't originally write that script and had actually initially shelved it."
Ah, I see. Sorry, I was being dim.
"I'm still a bit put off about how Doctor Who's attempt to deal with feminism in the early 1970s was to make its main character more sexist so they could give the feminist someone to complain about"
I don't really buy that. Did they really make him more sexist, or just more openly sexist?
"It does seem uncomfortably like Holmes is putting Sarah into bad situations just to make her look silly and naive, and when you do something like introduce a new feminist character explicitly to put feminism in a positive light, then have the character be silly and naive and needing to be guided by, of all people, a male authority figure, that does rather torpedo your intended message in my opinion."
Yeah, there's something in that. All the same, the story is full of male authority figures who range from the pathetic to the thick to the openly and nastily misogynist… which compromises any attempt to see the story as advocating the restoration of male order in the face of feminist silliness.
May 22, 2012 @ 2:13 pm
"I don't really buy that. Did they really make him more sexist, or just more openly sexist?"
I can accept that. Jon Pertwee's Doctor was never terribly much of a feminist-friendly figure (his partnership with Liz possibly excepted). Even the Glam and Drag readings of his character, clever and valid as they may be, have a whiff of the reparative about them. That's the problem with Doctor Who in the 1970s in my opinion: So much of what's good about it in this era is in how it makes up for the fact the premise has gone somewhat off the rails.
"All the same, the story is full of male authority figures who range from the pathetic to the thick to the openly and nastily misogynist… which compromises any attempt to see the story as advocating the restoration of male order in the face of feminist silliness."
This is true, and while I'm not arguing it advocates the restoration of patriarchy, I do find it unnerving that it portrays feminism in anything less then an unambiguously positive light by virtue of how Sarah is written. This being one of the traditional, once-an-era "Robert Holmes Trolls Everybody" serials, it's focused on skewering everything and everyone in the story comes across as a bit clownish-as you pointed out. The fact that Sarah isn't spared from this bothers me more than a little. It's even weird coming off of "Frontier in Space", where Jo gets in a few barbs at the Draconians for not yet having Women's Lib and the scene explicitly granting her the moral high ground. It still seems uncannily to me like the show is going backwards on feminism from even where it had been a few months ago.
June 12, 2012 @ 12:38 am
Just got around to noticing this.
The thing that gives me pause is whether the smattering of random traits of typically demeaned cultures isn't still part of the point. That all of the markers of alienness Shockeye gets are basically traits we associate with cultures that 1980s Britain was less than kind to seems to me the point – that if the Sontarans were Irish instead of potato-faced they'd be absolutely horrible. Or, to put it another way, it's only the decision to play Shockeye as human-with-ethnic-traits that gets us to notice how horrible everyone is treating him in the first place. (This even comes close to explaining that ghastly "mongrel tongue" line – an instance in which Jamie's Scottishness is treated the same as Shockeye's purely so that the audience can bristle.) This is, to my mind, what's interesting about The Two Doctors – if the Androgums had just been lizard people then nobody would have noticed the script's screwed up ethics. The script goes out of its way to foreground that and make it a source of discomfort.
Regarding the larger issue of redemptive readings, my views on them are borne out of an increasing frustration with the limitations of feminist, post-colonial, and other subaltern-focused schools of criticism. All of which were astonishingly revelatory when they rose to prominence and were absolutely necessary, but which have, I think, left literary criticism in an unfortunate state in which every text is suspect, hegemonic, and a source of oppression. Which, yes, that's certainly true in that the dominant culture is largely hegemonic and oppressive and thus its literature and art is all tainted by that. And again, that was a terribly useful piece of insight and I don't view my preference for redemptive readings as existing in opposition to that fact.
But a result of it seems to me that literary criticism is left with very little to do except to just be dour about everything or to engage in the style of reading that Eve Sedgwick mercilessly skewered as finding every text "kinda subversive and kinda hegemonic." And I think from a political standpoint that leaves us very vulnerable. Writ small, look at how no matter how solid the evidence of The Celestial Toymaker's racism is my post on it remains the single biggest lightning rod for criticism I've posted and people routinely accuse me of looking for things to be offended about. Writ large, look at how humanities academia finds itself pilloried on a political level and an easy target for budget cuts. Or at how "feminism" has become a dirty word in many contexts due to a stereotype of it as a viewpoint based entirely on complaining.
Simply put, what I like about redemptive readings as a concept is that they allow literary criticism the opportunity to be affirmative and proactive instead of purely denunciative. I see them very much as a follow-up to the gains won by feminism, post-colonialism, race studies, Marxism, et al. Their purpose is to, wherever possible, detourn existing texts into subversive and politically viable pieces. Instead of being something to be uncomfortable about and critical of, The Two Doctors, read redemptively, becomes a weapon to attack appalling notions of the other. I think, on a fundamental level, that's more useful.
It helps, of course, that there are things that simply cannot sustain redemptive readings. Thus redemptive readings do not become blithe utopianism simply because A) any good redemptive reading is going to acknowledge its counterarguments and B) there's always a large pool of crap that redemptively read texts can be read against. So to me, redemptive readings are not about abandoning skepticism, they're about taking weapons to make a difference where you can find them, by force if need be.