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.