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Jack Graham

Jack Graham wrote about Doctor Who and Marxism, often at the same time. These days he co-hosts the I Don't Speak German podcast with Daniel Harper.Support Jack on Patreon.

27 Comments

  1. David Anderson
    September 7, 2018 @ 11:52 am

    Heart of Darkness explicitly identifies the Congo with England. Not just with Ancient Britain in the ‘this too was once one of the dark places of the earth’ recapitulation sense; but directly with the ‘spinsters cycling to morning communion’ modern English self-image as later evoked by Orwell and Major. Kurtz is not driven mad by the savage Otherness of Africa, but by his refusal (echoed by Marlow) to see it otherwise.

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  2. Daniel John Reed
    September 7, 2018 @ 12:08 pm

    Great analysis as always. I do have to quibble with The War Games though.

    Surely the very presence of Arturo Villa suggests a wider scope than European wars. I suppose Villa does veer heavily into Mexican stereotypes, though he is on the side of the ‘heroes’, lending him some credibility.

    There’s also mention of a Russo-Japanese war and the Boer war, though of course we don’t get to see any people from there, and I guess both are technically imperialist conflicts.

    There’s also the black Civil War soldier, who gets to triumphantly defeat von Weich’s hypnotism attempt, suggesting his higher awareness to the other troops (the rest of who are all white). Unlike so many other black characters during the Troughton era he gets to be dignified and heroic.

    These both suggest a story more knowing of the imperialist tendencies.

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  3. Dawn Chang
    September 7, 2018 @ 12:30 pm

    So when is Eruditorum going to hire a non-white author? I find Jack Graham’s perspective on racism to be too insular for my taste. A white man telling me, a non-white individual, about racism is unfortunate.

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  4. Chris C
    September 7, 2018 @ 12:40 pm

    Even the word “bred” in that famous Troughton quote induces a bit of a sinking feeling.

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    • Neo. C
      September 7, 2018 @ 2:24 pm

      Yet another reason for that little speech to needle.

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  5. Simon Blake
    September 7, 2018 @ 1:41 pm

    ” it does this even as it shows great sympathy with historic injustices suffered by native peoples, and explicitly – at times near radically – attacks the same imperialism and colonialism which is the source of the stereotypes it trades in”

    Isn’t it asking a lot (too much?) for a story to set out to address and critique those things (or anything) but to do so without “trading in” the stereotypes that identify the target?

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  6. David Ainsworth
    September 7, 2018 @ 2:12 pm

    Clearly generally true, but I wonder at a few of the specifics. “Face of Evil,” for example, which features Leela as the one person in both cultures but doesn’t fit and who is therefore capable of transcending the limitations of both (perhaps in part because she seems to be the only speaking woman). Both groups turn out to be colonists, although the world they arrived at seems to have no indigenous peoples. And the villain is either an insane deity clearly modeled on the Judeo-Christian God, or the projection upon such a deity of the ego (granted, the Doctor’s ego, although it matters that this is Tom Baker’s Doctor in that regard). The story might thus argue that the inherent and insane subdivision of humanity into scientific aesthetes and primitive tribal warriors is a eugenics experiment conducted by a God driven mad by the projection of human characteristics onto its own psyche.

    What about “The Ambassadors of Death?” We learn little enough of the aliens, meaning their culture isn’t a clear composite of a human “other” since we don’t learn enough about it, and while the target of attempted genocide by a white authority figure, it’s heavily implied that they are not seriously threatened and indeed that the mad Kurtz-atz leader can only destroy his own culture.

    I also wonder about (of all stories) “The Claws of Axios,” where Britain/the planet is threatened by monstrous capitalist invaders who look like golden Greek statues. Then again, there’s “Pigbin Josh.”

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  7. Simon Blake
    September 7, 2018 @ 2:13 pm

    Thanks for an extremely interesting and at the same time slightly depressing article. Depressing because the conclusion seems to be “everything you ever loved is racist because the society that made it is”. I wish I could argue with that conclusion.

    One thing I will take issue with, though:
    “overt racists don’t perceive ‘miscegenation’ (i.e. ‘interracial’ breeding) is diluting both races, but only as diluting the white race.”

    Overt WHITE racists, yeah. I’m aware of the contention that only white people can be racist. And for a given definition of racist as participating in a system of oppression, I agree with you. But… that’s not the only definition. And ignoring any other, and its effects, is white privilege, right there.

    There was the criticism levelled at Barack Obama by certain elements within the black community who considered him “not black enough” because (among other reasons) his mother was white. Women of colour who date white men get abuse for it, from black women and men. It’s not something you’d likely see or hear much of if you’re not in the community or close to someone who is, but there are elements within every racially-identifying community who are absolutely as concerned with the dilution of their bloodline as any KKK member.

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  8. Sean Dillon
    September 7, 2018 @ 3:08 pm

    Minor quibbles aside about the lack of discussion in regards to Turn Left, great article. Not so much a disagreement in regards to your assessment of the episode, but I do find it somewhat interesting that of all the peoples taken in The War Games, the most traditionally “savage” (that is to say “uncompromisingly warlike” and unwilling to see the “light of democracy”) is the Romans. Doesn’t change the issue you (rightfully) take the episode to task for though.

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  9. Lambda
    September 7, 2018 @ 4:58 pm

    The Mind Robber does have an unusual demand on it in that it wants the audience to recognise things as works of fiction, which means they need to be familiar. Its collection of fiction is also narrow in various other ways, all things which have been published rather than just written by someone totally unknown, and mostly historical ‘classics’ rather than contemporary stuff. (With only one future thing. Which I think is its sole venture outside of the domain of well known classics or fairytales.)

    But then a lot of this stuff is just taking the path of least resistance.

    I think this might contain an argument in favour of demanding things make a certain amount of sense as a reflex though. The ‘humans’ and ‘aliens’ thing is actually why I never watched Babylon 5, it talked about “humans and aliens” in its opening credits, which immediately made me object “but to every other species, it’s my species and aliens. Why do all these aliens only have one culture per species anyway? This is Americans and foreigners” and put me off. So the same impulse which also brings forth questions like “why does Spock have pink skin if his blood is green, and why can beings who evolved on different planets procreate with each other anyway” was having me object to racist ideas before I’d even been introduced to the concept of racism, if I recall, certainly before I’d gone beyond “I don’t think some races are better than others so I don’t need to worry about this”, simply because racism is always inaccurate, so controlling inaccurate things makes things harder for it.

    But maybe that doesn’t work most of the time.

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    • kevin merchant
      September 9, 2018 @ 11:32 am

      And mostly limited to familiar children’s books, not many of which explore other cultures or are written by them

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  10. Homunculette
    September 7, 2018 @ 7:34 pm

    There’s also an anti-semitic reading of the Macra Terror that can be made – the insectoid disease-species that pulls all the strings from behind the scenes could be straight out of nazi propaganda.

    It’s not the only reading of the story, but it’s certainly there.

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    • prandeamus
      September 7, 2018 @ 8:13 pm

      Macra as Conspiracy theory, maybe. There are lots of conspiracy theories about other groups. Are Macra linked to specific Jewish stereotypes?

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      • Homunculette
        September 7, 2018 @ 9:01 pm

        I would say yes. The way the Macra are categorized – nobody knows how to refer to them, alternately calling them insect-like and disease-like – is almost identical to the way nazi propaganda depicted Jews as not human, even down to showing them as insects. They also fit in with the stereotypes Jack mentions in regards to the Daleks – subterranean beings putting the “western” species’ culture at risk for their own benefit.

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        • TomeDeaf
          September 7, 2018 @ 10:12 pm

          I would add to that the very strong Kafka parallels in “Macra Terror”, mostly to “The Metamorphosis” but also “The Trial” and “In the Penal Colony”. And it’s quite hard to write about Kafka without bringing in marginalized Jewish identity on some level.

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  11. prandeamus
    September 7, 2018 @ 8:11 pm

    Question; is the Leela picture photoshopped to exaggerate the dark skin tone, or is it an unvarnished publicity shot? It does not look like a direct screen cap. Lest I appear to be terminally stupid, I watched most of the Leela stories on transmission on a monochrome set, and the only one I’ve watched subsequently in colour was Fang Rock, about 15 years ago. Did not rewatch.

    But as a kid, I do not remember registering her as that colour. Is that Leela’s true skin tone as portrayed on the tellybox or is it enhanced?

    When I saw Tomb of the Cybermen on VHS shortly after it was recovered, and therefore it was my first viewing. I literally did not register that Kaftan and Kleig were from “Shiftistan” by their skin tone alone. Now you mention it, I see what is meant, but it didn’t register on first watch. I’m not going to get defensive with “some of my best friends are black” or “I don’t see colour, I just don’t”. I’m a middle class white guy and I forget my priv sometimes like anyone does. Toberman is still a big dumb black guy. There are plenty of other things to complain about in Tomb.

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    • Homunculette
      September 7, 2018 @ 8:56 pm

      She didn’t look like that on TV, but this is a real photo – if I remember correctly the initial idea was to have her skin be darkened, which they (thankfully) abandoned for the actual show, but not before they took promo photos of her made up like this.

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  12. Kate Orman
    September 8, 2018 @ 12:20 am

    Holy flaming cow!

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  13. Kate Orman
    September 8, 2018 @ 12:24 am

    … I had long since twigged that my old favourite “The Two Doctors” had some very dodgy content indeed, but I had no idea it might have anti-semitic elements. Off to read your essay on the subject.

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  14. John Harris
    September 8, 2018 @ 7:55 am

    “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there”
    Like all fiction, ‘Doctor Who’ reflects the attitudes of the times when it was created. It is not really valid to assess programmes made up to 50+ years ago by modern attitudes to race, gender, sexuality. Remember, there were programmes like the ‘Black & White Minstrels Show’ at peak time on Saturday nights then, that lasted into the late 70s.
    Regarding Leela, it’s only in recent years that white actors ‘blacking up’ to play Othello became unacceptable, well it was always unacceptable, but the practice declined, I can’t say stopped. As recently as 1989 ‘Miss Saigon’ opened in the West End with Jonathan Pryce “yellowed-up” to play a-half Vietnamese pimp.
    I appreciate that two wrongs do not make a right, but ‘Doctor Who’ just reflects the times, and being such a long running series, there are a lot of times!

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    • Kate Orman
      September 8, 2018 @ 12:28 pm

      Whose attitudes?

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    • Aylwin
      September 8, 2018 @ 12:40 pm

      Did you read Jack’s previous article in this series? The one that addresses this argument at some length? Or the one by Andrew Rilstone which he links to there, and which also discusses it? Because at this point, blithely repeating this stuff without engaging with any of the points that have been made against it is just wilfully avoiding the issue.

      Nothing and no one ever “just reflects the times”. “The times” are always made up of a vast profusion of different and conflicting ideas, behaviours, trends, possibilities. Which of those one chooses to “reflect” is a rather hugely meaningful question on the individual level, while collectively it is the accumulation of those individual choices that determine what “the times” consist of, and what the possibilities of the times to come will be. Recognising the wider context of racism in which a racist work of fiction was produced should not lead on to the conclusion “so that’s all right then”.

      Nor is this some abstract academic question about a safely remote “foreign country” called the past where they used to have racism, but that’s all gone away and it’s all fine now. If we choose to wave away such problems when we see them in the past so that we can feel more comfortable, chances are that we’ll be making similar choices about the present. And “the times” today are not exactly a safe place to indulge one’s inclination to complacency about such matters.

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    • Chris Lovell
      September 8, 2018 @ 7:39 pm

      This argument seems so strange to me–to say, yes, the past was racist, but no, you can’t condemn it because that’s just the way things were then. It’s self-refuting!

      Adding that it wasn’t so long ago that yellowface was in the West End isn’t a point in this argument’s favor—it was hugely controversial at the time, and Pryce was initially prevented from playing the role in New York by Actors’ Equity, though the decision was later reversed. I remember reading about this at the time! It’s not as if it’s some remote, inaccessible time and place. It’s within the living memory of many fans of Dr. Who and of many commenters on this website.

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      • Andrew Rilstone
        September 12, 2018 @ 11:05 am

        I am intrigued that the quote from The Go-Between comes up again — the same quote used in the DWM editorial. In the book, Leo is looking back on his childhood at the end of the Victorian era from the point of view of the 1950s. He is saying that if you could observe 1900, you’d be like, say, and Englishman at a French dinner party: basically understanding what is happening, but finding some of the manners strange and missing the nuance. The foreignness of the past is to do with what time luncheon is taken and whether it is polite to say “lavatory” or “toilet” — things which are not right or wrong but merely different. I agree that you can’t judge those kinds of things by the standards of your own time or place.

        In real life we do not, or should not, judge “foreign” countries when they are merely different from us : we think your food is too spicy but you think ours is too bland; we think it is odd that you wear kilts and you think it is odd that we wear troosers. And that’s okay; it wouldn’t do if we were all alike. But we certainly do judge foreign countries by “our” standards over things like F.G.M or gay rights or religious freedom. Why can’t we judge the past by those standards as well?

        Invoking “they do things differently there” in this context suggests that “being racist” and “not being racist” are two different, but equally valid, points of view. And I assume no-one actually thinks that?

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  15. Jake B
    September 8, 2018 @ 12:35 pm

    What about the Master? The Delgado version, at least. Here we have a villain with black hair and a sinister beard, some extra make-up around his hypnotic eyes, and a Nehru jacket to finish it off. And he spends much of his time playing against white, blonde Jo Grant. Roger Delgado spent most of his career playing characters with an eastern/southern background, so this is hardly a stretch.

    We also find him quite often hidden away in some position of authority, trying to manipulate people or meddle in politics with his agenda of chaos, like some kind of one-man Jewish conspiracy…

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  16. Andrew Rilstone
    September 13, 2018 @ 10:02 am

    The original Daleks were not merely squat, subterranean dwarves; they were actually blue skinned. In the late 70s there were a popular series of novelty records recorded by a band called Father Abraham and the Smurfs. I propose not to think about this too carefully.

    Reply

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