My Hamster is February (or Jack Thinks About ‘The Witch’s Familiar’)
Okay, the first thing to say is that I was totally wrong about how Missy and Clara would survive. I expected some sort of reappearance of the Nethersphere, with Missy having herself uploaded and then redownloaded, and bringing Clara along for the ride. Far too overcomplicated for Steven ‘Mr Simplicitypants’ Moffat to use, it seems. Instead we got something far more straightforwards which, while uninteresting in itself, allowed Moffat to do a scene in which Missy and Clara have a conversation rather than needlessly overcomplicated, self-referential plot tricksiness. Yay, etc.
I was also wrong about what ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ would do with the trolley problem cliffhanger. I predicted that it would take up loads of our time rehashing the Series 8 obsession with the morality of killing via a reiteration of the contentless ethical dilemma from ‘Genesis of the Daleks’… which it didn’t do. Instead it pretty much blithely said something sensible, i.e. “Yeah, kill fascists if you have to, and don’t worry about it, I mean they started it. In fact, get the contents of the sewer – the rejected, disavowed, lowest of the low – to rise up and kill the fascist ruling class. That’ll be funny.”
I thought we’d get loads of stuff about how the Doctor killed little Davros and that makes him a hypocrite, or didn’t kill little Davros and that makes him a hypocrite, or tried to kill Davros and in the process created Davros and that makes him a hypocrite… (and yawn because of course he’s a bit of a hypocrite, so what? Are we supposed to not be social actors because to get out there and do stuff means that we pretty much have to embrace a degree of ethical compromise? Fuck’s sake capitalist media, will you please stop flogging the dead horse of complicity in an attempt to paralyse people’s will to action?!?) …with the whole thing eventually side-stepped via a bit of narrative trickery which means the Doctor ultimately gets to not act either way, but without the redeeming virtue of ‘Genesis’, i.e. that the Doctor did reach a decision but was prevented from putting it into effect because of circumstances out of his control.
I also thought we might loads of soppy bollocks about the poor little Davros bonding with the Doctor, and feeling sad, and being a lonely scared child the Doctor bonds with, and all the usual attendent feels.
To Moffat’s credit, we didn’t get any of that. Though, sadly, he only dodges the soppy Doctor/Davros bonding session by making the whole thing incredibly brief and glib instead. Reminiscent of how the only way he seems able to avoid making Clara the butt of jokes about her appearance is to lock her in a Dalek casing for most of the episode.
2. Zombie Crap
I still love the handmines. I’m sorry, I’m still on about them. I was fascinated to learn from Jane (in her recent guest appearance on Pex Lives) that the handmines recall an ancient Middle Eastern symbol – the Hamsa – which brings protection against evil. An image then turned into a horrific weapon in the Thal / Kaled race war. Makes me think of the swastika, a symbol used for good fortune in Eastern religions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism. Appropriated and repurposed to symbolise supposed racial superiority by a culturally illiterate Western imperialist nation. Unfortunately, Moffat doesn’t do anything with this masterstroke. Which is a shame because Moffat can do masterstrokes that work.
For instance, as alluded to above, we learn in ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ that the ultimate terminus of all Dalek life is shit. Yes, I know the stuff in the Dalek city sewers isn’t literally Dalek shit, but it’s still brown gloop in a sewer. If it isn’t actually shit, it’ll do until actual shit comes along. This is what all Daleks become. Shit is entropic in the sense of being matter shuffled into featureless predictability. Time does this. Entropy homogenizes Daleks into diarrhoea. Sentient diarrhoea that just hangs about, seething with rage and bitterness and resentment. And the Doctor motivates this disavowed, expelled, excrementa. He sends some jolts of life back into it. He reanimates the byproducts/revenants of the whole Dalek experiment. The industrial waste of the entire Dalek project becomes zombie crap. He rouses it from its powerless stupor and allows it to make the gothic move, to return, to crawl back up the pipe. And, as a result, the Daleks drown in their own turds. The turds that are also them. The brown stuff oozes and pours out of their casings. The great bed-shitters of the cosmos proceed to shit themselves to death. This is absolutely fucking perfect. It hooks into the particular truth about fascism that it obsesses over hygiene while generating entropy, decay and filth, which then subsumes it. This is legitimately, properly, brilliant. No caveats. Especially since the spectacle of the Daleks’ gothic zombie crap (the return of the excreted) is also laced with a class war subtext. The bottom rises up to attack the top. Oh me, how I loved that bit.
I also loved the bit where Davros seems to sincerely congratulate the Doctor upon recovering Gallifrey, sounding genuinely moved. (It’s a testament to either Phil’s judgement of character or my predictability that Phil knew in advance that I would love both these elements of the story.) “A man should have a people,” say Davros. This is perfect. Davros has something that resembles a decent reaction for a split second, and then we realise that he feels this way because of his racialist view of life, and his nationalism. A truly great moment. Davros goes back to why he was so compelling to begin with: because he is motivated by a real worldview that is as internally consistent, and as real for him as it is insane and twisted. It mirrors a genuine Nazi viewpoint: the idea that the life of the individual is subsumed within the life of the nation, which is itself an expression of race, and that life is inevitably a struggle between races, and every individual must fight for his own race, and this represents the highest virtue. As specious and spurious and evil as these ideas may be, they were actually promulgated by the Nazi party, and probably felt deeply and sincerely by many Nazis. It makes perfect sense for Davros, who is still essentially Nazism reiterated in SF terms, to be moved by the Doctor’s recovery of his ‘nation’, his ‘people’, his ‘race’. As cynical and opportunistic as he may have been, Hitler was personally motivated by a racialist and nationalist ideology that he found inspiring and moving.
To anticipate an obvious question, I have no doubt that Davros is being sincere here. Indeed, I’m quite prepared to believe that a great deal of what Davros says to the Doctor is perfectly sincere. He surely knows that his only hope of convincing the Doctor is to be truthful. He is counting on the Doctor’s compassion. His idea is that compassion is a weakening vice that the Doctor cannot help indulging. And he may have a point, if we take the Doctor’s word for it that he came to Davros because Davros apparently needed him (and I see no reason not to). But, of course, the Doctor has a more nuanced view of things than Davros. His approach basically boils down to offering compassion warily, while keeping his brain switched on.
I’m rather inclined to admire what Moffat does here (I know, I’m a rubbish token Moffat-hater… I’m like the Colmes to Phil’s Hannity). I mean, I don’t think you can really boil that Doctor/Davros conversation down to them being honest or dishonest, either or both. I think it depicts something very true about life: that sincerity and insincerity are by no means polar opposites and mutually exclusive, and that people can be both sincere and insincere all at once. It is perfectly possible to create false impressions through telling the truth, or vice versa. Moreover, sincerity is not something we flick on and off like a switch, with us always in perfect control and perfectly cognisant of perfectly consistent motives or feelings.
If we take Davros and the Daleks to be metaphors for fascism (and, as imperfect as this metaphor may be, the episodes do nothing to reject this longstanding subtext in Doctor Who) then Moffat is resolutely saying that the fascist insistence upon ruthlessness, pitilessness and mercilessness are wrong and stupid, and yet fascism itself cannot be shown any mercy, precisely because to do so is to engage in moral relativism that ignores the content of fascism, equates fighting fascism to fascism itself, and permits fascism to get the upper hand. The Doctor seems to have gone to Davros with a guarded openness, heard him out, decided he’s bullshitting (albeit bullshitting via some tactically deployed sincerity), and acted with according decisiveness. This makes a lot more moral and political sense than a lot of previous Moffatian engagements with similar situations. It makes it clear (which it wasn’t in the previous episode) that Davros’ pathetic challenge is meant to be pathetic.
Fucking hell, is that progress I see?
Other aspects of the story work less satisfactorily for me, I’m afraid. For instance, the business with the Dalek occupant/machine interface actually altering meaning and intention as it travels from the brain or mouth of the occupant to the machine’s voicebox… though this is based on a superficially fascinating idea.
I wonder: is the interface actually altering the thinking of the Dalek creatures themselves, narrowing their range of thought by restricting the extent to which they can conceptualize thoughts and feelings? This makes me think of Orwell’s Newspeak from Nineteen Eighty-Four. Newspeak is an attempt on the part of the state to regulate thought by narrowing the range of expressible meaning. The goal is to make language a series of reflexes, like coughing. Words come from the throat rather than from the brain. Opinions become autonomic. A related goal is to make it impossible for you think ‘Big Brother is ungood’ because the sentence is semantically meaningless. It becomes like trying to conceptualize the meaning of the sentence ‘my hamster is February’. It makes dissent surreal. Ideological orthodoxy is thus enforced by language itself. (As with much of what Orwell gets up to in that book, the exaggeration contained in the totalitarian extreme hides a satirical intent applicable to capitalist democracies.) You might have the emotional sense that Big Brother is bad, but there’s nothing you can do with it. It is forced to stay in the unconscious. You can’t make it make sense to yourself, let alone to others. To state it is to sound like a lunatic, even to yourself. And so, in practice, it becomes impossible to say.
‘The Witch’s Familiar’ clearly implies that Daleks might be able to feel certain things (and full props to Moffat for correcting the wrongheaded notion that Daleks are emotionless) but they get lost somewhere between the feeling and the articulation. And it seems as if the episode is saying that it’s the range of language programmed into them – or into the interface between their brains and the machinery – which regulates what they can express. Even if you feel like you have an identity, this is edited out when you try to say it. The software that translates Dalek thoughts into Dalek words also translates the meaning into an ideologically orthodox one. Similarly, it translates fear – and most other strong emotions, apparently – into the impulse to kill.
This is a potentially powerful idea, redolent of the ways in which ideologically-loaded structures of communication discipline and punish attempts at stepping conceptually outside of the logic of a social system. It acknowledges fascism’s need to use and channel chaotic/libidinous/ecstatic emotions while also strictly controlling people, to engage their imaginations and ideals while also forcing them into orthodoxy.
But this doesn’t seem to happen to Clara. Perhaps, rather than being mentally affected, the Dalek creature is trapped inside a kind of prison which refuses to translate its actual thoughts and desires? This hinges on the degree to which the Dalek is a unified entity, materially part organism and part machine. Do they exist in a fuzzy, inter-penetrating unity with their shell and its onboard computer? Judging by the evidence of Clara inside the Dalek machine, it appears not. It appears that the Dalek is separate and distinct from its shell. It begins to look as if the loss of individual identity, the homicidal behaviour, and all the rest, is directly imposed upon the Dalek creature by technological force.
Does this mean that all Daleks are actually slaves, imprisoned within shells that strip them of identity, and manipulate and regulate their thoughts? They begin to look even more like the Borg than the Cybermen do, even down to mention of nanotech. If this were the case, surely the proper thing for the Doctor to do would be to try to free them. They become a population of prisoners rather than an evil species. It vitiates the race essentialism that has always made the Daleks an oddly ambivalent denunciation of fascism, but also makes the Doctor’s decision to drown them all in their own shit decidedly queasy.
And yet this doesn’t work either, because someone within a Dalek shell – i.e. Clara – can apparently retain their individuality and free will. So we have arrived back at the notion of the Daleks as voluntarily evil, which leads me to wonder what any of that stuff with Clara’s words being translated actually meant?
4. And then we have the obligatory timey-wimey
Nice as it was to avoid the scenes I feared involving the Doctor and little Davros bonding, I can’t help thinking what we got instead was very rushed, nonsensical, and glib. And it’s really only in there so that the episode can pull off a half-hearted time-loop reveal in the closing minutes, which doesn’t have much to say about anything.
If the story had showed the Doctor significantly affecting Kaled history, or even just the personal history of Davros, this would link up with the two episodes’ apparent concern with resurrecting old stories and reinterpreting them, both diegetically (with the shoved-in business about the Gallifreyan legends about a hybrid) and extra-diegetically (with all the continuity references to ‘The Daleks’ and ‘Genesis of the Daleks’). But it doesn’t really happen. Instead we are simply informed that one day the Doctor introduced little Davros to the concept of mercy. This very clunky notion is really only there so that the Doctor can realise something is up when Clara!Dalek is able to say the word “mercy”, which he alleges Daleks shouldn’t be able to say, thus solving a plot point with a paradox.
But… well, where do we start?
Moffat is pushing the idea that the Daleks do not know – or cannot vocalize, or possibly even conceptualize – concepts that we might think of as morally admirable (though, as noted, he gives no clear account of how this works). So, by this logic, why and how are the Daleks able to say ‘mercy’? Why is it possible for Clara to make the word come out of the Dalek voicebox? Why does the Dalek machine translate it properly? I think we’re supposed to assume that the Daleks can say the word because Davros knows about it, and they get it from him. But in order to make this work, Moffat has to unceremoniously dump into the story a clunky concept of the Daleks being psychologically linked to, and dependant upon, Davros. And if Daleks can say the word because of their link with Davros, why does it prove anything that the Dalek the Doctor is looking at can say the word “mercy”? They can all say it!
Why does little Davros need the Doctor’s intervention in order to learn the concept of mercy? Remember, the claim isn’t that the Doctor’s intervention teaches him to feel or appreciate mercy. Indeed, the story makes a meal of the fact that, pretence aside, he doesn’t. The story’s claim is that the Doctor teaches him the concept, and maybe even the word that goes with it. So little Davros has no concept of mercy before the Doctor shows up? Why does he think other Kaleds are trying to help him? Why does he think to ask others for help? I’m eliding the concept of ‘mercy’ with altruism generally, but then so does the episode.
And since when have Daleks not even known the words for things they dislike or disdain? That’d be like me not knowing the words ‘Trident’ or ‘coleslaw’ or ‘Piers Morgan’.
5. Miscellaneous Points
- So Davros has eyes? That makes no sense whatsoever. The light from making sense will not reach that in a million years. That’s just tinkering for the sake of it. Changing stuff just to show off. Aside from making no sense, it adds nothing. There is no need for the tears or the eyes. You don’t need either to make the scene work. It’s overdoing things. Someone told me they liked it because it suggested wilful blindness; Davros has gone centuries with his eyes shut by choice. That doesn’t work for me. That’s basically making the character a conscious symbol, someone who chooses to wear a billboard advertising a message he doesn’t agree with… while also massively inconveniencing himself for no discernible reason. I suppose you can argue that it takes the edge off some of the ableism baked into the character of Davros, diluting the way in which blindness is stigmatised as symbolising folly. But it also takes the edge off the perverse reiteration of Odin’s sacrifice of his eye in return for wisdom, and the image of the third eye, implications which tied Davros obliquely to the crackpot Nazi obsession with appropriating mythology (both Norse and Eastern, c.f. the swastika). It substitutes something that makes no sense plotwise, and which works only very crassly as a symbol, for something that was far more sensible, subtle and suggestive.
- Interesting, however, to see the concentration on eyes in these episodes. The handmines, Colony Sarff’s eyes, Davros opens his eyes, Missy pokes Davros in his electronic eye, the Doctor’s sonic sunglasses… Remember that the Kaled symbol in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ is an eye hit by a bolt of lightning. I don’t know that any of this means anything, and certainly seems to make less sense thematically than the similar concentration on faces in ‘Deep Breath’, but it gives the story some texture at least.
- Why does the Doctor need to pretend to fall into Davros’ trap? Is it to establish for certain that it is a trap before he springs his own? That’s one reading, which advances the idea that the Doctor is approaching Davros with an openness to showing compassion but also with proper wariness.
- If Davros knows about mercy because of the Doctor, then Davros is only able to play upon the Doctor’s mercy because the Doctor taught him how.
- The more ethical choice is still arguably to push little Davros into the handmines, or remove him from the war entirely. That would save Clara just as surely as what he actually does, along with billions of other people. I suppose what the Doctor does is something along the same lines as his intervention in the childhood of Kazran Sardick: he tries to influence him. Yet his attempt seems entirely focused on making sure he brings about the sequence of events that enabled Clara to communicate with him from inside the Dalek shell. You could argue that the Doctor is caught in a predestination paradox which precludes him from doing this. He seems to have accepted that Davros’ development, and the development of the Daleks, are pools of certainty, and that he can’t change them, only slot into them in the predestined place. But that particular ontological rule of time switches on and off as required, story to story. Surely, if the phrase ‘Time War’ has any meaning, it must mean that it was a war fought by two time-faring species who fought over historical timelines, altering them back and forth… which is indeed what the Time Lords try to do in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, arguably the opening salvo of the Time War.
- Why was Colony Sarff in this? And who the hell is he? I mean, he looked cool, but he didn’t really seem to come from anywhere or do anything that couldn’t have been achieved more simply. It seems odd that the Daleks would let Davros have a powerful alien manservant-cum-enforcer who can come and go freely. And what’s in it for Sarff? Also, I found it very hard – at least on one viewing – to understand what was going on with the dangling cables that look like snakes. Was that meant to be Sarff, or bits of Sarff? I’m told that Sarff holds the Doctor in place when he grabs the cables and the Dalek power grid starts leeching his regeneration energy… but that was hard to understand based on what was on screen, and the Doctor could just as easily have just been transfixed as if electrocuted. It does make the whole Sarff subplot look dramatically redundant. On the other hand, it makes me think that perhaps Sarff was a kind of sentient manifestation of the Dalek power grid itself. The cables throb with so much power that they come to life as snakes, and then form a sentient group-creature, which then chooses to work for the Daleks. Why else would Sarff be there, and why else would a democratic colony of snakes choose to work for the biggest fascists in the universe? I think I just created some headcanon that’s more interesting than what was on screen. At least Moffat didn’t labour the obvious stumblebum pop-Christianity thing, i.e. snakes, evil, Genesis, temptation, knowledge of good and evil, etc.
- OR DID HE????
- Is it just me or is the scene where the Doctor and Davros share a laugh a direct rebuke to what Alan Moore does at the end of The Killing Joke? After all, they’re both shamming at that point, so the apparently callous, creepily bromancey camaraderie of enemies is entirely false… well, mostly false anyway. Ergo, if Clara had been paralysed by Davros earlier in the story, there’s be no need for another writer to come along and put a scene in a subsequent story where she chews the Doctor out for having a matey crack with the man who maimed her. Of course, as Phil informed me when I aired this idea on Twitter, Grant Morrison thinks that, immediately after the last panel of The Killing Joke, Batman kills the Joker…
September 30, 2015 @ 6:02 am
The way I read the dalek casing translating stuff from its occupant into extermination and the like was that the creature inside is still evil, but it’s like that because it’s spent its entire lifetime inside an environment which doesn’t allow the expression of anything else, so that’s just how it always develops. Or alternatively, you still have the “genetically evil” bit, but this mechanism makes sure it “never goes wrong”, slightly less evil daleks still end up the same instead of going around questioning things, they can never evolve away from it. (Either seems to be consistent with what’s presented, as far as I can tell.) So Clara is mentally unaffected (apart from the bit where it’s an awful experience) because she’s only spent a short amount of time in there, instead of growing up in it.
September 30, 2015 @ 8:54 am
Yes, this is similar to how I read it. It would have been cool, however, if Clara had started to be affected by the machine’s link with her mind, and I was a bit disappointed we didn’t see some flashback to “Asylum.” Like when she starts to freak out we get little quick flashes of Oswin in her shell from the end of the episode. I also wish the inside of the machine had been slimier – I’d have put a line in for Clara that it was more like being swallowed than just sitting inside a shell.
I also was annoyed that Moffat had Clara suddenly affected by melodramatic dumbness – there are a lot of other things she could have said that the Dalek machine would have translated correctly, like “She is lying, I did not kill Clara Oswald, Clara Oswald is here” etc. And didn’t the Oswin-Dalek say “I am not a Dalek” several times?
September 30, 2015 @ 9:00 am
We might also posit that since Clara is not genetically or mentally a Dalek (not even Dalek-ized like Oswin was), then the translation matrix was behaving particularly clumsily trying to interpret what she’s saying.
September 30, 2015 @ 7:04 am
My reading is the same as Lambda’s. Any “variation” or “mistake” gets corrected by the environment. It’s impossible for Daleks to even express contraband ideas, so they can’t spread. Any “deviant” remains isolated and unable to find fellow deviants. And since any strong emotion shoots the gun, remorse or empathy will do the same as hate. If Daleks have cognitive dissonance, this will have a reinforcing effect too.
Re the killing little Davros, given the Fourth Doctor decided it would be wrong to prevent Daleks coming into existence, I’m glad Moffat didn’t alter that decision here. Has to be said, it’s impossible to know what the state of the universe would be if Davros was destroyed. Radically different, certainly. Could even be worse.
The interesting comparison with Kazran Sardick – in that story I understood the Doctor’s trips back in time to end with a return to a different Sardick. Here, the effect is apparent before the Doctor takes the required action (comparable with Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’s treatment of time travel). But still, Doctor Who being inconsistent with how time travel works is practically a defining feature of the show!
September 30, 2015 @ 7:06 am
I think that when the Doctor says he’s saving his friend he genuinely means Davros – all the stuff Missy says about friendship over centuries being something Clara is incapable of understanding etc.
September 30, 2015 @ 3:16 pm
September 30, 2015 @ 4:29 pm
I’m pretty sure all that ‘Missy/the Master is my bestest frenemy’ stuff is just a long bluff. Moffat knows a fanwanky cliche when he sees one and usually goes out of his way to subvert it. The Doctor’s playing on Missy’s vanity. The key, I’m guessing, is that confession dial thingy. It’s gonna open up (probably in the finale) and reveal some crazy ass stuff and I wouldn’t want to be Missy holding it when it does.
Oh, and great essay Jack.
September 30, 2015 @ 7:40 am
And yet this doesn’t work either, because someone within a Dalek shell – i.e. Clara – can apparently retain their individuality and free will. So we have arrived back at the notion of the Daleks as voluntarily evil, which leads me to wonder what any of that stuff with Clara’s words being translated actually meant?
I’m with those who are arguing that you’ve also got to take into account the generations of inbreeding (combined with Davros’ own interference) that have led the Daleks to this point. They aren’t voluntarily evil in that sense because that notion has been removed from them – to the point that the lone survivor in Dalek (and, indeed, in Jubilee has only come to its own conclusions because it was alone for so long; and even then it needs to be freed from its casing to be able to articulate its thoughts properly.
So the creature in the case can indeed retain individuality and free will, it’s just that those are practically meaningless concepts if the creature inside has been evolved to be unable to understand them unless they (a) are not a Dalek or (b) spend years and years rediscovering them.
September 30, 2015 @ 6:49 pm
I think we also need to look at Into the Dalek, in which the “good Dalek,” in order to stay good, has to have sections of its exocortex disabled.
September 30, 2015 @ 8:33 am
Deceit is their flirting.
Thank you, thank you, for the bit about “social actors”.
September 30, 2015 @ 8:42 am
I think it’s Colon-y Sarff – he’s full of shit.
October 1, 2015 @ 10:25 am
It’s worth noting that Colony Sarff is just “Colony South” said with a stereotypical Cockney accent. A mass of snakes that prides itself on being democractic – and hence representative – but which is really simply a slave to the whims of reactionary overlords?
October 8, 2015 @ 4:28 pm
I love this SpaceSquid! Jack Graham is obviously infiltrating our consciousnesses…
September 30, 2015 @ 9:07 am
Is it just me or is the scene where the Doctor and Davros share a laugh a direct rebuke to what Alan Moore does at the end of The Killing Joke?
Like Phil, I think this is a clever reading, but if nothing else, it’s hard to believe Moffat would want to directly rebuke Moore having Batman & the Joker have a good old laugh in the same two-parter in which he reveals that the Doctor considers Missy as his best friend.
(That said, of course, there’s much of doubtless great interest that could be written about the difference between the Doctor’s treatment of Davros and his treatment of Missy).
Just as an absurd hand-wavey justification for Davros’ eyes, he’s clearly been partially rebuilt post-Remembrance, so I guess it’s possible he’s only just got the use of his eyes back. That does nothing to make the actual scene less ridiculous or counter-productive, but that’s what went through my mind.
September 30, 2015 @ 9:27 am
It’s interesting that for some reason they decide to really strongly parallel Davros and Darth Vader in this two parter. I mean, the moment I saw his little life-shell thingy in Magician’s Apprentice I thought Vader’s similar life-shell thingy from Empire, and the “let me look at you with my own eyes” bit…yeeeaaaaah.
I have absolutely no idea what the point of this was, but it’s undeniably there
September 30, 2015 @ 9:33 am
I think Davros’ eyes reveal could have used some subtle clarification to suggest any kind of reason he’s had them shut for so long, perhaps that they are damaged/verging on useless or that he risks something by exposing them. It was the sort of thing I was assuming anyway, but now I realise there’s nothing actually there to support it.
September 30, 2015 @ 10:16 am
“Your sewers are revoloting.”
That was line was just brilliant.
September 30, 2015 @ 12:37 pm
Jack, I’m genuinely interested as to where you stand on the ‘disability abuse’ thing people are complaining about over on GB. I mean sure, it’s a legitimate issue, but Davros is representative of literally Space Hitler. Is it only right to fight fascists in ways that are respectful to them? Or is this a different issue entirely and Moffat should have written it a different way. Should Davros being in a wheelchair give him protection against acts of violence such as this despite him being the embodiment of evil, or does stooping to that level devalidate resistance? At first I was fine with it but reading some of the comments by actual disabled people who felt hurt by it, I’m no longer sure.
Also I assumed Colony Saff was in there when this was presumably extended from 1 part to 2 in order to pad it out a lot more, because seriously.
September 30, 2015 @ 6:02 pm
While I’m not Jack, I think it is important to differentiate between a fictional story fighting a Disabled Space Hitler to stop fascism, versus knocking a Disabled Space Hitler out of his wheelchair, to take it for a joyride, for laughs. And the show definitely played this for laughs, without the Doctor doing anything to stop Davros or the Daleks long-term, or even medium-term, through his joyriding in Davros’s chair.
For a real Hitler, of course, the stakes are different, and you do what you must to fight real fascism.
There is a difference between “you have to fight to stop fascism, even if the fascist you are stopping is disabled” versus “it’s okay to pick on a disabled person, for laughs, if they are fascist.”
Particularly since one of the real things real Nazis did was to demean, dehumanize and eventually mass-murder the disabled, in one of their first acts of genocide.
October 1, 2015 @ 1:17 am
The “joyride” had a purpose: gaining access to Davros’s weapons, control elements, and defense mechanisms. And it didn’t end voluntarily: members of the Colony constricted him unconscious (apparently).
October 1, 2015 @ 4:41 am
In terms of the actual story yes it had a point, but looking at the story as a constructed entity, what did that section actually achieve? The Doctor ends up back in the same place with nothing to show for his little runaround.
October 1, 2015 @ 7:55 pm
It showed both us and the Doctor that he wasn’t going to be able to escape (or find Clara) by force, and would have to look for a way to trick Davros instead.
October 8, 2015 @ 4:34 pm
it gave him time for a cup of tea.
October 1, 2015 @ 8:51 am
The joyride did nothing to further the plot of the story – the Doctor ends up right back where he was.
But the joyride did serve as comic relief in the story, a break from the Doctor’s intense interactions with the apparently-dying Davros. He spun around, played bumper-cars, drank a cup of tea, and generally played while enjoying the use and protection of Davros’s adaptive equipment. While in the chair, the Doctor didn’t actually do anything to work to stop the Daleks or Davros, he only taunted them.
And the Daleks, as well as Davros, are presented as disabled in the larger Doctor Who story. They’re “mutants” who can’t survive or function without the adaptive equipment that is part of their shells.
As opposed to their original enemies, whom Susan described as “splendid men.” They are presented, initially, as being recognizable as the enemy because they are disabled mutants.
Which is deeply (and likely unintentionally) ironic for a Nazi-stand-in, given how the Nazis targeted the disabled and weak. The narrative makes the same assumptions that the Nazis did, that good people are attractive and strong, while weakness, disability and otherwise being othered indicates moral failing. In doing so, the larger story of Doctor Who fails to challenge the Nazi concept of “untermensch”, it simply turns it around, creating their Nazi stand-ins as a form of “untermensch.”
October 1, 2015 @ 8:05 pm
While in the chair, the Doctor didn’t actually do anything to work to stop the Daleks or Davros, he only taunted them.
He wasn’t just taunting them, he was interrogating them, trying to find Clara. And probably at least half-believing she was really dead, hence working up his fury to actually start shooting Daleks.
As for the Daleks being disabled, to my mind it’s apter to see them as atrophied — creatures who chose to rebuild themselves as the ultimate war machines and allowed all the inferior parts of them, the parts not used for extermination, to fall away.
Characters like Davros — and Magnus Greel, and Sharaz Jek, and Morbius, and the Borad — are probably more deserving of this kind of criticism than the Daleks themselves. As much as I like Robert Holmes, it’s troubling how many of them show up on his watch.
October 2, 2015 @ 10:16 am
Atrophy is a way of being disabled.
By way of example, I’ve worked with disabled people, in group homes and elsewhere, and seen a lot of different types of disabilities. A common situation was that someone with a physical disability, such as CP. And very frequently, the lack of activity caused by the disability would lead to atrophy and worse disability, unless their ongoing physical therapy was meticulous, for both strength and range of motion.
I’ve worked with people whose physical disabilities left them with physical capabilities not too different from a Daleks. Reliant on a power wheelchair, unable to leave the chair on their own, tube feeding, etc.
The physical disability of the Daleks is far more profound than that of Davros. But it is still well within the range of how human beings can experience disability.
September 30, 2015 @ 1:12 pm
Very interesting, thought-provoking analysis. Now I’m curious if the rest of the series is going to take different aspects of the Doctor’s past and twist them around a bit, like they did with Davros and Genesis of the Daleks. I could definitely see that with the Zygon two-parter and maybe something similar might be done with the next two parter, Under The Lake/Before the Flood-possibly the Girl Who Died and the Woman Who Lived episodes as well?
September 30, 2015 @ 3:07 pm
Wow. That was an amazing analysis. I’m definitely more willing than you to look at things sideways to get them to make sense where necessary, but I really appreciated your approach here.
I wanted to react to several points, but none of this should be taken to detract from my sheer delight in reading your essay –
On the hand-mines:
Another mythological image this evokes is Avalokiteshvara in the Buddhist tradition, who is depicted as having a thousand arms with an eye in the palm of each hand. What is interesting about this parallel for this story in particular is that Avalokiteshvara is the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
On the Trolley Problem and Hypocrisy:
I get what you are saying about inducing a feeling of Hypocrisy as an attempt to induce paralysis and inaction, to pacify the population, and see that as a genuine concern, but I read these discussions differently, at least as presented last year, and have to disagree with you (and Phil) in three different ways.
1) Last year the morality of violence was discussed in the context of war, which is not an individual act, or a revolutionary uprising by an oppressed class, but rather the the act of a nation and specifically a government, usually to support some imperialist agenda. The imperialist government then goes about the process of manufacturing consent, by selling a narrative in which the killing and sacrifice is inevitably justified. In this context, introducing introspection, self-critique, or indeed even paralysis is an actively good thing.
2) There are not just two different outcomes to the trolley problem – either kill one man or let five die – but four. Whichever decision you make, there is also the second order question of how you respond to and understand that choice.
Do you “not worry about it,” do you tell yourself you are making the best decision you can and feel happy about it, or do you mourn for having to make that choice?
When we choose to sacrifice innocent lives (as all collective violence does – it is disingenuous to claim any struggle will only injure the “bad guys”) for the greater good, I think it is dangerous to let ourselves be entirely comfortable with this decision. This isn’t a matter of hyporcrisy so much as one of honestly grappling with the moral consequences of our choices rather than telling ourselves a comforting fairy tale of a cosmological struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil to make ourselves feel better about those choices.
The perspective expressed by the Doctor last year is that of Christian Realism: We live in a world where sometimes, all the choices are bad ones, but we still have to act. At the same time, we should do so with our eyes open, we should feel the weight and the burden of our choices, rather than rationalize them away. We should never let ourselves fall prey to the delusion that the lesser of two evils is a good. And most importantly, we should never sacrifice our humanity and our compassion, even for our adversaries.
3) I think it is problematic, (and indeed, actually pernicious to the goal of genuine social change) to create a binary between violent action and inaction, as if those are the only two choices. In reality, even the most repressive regimes and systems are dependent upon (and invest huge amount of time and energy into manufacturing) the consent of those who are governed. Without the acquiescence of the oppressed and the active participation of a significant subset of the population, those in power have no actual control. Numerous oppressive regimes have been brought down by nonviolent direct action which operates on this basis.
Ignoring and marginalizing this history, and inculcating the idea that the only choices are violent revolt or complacency is a strategy used by those in power to manufacture that complacency: they are obviously the ones most materially equipped to to succeed in a violent struggle, so why would any rational actors choose inevitably doomed violent resistance rather than acquiescence?
September 30, 2015 @ 6:27 pm
What the Dalek shells seem to do is weaponize the strong form of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.
What happens to a society when you forcibly remove all language of kindness and compassion, for generations?
And when any expression of strong emotion, love or hate, comes out as the same act of deadly violence? Which is, itself, an interesting comment on the nature of domestic violence, and the claim of the abuser that they are acting out of love.
September 30, 2015 @ 7:02 pm
An ambivalent denunciation of fascism, but a realistic one.
Or what would you consider my father? He’s German. He was born in 1937. His family were genuine, Real True Nazis. My grandparents met at a Nurmburg rally, my grandfather was SS, one of my great-aunts was very active in the BDM.
While my father hasn’t a fascist bone in his body, he retains some odd ideas, such as that he somehow “remembered” that the war with Poland began because the Poles wouldn’t let the Germans build an elevated autobahn to connect the two parts of Germany. If the war had turned out differently, what would my father have been?
And my family stories of that time were mostly positive, of exciting meetings, and camp trips with youth groups, and a sense of belonging and purpose. With the possible exception of my grandfather (who died when I was too young to question him directly) the horrors of Nazism seem to have been out of sight and unknown. The horrors of WWII came with the end of the war, and the occupation.
Surely second-generation Daleks are much like my father, who would have been a second-generation Nazi.
Only more so, as the language restrictions imposed by the Dalek shell would limit the exposure to outside and unauthorized ideas even more than my father’s options would have been limited had the war ended differently.
The first-generation Daleks chose the shell. The second-generation Daleks, and all subsequent generations of Daleks, grew up in the shell. They’re still fascists, even if not by choice, and still need to be stopped, as a matter of brutal necessity.
Fascism includes the belief in race essentialism, and the Daleks believe themselves to be what the Nazis believed themselves to be, a positive expression of their race’s power. We never see what life is like for a Dalek that isn’t on the front lines – one that is perhaps working building Dalek shells, or spaceships, or raising young Daleks, etc.
And the child Davros we see is very much what my father was at the end of the war – a child, helpless and in danger, but part of a people who were well on the path to being the Dalek empire, even if he hadn’t put them in their shells yet.
September 30, 2015 @ 8:33 pm
I have to essentially agree with all of this, though some things don’t bother me all that much- like Colony Sarff. I’d just say Rule of Cool applies here.
As far as I’m concerned, regardless of the Dalek shell translation, Daleks and their casings are part of what makes up the whole. They are not slaves to their machinery, the machinery merely reinforces their nature. Hell, perhaps the neural link up Clara has is just so used to channeling Dalek thoughts that it struggles to cope with hers. At first Clara uses contractions but then it later stops.
As for mercy from Davros – it could be that mercy is something he put in when he made them but doesn’t necessarily mean he’s continually psychologically linked to them into the present. Davros being introduced to mercy…well it is pretty ambiguous. Does Davros not know about it or does he just not appreciate it? Who knows.
It is a good point through that if all Daleks now know the word, then Clara saying it proves nothing. Perhaps the Dalek even choosing to use the word is what surprises him enough to pause and think. I don’t know. That clearly goes against authorial intent.
The other good point is that Daleks have long been able to talk about things they despise or allegedly do not have concepts of.
Davros having eyes. Yeah, It doesn’t really make sense (it also clashes with audios, which I hold so dear). I have to figure that the Rule of Cool also applies here. Or the rule of I Need A Fast Way to Establish Vulnerability and Sincerity. The eyes also make me look at Davros as an old man. I know he’s old but I primarily view him as a burnt one, his age non-relevant. With his eyes open I definitely looked at him differently, more human, for better or worse.
October 1, 2015 @ 1:24 am
It’s one thing for a Dalek to say the word “mercy,” and another to produce the sentence “I show mercy,” which is what seems to finally convince the Doctor this isn’t a Dalek.
Also, I get the sense that Davros’s “third eye” is in fact a Dalek eye or something very similar. As seen in “Remembrance” (probably elsewhere, I forget), a Dalek eye isn’t just for seeing, but has got all sorts of heads-up display enhancements in it. Davros is basically a guy who’s wired his Google Glass up to his brain, to the point where it’s not only undesirable but probably even hopelessly confusing to have his eyes open while the third one is operating. That’s why he shuts it off when he opens his real eyes.
October 1, 2015 @ 4:49 am
New for this Christmas: the iEye.
October 8, 2015 @ 5:05 pm
Too expensive those who can’t afford the upgrade will have to settle for Whoogle Glass (TM).
September 30, 2015 @ 9:22 pm
As a fan of both the Moffat era and your graffiti/blog, it was nice to see you enjoyed these to an extent 🙂 I found the Daleks’ vocabulary translator to be a metaphor for emotional repression, how we couch what we feel in generalized words – I.e. “Exterminate” instead of “lash out and destroy something I feel scared of because I’m in a negative emotional state, and thus am angry at, and thus feel hatred towards, and the pain of not addressing my anxieties/feelings merely fuels my desire of fear/anger/hate”. This is the unexpressed truth behind any bullshit prejudiced ideology as evidenced by the likes of Vox Day, who have long since rationalized their anxieties into delusional oblivion.
As a side-note that I promise is relevant and that you guys at Eruditorum Press might think is really cool: I am currently attending a cognitive training program for people with learning/social disabilities, called the Arrowsmith Program; it consists of daily sets of exercises specifically targeted to the functions our brains have difficulty with, based on the individual. I recently started my second “school year” there and though it’s rough going at times, the program works. It has had a huge impact on our lives. By facing our challenges head on and training ourselves to master the exercises, we become more socially and emotionally aware, less anxious, more empathetic, better with managing activities of daily living/work. While the results vary depending on the specific person, the ongoing goal and result is material personal progress. Every day when we are working on our brains, we are performing alchemy, through and through. (And were the tenets of the program to collide with the mainstream education system…can you say “material social progress” anyone?)
I mention this because “Into the Dalek” aired on the first weekend of the program last year, and both it and the Series 9 premiere are incredibly ahead of their time in their embrace of neuroplasticity as a story concept; Rusty’s brain is literally rewired to broaden his perspective. Without that re-wiring, the Daleks are trapped inside their shells of programmed responses, lack of exposure to experiences outside their frame of reference, and limited ability to express themselves, limitations fueled directly by their negative emotions and rationalized hatred.
It’s a broader metaphor, in other words, for the workings of the human brain and how we express ourselves. Or fail, and lash out instead.
September 30, 2015 @ 10:11 pm
Davros managed to fix his eyes somehow so that the whole “see the sunrise” thing would come off and he could manipulate the Doctor. There. Easy.
Alternatively, perhaps it’s for the same reason Silurians don’t have big black voids in their skulls anymore–Julian Bleach would very much like to use them to act, please, thank you.
September 30, 2015 @ 10:38 pm
All the stuff with the shit getting into the Dalek cases reminded me pleasingly of the similar scene in Gilliam’s Brazil
October 1, 2015 @ 5:43 am
Hey, I agreed with virtually all of that!
On the question of finding some diegetic explanation for the extradiegetically-determined fact that the Doctor must neither kill young Davros, nor kidnap him (since, all things considered, I doubt that he would leave willingly), nor make any serious impact in reforming him, the Time War itself surely offers some possibilities for headcanon handwavery.
As you say, the Daleks’ early history and prehistory must have been the object of all sorts of Time Lord interventions like Genesis, aimed at derailing their development, and Dalek counter-interventions to put it back on track, distorting and contorting and overwriting it over and over again. Take that together with the stuff from The End of Time about how the war was causing reality to disintegrate, and you can easily enough imagine old Skaro as being in temporal terms, as well as more mundane ones, a battlefield littered with unexploded ordnance. The fabric of reality there is held together with spit, and any major change to the course of events is liable to make the whole lot unravel and cause the universe to go fooey (again). Which would obviously screw up the emotional logic, but hey, that’s screwed up as it is.
Having generally refrained from “but that makes no sense!” remarks about this story, I will briefly put that hat on and remark that, even if we accept that souped-up animated sludge is able to breach a load of airtight, heavily-armoured war machines, Daleks can fly. Indeed, in this episode many are seen rising from all over the city for no better reason than having a frolic, so clearly they can get airborne easily enough when they want to. Vivid though the idea is, the city being swallowed by its sewers doesn’t seem like something that would be much more than an inconvenience to them.
October 1, 2015 @ 6:03 am
Presumably, and especially in the context of the Dalek expression system and its applicability to psychological as well as political repression, it would be very easy to apply a Freudian reading to the destructive rising from the disdained and disregarded depths, its faecal associations and what-have-you. I mean, easy for someone actually familiar with the relevant stuff, which I’m not.
October 1, 2015 @ 7:36 am
“The story’s claim is that the Doctor teaches him the concept, and maybe even the word that goes with it. So little Davros has no concept of mercy before the Doctor shows up?”
I don’t think it’s so much that the Doctor taught Davros the concept of mercy, but by coming back to save him he prevented Davros from abandoning the idea of mercy in the world. It’s a problem the Doctor created… in the timeline where the Doctor doesn’t return, Davros still gets out of the minefield, but as a hardened untrusting person. The Doctor fixes this by helping.
October 1, 2015 @ 5:57 pm
Are Davros’ eyes really that confusing? He’s a sick man with a body that barely functions: his third eye is clearly a form of prosthetic for eyes that long ago stopped working very well.
October 2, 2015 @ 10:51 am
I’m rather confused as to why nothing particularly happened when Davros and the Daleks stole some of the regeneration energy. We saw Davros on the floor, his lower half just cables and wires; and he still has the metal hand. I thought, at the very least, he’d grow his old hand back, and perhaps even rejuvenate slightly so as to appear younger.
Heck, if the chair is his life support (which this story ignores, given he can apparently still survive for a bit while someone nicks off with it), then wouldn’t a jolt of regenerative energy give Davros a bit of a boost so that he’d no longer need the chair.
I know taking Davros out of the chair, giving him legs, giving him eyes and hands takes away the classic iconic ‘look’, but they should’ve done /something/ at least. Same with the super duper Daleks – they glowed a bit, but nothing seemed to change. They still seemed like yer bog standard Daleks. (They even forgot they could fly upwards to avoid all the sewer goop!)
October 8, 2015 @ 4:57 pm
Love the post Jack, in fact when I first saw the revolting sewers I thought of your skulltopus –
definitely weird, gloopy, and at least occasionally tentacular, but rising from the depths whence they had been repressed so they could haunt/take revenge. But then it all falls down when you think that gloopy and tentacular is NOT weird to a dalek.
Maybe I’m a little cynical, but I thought they did all that Star Wars stuff – the mediaeval bit being set in (THX) 1138, Sarff looking like Bibb Fortuna, Davros reveal to the Doctor being like that flash of Vader’s unhelmeted head, having eyes so he could play on all that Luke/Vader stuff, Murray Gold ‘homaging’ John Williams etc – just because they felt like it. Maybe it was George Lucas’ birhtday or something…