The Surplus Population
It’s getting near Christmas. Christmas means Dickens. Doctor Who has ‘done’ Dickens twice in recent years… on both occasions, the show has travestied Dickens’ most famous Christmas story A Christmas Carol. Last year we were given that Moffat-penned obscenity that shared its title. He transmuted the tale into a gleefully cynical celebration of hubris, casual sexism, complacency and hypocrisy. But Moffat was following a trail already blazed.
Back in 2005, Mark Gatiss riffed on the same story (which is about a selfish man who is made to realise that he owes the world a debt, only to find himself transformed by that knowledge) and turned it into a parable about how helping the apparently needy is dangerous folly stemming from thoughtless guilt… because the apparently needy (even ‘foreign’ refugees, running from the devastating effects of a war they didn’t start) will probably want to swamp you and steal your world.
Once I’d realised (with help from others more immediately perceptive than myself) what ‘The Unquiet Dead’ was actually about, I became very critical of it. However… as time passes… I begin to think I’ve been overly critical of Gatiss. Perhaps even a tad unfair to him.
Don’t get me wrong, I still loathe ‘The Unquiet Dead’ (together with just about everything else Gatiss has ever done in his career, to be honest), but I think I’ve been on iffy ground when I’ve implied that his tale of gas sprites in Victorian Cardiff went against the spirit of Dickens. Yes, ‘The Unquiet Dead’ directly contradicts the stated message of A Christmas Carol, and uses Dickens to do it, but Dickens himself did that too.
In response to the eruption of revolt against Britain’s unremittingly cynical, cruel and ferocious imperial domination of India (the event that the Victorians dubbed ‘The Indian Mutiny’) Dickens collaborated with Wilkie Collins on a story called ‘The Perils of Certain English Prisoners’. It’s a classic imperialist text. It is a fictional story about pirates and treacherous natives in Belize, but the story is unavoidably about India. It makes the imperialists into the victims of the natives, as such texts always do. It belittles a character who is probably meant to refer to Lord Canning (Governor of India during the revolt) who earned himself the contemptuous nickname of ‘Clemency Canning’ for daring to suggest that some discrimination should be used in reprisals, rather than the indiscriminate and bestial torture and mass slaughter actually employed by British troops.
“I wish I were Commander in Chief in India,” Dickens told a correspondent, “I should do my utmost to exterminate the Race upon whom the stain of the late cruelties rested… [he refers to massacres committed by the rebels… in response to British massacres that predated and dwarfed them] and raze it off the face of the Earth.”
We can take into account the fact that he was responding to very one-sided media coverage and government accounts. Lord Palmerston had written a popular pamphlet in which he detailed atrocities of the rebels… needless to say he didn’t contextualise them with details of British imperial cynicism, ruthlessness, murder and torture.…
Timelash II. Series 5. You know the drill. Thank goodness this tiresome, needless, self-imposed task is now almost over.
The Eleventh Hour
How interesting that, whereas RTD usually got public figures to play themselves in contexts that took the piss out of them (even if they didn’t realise it), Moffat drafts Patrick Moore and casts him as a prestigious and influential expert with a naughty twinkle in his eye, rather than as a sexist, right-wing old pratt.
I’ll post seperately on The Beast Below. I’ve looked at the heavily biased and ideological representation of Churchill in Victory of the Dalekshere. The only other thing to note about that wretched story is the cynicism with which the Daleks have been redesigned in order to launch a new range of toys.
The Angels Two-Parter
I like the bit with the angel on the screen. Nice bit of appropriation from J-horror.
Otherwise… well, I’ll once again quote my friend vgrattidge-1, who captures it concisely:
Just what ‘Who’ needed – another straight-to-video style ‘Aliens’ rip-off that undermines a brilliant (one-off!) monster and makes them behave in illogical ways for plot expediency, plus the smug and annoying River Song (I just can’t bring myself to care what relationship she has with the Doctor) and well, not much else. It’s hollow stuff with the Doc making another tough-guy speech before firing a gun…Yawn
One interesting thing about this story is the matter of the Church Soldiers (related to the Church Police perhaps… will they be investigating dead Bishops on the landing and rat tart?). I remember Paul Cornell saying he was grateful to Moffat for his generosity in portraying relgious people in a positive light. So… Paul sees it as positive when monks are shown going around in fatigues, obeying orders within a military hierarchy and carrying machine guns? How telling.
Vampires of Venice was too boring to write about. Here is my (positive) look at Amy’s Choice.
The Hungry Earth / Whatever the Other One was Called
The Silurians become dull, generic reptile aliens… and, as I recall, such reptile aliens featured in one of the very few half-decent episodes of ST: Voyager, which actually tried to intelligently investigate some of the cultural ramifications of ‘common descent’, etc. It comes to something when Who can’t even do reptile aliens better than Voyager.
The less likeable side of Star Trek actually provides the inspiration for story. It resembles the worst excesses of Trek when it’s in liberal-moralising-allegory mode. There is the fatuous treatment of racial suspicion, the vapid semi-allusions to Israel/Palestine (lets get round the table and sort out a deal… all we need is a reasonable negotiating partner!), etc.
Worse, it wants to have its cake an eat it. On the one hand there is the morally myopic liberal fingerwagging at nasty old inherently-xenophobic humans… but this contradicts the half-assed (bordering on offensive) subtext about Guantanamo Bay / Abu Ghraib, where the mother who tortures a recalcitrant and inherently hostile Arab terrorist… sorry, I mean a Silurian… for information is shown to be acting from understandable necessity.…