Asylum, UK

A rejigg of something I wrote for the old site on the subject of ‘Turn Left’, the best episode of series 4.

The alternate world that Davies conjures up in ‘Turn Left’ is not so far removed from our own. We might not (yet) see British soldiers patrolling our streets and pointing automatic weapons at unarmed women (though the recent behaviour of the police towards student protestors has been pretty savage)… but that sight would not be so unfamiliar to the people of Baghdad. Or Belfast, for that matter.

The nightmarish, decaying, dystopian Britain in this episode reflects aspects of our current social predicament… indeed, as Simon Kinnear pointed out in DWM, the episode seems prescient of the years ahead of it, of (to put it my way) recession/cuts torn Britain.

While it doesn’t get specific, or touch economics much, ‘Turn Left’ seems like the closest thing to a direct political attack on crisis-wracked British society that any mainstream TV show could possibly get away with. Let’s just recap: in an episode of that highly commercial kid’s romp known as Doctor Who, Russell T. Davies suggested that, in a time of crisis, the British state might institute a program of racist slavery, if not extermination. At the very least, we see people herded and treated like animals while patrolled by armed guardians of the state. Moreover, the people being treated that way are the poor, the dispossessed, the helpless. Brits get the kind of treatment meted out to refugees once they too become scapegoatable dependents.

I’m not sure that Davies intended the title as direct political advice (though it wouldn’t be bad advice) but it surely can’t be entirely an accident that Donna’s apocalyptic turn is a turn to the right, a turn that results in “England for the English”.

The Donna in the car at the start of ‘Turn Left’ might vote that way. She’s the same thoughtless, selfish Donna we met at the start of ‘The Runaway Bride’. She’s exactly the kind of self-involved, complacent brat who hardly notices as society crashes around her… until she is touched by it. Davies pulls no punches. We see her obsessing over stationary and offices grudges as the rest of Chowdry’s staff watch the TV, horrified, for news of the hospital. We see her asking “What’s for tea?” as news of Sarah Jane Smith’s death flashes on the screen.

I know people like that. Indeed, speaking as someone who lives in southern England – surely the global epicentre of reactionary complacency – it is very hard indeed not to derive a massive and delicious jolt of schadenfreude from the way Davies manages to turn the (surviving) population of the Sun and Daily Mail reading world into despised, harangued, jobless refugees. “Who’s going to listen to us?” asks Donna’s Mum, “Refugees. We haven’t even got a vote. We’re just no-one Donna. We don’t exist.” To put it another way: seek asylum and you’ll be locked up in one.

It’s ironic that as Donna’s society disintegrates, she suddenly discovers other people.…

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