I’ve realised who Strax reminds me of: the policeman from ‘Allo ‘Allo. But not as good. That’s a cheap shot, but I do have a serious point to make.
Strax, you see, is essentially a funny foreigner. You know, with his allegedly hilarious misunderstandings and all that stuff. Moffat evidently imagines that Strax’s misunderstandings are a rich and continuing source of humour, since he stops the plot of ‘Deep Breath’ for a few minutes so that he can (once again) run through all the same Strax jokes he’s already done several hundred times in other episodes. (This, by the way, is another way in which Strax resembles a character from ‘Allo ‘Allo – he is the same joke, repeated endlessly, over and over again, with the laugh demanded – upon recitation of a well-known catchphrase – from an audience supposedly trained via pavlovian technique. If you object to my singling out ‘Allo ‘Allo here then, really, I agree with you. How about we use Little Britain as our example instead?)
Of course, the funny foreigner – with all the imperial contempt and jingoistic chauvinism that is built in to it – is a very old, traditional, endlessly recurring character in British comedy. Shakespeare, for instance, relied upon it heavily, with his nebbishy Welshmen Fluellen and Dr Evans, his amusingly touchy Irishman MacMorris, and his randy preening French vanitycase Dr Caius, etc etc etc. So we can’t be too hard on Moffat here. He is, after all, simply doing (yet again) something very old, venerable and respected, despite it being unfunny and based in national chauvinism. Can’t really blame him, can you?
As I say, however, Strax isn’t as good as the policeman in ‘Allo ‘Allo… because the policeman in ‘Allo ‘Allo (you remember, he used to come in and mispronounce his words – it was terribly amusing) is actually a jab at the English, at the English habit of imagining that, rather than bother to learn foreign languages, all you have to do is speak English at foreigners, but with an attempt at their accent, and in a loud voice, and they’ll get it… because English is the only proper language, and people who don’t speak it are thus functionally the same as the mentally disabled, and everyone knows that people with mental illness just need to try harder.
I don’t mean to attribute attitudes like that to Moffat. But its a shame that he falls back on a comedy trope that is so incredibly dodgy. Though, in fairness, the employment of dodgy foreigner stereotypes (comic or otherwise) is not exactly unknown to pre-Moffat Doctor Who. And Strax isn’t overtly supposed to represent any particular non-British nationality. He’s supposed to be an alien. And here we stumble across another complicating factor: the alien in Doctor Who has always been based on a kind of racial essentialism, a fear of the other, etc etc etc. Strax could arguably be said to be considerably less dodgy than, say, Linx, because he represents a condition of mutual acceptance. …