I think there is something inherently dodgy about the notion of ‘redemptive readings’. It seems to imply a determination to look at a text in a positive way that is at odds with what could be called ‘proper scepticism’. This objection is itself open to the objection that it’s silly to approach a piece of entertainment product with ‘scepticism’, especially when it is part of a series of which one is supposedly a fan. But, this loses sight of context and agency. There are various ways of choosing to watch the same thing. When you sit down to enjoy an episode of a show you like, for fun, you’re a bit odd if you’re not expecting, hoping and trying to like it. When you’re watching it with the express intention of analysing it and then writing about what it means, proper scepticism becomes appropriate. Trying to like what you’re watching becomes a somewhat iffy strategy in that context. Besides, doesn’t the necessity of trying to find ways of praising what you’re analysing tell us something in itself? This muddle also loses sight of the distinctions that are always to be found within the concept of enjoyment, distinctions that are all too often spuriously aggregated. You don’t have to think something is politically or morally correct in order to like it (though, in practice…). No more do you need to think that something is aesthetically sophisticated or beautiful in order to relish its aesthetic. Conversely, you may dislike a beautifully made piece of art which offers praiseworthy political or moral analyses. Or you may take enjoyment from the act of hostile reading itself. I, for instance, very much enjoy hating and criticising certain things, and I don’t see anything wrong with this.
This is by way of a preamble to talking about ‘The Two Doctors’, which has been subject to an attempted rehabilitation from the charge of being reactionary on the issue of race. The re-evaluation of the story has been pioneered and best expressed by Robert Shearman in About Time 6. The essence of his argument is that the Androgums are a comment on the concept of the monster as employed by Doctor Who. They are characterised as generic monsters but it is disarming when people treat them as such because they do not look like monsters. They are treated the same way as the Sontarans – all of them racially evil and hateful – but, because they do not have potato-heads or eye-stalks, this poses a problem. We notice the inappropriateness, even tastelessness, of generalising about the evil of an entire race when they look like us. We don’t blink when the Doctor describes the entire Jagaroth race as vicious and callous but it bothers us when the same racial villainy is implied about aliens who look human. Philip Sandifer recently summarized and expanded the case admirably, here.
I’m enormously tempted by this reading… and, maybe, if I’d approached ‘The Two Doctors’ with the express intention of finding a ‘redemptive reading’, I would’ve happily seized upon it.…