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Jack Graham

Jack Graham wrote about Doctor Who and Marxism, often at the same time. These days he co-hosts the I Don't Speak German podcast with Daniel Harper.Support Jack on Patreon.

6 Comments

  1. John Binns
    February 11, 2016 @ 11:16 am

    Interesting. The contrast between the attitudes of Doctor Who (and its writers) to the military, and of the Doctor to the Brigadier, over time raise an interesting question I think about the role of history, nostalgia and sentiment in forming those attitudes. Part of the way the progressive stance of the show in (say) The War Games and The Silurians is neutralised by the time of (say) Death in Heaven is by calling on an emotive reaction to the heroism of old soldiers, as typified by the Brigadier. We saw a similar technique recently with Hilary Benn’s speech to the House of Commons on Syria, recalling conflicts from our parents’ generation rather than the more awkward examples from our own recent memory. Perhaps part of the impact of showing us Tim Latimer as an old man and Danny Pink as deceased is to provide a shortcut to that attitude towards soldiers.

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  2. Prankster
    February 11, 2016 @ 3:37 pm

    It’s been a while since I saw “The Family of Blood” and I can’t speak to the rest of it, but my take away from the headmaster was that he was clearly a good man who’d been flummoxed by the system. The central, horrifying image of this episode–for me, certainly, but I can’t imagine disagreeing particularly strongly–is that of schoolchildren being taught to man foxholes in preparation for a war which we all know was an outright meat grinder. That the scarecrows are meant to be an “outside, invading” force seems irrelevant–they’re scarecrows, boogeymen being propped up as nominal foes for training purposes. Of course the system training the kids to fight is going to portray them that way; I’m unclear as to why this perspective hangs around the neck of the episode itself. Further, it’s pretty clear that the headmaster is the end result of this process. That he’s good and brave and whatnot is more or less beside the point, other than to make it clear that this is a destructive system rather than the work of specific moustache-twirling baddies (which elevates it above most Who episodes of the period, frankly).

    In terms of “emotive validation” the takeaway is pretty clearly “the British school system is a war machine”.

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  3. Laurence Price
    February 11, 2016 @ 5:03 pm

    Many thanks for that- fascinating as always! Just one pedantic point; you rightly observe that the choice of To Be a Pilgrim as the hymn was a “safer”, less overtly imperialistic option than (say) Onward Christian Soldiers. But ironically the words for To Be a Pilgrim were written by that now sadly rare breed, an Anglo-Catholic Socialist. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percy_Dearmer . His particular brand of English socialism was a generation after William Morris- so still very focussed on romantic, mythic notions of spiritual unity of land and people along with the dignity of labour (not that I’m saying that’s a bad thing!). But he definitely wasn’t an imperialist. Unfortunately, Christianity has a habit of letting its most revolutionary aspects get co-opted by empires; so things that were signs of being subversive and illegal a hundred years ago (like flickering candles, burning incense and robed choirs singing plainchant) have turned into the epitome of Establishment conservatism.

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    • Wood
      February 12, 2016 @ 7:36 am

      The real reason that this particular version of Bunyan’s Pilgrim Hymn was picked though is because it includes the couplet “He who would valiant be, ‘gainst all disaster/ let him in constancy follow the Master” and actually the version that would have would have been sung in 1913 contained neither the words “valiant” nor “master”, both of which are significant for the arc of Series Three.

      Coming from an era where hymns were still sung in British schools, I and friends remember this; one friend told me that as a kid in the early 80s he always substituted “Doctor” for “Master”.

      This is not to invalidate Jack’s analysis one bit, just to say that the choice of the hymn and its wording was probably not Cornell’s, and shows how, as Jack put it, the metaphor was more out of his control than one might initially think.

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  4. David Anderson
    February 11, 2016 @ 8:48 pm

    I remember the predominant reaction to this story on first broadcast was to wonder whether there were any Doctor Who villains who were name-checked in He Who Would Valiant Be. Onward Christian Soldiers wouldn’t have had the same effect.

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  5. 5tephe
    February 15, 2016 @ 10:13 pm

    Stellar analysis Jack. The whole series. You’ve managed to make lucid the critique of mainstream=balanced that you so often champion. More please.

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