elisi: (Default)
[personal profile] elisi
Well, my immediate reaction was pure delight. But as I started writing down all my thoughts, I realised I would have to split them up, as they were veering in two very different directions. So, first up comes the serious post. Because the show did one of the things I was most hoping for: It got political. And how!

What Defines Us

DOCTOR: Then tell me, do you also keep a record of how many it's killed?
SUTCLIFFE: Please. People know the ice is dangerous, yet they will insist on their festivities. That's hardly my fault.
DOCTOR: Don't sell yourself short. This is the biggest Frost Fair in decades, and that's down to you.
SUTCLIFFE: I made the most of the situation. It's the first proper freeze it's caused in years.
BILL: Why? Production down, huh? Not enough people dying?
SUTCLIFFE: Girl, you show the ignorance of all your kind. Without that beast, my mills would rely on coal mines, and men die in coal mines all the time.
DOCTOR: I preferred it when you were alien.
SUTCLIFFE: When I was?
DOCTOR: Well, that explained the lack of humanity. What makes you so sure that your life is worth more than those people out there on the ice? Is it the money? The accident of birth that puts you inside the big, fancy house?
SUTCLIFFE: I help move this country forward. I move this Empire forward.
DOCTOR: Human progress isn't measured by industry, it's measured by the value you place on a life. An unimportant life. A life without privilege. The boy who died on the river, that boy's value is your value. That's what defines an age. That's what defines a species.

(You can even be Biblical about it...) Truth is truth.

I sincerely doubt it’ll make the least bit of difference to anyone in power, but it might make the viewing public think just a little deeper… What value does the current government place on an ‘unimportant’ life? Someone poor, or sick, or young, or disabled say?

For an example of the issues we face (and what we have a chance to CHANGE with the upcoming election) regarding the way those in power devalue the lives of the less privileged, just look at this post. (If you are reading this in the UK, and haven’t already done so Register to Vote!)

I realise this has strayed completely from review to RL politics. And yet, surely the point of stories is to influence the world? What Would the Doctor Do? Answer: Do his best to help and protect the vulnerable. And thank you Sarah Dollard for reinforcing that message.

(And no, I’m not impartial. As one of the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK, currently being used as bargaining chips, I am not exactly feeling happy about anything at all politically. And that’s speaking from a position of relative privilege compared to others.)

I have said for a long time that Doctor Who is a parable for Britain. And that goes right down to the Time Lords (in charge) never caring much for the wider universe, as long as *they* are OK…

It's 1814. Melanin.
Slavery is still totally a thing.

MARTHA: Oh, but hold on. Am I all right? I'm not going to get carted off as a slave, am I?
DOCTOR: Why would they do that?
MARTHA: Not exactly white, in case you haven't noticed.
DOCTOR: I'm not even human. Just walk about like you own the place. Works for me.

The Shakespeare Code

People have been angry about that exchange for ten years. (And rightly so.) It’s good that the show has now decided to take a more responsible approach, acknowledging the issues that minorities face. Of course it’s perfectly easy to think of any number of reasons why Ten was oblivious (I’m not using this as an excuse to bash anyone) - and since Moffat addressed the issue directly, I shall quote him on his reasons for doing so (bolded mine):

History is always white washed. […] You will see people of different colors there. In fact, there were. People all didn’t arrive in the twinkle of an eye. It is bending history slightly, but in a progressive and useful way.

Also, it wouldn’t be a pleasant place for [Bill] in several respects. Taking that on is just respectful of the audience, really. […] I’m always reluctant to sound so pious and so do-gooding and all of that. It’s useful that these things are talked about. The evil in Doctor Who can sometimes be the evil in our real world, too.

Regarding punching racists, then who knew that Doctor Who could be QUITE so topical? My favourite gif set is this one.

But there is more to this than the Doctor punching people. Yes there were horrible bigots (as there still are today), but that was not the automatic default. As it happens I watched Victoria last year, which - apart from being utterly delightful - also gave a good insight into the opinions of the times.

A little background info: The transatlantic slave trade was abolished by Parliament in 1807 but it was not until 1833 that the abolition of slavery act was passed - with the exceptions "of the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company", Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and Saint Helena; the exceptions were eliminated in 1843. The last date is significant, because Prince Albert - newly married and casting about for some sort of role - grasped onto the anti-slavery movement (as this was already a cause close to his heart) and made his first big proper speech at the great anti-slavery meeting at Exeter Hall in 1840 (more info here).

The point being: These were current issues, and racism (although very much present) wasn’t condoned the way we might expect.

Just look at the book the Doctor reads to the children - you may have recognised it as ‘Shockheaded Peter’, which was actually published in 1845, so a little later than the episode.

As I owned the book as a child (in German; don’t ask me why), I know it pretty well. It’s not actually full of horror stories that the example of the boy who sucks his thumb might lead you to believe - they are cautionary tales: Don’t play with matches (you may burn to a cinder); don’t wobble on your chair at the dinner table (you may fall and bring the dinner with you); look where you are going (or you might fall in a canal); eat your dinner (or you might waste away to nothing). And amongst all these: Don’t make fun of people with different coloured skin. I give you: The Story of the Inky Boys. Saint Nicholas himself steps in to punish them. So - in the middle of the 19th Century Santa Claus declared you naughty if you were racist.

This is a slight detour, but I am getting to a point…

The fish is a pretty straightforward metaphor for slavery. It is literally kept in chains, its body being used for others’ profit.

And it’s not freed because it’s somehow ‘worthy’ or ‘noble’ - as Bill points out, it might be dangerous. But they free it quite simply because slavery is wrong.

(Yes, you can make parallels to The Beast Below, but the situations - although similar on a surface level - are different. The Star Whale was exploited, but it volunteered. And its metaphorical applications are a lot wider - the whole population was a culprit. See this post for a deeper look: The Alchemists of the Middle Ages Made Transmutation Their Main Aim in Life. A better example is the whale in Torchwood's Meat, but since everyone is probably happier forgetting it again, I shan't go into details.)

Now I threw a lot of dates out there a little further up, but in case you wonder when actual slavery (as in owning another human being) was outlawed *in England* watch this clip:

Yes, that is rather silly (it’s QI after all), but they then move on to something more sombre:

It is estimated that 27 million people are held in essential bondage or slavery on this planet now, more than there ever were in the days of cotton picking… Or to quote Bill, but without the ‘1814’ disclaimer:

Slavery is still totally a thing.


(no subject)

Date: 3 May 2017 08:17 pm (UTC)
promethia_tenk: (ten nonchalance)
From: [personal profile] promethia_tenk
Just walk about like you own the place. Works for me.
I think this episode (Thin Ice) underlines rather pointedly the very real narrative roadblock that would face the writer who decides to cast someone other than a white male as the Doctor. Because suddenly the Doctor's usual MO is just not going to work in a good portion of the episodes. As heartening as it was to watch the Doctor punch racists, I think what it highlighted most for me how very much Bill's ability to get around in relative safety and ease is dependent on her having him to escort her. I don't know/remember if we're having any more episodes set in the past this season, but it's a vein I'd be interested in going back to.

So if you make the Doctor someone other than a white man, how do you handle episodes in the past? I think it's a hurdle worth crossing, but it would take some serious re-examination of how the show works and why. And some serious self-evaluation on the Doctor's part.

I appreciate a lot of what Moffat's done to pave the way for being able to cast a woman as the Doctor (and to a lesser extent, to show that Time Lords can change race), but it does sit a bit uncomfortably with me still because the general tone of these efforts is to say 'it's no big deal! Time Lords can totally switch genders around! Isn't this fun!' And, sure, maybe it is for Time Lords. But I also feel like that somewhat undermines the power of doing something like that.

I have said for a long time that Doctor Who is a parable for Britain. And that goes right down to the Time Lords (in charge) never caring much for the wider universe, as long as *they* are OK…
The other powerful thing about changing the Doctor's gender and/or race would be to move this parable forward. Could have an interesting intersection with the Time Lords being back and perhaps having a new place in the post-Time War universe?

A better example is the whale in Torchwood's Meat, but since everyone is probably happier forgetting it again, I shan't go into details.)
Oh, I liked Meat /o\

(no subject)

Date: 3 May 2017 09:10 pm (UTC)
promethia_tenk: (helen magnus)
From: [personal profile] promethia_tenk
This. I'm all for it, but it needs a lot of... finesse. And awareness of the issues.
Has there ever been an episode set in the future/another planet where being white and/or male is a subservient position, and the Doctor is dependent on his companion to be allowed to go anywhere? It could be an interesting middle step or thought experiment. I'm pretty sure I've run into it in fic once or twice, though more for salacious purposes than serious ones.

It occurred to me that about the best parallel I can think of in fiction for a female Doctor is Helen Magnus. Well, she's maybe half-way between the Doctor and Jack Harkness: a human with an augmented lifespan who was born in the 19th century and is in charge of an institution dealing with the supernatural (so a situation more like Jack, but she has more idealism than him). The show occasionally visits her in her past. I'm a bit fuzzy on the details; I don't think the show deals extensively with difficulties she faced as a woman in her position of power. But thinking about it is one of the few things that positively makes me want to see the Doctor as a woman (as opposed to just thinking it's something that ought to be done).

It's either 'yay isn't it great' or 'NO IT MUST NEVER HAPPEN!' Neither of which seems to grapple with the reality...
It would be a very rich way to steer the show going forward. One of the big pitfalls of doing a reboot of a big franchise like this, I think, is the 'now what?' problem. If the show is seeming to set you back where you started from, there's a very real danger of it then becoming shallow and just doing rehashes of what it used to be. But if the Moffat years have been about healing the Doctor's massive (white, scion of empire) manpain issue, then perhaps the logical place to go next is to transcend that box?

GOOD! But most people didn't (I think) and I was running out of energy by then, so I thought I'd just mention it & move on...
Well, you know me. Doing Torchwood wrong *g*

(no subject)

Date: 3 May 2017 10:16 pm (UTC)
promethia_tenk: (missy)
From: [personal profile] promethia_tenk
Something I hope they do with [widely rumored spoilers] is to give us some idea of why Missy became a woman and what that means for her.


elisi: (Default)elisi
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