Saturday, 9 April 2005

The Unquiet Dead

I'm going to try to keep this brief. My review / all-purpose-meditation-on "Rose" was apparently so long and involved that the editor of Doctor Who Monthly mocked me for writing anything so complicated. Straight to the big issues this time, then.

When I was talking about "Rose", I made the point that the most important factor in "old" Doctor Who was its acceptance of the alien, though not in the prosthetic-make-up sense of the word. Its love of the outside world was the best thing it ever had to offer. So: given that we live in a society which has been forced into a permanent state of xenophobia, given that we live in a culture whose view of morality is largely based on the question of whether the people we meet are evil darkies trying to take our land and our women and our jobs… how well do you think I'm going to react to a story which explicitly, deliberately equates aliens with foreigners, and then says "all aliens are evil, they may look nice but they're out to swarm your country in their billions"?

I'm sorry. There's no other way of saying it. This is offensive, poisonous, xenophobic ****. I know many of you will be saying "a-hah, but there have always been alien invasion stories in Doctor Who, what's the difference?", so I'll tell you the difference. There was never a time in the history of original Doctor Who, not even in the days when polite middle-England was terrified by the thought of being overrun by funny-coloured people, when the programme pandered to that kind of vermin-thinking by claiming that all foreigners were invaders (see, especially, "The Ambassadors of Death"… Enoch Powell isn't welcome in the Doctor's universe). "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" came from the war-time generation's fear of Nazism, not from a terror of immigration. "Spearhead from Space", like much of '70s Doctor Who, shows the invader to be a ruthless, self-involved force modelled on the inhuman instincts of our own culture rather than on swarthy-looking foreign types. "The Unquiet Dead" is different. "The Unquiet Dead" is a story, made at a point in time when the big electoral issue is whether the British should put up with foreigners at all or treat them like scrounging gypsies, about a bunch of REFUGEES - about a bunch of ASYLUM-SEEKERS - who ask the Doctor for his help and then turn out to be EVIL ALIENS WHO JUST WANT TO SWARM YOUR COUNTRY NYHAH HAH HAAAAAH WE WILL RAPE YOUR WOMEN AND DEFILE YOUR CORPSES.

The Doctor's argument against Rose, when Rose believes that it's wrong to let the aliens take over human bodies because it's just a bit sick, is one of the best arguments the Doctor has ever had to present. The level of tolerance in what he says is - or seems - remarkable. When he tells her that she's got to stop thinking as if her customs are automatically the right and proper ones, it's one of the most admirable moments in modern television. And then it turns out that Rose was right all along, because the aliens are really body-snatching wogs who deserve to be blown up.

I don't seriously believe that Mark Gatiss will read this. But on the off-chance that he might stumble into this while ego-surfing, I'm going to say it. Mark: you're a [note that I've edited the end of this sentence slightly since I first wrote it, now I've had time to calm down, so I'll settle for] thoughtless halfwit . Did you really think it was all right to write a script for this programme, a programme which is supposedly watched by the New Generation and deliberately calculated to mean something, which sends out a vile, appalling, dangerous message like this? Did you think it didn't matter? Did you think it would never have an impact? At best, this is Doctor Who: The Michael Howerd Years, a new version of the programme for the kind of NF-loving scum who take the "shoot all the ****ers" view of anyone who wants to come anywhere near the great and pearly-white shores of Britain. This is a programme that teaches children never to trust people who look a bit weird, especially not if they're asking for sanctuary from a war that nearly wiped them out, because they're obviously criminals playing on our bleeding-heart compassion and will always stab us in the back. This, circa 2005, can only be read as a party political broadcast for the British National Party.

After two weeks of being really, really good, Doctor Who has become something sickening, twisted and wrong. I can't express how vile and awful this is, so I'll shut up soon. All I know is that I wish the series had never come back, rather than come back like this.

Doctor Who these days isn't an ironic, post-modern SF show that only fantasy-literate people watch. It's one of the highest-rated programmes on British TV, the programme you want your children to see, the programme that those children learn from without even knowing it. The programme which has, traditionally, had a morality sharper than anyone else's. And a script like this, in 2005, is as disgusting and as irresponsible as a programme about big-eared money-grubbing aliens with Yiddish accents would have been in the 1930s. No, a better comparison: imagine an American TV show made in the late '60s, which claimed that dark-skinned aliens weren't quite smart enough to run their own society and thus shouldn't be allowed a vote. That's the kind of programme we've been given tonight. Many of you may disagree, because people of Our Sort tend to get distracted by big Cosmic Wars and such rather than looking at the message coming through underneath, but imagine you were watching this as a ten-year-old. What would you have learned today?

I feel sick. And betrayed. And God help me, if I weren't already "committed" to this series then this would be the point at which I'd give up.