Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Hypocrisy of The Doctor

One of the places I go to for Doctor Who reviews that I genuinely trust and admire is Tea With Morbius, run by Matthew Celestis.  For his review of The Caretaker, he made some very pointed comments about the issue of how soldiers are presented on Doctor Who, as well as on the issues of race and class involving both the newest character, Danny Pink (played by Samuel Anderson) and other characters of color whom Celestis I think is saying are shown in a bad light.

I think this merits some examination. 

I think the best thing to do is to look at Doctor Who pre-Moffat, and in particular pre-12th Doctor, to see that I agree with Celestis in how Doctor Who appears to have a bizarre pathological contempt for soldiers, and worse, which is completely contradictory to what Canon has established. 

If we go back to the beginning, we see that the Doctor didn't have this lifetime hatred for soldiers.  In fact, while he was a pacifist he had a great deal of respect for the military.  We only need to go to the most obvious example: UNIT.

In a deleted scene, the Doctor
bitch-slapped the Brigadier.
UNIT debuted in The Invasion, where the Second Doctor joined forces with a certain Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart to battle the Cybermen.   The Doctor had worked with Lethbridge-Stewart before, when he was a Colonel in the recently-rediscovered The Web of Fear.  The Doctor seems quite delighted to see the now-Brigadier again and there was hardly any sense of antagonism one towards the other.  I have to ask, if The Doctor harbored a lifelong hatred of soldiers (no doubt due to his youth on Gallifrey if Listen is any clue), why then would the Doctor not bristle at the concept of working with UNIT?  One could say it was due to sharing a common enemy, but again the Doctor is a willing, almost eager partner with the military and the soldiers who are all around him.  From my memory of The Invasion, there is no hostility towards any soldier; in fact, there seems to be great affection for them.  

Get away from me, you evil baby killer.
UNIT really came into its own during the Third Doctor's era.  This isn't a big surprise given that Doctor Who was stranded on Earth, exiled by the Time Lords for his constant interference in other worlds.  With the Time Lords having disabled the TARDIS, the Doctor had little choice but to stay.  Here again, we have a character we've recently been told has a lifelong hatred for soldiers, and what does he do?  He becomes a virtual part of the military, joining UNIT as their 'scientific advisor'!  Very odd thing to do if you despise soldiers the way the Doctor is suppose to do.

Again, it could be said the reason the Doctor, who 'hates' soldiers, is with UNIT is because they provide him food, clothing, shelter, and scientific equipment.  It's clear the Doctor wants to escape, but it isn't because he has an antipathy towards either the Brigadier or people like Sergeant Benton or Captain Yates.  He just wants to travel again and it has nothing to do with the military.

Also, if he so wished the Doctor could easily find work somewhere outside the military.  He certainly wasn't beholden to UNIT for their largesse.   He also quarreled quite openly with UNIT and the Brigadier.  In Doctor Who & The Silurians, the Brigadier's act of wiping out the Silurian base infuriated the Doctor, who called it murder.  "Typical of the military mind," the Doctor sniffs.  "Present them with a new problem, and they start shooting at it".  The Doctor and the Brigadier didn't see eye-to-eye on everything (particularly conflict resolution), but underneath that there was a great deal of respect and even affection for the other.

Over the course of their time the Third Doctor and the Brigadier stood up for the other to those who verbally attacked the other.  The Brigadier begins trusting the Doctor more and more, even on occasion struggling as to whether his actions might be the right course.  The Doctor, for his part, now sees this 'soldier' (whom we are told, he hates the whole lot of them) as an ally and even a friend.  One of the best moments of The Daemons is when in Episode Three the Doctor's Companion, Jo Grant, makes some remark about how foolish the Brigadier was being.  An angered Doctor sharply addresses his Companion, telling her the Brigadier is under immense pressure with the lives of both the villagers and his men at stake, and reminding her that she is still a serving member of UNIT.

That hardly sounds like the act of someone with a lifelong hatred of soldiers brought about by childhood.

Didn't Steven Moffat tell you?
I hate you now, always have, always will.

With Pertwee's regeneration into Tom Baker, UNIT and soldiers in general were far from finished on Doctor Who, though they did diminish in importance.   As the Doctor was now more free to move about time and space again, he didn't need UNIT as much.  However, whenever the Brigadier needed him, the Doctor would come.  Isn't it curious that for someone who apparently had a soldier-phobia instilled in him since he was a wee child, the Doctor got on so well with this 'soldier' that he deliberately sought him out when reading about his retirement in 'tomorrow's Times' (The Five Doctors)?

I'm supposed to be happy you're dead.

I think the best example of the idiocy of 'the Doctor hates soldiers' is in Battlefield, the Seventh Doctor story which would mark the last time Nicholas Courtney and The Brigadier would appear in Doctor Who itself.  When the Doctor believes the Brigadier to be dead (which I think is what Courtney wanted: a glorious end to the iconic character), the Doctor was visibly devastated.  Cradling his friend, he complained to what he thought was his corpse that this was not how he was suppose to die, that the Brigadier was meant to die peacefully in bed.

IF there was again, this total hatred for soldiers, why would he mourn so strongly for someone whose whole identity was wrapped around being a soldier?  This isn't like Danny Pink's situation, where he has retired from the Army and is now a civilian (making him an ex-soldier).  Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart was in the Douglas Macarthur mode: a soldier to his dying day.  Yet here the Doctor was, visibly upset at seeing his old friend, the soldier, apparently dead.

The fact that then-Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner couldn't bring himself to actually kill off the Brigadier PRECISELY because the character was so beloved showed then (and now) that far from 'hating soldiers', the Doctor (and Doctor Who fans) LOVE soldiers.  I've heard many complaints from Whovians about various Doctors, various Companions, various stories.  I've never heard ONE Classic Who fan EVER say anything negative about The Brigadier.

This was a long way of saying that Steven Moffat's rewriting of Canon to show that the Doctor has some hatred for soldiers is rewriting history, and he is blessed in having so many sheep-fans who parrot anything he wishes to go along with this.  The Doctor never hated soldiers...up till now, but the question is, 'Why?' and 'Why now?'

Having established that the Doctor has never hated soldiers (though he is at times highly displeased at militarism and the military's quick way with the trigger) I wonder if all this 'The Doctor hates soldiers' business is fair in terms of Danny Pink himself.  Given what little we know of him, I think the Doctor's attitude towards Danny is unfair to the point of bigotry. 

He's basically an orphan with few if any prospects.  If the set-up in the UK is the same as in the States, the military provides a way for lower-to-lower-middle-class men and women to advance in society and get an education.  Certainly in the U.S. joining the armed services provides structure in people's lives, a chance to go outside their hometowns, and after their tour, a way to get an education and other benefits.  The military, therefore, appears to be a way for Danny to get away from the boys home and get the tools to be a math teacher. 

Moreover, as Danny frequently points out, he didn't just 'kill people'.  He dug wells.  That suggests that his role in the Army was positive.  Soldiers, contrary to what Doctor Who writers may think, are not dim-witted killing machines who have no sophistication, education, or souls.  We forget that many times the military does positive work.   Why would the President send the military to Liberia to fight Ebola (apart from the fact that fighting a contagious disease is a greater threat to the world than something like ISIS)? 

The idea that Danny is in some way 'polluted' because of his former military service is beyond unfair.  Let's remember, he is a retired soldier.  He's not active duty.  Why then is the Doctor so obsessed with dismissing him as a 'soldier'?  Technically, he even isn't a soldier.  This whole 'the Doctor hates soldiers' bit is irrational and unfair to the fans and the character of Danny. However, I realize WHY it is here. 

The Doctor hates soldiers now.

Danny Pink, the Doctor's Companion's paramour, is a soldier.

Enter conflict.

This is bad screenwriting and plotting.  It's setting up a conflict that is forced and that won't yield any real results. 

Certainly Doctor Who could come up with better ways of bringing conflict in this 'bizarre love triangle'.  Why pick on someone for what he did, something that is both perfectly legal and even admirable? 

My personal theory is that the Doctor Who writers, all white males and probably from upper-class to upper-middle class backgrounds, have probably never served and know few if any people who have.  It's a bit like what film critic Pauline Kael allegedly said after Richard Nixon won a landslide victory.  "I don't know how he won.  No one I know voted for him".  In a similar vein, all these Who writers may be puzzled as to what these foreign creatures called 'soldiers' might do or be like.

All writers bring their life experiences to their work, their worldviews, their biases, fears, and beliefs.  Therefore, I can't quite dismiss the idea that some part of either Steven Moffat or those he hired are expressing their ideas about soldiers through the Doctor;  this Doctor, going against all his predecessors, believes soldiers couldn't possibly be math teachers and are suited only for Physical Education because soldiers/ex-soldiers don't have the intellect to figure out cosines and the Pythagorean theorem and are only interested in bodybuilding and fitness. 

This elitism and snobbery about those who served in the armed services is so out-of-character for the Doctor and really insulting in so many ways.  Why does the Doctor think soldiers are so dim-witted, given his long history with them?  Why does the Doctor dismiss so brazenly the idea that an ex-soldier could teach at all, let alone teach something as complex as math?

As for the idea that The Caretaker is somehow racist or Doctor Who itself has a race problem, that one is a little trickier.  There has been an unfortunate run of black actors who are asked to play characters not particularly bright or annoying or criminal. 

Mickey Smith. 
Mels in River's Secret Part II (Let's Kill Hitler).
The Maitland siblings in Nightmare in Silver
Courtney from Kill the Egg.
The Van Baalen brothers in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.    

Here, I don't think the casting of black actors in these roles reflects some latent racism on Doctor Who.  However, I would think that perhaps the casting director(s) would in future, try to cast people of color in more positive roles, more Martha Jones than Angie Maitland. 

The idea that the Doctor hates soldiers should be rejected as nonsense.  It exists only to force some drama where it is not needed.  The idea that Doctor Who has a race problem is not without some merit but on the whole, I think it's just casting bad actors (particularly bad child actors) than any real racism. 

Oh, yes, one more thing.  So The Doctor hates soldiers, does he? 



  1. Matthew (if I may call you that), I don't always agree w/them, but I find your take interesting, insightful, and entertaining.

    It's a pleasure to read them.

  2. But UNIT was not tied to any one country. It was a global organisation that was primarily involved with the business of investigating alien activities on Earth. UNIT was not first and foremost a military group. It's like Starfleet in Star Trek. yes, they have members who are soldiers, but that was first an organisation of exploration.

    The other thing to remember was that when the Brigadier first appeared as a Colonel, he was portrayed as being the potential villain of the piece. The Doctor was suspicious of him. It was only when he proved what he was that the Doctor accepted him. And subsequent to that, the Doctor frequently lost his temper with the Brigadier(as well as other UNIT officers), calling them some less than friendly names. Even as late as Remembrance of the Daleks, the Doctor had a very short temper when it came to Gilmore.

    I would say that the Doctor does indeed have a longtime dislike for soldiers and the military. He can befriend individuals, and he can work alongside the military if they're going up against against a greater threat. But even then he has no problem telling the military exactly what he thinks of them.

  3. The Doctor certainly has disdain for militarism and the military's 'shoot first' mindset. However, there is no reason why the Doctor 'hates' soldiers.

    The Doctor had no problem defending the Brigadier and UNIT, and no, UNIT was a military organization.

  4. Soldiers are to alien invasion stories much as the police are to urban horror stories - they should realistically turn up once the story gets underway, either to save the day or at worst as a necessary evil. In the first Dalek story the Doctor and his companions effectively recruited a small army from the peace-loving Thals, showing them that it was a "kill or be killed" situation, and the Thals came around to their way of thinking. If the Doctor hates soldiers then a lot of the stories he was involved in, even without UNIT, would have failed. Basically stories need conflict (unless they're about a menacing forest invading the world...(insert roll-eye emoticon here)'s part of the territory. Or at least it should be.

  5. Mickey Smith is a great character. Claiming he is a racist character because sometimes he isn't brave or sometimes is annoying is like saying Donna is a misogynist character. There have been plenty of great actors of color on Dr. Who it is immature and disingenuous to 5 characters of color that were not heroic and say that is pattern of racism. Stop imposing your obvious insecurities on others. Not all characters played by an actor of color should need to be perfect.

  6. "Here, I don't think the casting of black actors in these roles reflects some latent racism on Doctor Who. However, I would think that perhaps the casting director(s) would in future, try to cast people of color in more positive roles, more Martha Jones than Angie Maitland." Quote One from the article.

    "The idea that Doctor Who has a race problem is not without some merit but on the whole, I think it's just casting bad actors (particularly bad child actors) than any real racism". Quote Two from the article.

    Out of the entire piece, you single out the last three paragraphs, which happen to be short ones. Worse, you didn't even get it right, which was "I DON'T THINK IT'S DELIBERATE RACISM FROM THE DOCTOR WHO PRODUCTION TEAM". Please read the article again.

  7. I agree that danny was a dumb conflict, but i think it was more about the specific doctor than anything else. 12 tends to make snap judgements of people and not to remember anything he deems unimportant. I think they were going for endeering jackassishness, but ended up with rude bigotry

  8. If we hadn't already gone this route w/the 9th/Mickey and 11th/Rory stories, a better case about potential racism could perhaps have been mounted regarding Danny. I don't think it was overt racism or even latent racism, just an odd decision to cast black actors in parts where the characters tend to be dim or annoying. It's an unhappy accident.

    Odd that no one ever says the casting of Freeman as Martha was bad.

    It is rather bad that soldiers, who are very deserving of our respect, should be so unilaterally dismissed by The Doctor (especially since quite a few UNIT soldiers have died for him, or at least fighting against his enemies).

    As for 12's inability or disinterest in remembering names and making snap judgments about people, you may be onto something.

  9. I feel like it's a tendency to make shorthand for things that work better shown, not told. We have many regenerations of the Doctor struggling with the military mindset; this time around, it's compressed and told instead of actually shown why in the story.
    And I think you're onto something about it being a cheap way to pronounce, or even produce, the conflict between the Doctor and Danny.
    And with it being coloured by the writers' experience, or lack thereof. The downside to writing what you know.


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