Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Tories in war with Planet Reality

The right's paranoia about the 'liberal' (ie. light on active Tory advocacy) BBC reaches a new height of absurdity today, with a bizarre claim in the Sunday Times that the corporation used Doctor Who as a vehicle for anti-government propaganda in the late years of Margaret Thatcher's rule. The paper has taken a characteristically mischievous comment from Sylvester McCoy (who played the Doctor in the three seasons before the show was 'put on hiatus' in 1989) and, using regenerative technology worthy of the TARDIS itself, transformed it into a full-blown BBC conspiracy to "hire left-wing scriptwriters" to write "propaganda into the plots in an attempt to undermine Margaret Thatcher’s premiership".

Sadly for the Sunday Times, the details of their own story make unmistakably clear that what was happening was not directed from on-high, but was simply the result of a young script editor following his own political idealism. What I find especially amusing about the paper's spin is the 'secret conspiracy, only just uncovered' angle - the idea that anyone could have missed the political message in those episodes is risible. Sheila Hancock's character Helen A in The Happiness Patrol, who ruled a planet where everyone 'had to be happy', was instantly recognised at the time as a not-very-subtle satire of Thatcherism. Any pro-CND slant in the story Battlefield (written by David Aaronovotich's brother Ben) was not going to easily go over people's heads either, given that at the conclusion of the story the Doctor screams as the villain "are these weapons YOU WOULD UUUUUSE?". Perhaps there were some viewers who came away thinking they had spotted a nod towards the case for proportionate nuclear deterrence in that outburst, but I have my doubts.

Even funnier is the article's rather desperate attempt to imply that the BBC's effort to foment a "TARDIS revolution" backfired and was responsible for viewers leaving the show in "droves", leading to its ultimate demise! As any Doctor Who fan of the right or left will tell you, the real reasons for the programme's dip in fortunes were rather more prosaic - shocking scheduling and almost zero publicity.

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