Like half the world these days (it seems) I am a big fan of Doctor Who.
I’ve loved it all my life; I grew up watching it. It was my escape from the greyness of a 1970s childhood, my relief from the unrelenting falsity and greed of a teenage 1980s, my retreat from the harsh realities of my early working life in the 1990s, and now I get to enjoy it with a new generation of fans in the 21st century.
That’s how it is. If you don’t like it, I don’t care.
You may be wondering why I mention this on a blog that has been overwhelmingly political in most of its content.
Shows like Doctor Who – fantasies, if you like – have a quality that many other entertainments lack: They can put a mirror up to the modern world by comparing it with the past. The result can be astonishingly effective, if done skilfully (and I don’t think anyone would argue that Doctor Who isn’t done skilfully).
The thought occurred to me, earlier tonight, that a travelling companion from the 1950s would be perfect for the Doctor, in the current national climate.
In the 1950s, the UK was just beginning to emerge from a period of enforced austerity, caused by the actions of other people (the Nazis, the Japanese military, Mussolini’s fascists). Rationing was commonplace but was beginning to disappear. Money was short – the government’s debt was more than twice as much as the country made every year – so household budgets were tight. The welfare state and the NHS were in their infancy. Millions of people worked on mind-numbing jobs in factories because there was no other work available. People made their own entertainment. Radio ruled the roost, television was an upstart that had only just been born when the plug was pulled at the start of World War II, and was only beginning to get back on its feet. A trip to the cinema was a highlight of the week – maybe the month. The pub was the centre of a community’s social life, along with the church. Marriage was sacred and a ticket to respectability.
Contrast that with the present. The UK is now in a period of enforced austerity caused by the actions of a very small minority. While we don’t have rationing, money is short in many households. The government’s debt is not as much as it was then, but the poor have less money in real terms, while the rich have more, so most household budgets have tightened. Millions of people are unemployed and the nation’s manufacturing base has all but collapsed. The welfare system and the NHS are being stripped to the bare minimum. People choose their entertainment from digital deliverers, the TV, radio, cinema, or computer games and are much less social, so pubs are much less full, except when people can find a reason to go out (and then they’ll probably overindulge). Religion is on the wane and marriage is almost irrelevant.
A good TV show like Doctor Who could get a lot of material out of that – while still delivering the weekly dose of excitement, adventure and (occasionally) cold-blooded horror that we all love so much. It could show us how we’ve changed – and not always for the better.
And it could do it gently. And it’s never been done before (has it?).
I think there’s a lot to be said for that.
So, Mr Steven Moffat: How about it? Good idea?
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