A new collection of essays examining the concept of race in the series ‘Doctor Who’ is soon to be published, and the consensus of the anthology has the Whoniverse up in arms. The book, titled ‘Doctor Who and Race’ suggests that the BBC series is steeped in outdated attitudes about race and is extremely bigoted in its handling of “people of colour” as well as shows contempt for “primitive” societies by calling them “savages.”
Edited by Dr. Lindy Orthia, a lecturer at the Australian National University who also helped compile the anthology stated, “The biggest elephant in the room is the problem privately nursed by many fans of loving a TV show when it is thunderingly racist.”
Some examples of the show’s disregard of race included the failure to cast a non-Caucasian actor as the Doctor and the use of Caucasian actors for ethnic roles (citing John Bennett playing the Chinese villain in ‘The Talons of Weng-Chaing). One contributor even based his essay on the fact that because the 5th Doctor (Peter Davidson) wore a cricket uniform, the show exuded racism becuase the costume represented the racist notions of British Imperialism and the racist history of the game of cricket:
“Cricket also had a role in maintaining the status of British imperialism through the exercise of soft power as it was successfully inculcated by the colonial elites. Davison’s cricketing Doctor once again saw the BBC using Who to promote a racial and class nostalgia that had already outlived its validity.”
Of course, the subject of having black companions came to play in this book which had one scholar state that the Doctor’s relationship with Martha (Freema Agyeman) was proof of the “white perspective” of the series. Case in point, the contributor cites the episode ‘The Shakespeare Code’ where Martha commented if it was okay for her to walk around Elizabethan London for fear of being carted off as a slave. The Doctor comments that she should “walk around like you own the place. It works for me.” According to the writer, this exchange “betrays the ignorance of writers about historical racial violence and contemporary white privilege.” The writer then questions why the Doctor is more inclined to fighting Cybermen and Daleks than fighting human slavery.
The anthology also criticized the introduction of Adolf Hitler in the episode ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ and has condemned it as “slapstick” and irresponsible for not taking the opportunity to increase the understanding of the Holocaust.
‘Doctor Who and Race’ has been in the making for 2 years and has been aimed at criticizing the show since its inception. In a call out for contributors in 2011, the criteria Dr. Orthia listed for essay considerations included the following:
•the ethnic or racial backgrounds, identities and racially-signifying physical traits of characters, communities, and actors in Doctor Who
•depictions of racism, racial stereotyping and race-related exploitation in the program
•Doctor Who stories that reference colonialism, imperialism, nationalism, and other race-related phenomena significant in human history, such as slavery and civil rights movements
•allegorical literary tools used in the program to reference race, such as the alien as ‘other’.
Because of the stated criteria, it shouldn’t be surprising that the 23 essays in the book all take a noncomplimentary look at the series. After all, that was what the anthology was aiming for and scholars looking to be published will write accordingly.
Fans of ‘Doctor Who’ have already struck back at the criticisms and the BBC has released this statement in response to the book:
“Doctor Who has a strong track record of diverse casting among both regular and guest cast. Freema Agyeman became the first black companion and Noel Clarke starred in a major role for five years [Mickey Smith]. ‘Reflecting the diversity of the UK is a duty of the BBC, and casting on Doctor Who is colour-blind. It is always about the best actors for the roles.”
Television shows are notorious for being picked apart for not properly representing the “real” world. Having Caucasian actors play ethnic roles is not isolated to ‘Doctor Who.’ In fact, it still occurs even in blockbuster films with the casting of British actor Sir Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin in ‘Iron Man 3’ and the casting of Caucasian actors for the now defunct film ‘Akira’ based on the Japanese manga.
But is this something viewers should expect from the series ‘Doctor Who?’ Is ‘Doctor Who’ a racist show or is the racism seen a byproduct of the way the industry is run and not in the show itself? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Source: The Telegraph