Echoes of Future Politics, Composing, 02/10/2017

I haven’t posted about it in a few weeks, but I’m still working on my Doctor Who project. These are the essays on the Peter Capaldi years that I’m revising into a book, which I hope will be released independently in the gap between Capaldi’s farewell this Xmas and Jodie Whittaker’s official premiere later in 2018.

Filming The Caretaker on the set of Doctor Who in those innocent
times of the year 2014.
I wrote these essays first as reviews – episode by episode as they played, I took a philosophical lens to them. Like all my writing on the blog, these posts improved over time. So when I go back to earlier posts – like this initial review of The Caretaker – I can see that they’re in serious need of revision.

Sometimes, it’s a style issue. Sometimes, it’s way more complicated. The case of Gareth Roberts, for instance. When I first ranked the stories of Capaldi’s first season, I put Roberts’ The Caretaker on top of the list.

The reasons were clear to me. For one, it was a perfectly constructed farce, which threaded complex characterization and relationship-building among the plot itself. It was a masterful fusion of the sitcom style with a Doctor Who adventure story about an alien robot.

The Caretaker also confronted a political issue that had drifted away from prominence in Doctor Who since Steven Moffat took over as creative producer – class. The central source of conflict in the story was the misunderstanding between the Doctor and Danny Pink over class.

The Doctor – keeping with the war, peace, and sacrifice theme of the season – presumed Danny to be a bit stupid when he first learned that he’d been a soldier. When Danny learned that the new school caretaker was actually a Time Lord, he presumed the Doctor was the same kind of Lord who gave him his mission in Afghanistan.

The sort of upper-class bastard who’s content to start wars and burn bridges to prop up his rightful place at the top of the social world. The Doctor didn’t yet understand that Danny was a victim of war, someone who’d killed but who wasn’t a killer. Danny didn’t yet understand that the Doctor was a Lord who’d turned against his class for the exact same reasons Danny despised the lordly caste.

Understanding all the facets of Clara Oswald is more than I think one
book can manage.
Clara was literally caught in the middle – dealing with this massive misunderstanding between the two most important men in her life – her lover and her best friend. That’s not to mention how the Doctor’s friendship with Coal Hill troublemaker Courtney or the motives of the Skovox Blitzer robot played into the same themes.

Roberts did a beautiful job weaving all these elements together. I consider it a masterclass in the craftsmanship of thematically rich comedy narrative. In the moment of that season, the story also did a wonderful job of maintaining the hopeful outlook of Doctor Who.

After a bleak season finale with Death in Heaven, Roberts offered a refreshing model for the show going forward. Writing as I was a few days after its broadcast, I also presumed that this would be Clara’s exit from Doctor Who, a terribly depressing place to leave the character.

Clara’s future – and how I’ll deal with her in this book – are subjects for another post. Probably several as I hammer out my ideas. Clara Oswald contains multitudes, as you know.

No, my biggest problem as I rethink the Caretaker essay is its author. See, when Gareth Roberts first wrote The Caretaker, her politics were kind of a non-issue. He was just an ordinary British middle-of-the-road decently-off gay liberal.

I followed him on Twitter, and quite enjoyed a lot of what he said. Roberts would fairly often post about political issues, and I could often sympathize with him at first. Given the political choices Britain was offering its people for government early in the Capaldi years, I could see how someone in his position could be frustrated.

Gareth Roberts hasn't written for Doctor Who on television since
Capaldi's first year, and I think his increasingly extreme turn in
politics have been a key reason.
Suspicious of Jeremy Corbyn and his reputation for being too far on the left for most people. Feeling a bit frozen out of the Tories, whose austerity budgets were putting too much of a squeeze on the British people. Unable to accept the perpetual damp squib of Liberal Democrat organizing and opposed to separatism, there seemed to be nowhere to stand.

Well, there was one other place. And over the next few years, I saw Roberts drift there. The key issue seems to have been anti-gay violence by extremist Islamists, particularly the massacre at Pulse nightclub in Florida. Over 2017, Roberts flew very quickly to oppose Islam, painting all Muslims as supporters of massacring and oppressing LGBTQ people.

This is a major path that alt-right activists use to turn liberals into anti-Islam bigots. All Muslims are conflated with the most violent extremism, this time on the wedge issue of gay rights. The Chechen crackdown on LGBTQ people – concentration camps included – is an important touchstone, since Chechnya is a Muslim-majority Russian republic whose president is Muslim himself.

Of course, the alt-right’s radicalization narrative avoids the fact that anti-LGBTQ strongman Ramzan Kadyrov executes white nationalist Vladimir Putin’s own anti-LGBTQ and nationalist agendas. Kadyrov is an ally in the Eurasian imperial project motivating modern Russian global affairs.

So what am I supposed to do with a script that celebrates love, joy, and comedy, when its author has fallen into the radical racist politics that Doctor Who fundamentally stands against? I honestly don’t know. Any suggestions?

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