This week, Doctor Who returned to the Russell T. Davies era, with a mediocre episode involving the companions’ families in modern Britain.
It’s also clodhoppingly political.
There’s no reason why Dr. Who shouldn’t do politics, and do them well. The old series was a liberal humanist program at heart; the Doctor solved problems by asking questions and wondering how the world worked.
Jon Pertwee’s tenure as the Doctor was left liberal Green, from a Buddhist perspective. The Green Death dealt with big business and pollution, and introduced environmentalism to family audiences. (It also had a Welsh mine full of giant maggots, a mad gay computer that hummed Wagner and quoted Nietzsche, the power of crystals, hippies saving the world, and Jon Pertwee in drag.) Other episodes were about colonialism and independence, xenophobia, British membership of the EU, and mining strikes.
Final script editor Andrew Cartmel wanted to bring down Thatcher; the Sylvester McCoy era was angrily engaged with modern Britain in a way the series hadn’t been for years. It was imaginative and literate, post-modern and magical realist.
Stories interrogating free market capitalism, the class system, the doctrine of survival of the fittest, the workings of dictatorships, and the way ’60s idealism turned into conformism, took place in tenement blocks, psychic circuses, creepy Victorian mansions, insistently happy colonies, and symbiotic planets. The cyberpunk, Gaimanesque New Adventure books went even further.
Chibnall tells the blandest, most generic science fiction; his episodes feel like every other adventure show. After the dazzling cleverness of the best Moffatt episodes, it feels like the show’s had a full frontal lobotomy.
(Can we expect anything other than mediocrity from the writer of 42, The Hungry Earth, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, The Power of Three, and The Ghost Monument?)
His episodes are political – and obviously, dully so.
The “TARDIS team” are designed to be ‘diverse’: female lead; older white male; Muslim Indian woman; young black male (whose grime music saves the day). Jodie Whittaker is bland, when she’s not David Tennant in skirts. (Why is the default setting for modern Doctors that wacky, zany, bloody irritating mockney wideboy?)
So far, the season has done earnest episodes about guns, racism, and what the blogosphere terms “toxic masculinity”. (Only one – the Rosa Parks episode – was remotely interesting.) We get environmentalism in this one: toxic waste creating giant invertebrates, lifted straight from The Green Death, with a dash of Planet of the Spiders.
Chibnall gives us an amoral American tycoon who’s running for president. “The villain’s just like Trump; boo, hiss!” Later episodes will, no doubt, see Dr. Who versus an evil American president.
And why is it so dreary and grey?