The internet is currently involved in one of those periodic storms that blows up every now and then over the most innocuous of topics. And in the best traditions of pointless internet squabbles (has the internet been around long enough to have traditions I wonder) people have been taking completely binary positions about the issue at hand – this is either the best thing that has happened in history or the worst possible event that may lead to the extinction of all human life. I refer of course to the BBC’s appointment of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor in the long-running science fiction show, Dr Who.
The original Dr Who was one of my favourite childhood shows. It was always a little cheesy and the special effects weren’t that special. But it was fun – escapist fantasy where the goodies were good and the baddies were bad. It was a kids’ show and I loved it; Tom Baker’s ludicrous overacting, bargain basement aliens and always a cliffhanger to keep you waiting until the next episode. I lost interest as I got older but it was Colin Baker – the worst Doctor by 10 billion parsecs – who finished the series for me. I enjoyed the new series that started in 2005 but I always felt it had been made for nostalgic adults rather than for children. Both Christopher Ecclestone and David Tennant were good in the lead role and Russell T. Davis as head writer kept the programme close to its roots. The real problems started when Stephen Moffat took over as head writer from Davis. Plots become nonsensical and convoluted, audiences turned off in droves. Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi are both gifted actors but their talents were wasted by Moffat. I’m sure that Capaldi, who was so excited to win the role in the first place, will look back on his time as the Doctor as a squandered opportunity. The final two episodes of the 2017 series demonstrated exactly what was wrong with Moffat’s tenure. The Cybermen are a fantastic enemy for the Doctor, second only to the Daleks. But they should be doing something demented and improbable – like trying to take over the Moon or wiping out the dinosaurs. But the episodes were dull, so dull. I don’t know what Moffat has done to the show but it certainly isn’t Dr Who anymore.
Better than Whittaker being announced as the new Doctor is the news than Moffat has been replaced as head writer. If the writing is good, if the stories are compelling then I’m sure the quarrel over Whittaker’s sex will die down. But such a view does not fit into the internet’s black-and-white “this is best thing ever/this is the worst thing ever” way of looking at the world. The aforementioned worst Doctor wrote this nonsense in (where else?) the Guardian where he joined the “best thing ever” side of the debate. What interested me is the nature of the comments on Baker’s article. The Guardian is one of the major preachers of identity politics in the UK – there is almost nothing that they cannot label as sexist, homophobic or whatever. The Guardian regularly employs columnists who could find racism in a pack of playing cards. But the some of comments on Baker’s article would never be allowed if directed at any of the Guardian’s favoured “victim” groups. Dr Who fans – probably one of the most inoffensive demographics in the world – though are obviously fair game; I read comments about their living arrangements, their personal hygiene, the size of their genitals, the use to which they put said genitals and their inability to maintain an erection. And all because they had had the temerity to object to the casting of a fictional character in a television show.
One particular barb caught my eye – “Broflake” – a cretinous lumping together of the world’s most irritating Americanism (“Bro”) with the right-wing keyboard warriors’ insult of choice (“Snowflake”). I have written before that one of the reasons I started this blog was because of my concern about the coarseness of political debate in 2017. Criticise anyone of a “victim” group and the wrath of the righteous will descend upon you. Voting for Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton makes you a sexist; disliking conservative Islam makes you a racist; being unsure about the demands of minuscule number of people who claim to be in the wrong body makes you transphobic. Criticising men, Christians, women who vote for Trump is fine though and, as the comments on Baker’s piece proved, no insult is too low. Arguing with such people is next to impossible. One of the favourites over at the Guardian is to accuse people of “whataboutery” or tu quoque if you prefer. Bring up the horrendous human rights records of most countries in the Middle East when some columnist is engaging in yet another round of Israel-bashing and you get accused of “whataboutery.” But this doesn’t work for criticising an approved “victim” group. Pointing out the violence in the Koran will get an immediate response about the violence in the Old Testament, ie: “whataboutery.” As I say, arguing with such people is impossible, akin to nailing jelly to the wall.
As ever when it comes to Dr Who, there is only one man who makes sense – Tom Baker. (Why hasn’t he been given a knighthood when so many less deserving BBCers have had a sword on the shoulder?) The greatest Doctor said that…
“I think it might be quite nice to have a woman. But you just test it. If the audience don’t like it then just kill her off. She doesn’t have to be an institution, just because I stayed too long. I don’t think anybody knows how it’ll go. Nobody has ever failed by the way, nobody has, it’s just how it is.”
If Jodie Whittaker gets better service than Smith and Capaldi did then she could be great in the role. Let’s just wait and see shall we.