doctor who’s greatest enemy: self-deception

16 04 2007

One of the major themes of the new Doctor Who is how apathy and denial in the face of social breakdown was just as pernicious an enemy than the agent of that breakdown. This was made most explicit in The Long Game (1.7) and it’s semi sequel Bad Wolf (1.12), with television providing the world with a distraction from the bad stuff going on.

As the seventh Doctor noted in Remembrance of The Daleks, humans have an “amazing capacity for self-deception.” The Doctor’s role is often to act as a catalyst, freeing the perceptions of the oppressed, to defeat the threat by first facing up to it.

The series is littered with examples of characters turning a blind eye to something, trying to conceal or ignore something bad – and often punished for this hubris:

•    Sneed the Undertaker stuffs overactive corpses back into their coffins and bullies Gwyneth into silence in The Unquiet Dead (1.3), only for one of the cadavers to later snap his neck.
•    Adam Mitchell’s happiness within Van Statten’s set-up could be seen as the first sign that he is a wrong’un in Dalek (1.6). He pays for his self-interest over social concern in Bad Wolf.
•    Nancy is in denial over the danger of the Empty Child (1.9), which is defeated by her acknowledgement that he is her son.
•    The Doctor says to Mickey that humans do not notice unusual things such as the TARDIS, in Boom Town (1.11).
•    The Sisters of Plenitude in New Earth (2.1) keep scores of infected people hidden in their hospital to develop cures. These plague carriers wipe out many of the nurses, although Novice Hame survives to be redeemed in Gridlock (3.3).
•    Mr Parsons and the other teachers don’t seem to notice children going missing, distracted as they are by the intelligence of their pupils in School Reunion (2.3), which is suspicious enough to attract Sarah Jane and Mickey’s attention.
•    Eddy locks Grandma up in The Idiot’s Lantern (2.7) and is eventually kicked out of house and home.
•    The Doctor confronts his own refusal to accept something that challenges his beliefs when he encounters the Beast in The Satan Pit (2.9). He is able to defeat the imprisoned being secure in his faith that Rose will not give go quietly to her doom. She is no victim; and will always act.
•    Stretching the theory perhaps, but the suggestion is that love should not remain unspoken in Love and Monsters (2.10). Mr Skinner and Bridget, and Elton and Ursula, initially hide their feelings for each other. Elton and Ursula find happiness despite her being melted into a paving slab – love will find a way, even in extremely non-traditional relationships.
•    Trish’s failure to address with Chloe the problem they had with her Dad leads to Chloe’s emotional problems in Fear Her (2.11). These problems take physical form, but Chloe and Trish overcome their fear together and sing the Dad monster away.
•    The people of the world almost will the ghostly forms into being with their self-delusion in Army Of Ghosts (2.12). Jackie imagines the smell of her grandfather’s cigarettes and clings to the belief that this is her grandfather returned.
•    Donna admits she missed the human race’s first contact with alien races because of a hangover and a scuba-diving trip in Spain in The Runaway Bride (3.0).
•    The motorists cling to the hope of arrival and try not to think about the noises they hear from the Fast Lane, and never wonder why they’ve never actually seen a police car in Gridlock (3.3). However there is an element of hope and social cohesion here that is seen as positive in a bad situation.
•    Less positive is the populace’s use of drug-like mood patches in this episode, altering the user’s emotional state. A specific ‘forget’ patch is available for those unable to deal with the horror of the Motorway, to the Doctor’s great disgust.

Here the existence of the villain or threat to society enters the social conscience as an ‘urban myth’. Such myths are proved (fatally) correct in Tooth and Claw (2.2), Rise of the Cybermen (2.5) and Gridlock. In the parallel universe, the rumoured disappearances galvanise Ricky and his cohorts to action. Although the Doctor is often the catalyst for change in a threatened society, resistance movements frequently exist before his arrival, and defeat the enemy with his help.Acknowledgement that something is rotten is often the first step in defeating the problem, or indeed the only step, as in The Doctor Dances (1.10) and Fear Her.

Conflict between the Doctor and Rose’s is stirred up by her inability to give up on the idea of meeting her dad, in Father’s Day (1.8) leading to a wound in time and the Doctor’s death, and placing them in harm’s way in Rise of the Cybermen (2.5). Despite defeating the Cybermen, Rose loses Pete.

Rose’s tenacity saves the day in The Parting of the Ways (1.13) when she refuses to accept that she is out of the fight. It is for this that she is rewarded with a family reunion, as her actual attempts to reunite with her father all ended in disaster.

Perhaps the Doctor is so conflicted about this particular issue because he is unable to see his family again, despite his great power, perhaps suggested by the bitterness in the line “…while I lose everything” from Daleks in Manhattan (3.4).

Despite his pain and loss, The Doctor never gives up and flinches from recognition of social threat or decay. As well as directly fighting threats to society, he often acts as a catalyst for members of society to face their problems. This is a pressing contemporary concern in a world of television and text messaging, drugs and distractions, celebrity gossip and cultural genocide.

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