Sunday 19 April 2009

Dr Who's Army Recruitment role in Planet of the Dead

Trust me. I'm a Doctor!

Reviews at A Very Public Sociologist and Harpy Marx cover the Dr Who Easter special so I'm spared that particular chore. But I will add my alarm that, as we slip silently into Surveillance Britain, even this innocent series, beloved of our childhood, has been inducted into the government's Planet Paranoia.

Maybe I'm being a sensitive flower, but just as our armed forces ratchet up horror after horror in illegal wars, and our police are revealed to relish stormtrooper tactics in matters of democratic protest, it seems our media are ushering us into an era where we are militarised drones.

We are all Morlocks and Eloi now.

It's bad enough when Army Recruitment ads are styled as shoot-'em-up video games to attract a generation whose lights have dimmed through a life at the computer. I got to the end of Doom II! it's potent stuff. (And, incidentally, said to have been originally used as combat training for US soldiers.) I still remember travelling through the West End after an all-nighter, and noticing that the buildings looked not quite real. I suppressed my own urge to go up and hit the space-bar but not before checking for Revenants and other non-humans — in this dimension, that means everyone.

I loved it. I loved the feeling of unreality, defamiliarising your old environment and giving you a new vista from which to explore the real world.

But I could tell the difference, Philip K Dickian head-fuckery aside. I knew concrete reality with live human beings occupying their own universes was the default mode, and that my existence is more than a binary life-or-death, good-versus-evil struggle decided at the point of a gun.

The media, however, is changing the terrain. Seismic shifts are going undetected. The BBC Easter Special, like the wheedling witch and her gingerbread house, like the wolf in the red-hooded granny disguise, like every other con artist throughout history, is out to devour you.

The latest episode uses a trusted figure, David Tennant as the Doctor, to tell kids to join the army, or as it is incarnated here, the Unified Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT). An army, mind you, made up of characters who are prepared to kill their scientific dissidents. Okay, it WAS Lee Evans (and therefore vaguely understandable) and not Dr David Kelly, but mitigating circumstances notwithstanding, homicidal behaviour legitimised by a uniform is being further naturalised in the culture.

Once our heroes have returned to Earth aboard the flying Routemaster bus (I hope they got permission from the Ministry of Thoughtcrime to film it), the Doctor encourages the two young male passengers, Nathan and Barclay, who happen to be of squaddie age, to join UNIT, the very force whose incompetence and dependence on expediency to the exclusion of the softer human qualities, almost led to disaster. We've already seen what terminal measures they are prepared to take with anyone who follows their conscience when the female officer threatens to shoot the scientist who doesn't immediately obey her order.

Is that Dr Who's Easter special message? The meek don't inherit the earth, they go silently and uncomplainingly to their fate.

This stuff isn't playing to adults who can more or less fend for themselves; it's going out to children whose worldview and sense of self is still malleable. The social model being presented to them as normality is a worrying one where you kill people instead of making things to keep our way of life going. As if this is how things are and was ever thus, even in the world of the imagination.

And that's what I call evil.


Anonymous said...

It was like Starship Troopers meets Independence Day (well, there's a time lag behind the BBC and Hollywood).

Shoot 'em up...those pesky aliens.

thetvreviewguy said...

Or 'Top Gun' for tots and teenagers!

Madam Miaow said...

Trouble is, once you've hard-wired everyone with the compulsion to conform and combat those aliens (ie, anything that's different), it's not so difficult to find targets in the real world that stand for that Other.

Such as, ooh, off the top of my head, alcoholics and troublemakers? Immigrants and religious fanatics?

Crush, kill, destroy!

K. said...

The Army recruiting videos in the States are nauseating. You wouldn't think that a single fluid ounce of blood ever flowed from an American serviceman or woman. You would think that a soldier gets to be a combination of invincible warrior, social worker, and benevolent older sibling. They are utter fantasies that ought to be banned.

Paul said...

I have yet to see this Dr Who episode, I must admit to being slightly cynical though? As to whether it will solicit a rush of sci- fi fans down to the careers office though with respect MM it may not I fear.

Frank Partisan said...

It's Dr. Who you are talking about. Who is supposed to be campy, cool, and smart entertainment.

Madam Miaow said...

Hi Paul, while the episode and general thrust of Russell Davies's oeuvre may not in itself result in a crush at the recruitment offices, the problem for me is that it does act to soften up a generation for armed service and engenders an unhealthy unquestioning trust and respect for uniforms that isn't deserved.

Mr. Divine said...

Madam Miaow
Just returned from a trip down the River Murray. Speed there on back roads where there no police and very few other cars. Spent some time in a small town (pop 600) with no broadband and certainly no street cameras Went to playgrounds where two or three other kids, no dog poo, and certainly no suspicious lurking pedies. This is where the skies are big and Big Brothers are non-existent.
I used to work packing videos near Oxford Street (Waldoft street?) in 83 and we had a 4 hour break. During that time we'd have a blow and stroll the city at 2345 in the morning.

Where are you going MM?

Anonymous said...

I kind of agree with you about Dr Who MM. I'd encouraged my first born to watch it as an alternative to the nefarious Power Rangers. Although, to be honest it's difficult to convince a six year old that Dr Who is cooler than the Power Rangers on account of the Dr using his brain (and sonic screwdriver) to defeat evil rather than resorting to violence as default position. Now I'm not so sure about the virtue of Dr Who. My God, the liberal dilemma.

I feel about Dr Who much as I felt about the final season of Buffy. I dislike any validation of militarism. I thought the voluntary camaraderie of the Scooby gang was usurped somewhat by an army of Slayer conscripts. Post-9/11 TV I suppose.

I've a clip of the new MOD advert and a clip from Call of Duty to compare it with here:


Mr. Divine said...

BANG she steps through the time zone and enters a world beyond her wildest dreams. She's found herself slap bang into the future.

"Oh my God" she squeals, "It's St Ives, Cornwall."

She finds herself standing on a huge balcony of a mansion overlooking the sea.

Yes it's me she cries, but how did I get here? Then her gaze rests upon a framed newspaper cutting.

'Madam Miaow's Christmas Comedy Annual Sells Another Million'

Mr. Divine said...

She looks through a computerised telescope on an antique tripod. The marina blazes in the sunshine and her focus rests upon the largest rubber dingy. It's called the "The Purr" and has her face stamped upon it, and a huge sail ready to go.

A cough comes from behind her and a divine looking looking man stripped to his whiskers passes a ginger cat biscuit. She notices that the man is playing with three papers. He gives a knowing wink.. wink w wink.

Then as the fire is lit and her craving becomes intense the man commands,
"Stick with your ginger nut biscuit. None of this is for you."

'Why she pleads why! I want everything."

The man points to a large seven month lump on her tummy.

Dr Whooo Who hey Dr Who

Madam Miaow said...

Funny you should mention Buffy, MSIS. It's a fave of mine and yet that mid-series sag around The initiative with Riley (her most boring boyfriend) was definitely problematic.

At least military operation was proven to be untrustworthy. Same with Star Trek where the Federation was steadily revealed to be corrupt.

But Dr Who just blithely goes along with this crap because, essentially, Russell Davies is clever rather than intelligent — a bit of a brown-noser sucking up to militarised power and nicking off Joss.

Mr Divine, I had my first ever proper job in Wardour St. Didn't have 4 hour breaks but there was loads of spare time when I could do all my reading. I must have got through two novels a week. A fab job!

The River Murray sounds like my kinda place.

BTW, the seven month lump in my belly is mostly clotted cream and pasties.

Andrew Hickey said...

I hate Davies with a passion, and am very anti-military, but you're being a tiny bit unfair here - UNIT have a long history within the show, and have always been a multinational peacekeeping operation run by the UN, not a national military...