Whose side are we really on in Dr Who? (Picture: Mark Freeman/Flickr)

Tory magazine The Spectator declared, “The issue with Doctor Who is the tendency to moralise and lecture about peace, love and brotherhood.”

Doctor Who is too woke and preachy, and it was in May 1973. The serial was The Green Death. The Doctor tackles oil company Global Chemicals while reducing waste. Locals think glowing green slime oozing from the nearby coal mine is the result. A miner called Dai dies and the serial is fondly remembered for giant maggots.

In the Invasion of the Dinosaurs this third Doctor says, “It’s not the oil and the filth and the poisonous chemicals that are the real causes of the pollution. It’s simply greed.” The Monster of Peladon has striking miners. Many people didn’t see it because a miners’ strike led to power cuts. Both episodes come out against extreme methods to change things—don’t do bad things for good reasons. It’s a theme.

In the most political 1970s “classic” episodes the Doctor worked with a government military force known as Unit. Unit conducted extra-terrestrial interactions by blowing them up. The Doctor looks sad and stays with the military.

For much of its 60 years the Doctor appears on planets looking white and posh, telling people what to do. But on Earth the timeline must be respected. A liberal colonialism of middle class people being a bit embarrassed about Empire but glad they know right from wrong. The Doctor is the bane of bumptious bureaucrats, bad boffins and trigger-happy generals and extremists of all stripes. A safe radicalism.

Unsurprisingly this isn’t static and has regenerated often. The first Doctor mostly wants to get back to the Tardis after a bit of Timelordsplaining. But the first woman producer, an Asian writer and a boss who wanted television not to be for posh people, gave the world Daleks.

Doctor Two dropped history lessons for monsters. He sighs, since we are here we better fix things, he must fight “what we know to be wrong”. So it went. Script editor in 1987 Andrew Cartmel said he planned to use the show “to overthrow the government”. Perhaps. The Happiness Patrol sees a terrible Thatcher figure fought along with a monster made of Liquorice Allsorts.

But not everything was as good as that.

There is the earlier fan favourite and racist Talons of Weng-Chiang where the yellow-face “Chinese” are essentially Daleks. Its producer was sacked not for that but after a right wing campaign said his episodes were too violent. Such is the tightrope of establishment anti‑establishmentism.

Which leaves the other alien in the room. The overarching premise has been smart-arse white male hero saves world while subordinate female watches. Some were to scream, others were to have the plot explained to them—one had a leather bikini and lines like, “What is a spoon?”.

These days the companions are at least characters transformed by their experiences but some old tropes remain. Yet the entirely welcome moves over race and gender in major character casting including the Doctor matter beyond annoying the right.

Politics is always there. The post-2005 Doctor Aliens of London found the Blair-like prime minister murdered and shoved in a cupboard as the show railed against the march to the war in Iraq. The Doctor became a war veteran tortured by survivor’s guilt.

In Oxygen the Twelfth Doctor takes on and dismantles capitalism. Commenting on spacesuits designed to cut oxygen, the Doctor notes, “The end point of capitalism. A bottom line where human life has no value. We’re fighting an algorithm. A spreadsheet. Like every worker, everywhere—we’re fighting the suits.”

That isn’t just an anti-capitalist joke, it’s an anti-capitalist joke broadcast on a Saturday tea time on BBC One. That is a great strength and a weakness. Resistance is for all time and space but so is oppression and capitalism. There are always greed, avarice and extremists to be overcome.

So in Kerblam! the Thirteenth Doctor saves space Amazon from terrorist workers while insisting that “the systems aren’t the problem”. Fantasy writer Michael Moorcock said jailers don’t mind escapism, it’s people escaping they object to. It’s safe enough to be a national treasure.

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