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Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Now this is an essay I’m particularly proud of, so I’m gonna put it up here for all you guys to read and comment on. So without further ado, enjoy.
Science-fiction has a history of being used to present social and political ideologies through the lens of fantasy. This in turn leads to the writer’s own biases being reflected in what they write. This process, called re-enactment, is at the heart of the Doctor Who serial â€œThe Mutantsâ€. While watching it we can see how the writers personal preferences reflect what certain characters say and do through the course of the story.
The key concept featured in Stephen Turner’s essay â€œRe-enacting Aotearoa, New Zealandâ€ is how settlers canonize the history of the newly-settled country in line to their way of thinking. Turner’s main point of contention with settlers is that they believe that the founding of New Zealand was â€œpredetermined historical logicâ€, rather than the more sensible â€œhistorical happen-stanceâ€. That is to say they create a history that distorts the facts in such a way to make it appear that history only started when they first arrived; and that it was always the country’s ‘destiny’ to become the nation that was the result of this settlement. As such Turner’s argument relates to the media because it reflects a certain level of bias when it comes to re-telling history. These biases are that of the â€œpredetermined historical logicâ€ that influence story-telling choices and decisions. In relation to the settlement of New Zealand he writes â€œthe nation is ‘founded’ in and through re-enactment. Putting the nation on display re-founds it. The result is virtual history, where what is enacted is a nation that was, at a certain point, not yet one. The felt quality of ‘being’ in the past of a place â€“ the ‘dress up’ of docudrama â€“ is indispensable to virtual history. Settler docudrama enables the experience of ‘being there’ as if you, here in the present, were already there in the pastâ€. This ‘virtual history’ is a direct result of the prejudices the story-tellers have to the re-telling of the story. The story-teller themselves may be unaware of these biases, believing they are giving an account that closely approximates actual events. However, it is by detailing these events that they become history in of themselves. In other words it is how someone chooses to record an event (through choice of words and syntax) that helps define how the event is comprehended by others. Because the founding of New Zealand is viewed as an inevitability, story-tellers tend to use words and phrases that reflect this perception when they are re-telling it. Any re-enactment of any historical event is going to be influenced by the views and beliefs of the people making it, as well as their knowledge of how events play out.
This concept is especially relevant to New Zealand’s founding since there are two perspectives and histories that go with it. There is the commonly circulated European perspective as seen in most media; and there is the much more hidden Maori perspective that deals with the impact it had. Turner illustrates this point in relation to Maori mythology: â€œThe focus of second settlers, which is whether taniwha are ‘real’, just like the emphasis on ‘real’ history, misconceives the long history of first peoples. Taniwha indicate the peopled landscape in Maori memory of their own earlier settlement, but remain opaque to white settler history.â€ The purpose of this passage is to indicate that European settlers often discount Maori perspectives when it comes to creating the ‘official’ history of the country. A European that re-tells the story of New Zealand’s founding may focus the emphasis on the settlers and how they helped out the local people in a variety of ways. Meanwhile a Maori person’s re-telling may focus on the native people and how the settlement had a positive or negative impact on their ancestors. The important thing to note here is how much the local people have a say when it comes to defining the ‘official’ history of the country. If their views and beliefs are ignored then the country’s history is technically illegitimate, since it only has a very narrow perspective through which to view and catalogue historical events. If the re-telling of said historical events only includes European viewpoints then it becomes the biased ‘virtual history’ that Turner is discussing in his essay. When historical events are re-told through a biased perspective this ‘re-enactment’ becomes an illustration of the views and beliefs that the story-teller holds.
The 1972 Doctor Who six-part serial â€œThe Mutantsâ€ by Bob Barker and Dave Martin illustrate a prime example of re-enactment in action, even though this re-enactment is being filtered through the lens of a science-fiction story. In the documentary â€œMutt Mad: The Making of The Mutantsâ€ writer Bob Barker touches upon two of the inspirations for the story. The first is based around the end of the British Empire, to which he said â€œThe allegories there [in the story] are definitely from historical situations, such as, Britain’s withdrawal from India in 1947. And Nehru and Gandhi, the whole thing. And I felt it sort of fitted the feel of the story that we could build.â€ It becomes clear that the Mutants is, in part, a re-enactment of the British Empire granting India its independence. It is a re-telling of this historical event as seen and interpreted through the eyes of two writers. An important moment in the story occurs when the Administrator engages in talks with the Solonians in order to help them gain independence. Whether intentionally or otherwise many of the Administrators comments in this scene can be linked directly to British Prime Minster Clement Attlee’s comments. In is his address to the House of Commons (15th of March, 1946) Attlee argued that India had to gain independence from the British Empire Clement’s comments that â€œI am well aware, when I speak of India, that I speak of a country containing a congeries of races, religions and languages, and I know well all the difficulties thereby created. But those difficulties can only be overcome by Indians. â€¦ I hope that the statesmen of British India and of princely India will be able to work out a solution of the problem of bringing together, in one great polity, these disparate constituent parts.â€ This is paralleled in the Administrators comments when he says that â€œOur ancestors, yours and mine, made a solemn treaty. A pact, a bond, an act of friendship And mutual co-operation between our two peoples. A bold concept. Two different cultures, far apart in terms of development Uniting together to create a new society, a new and richer world.â€ Likewise Clement mentions that â€œWhen Indians attack our rule, they base their attack, not on Indian principles, but on the basis of standards derived from Britain.â€ Again this is echoed when the Administrator states â€œDespite, I say, recent acts of terrorism, violence and subversion. The only black mark on the history of amicable relations unparalleled throughout the empire!â€ This similarity between the speeches may be accidental, but even so it becomes clear that the Administrator can be seen as an allegory for Clement Attlee. Both men want to grant a nation their independent freedom from the ruling Empire. Both make mention of how they co-operated in the past and how they plan to continue to work together in order to smooth over the process. However, the key difference between the historical speech and the fictional speech is how the address the native people in terms of the violence that has happened. In the former Attlee blames the unrest as being a by-product of the British settlement, that it was the British being there that caused such actions to happen. In the latter the Administrator makes it clear that it is the natives who are the ones at fault here. This in turn helps reflect the biases that the writers had when they were writing this script. While they make sure the audience empathises with the natives and their problems they are still being biased by the way they treat the situation. By making the Administrator a â€œgood guyâ€ they shift the focus of the distress onto the native population. Although the story goes on to prove that it is from the Marshal’s actions that caused the mutation the scene is still presented as if the natives are in the wrong for revolting. As such the writers’ inclination become clear as they quietly support the Earth Empire and by extension their own empire. However, it is not the only case of the writers’ biases influencing how they re-tell the story in a fictional setting.
This re-enactment is best shown in a single scene near the beginning of the story. The Marshal meets with his superior, the Administrator, as they discuss Solos and its future. Upon hearing that the Marshal is clamping down on security the Administrator states â€œGood heavens, man, we’re not at war with the Solonians. We’re giving them independence.â€, adding â€œNot eventually, Marshal, now. Total and absolute independence. We’re pulling out.â€ when the Marshal dismisses the claim. The Administrators comments and arguments against the Marshal’s hatred of the independence reflect that of Clement Attlee’s comments. However, the key difference between Attlee and the Administrator is the given reason for the independence. In his speech Attlee stress that India needs to exist as its own nation, free from the meddlesome interference of the British. He says that â€œIt is worthwhile recording that twice in 25 years India has played a great part in the defeat of tyranny. Is it any wonder that today she claims â€“ as a nation of 400,000,000 people that has twice sent her sons to die for freedom â€“ that she should herself have freedom to decide her own destiny?â€ He likewise goes on to say â€œWe are not going to hang out for anything for our own advantage which would be a disadvantage to India.â€ It becomes very clear that the intended purpose of this speech is to illustrate how India deserves freedom on the merits that it is the right thing to do. When the writers write a speech like this however, it becomes clear that they have a different take on the affair. The Administrator claims that â€œWe can’t afford an empire any more. Earth is exhausted, Marshal. Finished. Politically, economically and biologically finished.â€ Now there is some historical fact in this claim, at least in the way that it relates to the British Empire. After the Second World War the British Empire was slowly fading since it did not have the power and scope it once had. Still Attlee makes it clear that, at the very least, the message they want to send out to the British public is that they are willingly handing India its independence. If we take it that the Administrator is an allegory for Attlee then we can see how the writers perceived this situation. The writers show that they may not be in full support of the notions that Attlee set out. When they re-enact this scene, even in a science-fiction setting, they insert their own reasons about why independence was granted. Although this scene does not become ‘history’ in the real world it still becomes ‘history’ in terms of the â€œThe Mutantsâ€ story and the larger Doctor Who universe. It becomes what Turner would call a ‘virtual history’ because of the way it reflects the writers’ biases rather than what actually happened (or, at least, what happened in relation to the real-world scenario that it was inspired by). So even though it is a fictional story it can still be seen as a ‘virtual history’ due to the way the writers inflict their own personal preferences to an historical event that inspired the story.
The second inspiration for the Mutants comes from the idea of racism in South Africa during the apartheid era. In one scene the Doctor and his companion Jo Grant see a sign that reads â€œOverlordsâ€ and â€œSoloniansâ€, with arrows pointing in different directions. It is no mistake that this sign clearly references the signs found in South Africa, where â€œwhitesâ€ and â€œcolouredâ€ were separated. In the documentary â€œRace Against Timeâ€ Bob Barker tells the audience quite clearly where the main theme came from: â€œWe picked up the theme of racism by having the segregation in the Skybase between the Earth people and the aboriginals of the planet. ‘Cause at that time there was this kind of segregation in South Africa, for instance. But I think Dave particularly had an interest in the South African apartheid. There was a person he knew quite well who was going out to South Africa to be kind of master, if you like. He was going to run a farm and everything was sorted out for him. And I believe we had quite a few heated conversations with this gentleman about this.â€ As such it becomes very clear what the story is a re-enactment of. It takes the concept of apartheid and transplants it into a science-fiction setting. The Overlords were a parallel to the Afrikaners and the Solonians a parallel to the native Africans. Like before the writers biases shine through when they re-enact this, but this time they show themselves to be on the side of the native people. The opening scene of the serial makes this blatantly clear to the audience. An old man dressed in rags, a native of the planet, is being hunted and prosecuted by the colonial guards. The audience is immediately put on the side of the native due to the barbaric treatment being inflicted on this poor man. Additionally we are immediately introduced to the villain when the Marshal examines the dead man and exclaims â€œLook at it. Disgusting mess. Get rid of it.â€ Through no uncertain terms we are told right away that the native people are being oppressed by the Marshal and by extension the Earth Empire. We know that the Marshal is bad and should be stopped. Correspondingly two characters, Stubbs and Cotton, remark both on the Marshal and the planet itself. Cotton remarks â€œSolos. Stinking rotten hole. Can’t even breathe. What a planet.â€ When Stubbs replies â€œNot long now, soldier.â€ Cotton adds â€œShould have given them independence years ago.â€ These two characters are, in a way, the avatars of the writers themselves. They note that they should not be in a place like this and they should be giving the natives their independence. This relates to the quote from Bob talking about apartheid South Africa. It becomes clear that the writers want to show their distaste for apartheid by casting those in charge as the villains in the piece. Likewise they show their support for the natives by having two characters in the Earth Empire criticize the barbaric practices on display (before later defecting from it to prove their point further). We can see the writers’ voices, so to speak, by how they address this issue. It is not a re-enactment of past history but, as of time of the story’s writing, a re-enactment of present day affairs. But as we view this story over forty years later we still see the writers tendencies and in turn how they chose to record ‘history’ (at least when filtered through a science-fiction lens). So even though they were not writing history at the time, the story can still be seen as a ‘virtual history’ re-enactment on issues of the past.
Although re-enactment primarily has to do with ‘real-world’ history it can also be used to examine how fictional stories reflect the writer’s view on the past. As such science-fiction stories (like Doctor Who’s â€œThe Mutantsâ€) have always been a good lens through which to see this re-enactment. By analysing what they wrote we can see their interpretation of history, with their stories becoming a ‘virtual history’.
So there you have it. A look at Doctor Who and writing in general. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.