Dr Who: The Empty Gesture.

John Melbourne wrote regarding the Dr Who two-parter just aired, The Empty Child.

A two part edition has just finished showing on BBC 1 this Saturday.

On the 21 May edition, a group of feral children use the cover of an air raid to rob houses of food. The home we are shown inside has a lavish spread on the table, far more than could be fairly obtained using ration cards. Indeed, there is so much food that about a dozen children can be fed. The good Doctor, upon seeing this behaviour, observes “I see, practical Marxism in Action”.

There’s something odd about this.

Wartime Britain was supposed to be the epitome of socialist planning in action. Rationing made sure that everyone got fair shares – egalitarianism in action. Of course all systems are abused, but black marketeers were punished if they were caught. Let’s assume for the writer’s benefit that this particular family is a “deserving” victim. If the children repeat their stealing on other days they must inevitably rob from families who will be “undeserving”. Does the writer want us to think that feral children have a right to steal?

We learn little of why the children are living like this. One of them starts a story about his evacuation experience: “there was a man…”, but stops. My thought was that the writer wanted me to assume it was child sex abuse but couldn’t actually put that in. Leading the group, we have Nancy, our heroine, because she helps others less fortunate than herself. At the end, we learn that she was the teenage mum for the dead boy, who is the title character. Good victim points here: homeless, starving, orphaned, teenage-mum, lost her child and female role model.

Oddly, all the children are dressed for an audition in Enid Blyton’s Famous 5 or else they just left their schools in uniform. No ingrained dirt, raggedy clothes or strong cockney accents spoil this delightful scene – the best mannered group of feral children you are ever likely to meet. Perhaps the makers thought that some “rougher” children might not gain our sympathy.

In the second episode, the Doctor saves the day as usual and makes a parting request to the blitz era Londoners who owe him their lives: “… and don’t forget to create the Welfare State.” Odd that he didn’t ask them to nationalise the utilities, the telephone service or the British car industry etc. Surely that is practical Marxism in action?

Despite travelling in time, the Doctor seems to have acquired an early twenty first century left-liberal perspective on politics. Knowing the future as he does, he could have made some “improvements” to our own day:

Dr Who: “and don’t use DDT to eradicate Malaria in Europe, let alone Africa.”

Dr Who: “and don’t let Jews emigrate to Palestine”.

Perhaps that would be too far even for the BBC.

Once upon a time, the BBC would never have permitted politics to enter into a children’s TV show. Now they permit glib ahistorical asides to pander to their own views. When the writer includes remarks referring to Marx and the Welfare state, he knows that no child will understand what they are. The only purpose is to link the ideas with the kudos possessed by the character of Dr Who. Given the millions of people who have died in the failed Marxist experiments of USSR, China, Cambodia, and so on, and the lack of any Marxist state that even approaches a decent human rights record, one would have thought that Marx would be a slightly controversial choice and maybe not the first benevolent historical figure to come to mind. The BBC ought to have questioned the merit of putting a partisan statement concerning Marx into the mouth of a children’s hero.

Good of the BBC to rescue Marx from the scrap-heap of history.

Once again a cheap shot from the scriptwriter has the effect of making adult viewers who a second earlier were rigid with terror, wishing they could join their offspring behind the sofa, suddenly slump, look at each other and say “huh?” in voices conveying disappointment and diminishing suprise.

Just imagine the outrage if one of these little asides had been directed the other way. “Oh, by the way,” says the Doctor, “that welfare state stuff is a bad idea. You end up with loads more fifteen year old mothers…”

Earlier B-BBC Dr Who posts here and here.

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