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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53 Responses to Dr Who: The Empty Gesture.

  1. Ken Kautsky says:

    Natalie: “Good of the BBC to rescue Marx from the scrap-heap of history.”

    Marx could hardly be descibed as being on the scrap-heap of history when he, through his descendants, are in full contol on the world’s biggest national/global public broadcaster.

    The State already accounts for almost 50 percent of the UK econmy -not tht you’ll ever read about that in a newspaper – with so many journalists hanging out for some more BBC airtime.

    Natalie, n other words, you may already be living in a Marxist State.


  2. Hazel says:

    I didn’t really see these children as “feral”. My assumption was that they were just doing better following their intrepid teenage leader who was good at finding them food. That didn’t necessarily exclude them from having homes to go to, but maybe I missed something in the script.

    What I noticed, and Natalie doesn’t mention, is that the spaceship pilot who has done a silly thing is, of course for the BBC, American!


  3. anon says:


    No comment necessary, really…other than people are being imprisoned because they refuse to pay for this


  4. JohninLondon says:


    Caroline Haw-Haw-Hawley puffs up the death of a single Brit soldier to talk about the security situation being dire all across Iraq.

    That is not a BBC gloss. It is a BBC LIE. They know it is a bare-faced lie, but they know they can keep quoting it with impunity. No editor will correct them, no senior managers or Governors will complain.


  5. Peter says:

    Dr Who is a Time Lord,to one with powers of time travel, concepts like marxism and the welfare state would be irrelevant.


  6. Poosh says:

    I’m fairly sure I picked up on a “gay agenda” vibe during the second episode…


  7. David Keighley says:

    The Doctor Who episode that went out on the weekend of May 14 – about Billie Piper going back in time to 1987 to try save her dead father – also contained some wonderful propaganda.

    How was the year flagged? There is nothing that is period-specific except,in a respectable London housing estate, there are some new posters on a wall headed “Socialist Worker”. Underneath, in large block capitals, ‘NO THIRD TERM FOR THATCHER’.

    Laving aisde that most of London voted resoundingly in 1987 for the return of the Conservative government, it seems extraordinary that the only pointer to the year that anyone could think are Socialist Worker fly posters.

    One further point. The action in the episode was supposed to take place on November 11, 1987 – the election actually took place in June. So not only did they scratch their heads to find a reason for anti-Thatcher bias – they got it wrong, as, five months after the election, the posters would have at best been in tatters, and most likely would have been removed (even if they had been put up in the first place in such an area!)


  8. DumbJon says:

    It’s not a true Dr Who episode without one jibe at the Right. Even the episode set on a space station in the far future took a couple. Earth is secretly being run by an evil media conglomerate – it’s just like News International, plus its stated that they’ve been discouraging immigration by creating bogus fears in the populance.


  9. Angie Schultz says:

    Hmmm. I’ve not seen the episode in question, and likely won’t, but are you sure you’re putting the correct interpretation on the line. “Practical Marxism in action”, when used to describe stealing, sounds like an anti-Marxist remark to me. Also, “Don’t forget to create the Welfare State” sounds something like sarcasm. Of course, maybe that’s only on this side of the Atlantic. (You’re the ones who “do” irony, right? I keep forgetting.)


  10. thedogsdanglybits says:

    Crikey, even the Times is publishing articles critical of the BBC now: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2088-1632055,00.html:
    Is this site becoming mainstream?
    Await next week’s Guardian expose of social workers, people.


  11. Teddy Bear says:

    Re the above post – this link should work http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2088-1632055,00.html


  12. Allan@Aberdeen says:

    OT but essential, The French have just rejected the proposed EU constitution. The BBC’s website commented thus;

    Those who rejected the treaty included Communists, various left-wing groups, dissident socialists and far-right parties.

    In other words, only the misfits could reject the treaty. But they total 56% of the vote. It appears that the BBC has done another Dubya and got itself in a complete and utter mess through sheer wishful thinking.


  13. James says:

    Caught a little bit of Sky’s referendum coverage; Adam Boulton was with Bill Cash, and at least two other guests, one of whom was a Frenchman strongly in favour of the constitution. Flicked over to News 24 to see the newsreader turn to a spokesman for Britain in Europe, who’d been with them throughout the evening as the story developed!
    Not even a half hearted attempt at balance.


  14. JohninLondon says:

    I think ITV had a pro-Frenchman, an anti-Frenchwoman and the leader of UKIP.

    My general impression of ITV is that it provides reasonable balance. And pretty good news coverage.

    Which makes the BBC redundant.


  15. Bryan C says:

    Hmm. In a remarkable coincidence I just watched that episode. The Doctor’s exact quote was that it was “Brilliant! Practical Marxism in action, or a West End musical. I’m not sure which!” Obviously not a serious political endorsement. Likewise the welfare state remark at the end, which seemed pretty flippant.

    The BBC’s politics do seep through regularly in the new Doctor Who (and in the later years of the old Doctor Who, not coincidentally right about when it started to suck) but this isn’t the best example.

    Ah, but let’s wait for next week’s inevitable anti-nuclear quotes, brought to you by the evil aliens who lied about WMDs to start a war for profit! Nope, no political message there!


  16. Zevilyn says:

    I liked the the WWII Dr. Who story. The story involving Nancy and Jamie was classic Doctor Who, and I personally found it clever and touching (the Nanogenes, upon realising that Nancy is Jamie’s mother, correct their mistake).

    The episode was written by the guy who wrote Joking Apart and Coupling, so I think RTD is behind any political references.


  17. Zevilyn says:

    I found Captain Jack a likeable and charming character, who is no more “inept” than the Doctor.

    The line about the welfare state seemed flippant but out of place.

    Having said that, the Doctor complimented the British people in a way which many at the BBC would probably sneer at.

    I think Tennant will be more at ease and have a lighter touch than Ecclestone (great at serious, awful at humour).
    With the 2nd series, writers will be less inclined to “show off”, and hopefully we will see more alien worlds.

    BTW Nancy would make a great companion for the Doctor.


  18. Alan G says:

    “I found Captain Jack a likeable and charming character…”

    Isn’t Captain Jack slang for marijuana? No wonder he’s a happy chappy!


  19. anon says:

    OT. Amazing Start the Week. Christopher Hitchens, William Shawcross, Germaine Greer and a Blair tax adviser, Patrick Diamond . Hitchens and Shawcross lambast the left over Iraq and Andrew Marr, in a notable comic turn, says: ‘I also ache in the places I used to play.’ Radio Four will be fielding complaints for months.



  20. alex says:

    Dr Who?

    The State confiscte our cash and use it to produce schlock “entertainment” of little or no value.

    Like ideal moron “citizens” we gladly pay up and the sit around discussing the Schlock.

    We could sure teach the North Koreans a thing or two about Authoritarianism.

    I find it ever more embarrassing to be British.


  21. JohninLondon says:

    Dr Who has just been part of the BBC’s legitimising of slovenly pronunciation. But Eastenders remains the flagship of dropped consonants – and morals.

    It would be easy to build a list of bad behaviours and attitudes that the BBC has legitimised. Starting from anti-semitism and working down. So much for its Reithian mission to “educate and inform”


  22. Joe says:

    alex, you may gladly pay up… gladly paying up doesn’t enter my thoughts.


  23. Junker, Canada says:

    Excellent posts on Dr. Who.

    Backtracked here:


  24. Joe says:

    alex, quick apology- I’ve just reread my reply to your comment and I think it could be read as though I’m taking a swipe at you – which I’m not in any way. Just thought I’d better make that clear.

    I was replying tongue in cheek but forgot to put in the winking smiley 😉 – sorry alex- buy I’m still not going to ever pay gladly – especially when the BBC’s writers or directors (can’t tell which) believe that its necessary to insert propaganda in any programmes, never mind Dr Who.


  25. Quinn says:

    Not been here for some time, but I am happy to note that in criticising Doctor Who you are fulfilling my prediction that you would descend into self-parody.

    The last Doctor Who story was generally very good, but marred by a few corny moments. I agree with the groans about the “Marx” reference, and the “welfare state” comment, but similarly the Doctor got all patriotic by wistfully speaking about “this little island” standing up to the Nazi menace, conveniently ignoring the contribution made by the other countries in the British Empire; not the sort of statement I would typically associate with a piece of leftist writing.


  26. Andrew, Canada says:

    I’d say standing up to the ‘Nazi menace’ goes beyond left and right wing, and is indeed universally right. Besides, the moonbat lefties see Nazism as extreme conservativism, hence the Bush=Hitler diatribe.


  27. alex says:


    I pay because its the law and although no saint, I believe in the rule of law before all else.
    It gives me no pleasure to fund a Malevolent and Dangerous tool of Social Engineering however and my life is spent in the service of the destruction of Socialism in all its forms.


  28. Steve Jones says:

    ‘ my life is spent in the service of the destruction of Socialism in all its forms.’

    Me too! How’s your struggle going, alex?

    I’m about to go to Cuba – where are you targetting?


  29. alex says:

    Steve old chap, we have rather a large job to do here first……..


  30. Joe says:

    alex, after I first started working – I moved into living in rented houses and within 6 months (as soon as my name went on the election register) I started receiving threatening letters and visits from the TV license people – for TV’s that belonged to the absentee landlord in his private rooms. I didn’t have a TV myself – yet I paid up for 3 years because legal advice convinced me that I was responsible for the things. Eventually I even started going into his rooms and watching the damn TV just because I was paying for it!

    But even if the BBC hadn’t so rigorously hounded me back then – “gladly paying” would never have been an option… anyone being forced to pay for something they don’t want or need is patently wrong.

    Since then I have found out how to LEGALLY get a refund… Once every few years I make sure that I sell business specifically to the BBC, for an appropriate fee that happily covers any money they extort now from me :)


  31. The Lord George Nathaniel CURZ says:

    THANK YOU for that.

    Did you also hear his final words just before he left? “DON’T FORGET TO BEAT THE NAZIS AND BUILD A WELFARE STATE!”

    Actually, please don’t!!


  32. Roxana Cooper says:

    Quinn wrote:

    – but similarly the Doctor got all patriotic by wistfully speaking about “this little island” standing up to the Nazi menace, conveniently ignoring the contribution made by the other countries in the British Empire;

    Ahem! I seem to recall a certain ex-colony made some small contribution as well! Seriously though, Britain and her Empire do deserve enormous credit for standing alone against the Nazi occupied continent when Russia was still allied to Hitler and the US still mired in isolationism.

    The Dominions, the US and Russia would probably have still won the war but it would have been much harder without what Churchill called ‘the unsinkable carrier’ of the British Isles as foreward base.


  33. Lurker says:

    Rox – The US could have beaten Japan alone but without Britain I suspect the war in Europe would have boiled down to either German or Russian victory. Without the UK how would the US have effected any operations in Europe?


  34. the_camp_commandant says:

    Lurker —

    “Without the UK how would the US have effected any operations in Europe?”

    Reykjavik to Berlin is well inside the range of a fully-laden B-29. Had the USA wanted to nuke Berlin, it would have been feasible with actual 1945 technology.


  35. Roxana says:

    And the Russian war effort wouldn’t have gotten very far without the material supplied by the Murmask run. An inconvenient fact those who prefer to credit Victory in Europe entirely to the USSR tend to forget, along with Stalin’s urgent desire for a Western Front. Apparently *he* didn’t think he could go it alone.


  36. thedogsdanglybits says:

    Re Roxana’s post.
    An uncle of mine was on a sub escorting those convoys. When they got to Murmansk they were marched from the dock under armed guard and kept in a barbed wire compound till it was time to return. Uncle Joe Stalin’s gratitude was always provrerbial.


  37. Susan says:

    I remember reading a comment in Lord Mountbatten’s memoirs about a war-time trip to our Russian allies (I think this was before he was posted to SE Asia, but I could be wrong. I read it a long time ago.)

    Anyways the Russians were surprised at Mountbatten’s familiarity with their country. He replied something like, “No problem — I used to come visit my aunt and uncle here all the time when I was a boy.”

    His Russian counterparts: “Your aunt and uncle were Russian?”

    Mountbatten: “Yes, they were the czar and czarina.”

    (Nicholas II and Alexandra Romanov were indeed Mountbatten’s aunt and uncle.)

    Sorry for the OT, I just love that story. :)


  38. Ali Smak says:

    I’m no fan of the BBC but really this Dr Who stuff is utterly nuts. Why play into the hands of your detractors by posting this moonbat conspiricy stuff?

    Natalie Solent should show better judgement as an editor: this sort of swivel-eyed critique does “Biased BBC” no favours.



  39. Cockney says:

    There might be something in it but surely this is outweighed by the perpetuating of youthful? right winger stereotypes by admitting to watching Doctor Who.

    Next up – the subliminal socialist propaganda in the new Oxy 10 advert. The sinister Marxist plots ensuring that one is picked last for fottball…


  40. Joe says:

    Ali: “I’m no fan of the BBC but really this Dr Who stuff is utterly nuts. Why play into the hands of your detractors by posting this moonbat conspiricy stuff?”

    When an organisation becomes overstuffed with left wing ideologues the correct terminology is “moonbat colony”

    They don’t bother to conspire – they do the nasty quite openly… putting out of context political dogma in children’s programmes – like Dr Who for instance.

    The whole point Ali is that the dogma isn’t in keeping with the story – it sticks out worse than Clare Short with a pot noodle horn!

    Susan – Interesting story, I wonder what the reply was? :)


  41. Susan says:


    I think that both parties decided that beating Hitler was more important than rattling the bones of the poor old murdered Romanovs.


  42. steve jones says:

    A, my thoughts entirely. There is an entirely sensible argument to be had about the current, future and best (or wost!) funding of the BBC. Whatever the views on its current output, it certainly is an important broadcaster, at least as big (on a world stage) as its equivalents in Europe (many also licence fee funded, despite what some Americans think)

    To suggest that on here, however, brings all sorts of nutters on, using words like ‘Nazi’ and ‘Marxist’ and comparing it to the Politburo (!)

    It’s a shame, because it moves this occasionally interesting website into the realms of the truly mad, instead of what it could be, a useful counterpoint to the centre-left ‘ahhh, isn’t the BBC cuddly’ that is the normal UK response to any criticism of the beeb.

    The best way to object to the funding model of the BBC is through the UK political process – but I guess that doesn’t leave some of the more, ahem, extreme readers/ writers of this website with a voice, does it?


  43. alex says:


    I don`t watch Dr Who and don`t think it worth analysis, however, it may illustrate a point often made that certain points of view and entire arguements are simply excluded from all genres of BBC output.

    As for the BBC being an “important” broadcaster I would ask Important to whom? a remote tribesman picking up the World Service, certainly. To someone living under tyranny definatly but these people are coming off a very low starting point, we in the west are not and clapped out Left Wing solutions just wont do.

    I would also argue that until the BBC is liberated from the schackles of its current funding, we will never know just how “important” it really could be.


  44. steve jones says:

    ‘As for the BBC being an “important” broadcaster I would ask Important to whom’

    To those who have an interest in UK and Western Parliamentary democracy. To dispute this fact is to descend into the realms of the truly absurd.

    ‘I would also argue that until the BBC is liberated from the schackles of its current funding, we will never know just how “important” it really could be.’

    Uh-huh. It seems to be important enough within those shackles.

    ‘certain points of view and entire arguements are simply excluded from all genres of BBC output.’

    Now you’re talking! That’s where the debate lies. It’s importance, and ‘least worst case’ for funding are something else, but what it misses, and ignores, and choses to whitewash – that’s the good bit

    Obviously, that’s just my take.


  45. alex says:


    How is an interest in UK and Western Parliamentry Democracy served by selective reporting and deliberate obsfucation?


  46. steve jones says:

    alex, agh, come on

    you said ‘As for the BBC being an “important” broadcaster I would ask Important to whom?’

    I answered that it’s important to the Uk/ Western political process. Now you’re moving it on to areas where it (probably could) do better. Important doesn’t mean ‘agree with all of what they do’

    The EU is important in the UK.

    The Conservative Party is important in Britain.

    The Chinese Government is important in Britain.

    The US President is important in Britain

    etc etc


  47. JohninLondon says:

    If the BBC is “important to democracy” how come it opposed day-in-day-out the idea of giving democracy to Iraq and the actions of the democratically-elected K Goivernment spported by a Hose of Commons vote ? And since then has tried to suggest that inter-communal discussions towards a new democratic structure would get nowhere, and that the elections would be a failure.

    And how come the BBC gives frequent platform to apologists for dictatorships like Cuba ? While constantly sniping at Bush who has a democratic mandate ? And backs blindly the UN which now includes many undemocratic states ?

    Steve Jones comes out with some trite and snide comments but that one took the biscuit !


  48. JohninLondon says:

    This report of a conversation with a BBC journalist gives a good view of their sneering attitude towards attempts to give democracy to Iraq :


    Does Steve Jones not recognise this as the consistent BBC tone over the past year or so ? And how does he fit that within his idea of the BBC promoting democracy ?

    (This is the BBC that, like CNN, arranged with the Saddam regime to keep its office open in Baghdad when other news agencies were all leaving. At what price ??? You should take a long spoon to sup with the Devil – trouble is, the BBC sees Bush as the devil, not Saddam.)


  49. JohninLondon says:

    The BBC loves to keep bringing up the Abu Ghraib stuff. Pity they don’t put it in true context with this sort of story :



  50. Rob Read says:

    The BBC is important to those it has jailed