Friday, March 15, 2013
Several stories of the Barry Letts era have been cited as having a message behind them, be it colonialism (The Mutants), environmentalism (The Green Death), or the inherent, everyday dangers of dealing with anti-matter (The Three Doctors). However, these messages were told as allegories instead of being explicit. The Mutants does its best to reflect the apartheid policy that South Africa was ruled with at the time, but has any direct references muted both by its director and the 29th century, otherworldly setting of the story. The Green Death was much more overt in its demands for environmental change, but it's still a story that is chiefly remembered as "the one with the maggots".
Fifteen years after The Green Death, Doctor Who deals with another issue - racism - in Remembrance of the Daleks, but, this time, the programme attacks it head on by placing the story smack dab in the middle of one of the more contentious decades for race relations ever. The squabble between the "racially pure" Renegade Daleks and the modified Imperial Daleks is echoed by the low level racial paranoia portrayed by Mike Smith, his mother, and Mike's friends who run a fascist organization. Ace's discovery of the "NO COLOUREDS" sign in the window of Mrs. Smith's boarding house is almost shocking, not only because Mrs. Smith seems so kind and helpful to all others (like her son), but because Doctor Who has never been so unflinchingly honest in dealing with a controversial issue.
This brings us to one of the most wonderful scenes in Doctor Who history where, late night at a cafe, The Doctor talks with John about the consequences of decisions under the innocent guise of adding sugar to one's coffee. After all the talk of racial segregation, here is meeting of two minds - one, a traveler from a different planet and time, brought here by the consequences of his own actions hundreds of years ago; the other, a black man from Jamaica whose grandfather was sold into slavery and who was now working the late shift at a coffee shop, happy to be there. It's a rare insight into The Doctor's mind as he is one, especially in his seventh incarnation, to want to protect his companions from the real truth.
It's also a crucial development in Sylvester McCoy's relationship with the show of which he had been the star of for a year at that time. This scene was almost cut for time and content, but McCoy realized the importance of it and demanded that it remain intact. The scene doesn't actually add anything to the overall story, nor does it introduce a character who comes into play later on (John, as played by The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's Joseph Marcell, appears only in this scene), but it so subtly crafted and beautifully acted and important, in the larger sense, to The Doctor's actions not only in this story but in all his subsequent stories, as well as how the decisions he makes affects others for many years in many places. That McCoy saw this (along with writer Ben Aaronovitch and script editor Andrew Cartmel) shows that this story is the true beginning of the Seventh Doctor era. He isn't a dark Doctor, he's just coming to terms that his actions have consequences, and sometimes he has to take further action to minimize, or maximize, the results.
Posted by Steven at 3:21 PM