It is apparent that the silver screen, be it film or TV, is a way to influence public opinion. Some writers, however, reject subtlety for blatant messaging. When Andrew Cartmel was asked in an interview what he hoped to achieve as a script editor, he recalled, “My exact words were: I’d like to overthrow the government.” He got the job.
What show was this, you may ask? It was none other than the longest-running science fiction show in history, Doctor Who.
Even with two generations Star Trek is beat out by the British alien with two hearts, and the show will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013. As the main character, the Doctor, is able to regenerate instead of dying, this has allowed for great longevity of the show and let 11 different actors bring their original take to the TARDIS, the Doctor’s time-traveling blue police box. Though it is a staple in Britain, Doctor Who attracts a strong cult following in the United States.
Throughout the show’s long history, it’s most political era was likely during the 7th reincarnation, played by Sylvester McCoy. This was when the aforementioned Cartmel was editor, and he managed a crew concerned about the performance of the current Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. One member of the cast went so far as to tell The Sun Times that they considered her to be “far more terrifying than any monster the Doctor had encountered,” which in the face of such monsters as Daleks, Cybermen and the Loch Ness Monster, is quite a statement.
This era was dotted with plotlines which paralleled the miner’s strike, including a speech based on material from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. They even wrote a semi-transparent parody on the PM as “Helen A,” a dictator who forces her citizens to be happy. Looking at the wider range of Doctor Who, however, one can clearly find evidence for the free market, limited government principals PM Thatcher stood for.
Though she may have exercised much of her governmental power creating a strong sense of nationalism, she also espoused the idea of limiting the government, restricting public expenditure, encouraging privatization and instating tax cuts. She described her intended society as a place “Where people are free to make choices, to make mistakes, to be generous and compassionate. This is what we mean by a moral society; not a society where the state is responsible for everything, and no one is responsible for the state.”
Whether he intended to or not, the 6th Doctor recognized the validity of her concerns about an unchecked government. Upon returning from many years abroad, he witnessed firsthand its effect on his people, the Time Lords, who became to him the worst evil he had ever faced, “In all my travelling throughout the universe, I have battled against evil, against power-mad conspirators. I should have stayed here. The oldest civilization: decadent, degenerate and rotten to the core. Power-mad conspirators, Daleks, Sontarens, Cybermen – they’re still in the nursery compared to us. Ten Million years of absolute power. That’s what it takes to be really corrupt.”
As the series continues, the too-powerful Time Lords show their true colors in denying the Doctor fair trial, in starting a genocidal Time War with the Daleks, and creating their own weapon to save themselves by warping the mind of one of their own to bring them back when the time is right. Wherever he goes, the Doctor stands up for the people he meets and is the image of liberty as he travels freely and unhindered throughout space and time in his TARDIS, doing good where he can even when it gets complicated. Though he takes Presidential control of Gallifrey once during his fourth regeneration to protect his race from an invasion, he has the moral fortitude to turn down the offer when he is again chosen during his fifth regeneration.
Though initially many of the writers of Doctor Who had leftist agendas, a second look at their work suggests that limiting government to avoid the corruption of power is in fact a good idea. Though not originally spoken to answer her critics in British science fiction, Thatcher’s quote rings true, “It pays to know the enemy – not least because at some time you may have the opportunity to turn him into a friend.” Looking at the plots of many episodes, were the producers and the former PM to meet as friends, they may find something they agree on. Desire for power is the motive behind the vast majority of the show’s villains, and if there are not governmental checks and balances enough to limit them, the Doctor will!