Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Tardis Revolution

Apparently Doctor Who's scriptwriters had a mission in the 1980s to bring down Mrs Thatcher. Sylvester McCoy, the seventh Doctor, has revealed how firebrand young lefties were hired, using such convincing job-interview lines as "I want to overthrow the Government", and wrote a series of scripts in which Maggie and her party were characterised as evil aliens.

One called Helen A, played by Sheila Hancock, right, wanted to outlaw unhappiness, although that doesn't sound a particularly unThatcherite thing to me. Another story was a thinly veiled attack on nuclear weapons. Gripping stuff and surely more a bit of fun in-jokery than a serious political battle. After all, how many swing voters watched Doctor Who in those days?

And the plan hardly worked. Thatcher left office on November 28, 1990, but Doctor Who had been off-air for a year by that stage, axed because of falling ratings. Maybe it was all those dull but worthy storylines?

But why should it matter if Doctor Who had a political message? Just because the BBC, across the board, has to be impartial does not mean that individual programmes cannot make partisan points and it could go against the Left as well.

Barely an episode of The Good Life went by without Margo complaining about "that horrid little man, Mr Wilson". I'm sure the modern Doctor Who episodes have made points that could be taken as anti-Labour, such as attacks on the surveillance society, state control and unjust wars.

Indeed, the Beeb has often been at the cutting edge of political satire, right from That Was The Week That Was lampooning Harold Macmillan in the early 1960s. Maybe that was ok because it was a direct attack rather than the more subtle approach of having a female alien with a deep voice and bouffanted hair.

A few years ago, a BBC Four series revealed the subversion in children's television during the 1970s. I always felt the worst offender was Trumpton, which was clearly trying to promote a socialist utopia. Not only did the mayor have a beard (a clear sign of a left-wing council), but the local fire brigade employed six people, whose main role seemed to be rescuing balloons from trees. And what did the locals of Trumpton pay in council tax for that extravagance?

The late, wonderful Oliver Postgate also liked to introduce political ideas into his programmes. He had the mice on the mouse organ in Bagpuss go on strike - "We won't sing", they squeaked, for which we were all quite grateful - and persuaded the BBC to do an election night special episode of The Clangers in 1974, in which the pinko moon-dwellers protest at how power corrupts.

Which is all well and good but did Postgate forget that the main characteristic of his Clangers was that they were, well, woolly?

1 comment:

Angus said...

The devilish cunning of those BBC propagandists has finally been revealed. Imagine inserting subversive political messages into Dr Who – does it get any more fiendish than that? I always suspected that Dad's Army had a secret militaristic crypto-fascist sub-text! Now I'm convinced of it. Angus