Why is Doctor Who lecturing us about pronouns?

The BBC's flagship sci-fi show has forgotten how to entertain.

Malcolm Clark

Topics Culture Identity Politics UK

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Remember when Doctor Who was fun? Watching it now is about as much fun as being publicly humiliated at work by some jumped-up nonbinary form-filler from HR who thinks he’s amazing because he’s painted one of his fingernails black.

A good example of this joylessness is a scene in the most recent special, ‘The Star Beast’, which has been treated by right-on broadsheet types as a moment of profound importance. Yet all that happened was a transwoman character – played by transwoman actor Yasmin Finney – lectured the Doctor about pronouns. In a moment of unforgivable Time Lord-cis privilege, the Doctor had assumed a diminutive alien called Beep the Meep used male pronouns. What was he thinking?

It is this sort of banal plot line that encapsulates the shrivelling ambition of science fiction. Once the genre dared to hold up a provocative mirror to contemporary society. From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, sci-fi challenged lazy assumptions. Now it revels in groupthink that feeds the collective self-righteousness of indolent teenagers and adults with teenage imaginations.

This matters, because at its best sci-fi can dazzle and even inspire us with the potential strangeness of the imagined future. A few years ago I made a series presented by William Shatner tracing the cultural and technological influence of Star Trek. In one episode, the inventor of the mobile phone, Martin Cooper, told director Julian Jones how he had been inspired by the example of Captain Kirk’s hand-held ‘communicator’. Will anyone invent something inspired by the new Doctor Who? A new set of guidelines for pronoun use, perhaps?

You can tell how out of touch Doctor Who has now become by the fact its enormously pompous showrunner, Russell T Davies, seemed to think that the new series would shock viewers with its ‘progressive’ radicalism. The only shock was the alien pronoun scene’s patent stupidity.

I mean, why on Earth would the Doctor assume the gender of any alien? He has been encountering aliens with no fixed gender since the 1960s. The Doctor has effectively been asking aliens for their pronouns for nigh on 60 years.

Davies may think he’s blazing a trail with the new series of Doctor Who. But the truth is that gender-bending in science fiction is as old as the frozen hills of Gallifrey. In The War of the Worlds, published 125 years ago, HG Wells regaled us with Martian invaders who reproduced asexually. And hermaphrodites pepper sci-fi, from the work of Philip K Dick to that of Ursula K Le Guin.

It’s a sign of the bubble Davies has blown around his throbbing ego that he thinks the notion of genderfluidity is a jaw-dropper. I hate to break it to Davies, but his central protagonist routinely breaks the laws of actual physics by time travelling. In comparison, breaking the laws of our Earth-based mammalian biology is no biggie.

The sad thing is that the character of the Doctor used to represent a distinctively British kind of amateur anti-authoritarianism. He took on the might of the Daleks with the equivalent of a screwdriver and a well-worn scarf. Now he surrenders to the pronoun police without so much as a quibble.

The saddest thing of all is that Davies is using his taxpayer-paid platform at the BBC to confuse young people, many of them gender non-conforming. The trans-lobby agit-prop of which he has become such a braindead purveyor encourages these young people to angst about or, worse, feel contempt for the reality of their human sexual biology. And it preaches that our biology can be dispensed with in favour of some airy choice of gender identities.

It was the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, who counselled against losing sight of our dirty, imperfect human physicality. ‘Human beings have their toes in the mud and their heart and souls in the heavens’, he said. ‘But the mud is important. It’s the mud between our toes that allows us to dance.’

Yet, in Doctor Who, the muddy, physical human reality of two sexes is increasingly presented as some sort of oppressive trap. This view ignores the fact that binary reproductive biology is responsible for the evolution of everything that makes human beings remarkable, including our huge brain and its relentless curiosity. The very same curiosity, that is, that has driven us to explore space or imagine the alternative worlds of science fiction.

Imaginary aliens like Beep can have any gender we want to give them. That doesn’t change the scientific fact that we humans are sexually binary, whatever the entitled blowhards of woke science fiction try to imply.

Malcolm Clark is a TV producer.

Picture by: YouTube.

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Topics Culture Identity Politics UK


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