Is Doctor Who getting too woke? The Existential Expert investigates

Is the casting of Ncuti Gatwa an example of PC ideology gone mad? Well, no. Image: BBC / Twitter.

Expecting a question this month about the choice of Australian Prime Minister, our resident life guru instead fields a question about the other vital leadership decision: choice of Time Lord.

Q: Dear Existential Expert, 

I consider myself a very open-minded person – but I’ve finally started wondering if Doctor Who isn’t getting too woke. The recent casting decisions seem to suit a certain political agenda, if you know what I mean. 

As a Whovian, I’ve got this nagging feeling that it should be left to innocent fun and leave the identity politics out of it. In fact, it bugs me so much I’m inclined to stop the kids from watching it – have I suddenly become a grumpy old fart? 

Thanks, 

Jill, 

North Sydney (via Twitter)


The Existential Expert:

Cheers for contacting us about this vital issue. Our advice is plain: get over it.

You can take this at face value or browse our three considered reasons, below: 

Firstly, there’s nothing wrong with being woke. To us, this simply means there’s a bit of fire in the old dendrites. A bit of compassion in the pulmonary veins. Congratulations, you’re alive.

Doctor Who casting

Secondly, think about it this way: Doctor Who has always been woke. What’s new?

That said, we can sorta-kinda understand how recent news has made the obvious more than usually manifest.

For the culturally un-awakened, the blighted world of internet fandom has been having conniptions (both positive and negative) recently over the casting choice of a black actor, Ncuti Gatwa, in the role of The Doctor. 

The announcement was followed up by news an openly trans actor, Yasmin Finney, would be Gatwa’s “companion” – i.e. co-star. 

Surprise, surprise – some of the commentary amidst rusted-on nerds has been a tad reactionary.

And, yeah – whether deliberately or not – the latter casting seems to be one in the eye for transphobia more generally, including views (ironically) readily espoused by a certain famous writer/creator of an analogous franchise. 

Doctor Who too political?

Call us more naive than a Who fan on a dating site, but this seems counter-intuitive. Because Doctor Who has always been overtly “progressive”, from the beginning. 

That it did so under the guise of kid’s escapism, coated in the charm of budget teatime whimsy, only adds to the subversiveness of this cultural artefact. 

Its populist inclinations saw it cater to a kid-friendly disapproval of authority tied to a simple morality. Beneficence conquers all, while aliens (i.e. outsiders) are welcome for the ride as long as they (admittedly rarely in this universe) aren’t homicidal maniacs.  

Davros is a Tory, get over it

And the BBC staff writers who grew up in the grey post-war era purloined the fascist shouting and stomping about of the Nazis to create nemesis such as the Daleks and Cyberman. 

The show has always been political: here, the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) meets Rupert Murdoch in the 1976 classic ‘Genesis of News Corp’. Maybe. (Image: Oh Helen A.S. Popkin/Twitter.

By the ’80s, the Nazis had been superseded by Margaret Thatcher as terrifying inspiration for baddie-of-the-week. 

This culminated in 1988’s ‘Happiness Patrol’ where a simulacrum of the Iron Lady (pictured below) ruled a planet visited by Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor. At the time, the show’s resemblance to actual amateur/student theatre enhanced its bizarro left-leaning wonder.  

Guess who (hint: it’s not Bronwyn Bishop). Image: Ank “Devious Lick” Johnsons/Twitter.

Meanwhile, that Doctor Who has managed to be part of the cultural establishment for a lot of its 60 years – even if said establishment has, in the way of the BBC and the English more generally when it comes to things that are successful, often been quite embarrassed about it – adds to the subversiveness. 

The point being, if you already liked the show, then you’re primed for more of the politics – perhaps without knowing it – that have informed the show for decades. 

And, it’s not like gender fluidity, most recently with the regeneration of the main character into Jodie Whittaker, hasn’t already been a factor. 

Is Doctor Who too scary (for adults)?

Thirdly, your children are probably well aware of all these issues you’re bracing your calves for all the tip-toeing you’ll have to do around them. 

Face it, they know way more than you do. And they have all along. 

Finney, an eighteen year old, has 1.7m followers on TikTok and 1.3m on Instagram. Her personal history may be news to 40-something neck beards, but the kids are all over it. This is the media the average 10-year-old is turning their jaded, ancient eyes to – not the tabloids or fuckin’ Sky After Dark

Remember, it is a kid’s show, after all. That’s not a pejorative description – its subversiveness, charm and compassion makes it for kids of all ages. And if you’re not down with the kids, Jill, you’d better grow up. 

A panacea for uncertain times, The Existential Expert is a forum where The Sentinel will address the essential questions, you – our readers – have posed. If you have a conundrum, whether it’s spiritual, philosophical or just something that makes you break out in a rash, email us at: existentialexpert@gmail.com – or tweet or DM us @sydney_sentinel. New columns are published at the beginning of each month. You can check out previous ones here!

Disclaimer: The advice provided in this column is no substitute for professional advice and should not be treated as such.

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