From the November 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard
‘A thing that looks like a police box, that can move anywhere in time and space?’ This is the appealingly wide-ranging premise behind Doctor Who (BBC1), as described in the sci-fi show’s first episode. That was shown in November 1963, and fifty years on, the Doctor Who brand is still as robust as a finely-tuned TARDIS.
Wherever and whenever the Doctor and his plucky companions travel, the show’s storylines are often drawn from the real world. Many of society’s concerns have been dressed up as a tyrannical regime or an alien invasion. For example, the 1968 protests were mirrored in The Krotons (1969),set on a planet whose students rebel against an education system only feeding them enough knowledge to serve their alien masters. And in The Sun Makers (1977), the Doctor stirs up a revolution on Pluto, whose workers are stifled by taxes (albeit oblivious to the SPGB view that taxation ultimately isn’t an issue for the working class). The Doctor’s most enduring enemy – the Daleks – represent Nazis, motivated by a hatred for anything unlike themselves. Early stories feature sink plungers raised in fascist salutes, while the parallels are clearest in 1975’s Genesis of the Daleks, which introduces their Hitleresque creator, Davros.
Throughout all eleven of his incarnations, the Doctor has remained an anarchic character, backing the oppressed with little regard for officialdom. The show’s libertarian streak feels at odds with how it is possibly the most commodified programme ever. Dalekmania hit the shelves of the nation’s toy shops not long after the show’s debut. And fans have been able to admire their Doctor Who DVDs, models and even Dalek condiment sets in rooms covered in Doctor Who wallpaper, wearing their Doctor Who underpants. Since its regeneration in 2005, the programme has settled back into being one of the BBC’s blockbusters, with audiences always above six million in the UK, and more across over 50 other countries. Despite, or even because of, its commodification, Doctor Who has fired the imagination unlike any other TV show, and offers escapism from life in capitalism as well as raising a few points about it.