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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Doctor Who thing: the “Doctor Who is racist” story is overblown

Freema Agyeman David Tennant Doctor Who

There’s been quite a furor online this week thanks to a particular article in a particularly awful British newspaper with a particularly link-baiting headline — *cough* Daily Mail *cough* — that went viral. That headline and blurbs:

Discriminate! Discriminate! Doctor Who branded ‘thunderingly racist’ by academics – because he conquers Daleks rather than slavery… and he even likes cricket!

Group of academics have criticised Dr Who’s contempt for ‘primitive’ people American professor says Dr Who promotes ‘a racial and class nostalgia’

This is in reference to a collection of essays entitled Doctor Who and Race [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.], which won’t be published till July.

The fact that no one has read the book yet didn’t stop “Doctor Who is racist!” — or, the slightly less virulent “Is Doctor Who racist?” — headlines from proliferating around the Web, such as at Stuff.co.nz, Digital Spy, and WhatCulture. The BBC’s responses have sounded like the sorts of thing one says when asked, “So, when did you stop beating your wife?”

I’m not going to to tell you how much fun white-supremicist sites had with this “news.”

The book’s editor, Lindy Orthia, addressed the “controversy” at the book’s site, Doctor Who and Race:

I don’t particularly want to talk about the book in depth until it is published. I prefer discussion and debate to be based on facts not hearsay, so I would like to talk about it once people have had a chance to read it.

But I do want to clear up some misconceptions about it now.

Only a subset of essays are critical of the program’s casting decisions or its representations of race-related subject matter.

Others celebrate the ways Doctor Who has been cast with respect to race, or how its stories have shown racism, slavery and colonialism to be deeply wrong.

Still others don’t lean one way or the other, but instead merely document and reflect on some of the ways Doctor Who has engaged with race.

Second, an ‘academics’ versus ‘fans’ dynamic has been falsely constructed this week, as if the book’s authors are all navel-gazing academics picking on a thing that fans have no problem with. This is plain wrong.

All the book’s contributors are regular viewers, and almost all identify as fans. (And incidentally, academic fans, like other fans, are capable of dissecting something without losing the love.)

In addition, about half of the contributors are not academics.

There’s more; click over to read all of what Orthia has to say.

If you’d like to discuss the question of whether Doctor Who is racist here, that’s okay. But I’d prefer to stick to how and why this got blown all out of proportion.

Thanks to Henry for the Stuff.co.nz link.

(If you stumble across a cool Doctor Who thing, feel free to email me with a link.)

posted in:
daily doctor | Net buzz
  • A good critical minifesto here: “because we are fans, we’re capable of being sophisticated, thoughtful viewers, able to see both a story’s successes and its failings.”

  • Naturally, this is The Daily Mail’s three favourite things, bashing anti-racism efforts, bashing academics, and a wounded defence of beloved nationalism. It’s like catnip to them.

  • Martin

    I would say that the Doctor loving Cricket was more offensive, given the horrors of the Krikkit Wars. Surely a more advanced planet like Gallifrey would be aware of the genocide perpetrated at the hands of the people of Krikkit and not treat this subject so lightly.

  • singlestick

    Seems as though all kinds of people are coming out of the woodwork to try to capitalize any way they can on the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Doesn’t matter whether it’s something positive or negative or controversial.

    And the Daily Mail and other British papers make a habit of “out-of-context” reporting.

    It will be interesting to see what the book is about when it is actually released.

  • Bassygalore

    The cynic in me wonders if they are not in cahoots with respect to drumming up interest in the book as well as getting clicks for The Daily Mail…

  • Paul

    Philip Sandifer, who writes an excellent Doctor Who blog, was a peer reviewer for the book, so he is one of the few people who has read it, and he gives a calm view of this rather ridiculous mediafest in his latest post.

  • Anon.

    LOL – as someone who knows Orthia in person, that’s the funniest thing I’ve read in some time. Trust me, she was mortified when this blew up.

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