Thursday, 5 September 2013

Star Trek and Dr Who - Science Fiction or Social Engineering?

Allegory in the Science Fiction series
as a social and cultural device

It is perhaps easy to see the single play as interventionist regarding the socio-political issues of the sixties and seventies. And even though the producers may not have stood up in parliament and argued for the legalisation of abortion and homosexual, the TV dramas they produced influenced not only the MP’s but many of their constituents. Who in turn wrote to their MP to change the law so that pressure was exerted from many angles. Likewise the Soap Operas may not have been so interventionist regarding legislation it did however engage in social engineering and through sympatric and innovative storylines made acceptable a whole range of contentious issues – juxtaposing abortion, homosexuality, feminism, against male chauvinism, domestic violence, ‘homophobia’ etc but how did the science fiction series as a social relevance of the day work? How could far-fetched tales of outer space involving Daleks and Klingons be part of the cultural (or sexual) revolution?

 Star Trek – Enterprise destroys the Berlin Wall

Image - Wikipeadia
            Recent work by social scientists have argued that although Star Trek storylines dealt with the futuristic and the fantastic they were in fact firmly rooted in the ideological concerns of the day.  Star Trek was more than just fantastic storylines in outer space it was really an outlet for contemporary issues and social comment. It was an innovative vehicle for exploring race and gender, nationhood and the international politics of the day. It was in fact closer to the single play or the soup opera than one might at first consider. There were perhaps some benign aspects to this form of mild social engineering it featured the first interracial kiss shown of American television – between Kirk and Uhura and the series has been much-vaunted for its multiculturalism lead of course by a white WASP, Captain Kirk. However, this type of social engineering in drama can also be taken further as per the homosexual kiss in today’s soap operas.  
            In Star Trek, like most innovative dramas there are many metaphors running parallel for example the Enterprise represents America, the enemy aliens her foes i.e. the Klingons represent the Russians, the unreadable oriental-looking Romulans the Chinese/Viet Kong. Some representations were multi-layered the Klingons were also dark skinned for Americans still did not know how to integrate the Afro-Americans into the American dream. It took many years to solve that problem. However, by the time Star Trek – The Next Generation when into hyperspace, the Klingons had joined the Federation which at the same time anticipated the end of the Cold War. By this time the script writers were getting all liberal and invented a new enemy, the Borg, a race of cyborgs who are virtually unstoppable and assimilating all other races into their collective – Globalisation and the assimilation of other cultures into the American dream.
            There are other spin-off series that have further explored gender and racial politics Deep Space Nine which had a black captain and Star Trek – Voyager a woman captain. Deep Space Nine with its mission to keep warring regional power blocks apart and at peace can also be seen as a metaphor for the peace-keeping missions of the United States and UN.
            Star Trek like most TV has many subliminal storylines is an allegorical cultural device. Assimilating TV, to go where no culture has gone before, into a liberal politically correct dream. I shall resist the temptation to discuss the Borg Broadcasting Corporation.

Dr Who – Intergalactic camp V’s the Nazis

Britain in the early nineteen-sixties was experiencing great cultural uncertainty. Her empire had all but crumbled. She had abandoned all attempts to stay in the space race and her days of superpower glory had long faded. Only the Americans and Russians got to send their pets into space. However, we could go one better, by the use of television we could lead the world. Our space craft was a 1926 police box (no need for
The Tardis Dr Who's and Britain's
answer to the space race..
image - Wikipeadia
special effects) which could travel through time as well as space. At crucial moments in the 1960s Cultural Revolution we could revisit the past and show how Britain saved the world. For example when the debates raged about the legalisation of abortion and homosexuality Dr Who in The Massacre (1966) visited Paris. Here we find that the Doctor was a survivor of St Bartholomew’s Eve Massacre. Of this Nicholas Cull writes ‘Historically, British-ness was always constructed in opposition to Roman Catholicism.’1 There would be no possibility of the Doctor being part of the Western Rising or the Pilgrimage of Grace which saw Britain’s Catholic populations rise up against Henry VIII only to be brutally massacred. When the scriptwriters redefined the Doctor as a dissident Time Lord we see the other Time Lords as a declining ancient race wearing skull caps and flowing robes like cosmic Cardinals.
The Doctor was always portrayed as an eccentric English gentleman, individualistic, self-reliant the opposite of the Catholic notion of obedience to authority and community. There are a number of key elements that run throughout the various series which would make any empathy with Catholicism impossible. It would draw on many facets of the British historical experience, like repelling invasions and spreading the Protestant Reformation, we find out that the Doctor had attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria. The arch enemy of the Doctor, the Master, was also a Time Lord who looked like an amalgamation of a Jesuit and Spanish villain, with his dark eyes and pointed dark beard and was played initially by Roger Delgado who was indeed part Spanish. Dr Who’s greatest enemy was of course the Daleks, at first they represented Cold War fears of post nuclear war mutants. Soon they acquired the resonance of the Nazis and the second Daleks series The Dalek Invasion of Earth which saw them in London. Again British history is being played out with the Doctor as an intergalactic Churchill figure. The Daleks chant of ‘Exterminate’ the vocabulary of the holocaust reminded everyone of Britain’s finest hour and defeating the Nazis.
The camp facet is most surprising in Dr Who. Camp, from the French verb se camper means to posture or flaunt. Signs of deviance and the hidden meaning behind the mask are quite prevalent in Dr Who. Cull writes, ‘The shifting tone of Dr Who also tell a story as the programme drifted away from its part in the BBC mission to educate and became a mischievously subversive expression of camp in British popular culture.’2
At the start of the sixties Britain was about to embark on her own mission to lead the world through the final cultural frontier. Using the television to lead public opinion and in turn legislation British culture would be transformed. Dr Who, Britain’s own innovative science fiction series would not only reflect these changes it would indorse them. The problem is Dr Who like much of British television of the last forty years or more muddied the waters for Catholics. On one side we had the Doctor as Churchill, eccentric English gentleman, camp scientist, even a Christ like figure with his self-sacrifice and resurrection as a new Doctor; on the other side we have the Nazis, a whole host of weird monsters, a Spanish Jesuit and Catholicism in general.
Referances: 1 and 2, Cull, N. ‘Bigger on the inside’ The Historian, Television and Television history. Luton University. 2001.

No comments:

Post a Comment