Thursday, May 15, 2008

Doctor Who Tackles Serious Issues

(From Miladysa I learned that today is Bloggers Unite for Human Rights Day. This is my little effort to keep with the cause. I hope it's worthwhile.)

I was not initially enthusiastic to see that the Ood were returning to this year's Doctor Who. The ancillary figures in Season 2's The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit move to center stage in The Planet of the Ood.

Whoopie, I thought. Then I settled in to watch the episode on Sci Fi where the show is airing only a little behind the BBC debut. I discovered in watching what a brilliant and timely metaphor writer Keith Temple had penned.

Subtext has long been a part of the Who universe. Much digital and actual ink was used to discuss the Prime Minister's decision to destroy an already retreating space craft in The Christmas Invasion.

Now the Ood, as we learned in The Impossible Planet, are a servant race, born and sworn to act as sort of universal butlers. In Planet of the Ood they are also standing in metaphorically for slave labor and mistreament everywhere while also indicting consumer apathy--not just in Britian, within other borders as well.

I don't think the production of a major television series could have intentionally been coordinated with the news of slavery conditions in the Asian shrimp industry revealed in an AFL-CIO study, but it certainly resonated when the Doctor and his new companion Donna (Katherine Tate) looked on a group of trapped Ood and had this exchange:

Donna: A great big empire built on slavery.
The Doctor: It's not so different from your time.
Donna: I haven't got slaves!
The Doctor: Who do you think made your clothes?

I don't mean to trivialize in any way the plight of so many around the globe. The strength of a metaphorical message can often have echoes in many ways. If it makes us all more aware consumers I believe that's a good thing. Another exchange in the episode raised relevant points:

Donna: If people back on Earth knew what was going on here…
Solana: Don't be so stupid. Of course they know.
Donna: They know how you treat the Ood?
Solana: They don't ask. Same thing.

I special order fair trade coffee, but I couldn't tell you who made the current shoes or shirts I wear. Christine has begun making an effort to study the origins of products we purchase and use, but that's a bit of a challenge.

With the current tumult in the U.S. economy, consumer awareness is the kind of thing that can quickly slide. "I can't afford to worry about such things," we might say.

Christine passed on a quote to me a long while back that sticks with me. "A purchase is a vote."

We can't afford any longer not to ask who we're voting for.


AvDB said...

I don't think the human psyche on the whole is capable of maintaining any serious level of concern about any of it for any prolonged period of time. Just like Farm Aid in the eighties and now the "Green" craze, people will get bored. They'll be gung-ho for a few months but then the economy will improve or they'll simply stop wanting to care and think and act. The corporations do nothing to help this, either. They jump on bandwagons and say their products are "Green" (or maybe at some future point, "forced labor free") but, the minute the public interest starts to wane, they'll move on to the next thing instead of finding ways to recharge their campaigns. Then, except for a very small percentage of seriously committed individuals, people will be right back to chilling in their apathy. I think it's the default human state of existence.

AvDB said...

Oh, and I absolutely love Dr. Who. I'd never seen it until this past winter on BBC America. I think I'm very behind, though, because I started with the episodes with Martha.

Sidney said...

If you can catch the first couple of seasons on DVD they are incredible viewed as a whole. There are always some weak episodes, but when you get to the finale of season 2 knowing the characters and their passions it's a tear jerker. I'm crying right now.

Bridges said...

Get the DVD's. SciFi edits to fit the time slot.

So far I like the Donna/Doctor combo. The next two episodes are pretty good. Then comes the interestingly titled Doctor's Daughter episode. It was different....

Erik Donald France said...

"A purchase is a vote" is a nifty slogan.

Fair Trade everything -- great idea!

Shauna Roberts said...

Great post, Sidney. I don't like the Donna character, but even so, I thought this was one of the best Dr. Who episodes.

Charles Gramlich said...

These days I tend to buy all my clothes second hand, except for Tennis shoes. I think Avery is right in that most people just don't have the psychological energy to be able to handle the complexity of this world. I'm often one of them.

Sidney said...

I hear you guys, Charles. It's been a rough week for me on a couple of fronts, and it's true - it's hard to keep all the thoughts out front. It may even be by personality type. Christine has a more tenacious, driven demeanor and that helps us stay on course. National Geographic had a green test and we scored greener than average mostly because of her efforts. Sometimes I want to say: I don't care what color the bottle is I need hair conditioner.

Anonymous said...

You NEED hair conditioner?
YOU need hair conditioner?
I say if it's here, let's use it. FORCE the gov't to spend some dollars learning the next energy source--actually LEARN something!
That's just me.

Miladysa said...

My comment appears to have disappeared into the blog ether :[

Excellent post Sidney!

I am a fan of Doctor Who but an even bigger fan of Torchwood :-D

We are lucky that we have the Co-operative Society here. We can be assured as far as possible that anything purchased at their shops or any desposits in their bank are 'ethical'.

If you are interested you can read more about them here:

I shall get around to the tag asap. Thank you for the mention

Steve Malley said...

Once we start trying to eliminate (or at least minimize) our participation in slavery, the world gets murky and complicated indeed.

On the

Steve Malley said...

Rrr, blaming blogger for that one! (and not the dang fool typing into it!)

What I was trying to say was that you've got your products 'Made in the USA' (or Australia, NZ, etc.), except they're made OUT OF components whose origins are dark indeed.

An example might be jeans made by good ol' union labor, out of denim fresh off looms worked by eight year old children.

And I say 'minimize', since this phenomenon is *so* pervasive-- including pretty much every car made today.


Capcom said...

I was very touched by how this episode turned out to say so much. But after all, it's what we've learned to expect from the good Doctor over the decades, for the most part. :-)

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