Monday, 14 March 2016

Doctor Who: The Face of Evil

True to form for my viewing and blogging, I have managed to get distracted from my planned series of posts on railways. One of the reasons for that is that I don’t want to skimp on the remaining posts I’m planning on that subject, so will hopefully return to it at some unspecified point in the near future.
What has distracted me is this Doctor Who series, which is new to me as of last week. I have realised to my surprise only recently that I tend to take to the Doctor Who adventures taking place on Earth rather than ones taking place anywhere else. This can’t conceivably be an issue of realism, since daleks, androids, and other staples of Whovian adventures on Earth can hardly be described as realistic. I was thinking that some of the Earth-bound Who adventures can feel very much like Sapphire and Steel, another series I greatly admire, since they feature things not being quite ‘right’, only the Doctor is the one who puts it right. I think also the Earth-bound Who adventures feature the concerns I see so often in 1960s television: the role of technology and the destiny of what would have been called at the time, Man.
Nonetheless I have been considerably distracted by this adventure. Let me get the kinky bit out of the way to start off with. This is the adventure which introduces Leela, wearing, well, not very much (and still looking good 40 years later on the extras). I think this fact has tended to distract the overwhelmingly heterosexual and male audience of Doctor Who from the many philosophical (I don’t think that word is too strong to use) strengths of this adventure. Apart from Leela’s distraction, I note that the word on t’internet is that this adventure has tended to be overlooked because of the strength of the adventures which surround it in this series.
What nobody but me seems to think (tell a lie, I have found that John SInnott referred to this in DVD Talk, but I haven’t read his piece) is that this Doctor Who adventure is a parable of modernism against religion. The fact that this is an anti-religion parable is indicated by the fact that the Sevateem are depicted, visually and in their customs, as ‘savages’ or ‘pagans’. Of course I am using these words to refer to the cultural images portrayed here, and specifically the Sevateems' attachment to the past is emphasised by their practice of their religion and sacralisation of what is happening to them. In fact the religion they practice is an interesting mish mash of elements of shamanism and the sort of ritual used in, say, Anglican or Catholic worship. I even recognised a few lines from the bible and a few I suspect owe their origin to Hymns Ancient and Modern. The point is that there is something very wrong in terms of time, and the Sevateems’ theological interpretation of the situation is inadequate.
Further, the anti-religious sentiment of the episode is advanced by the simple fact that the Sevateems’ religion seems to have brought them nothing but trouble, and they are perpetually in conflict with the *other* tribe on the planet. It is very difficult not to see this referring to the religious world on Earth, where of course religion is only ever a source of harmony, joy, peace, and equality. Who am I kidding?
Of course the Sevateems’ god is nothing of the sort. The enduring message for me of this adventure is that religion is a fraud, it brain washes you and deceives you. Religion also means adopting an unreal world view, in this case it is the world view of a very sick computer indeed. The result of the computer’s ‘religion’ is merely hostility and conflict.
The solution to the problematic situation engendered by religion is to see things as they are, and not to be taken in by the lies and pretence of the computers/gods which create religion. Blessed are the outcasts, is the message here, for they shall be free of the lies. They will be blessed when the members of their tribe who still believe in the religion persecute them. The consequences of abandoning the pretence of religion are that you find yourself with difficult moral decisions to make, without necessarily having a source of authority to turn to, so this show isn’t simply an anti-religion diatribe. It also exalts the act of adventure and contravening authority, in the shape of Leela setting off in the TARDIS despite the Doctor not wanting her to.
I find this episode deep with meaning and religious allusions. Nonetheless my favourite line is still, ‘Now drop your weapons, or I’ll kill you with this deadly jelly baby.’

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