By Danny Nicol
Deceiving others has been part of the drama of Doctor Who since the programme’s inception. In “The Daleks” (1963-4) the Daleks deceive the Thals, offering them food when they mean to ambush and kill them. In “The Keys of Marinus” (1964), mind-control is used to make squalor seem like luxury. Sometimes, however, the deception in Doctor Who is particularly strongly linked to politics here on Earth. This theme was present in the classic era Doctor Who (1963-89) but has become even more pronounced in post-2005 Doctor Who.
|Aiming to be global dictator: Salamander|
“The Enemy of the World” (1967) is the story of Salamander, a would-be world dictator with a curiously strong physical resemblance to the Doctor. Salamander is gaining power by predicting earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other natural catastrophes, and dealing with the consequences. In reality Salamander is engineering these disasters himself. He has deceived a subterranean group of humans that they are survivors of an endless nuclear war which they must continue to wage by creating natural catastrophes from below ground. When he blunders and the underground people start to suspect him, one of them says: “I won’t take your word for it: I want to see for myself!” Ultimately this proves Salamander’s undoing, and the war is exposed as a myth.
|Harold Saxon: British Prime Minister turned despot|
Political deception becomes, if anything, an even more pervasive theme in post-2005, new-series Doctor Who. In “The Sound of Drums”/“The Last of the Time Lords” (2007) the Doctor’s long term adversary, the Master, becomes British Prime Minister, using the name Harold Saxon. Manufacturing a phoney past for himself, Harold Saxon never existed. The Master gets the public to believe in him, and to vote him in, by subjecting them to some form of hypnosis, suggesting an inability of the political elite to connect with people in the absence of bewitching powers. Aspects of Saxon’s rule (cult of the individual, pursuit of celebrity, “cool Britannia”, disdain for Cabinet government) seem like a satire on Tony Blair’s period as Prime Minister. Saxon subsequently establishes a worldwide tyranny.
More recently still in “The Lie of the Land” (2017) a species of alien monks invade Earth. Through mind control the monks confect a past in which they have been guiding humanity since the very beginning, tenderly shepherding mankind through its formative years as part of a blissful partnership. All they insist upon from the human race is total obedience. In reality the monks have only been on Earth for a few months. Anyone who points this out is imprisoned under a fictitious Memory Crimes Act 1975. The Doctor’s companion Nardole explains: “however bad a situation is, if people think that’s how it’s always been, they put up with it”.
|The public finally realise the truth about the monks|
and turn on them
In his book The Rise of Political Lying (London: 2005, The Free Press), Peter Oborne advances a thesis which would explain why modern Doctor Who puts even more emphasis on political lying than classic-era Doctor Who. Oborne contends that
inhabits a post-truth political environment, and that this is new. Reality has been replaced by
pseudo-reality. Within this construct,
it is quite legitimate to deceive in order to obtain power. The consequences can be horrendous. For instance “in 2003 Britain went to war on the back of a fiction:
the proposition that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq possessed weapons of mass
destruction. It did not, but tens of
thousands of people died as a result” (p.6).
Oborne further argues that New Labour in power started to mould the past
to suit its own purposes, regularly attributing to ministers remarks they had
not made and denying remarks which they had actually made (pp.73-7). There
seemed little evidence of an upsurge of truth-telling when New Labour made way
for the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition followed by a Conservative
How might one explain the “abolition of the truth”? Oborne suggests that the answer may be found in the theory of post-democracy put forward by Colin Crouch: that differences between parties have largely been replaced by the establishment of a homogenous political elite in the tradition of the pre-democratic era, and that this goes hand-in-hand with the corporate domination of our society. (Colin Crouch, Post-Democracy (
London: 2004 Polity Press.)) The political elite are striving to conceal
the true nature of the entire regime, so systematic lying goes with the grain
of the system. Thus post-truth and post-democracy run together. It is in all likelihood this predicament which
contemporary Doctor Who is seeking to