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BBC Takes On Accusations From Academics That 'Doctor Who' Is 'Thunderingly Racist.' Is It?

by Tambay A. Obenson
May 28, 2013 6:47 PM
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Dr Who

I'm not a watcher of the series; I just never quite got into it, so this isn't a topic that I'm equipped to intelligently comment on. 

I'll sit this one out and defer to those of you who are fans, and who do watch the series, to share your thoughts on this and enlighten the rest of us - whether you think the claims against the series are valid, or ridiculous.

Courtesy of the Daily Mail UK, here's a snip of the story:

The BBC has hit back at accusations that "Doctor Who" is 'thunderingly racist', insisting the sci-fi show has a 'strong track record of diverse casting' [...] Following claims by a group of academics in a new book "Doctor Who And Race," fans have rushed to dismiss the criticisms as ‘groundless’ and ‘ridiculous’ [...] The BBC pointed out the casting of Freema Agyeman as the Time Lord's first black assistant in 2006 and Noel Clarke, who played Mickey Smith for five years. The BBC's reply came as critics alleged the Doctor's apparent dismissive attitude towards black companions, his contempt for 'primitive' people, and his passion for cricket as proof of a reactionary ‘whiteness’ pervading his adventures. [...] One of the more bizarre theories is offered by Amit Gupta, an American professor, who argues that Peter Davison’s cricket-loving incarnation of the character in the Eighties was thinly disguised nostalgia for the British Empire [...] Several of the 23 contributors to the book lament the failure to cast a black or Asian actor as the Doctor. And in earlier series, white actors were cast as other ethnicities. Singled out for criticism is a 1977 storyline, The Talons Of Weng- Chiang, set in Victorian times and featuring the white actor John Bennett as a Chinese villain. There is also an attack on the ‘second-class’ treatment of black characters such as Martha Jones in more recent episodes [...] Australian academic Lindy Orthia, who compiled the anthology, concluded: ‘The biggest elephant in the room is the problem privately nursed by many fans of loving a TV show when it is thunderingly racist.’

You can read the full piece HERE.

The referenced book, Doctor Who And Race, is an anthology that claims to offer new understandings of the cultural significance of race in the program, and how the show’s representations of racial diversity, colonialism, nationalism, and racism affect our daily lives and change the way we relate to each other, says the publisher. 

It actually won't go on sale until August 15, 2013

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  • Wow | June 5, 2013 3:08 PMReply

    I'm amazed that every single comment here has panned a book that isn't even out yet, but isn't this always the case when faced with the idea that you may just like something that's a bit racist? Stop trying to act like the "post" in post-racial isn't just for show and accept, maturely, the fact that you like problematic shit. By the way the gender and race aren't the same thing, so stop with the lazy comparisons. I've been a fan of Doctor Who since its reboot and I don't deny the truly fucked up parts of it, but I also don't deny that I'll tune in for the new Doctor, whatever the race may be.

  • Alex | June 4, 2013 3:55 PMReply

    Nope. This is the same discussion going on with Bond. Its great that it is happening here in the UK especially because we need more parts given to diverse groups but it's inciting something out of one of the best and endearing shows on British TV. The essence of Dr Who is centred on the fight towards injustice, good vs evil but more often than not peace universally.
    Freema is my cousin and I can categorically say she was not treated in person or in script like a second class citizen. She was a doctor and she loved every minute of it. Mickey (Noel Clarke) was supposed to idiotic, he still came through though, but i didn't like how they paired them together during the 11th Doctors final eps. In regards to Peter Davidsons character - it was a different time, but even now the doctor still has a love for cricket, but back then the sport was highly popular and the British team was on top. This show probably has one of the best track records when it comes to casting non-Caucasian actors. It would be nice to have another Black accomplice, a guy this time and a woman at the helm.

  • Troy | May 29, 2013 10:56 AMReply

    Only subjects with polar leaning ideas incite response and reaction. So scifi it self doesn't lean toward any demographics so as to embolden a viewers ideas of the world. It could only be things viewers can relate to like mysoginy, racism, and social order. Something that speaks for itself doesn't need to be defended.

  • Emmanuel | May 29, 2013 7:22 AMReply


    Racist? Really? So why is it that "Rose", a character with a bigger role in the series than "Martha", is portrayed as a lower-class store clerk, while "Martha" is a med student (and subsequent doctor) from an upper-class family? And why is it that "Martha" and "Mickey", who eventually are portrayed as heroes in the DW world, end up a married couple in the end (the type of pairing one RARELY sees on British telly)?

  • PhredG | May 29, 2013 10:39 AM

    I quite agree. I enjoyed Rose and (even) The Bride (forgot her screename) once I got used to her DramaQueen persona. Each of these companions had different backgrounds and personalities. I came late-to-the-party on DW (David Tennant+) but I think the authors are looking for something that just...isn't...there. imho. GO ORPHAN BLACK!

  • JMac | May 28, 2013 10:03 PMReply

    I also got snagged by Doctor Who through Freema's character while channel-surfing past BBC America. I've never watched the previous Dr. Who incarnations but I'm guessing it was as lily white and male-centered as any other BBC show of the day. The recent reboot (from Eccleston to Smith) seems to be very racially inclusive and not just with Black characters but Indian and Asians. The minority characters tend to be the heroes just as often as the white ones or else treated equally with their white cohorts. Never saw Freema's character as being treated as a second class citizen. Mickey got a lot of flack... unnecessarily I think, but Eccleston's doctor was a bit of a jerk to everyone. From watching some of the Dr. Who Revisited series, they'd probably have a pretty good case for sexism, racism, and outdated British superiority themes for the earlier episodes - not so much the latter ones. Regardless, BBC's defense sounds flaky in pointing out the only 2 black recurring characters when there have been several characters of several races who had significant, non-stereotypical parts in the recent series.

  • PhredG | May 28, 2013 8:49 PMReply

    Looking in the lib for a dvd to borrow and seeing Freema Aygeman on the S3 cover is WHAT GOT me into "The Doctor" in the first place. Martha Jones was a contributing character, not just a female tag-along. If they're so racist howcum Freema got to host the DR. WHO AT PROM special. DW got me into other British scifi shows, TORCHWOOD, PRIMEVAL, and now ORPHAN BLACK. Her character MARTHA JONES (started series as a medical student and ended as Dr. Martha btw) was one of only 5 characters to portray themselves in both TORCHWOOD and DR. WHO. I'd say the book would be GREAT on a bonfire. I can hear them pages a'cracklin' now.

  • Erika | May 28, 2013 7:51 PMReply

    The Doctor has also never been played by a woman. Quick, lets all write an anthology about how sexist this show is! What a crock...

  • Mark | May 28, 2013 7:34 PMReply

    She really wants to sell a book to fans of a sci fi tv show that insults the writers, producers, directors, cast and even the fans themselves? Seriously complaining about an actor playing someone with a different ethnicity, she clearly doesn't know what acting means.

    I would go so far as to suggest that anyone that can find racist overtones in a tv show that is unquestionably non-racist; is in fact being racist themselves.

    Grow up and stop trying to write a book on a popular tv show merely to sell copies, an amended old saying for you, if you haven't got anything valid to say then don't say anything at all.

  • No | May 28, 2013 7:25 PMReply

    Academics love interpreting pop culture for the beknighted maases who don't understand the semiotics of popular entertainment.

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