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Knowledge, power and the ethics illusion: Explaining diverse viewer interpretations of the politics in classic era Doctor Who

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What is the dominant political ideology of Doctor Who (1963–89, 1996, 2005–present)? Scholars and viewers have variously claimed the programme represents political positions ranging from far right to far left, or have denied it is political at all. In this article we offer a structural analysis that partially explains this diversity of response. Analysing three classic era Doctor Who serials with different political flavours, all of which feature political regime change as a narrative element, we identify two narrative devices that function to obscure any political ideologies present. The first, which we call the ‘science-beats-tyranny’ template, foregrounds the problem of a tyrannical regime rather than exploring any political alternatives to it. It circumvents the need for political debate by deposing the tyrant with a scientific fix. The second, which we call the ‘ethics illusion’, uses heuristic logic to effect the appearance of an ethical plot resolution, while skipping over the political details of the new regime replacing the tyrant. We argue that these devices create ambiguity about a serial’s political commitments and also direct viewer attention to generic rhetoric about freedom from tyranny, rather than any more specific political ideology.
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Keywords: Doctor Who; ambiguity; ethics; politics; science; structuralist narratology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The Australian National University

Publication date: June 1, 2018

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