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Worlds turned back to front: The politics of the mirror universe in Doctor Who and Star Trek

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This article takes two prominent science fiction TV series’ uses of the ‘mirror universe’ trope and argues that their differing treatments of the individual and his or her relationship to authority and the social order reflect cultural, social and political conditions derived from their specifically American and British historical, political and social contexts. The mirror universes device allows the programmes’ creators to explicitly identify undesirable modes of social organisation – an imperialist version of Star Trek’s (original run 1966–69) Federation and a totalitarian republic in Doctor Who (1963–89, 1996, 2005–present) – while inviting audiences to interrogate the social orders presented as normative in the previously established fictional prime universes. Star Trek’s ‘Mirror, Mirror’ (1967) incorporates a moral dilemma that is left unresolved by the end of the episode, leaving the audience to question the hidden operations and assumptions of the apparently benign Federation: in Doctor Who’s ‘Inferno’ (1970), pragmatic solutions to social and political problems are informed by Cold War Britain’s reluctance to adopt totalizing political positions that override the rights and responsibilities of individuals. Both shows ultimately demonstrate, through the dramatization of totalitarian social orders, that while a political philosophy is a welcome thing, individual conceptions of justice and fairness are the only guarantors of a stable society.
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Keywords: Doctor Who; Foucault; Star Trek; parallel universes; politics; science fiction; ‘beard of evil’

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Wolverhampton

Publication date: June 1, 2018

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