Classic Dr. Who: The Green Death

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I’ve been watching some classic Dr. Who to remind me of what I used to love so much about the show. I’ve pretty much hated new Who since Donna. Why did she have to be assertive and screechy? Why was the fact that she was not-typically attractive linked to her not being romantically attracted to the doctor? (Unlike those more conventionally attractive companions, who were blond or slim and feminine even while saving the world and disgustingly infatuated. Please.) And finally why the hell didn’t they let her die the hero’s death that she wanted instead of consigning her to her dead-end hopeless life where she didn’t even have a memory of all she’d become? In other words, I stopped being able to ignore the writers’ and producers’ misogyny. And it’s only gone down from there, until each episode of new Who is a torture of waiting for the moment I, as a lifelong female fan of Dr. Who, will be betrayed. I keep watching, hoping they will prove me wrong, and they keep meeting my low expectations.

Sometimes I think the writers of new who think they’re writing for The Highlander: There can be only one! No one can be as smart, resourceful or interesting as the doctor and there certainly isn’t any space for another timelord any more, even when the convoluted logic of the show would allow for it. Like that episode with the doctor’s daughter–they killed her off real quick didn’t they? And don’t even get me started on Clara. It’s the wasted potential that gets me the angriest.

Anyway, this wasn’t intended as a post about misogyny, but about how so many social concerns have remained the same over the 50 years of the show’s history. (Although misogyny is one of those things.)

Take The Green Death from 1973. It was produced either just prior to or smack in the middle of the 1973 oil crisis and during the economic uncertainty of the decade.  The series takes place at the site of an old coal mine in Wales, where laid-off coal miners are protesting the loss of their jobs. Concern about fossil fuels, unemployment and problems with the economy sound familiar? The facility is being used for a new oil refining process that is being touted as clean and having minimal waste byproducts. UNIT is called in to investigate some suspicious green deaths, and ultimately is ordered by the prime minister to protect the site/blow up the mine, against the advice of scientists, to contain the infection. Profit and productivity are king, with death, pollution and the environment afterthoughts that can be cleaned up later.

Sounds a lot like today’s fracking. It especially echoes the current situation in Balcombe, England, where the government has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money for police to protect the energy company that is conducting fracking from…taxpayers. And where fracking is touted as clean and having minimal waste byproducts, while meanwhile it is poisoning our ground and water, and using up clean water and creating shortages.

There are also the “kooks” who believe in alternative energy sources like wind, solar and tidal energy and who are protesting the pollution and destruction of the environment.

Change a few words, and The Green Death isn’t about the 1970s oil crisis; it’s about fracking and 2013’s struggle between climate change deniers and everyone else. We have made some progress in the acceptance of alternative energy sources and the idea is no longer so fringe, although it is not by any means mainstream.

What else hasn’t changed? The misogyny. I was probably too steeped in the 80s brand of misogyny, or I just didn’t want to remember, the patronizing treatment of Jo, by the doctor and everyone else. Surprisingly, the brigadier seems to treat her as an equal more than anyone else. (Although thank god female actors aren’t expected to whimper today as much as they were in the 60s and 70s, especially the young ones. How did they even stand themselves? And did all that really make men feel manly?) All the men talk down to her, and she plays scatter-brained blond for them and offers to fetch them coffee. No doubt her mother told her men don’t like smart women. And the doctor engages in underhanded manipulation the equal of anything under Moffat, when he tries to prevent Jo from making her own decision about leaving him for the “kooky” professor (who totally has the same 70s haircut as Jo).

But actually, is the misogyny the same, or is it worse? I’m jumping back and forth between the Pertwee and Baker eras as episodes sound interesting and not in any particular order. In my head cannon, audiences loved Sarah Jane Smith because she had agency, and Ramona, in both her incarnations, was supposed to keep an eye on the doctor–and was just as smart and resourceful, and of course was a timelord herself.

I’ll see as I watch more episodes. What’s my memory of the show, what’s actually in the show, what’s the subtext. I’ve already learned that the doctor was emotionally manipulative even on the early shows  (Hartnell’s doctor doesn’t count, he was obsessive scientist manipulative in that he didn’t care about anyone but himself, and so much changed when he left the show and the creators decided to keep going.)

Oh, does anyone know if those are real Welsh accents? I could understand them remarkably well but I can’t understand a thing Stacey on Gavin and Stacey says. And I just love the doctor’s pride in his cross-dressing talents.

The Green Death

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