Black Faces, White Messages : Doctor Who

With Season 9 of BBC slated to start in a month, season 8 of DOCTOR WHO finally makes its way onto Netflix. I’ve watched more DOCTOR WHO than the vast majority of you reading this. My compulsive personality at work, I’ve seen all of the current reboot, and all of the classic existing series.

And I’ve seen the series go from great to mediocre and back again. One thing the series has suffered from, at times, in both its classic and modern incarnations is its depictions of people not WASPish.

Russell T. Davies was the visionary largely responsible for the rebirth of Dr. Who after an absence of over a decade; bringing a 20th century creation successfully into the 21st century. In terms of effects, and scope of story-lines Davies reboot was a massive win both artistically and commercially. That said one of the few failings of Russell T. Davies tenure, especially early on, was his use of characters of Color.

His Mickey character, played by the Shakespearean trained Noel Clarke (And I hold both creator and actor complicit for such a portrayal) from the first was a neutered, constantly emasculated character of color much in the vein of Step and Fetchit Hollywood, not just an offensive character, but worse a detriment to otherwise watchable story-lines, of which the Russell T. Davies run, had many.

I would rather creators avoid using characters of color, than use them offensively or ignorantly, as nothing more than tokens or stereotypes or outlets for their biases, which I think unfortunately is how Russell t. Davies approached such characters, particularly early in his run.

However by the Tenant years, Davies had a far better grasp on utilizing characters of color, as his Martha Jones character, brilliantly played by Freema Agyeman and her extended family were from the most part brilliantly written.

The post Tenant years, starring the youngest Doctor Matt Smith, and helmed by new Show Runner Steven Moffatt, I felt were pretty uneven, as the character was saddled with companions for most of his run that I found almost as annoying as the Mickey character.

That brings us finally to the new incarnation of the Doctor played by Peter Capaldi in Season 8, which definitely had me intrigued.

However, initially, the introduction of a Black character (love interest for the companion Clara), named Mr. Pink had me groaning audibly. I saw another Mickey in the making. A Black character called Mr, Pink? Really? Why not just call him snowball. But thankfully, the series, six episodes in is smarter, better written, and the character of Mr. Pink, stronger and more compelling and likably written and performed, than initial episodes and the unfortunate name… would imply. As well as other characters of color in far more humanistic and enjoyable and non-stereotypical roles than most stateside shows.

Add to that Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor and Jenna Coleman as Clara are fantastic. Capaldi brings a less manic, measured performance and is a welcome touchstone to the Doctor as teacher and mentor and father. And Jenna Coleman’s Clara an excellent companion.

Episode 6 CARETAKER is my favorite of the season so far and season 8 as a whole my favorite season since the Tenant/Agyeman series. Let’s hope the writing continues to transcend the easy crutches of stereotype that sometime marred earlier seasons, and continues to broaden and enrich the history and mythology of Dr. Who.

Final Word:

On the accusation of Black Faces/White Message we find Season 8 of Doctor Who… NOT GUILTY. It is TV done right, as Showrunner, Stars, and stories combine to make addictive, fun, ethnically diverse, and smart television.

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