Saturday, 27 December 2008

Doctor Who, feminism and Jesus

After the awful Doctor Who Christmas special last year, we were relieved at my in-laws' house that this year's episode was significantly better. The plot was fun, there was plenty of snow and you got the sense that Doctor Who is perhaps the 21st Century equivalent of the pantomime.

I couldn't help noticing, though, that there was more of a politics to the episode than some. The combination of it being Christmastime and these politics had interesting things to say about Christianity, Jesus and feminism.

There were several mentions of and allusions to Jesus throughout the episode. At the grave side of one of the workhouse owner, a vicar rehearsed burial liturgy, surrounded by a group of men. There was a strong link of Jesus (and Christianity) with patriarchy. The villainess, Miss Hartigan, who had worked in one of the workhouses for many years, ended up in partnership with the Cybermen in reaction to the evils that she witnessed as a result of such patriarchy (indeed, this was portrayed as her only escape!). She represented herself as a new suffragette-style hero(ine) that came into the world at Christmas - only now not one that would oppress women. She even used the words, 'Behold, I have risen'. Miss Hartigan was set up as a kind of Christ figure; the implication throughout being that Christianity (even Jesus?) is misogynistic and oppressive.

In the end, however, the Doctor seemed to identify the problem with Miss Hartigan's plans: her ideals, too, were shown to be oppressive. In compassion, the Doctor offered to send Miss Hartigan and her Cybermen to another planet, where they wouldn't need to 'convert' anyone (another backward slap at Christianity?). However, once Miss Hartigan's eyes were 'opened', the horror of her evil meta-narrative convicted her and she imploded.

In the end, perhaps the episode was a critique of patriarchy and feminism. Feminism that become an inflexible meta-narrative is to be rejected as it threatens to become an evil ,oppressive (and Christianity-like) system; yet the tragedy portrayed by the episode is that a real heroine (a character called Rosita, who helps many children to be saved) ends the epsiode merely as a nanny. We're forced to ask... is this right? Is it right that a heroic, bright woman can rise only to this position in a Christianity-influenced (Victorian) patriarchy?

An interesting theme. I wonder what the writers would make of Jesus' encounters with women in the Gospels?

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