Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Restaura…um…Space Station at the End of the Univer…um…World: Satire and the New Doctor Who

In the tradition of the best British genre writers who bring a humorous twist to their work, such as Douglas Adams (who actually was head writer for “classic” Doctor Who once upon a time), modern Doctor Who episodes continue to use distant future (and less frequently, near future) events to satirize and comment on current pop culture and society. I’ve put together a round-up of some of my favorite instances of this literary device, and I would probably count many of the episodes that contain these examples (yes, even “Gridlock”) among my favorites because I find them to be incredibly imaginative, even if some are, to put it kindly, less than plausible when you try to think about them logically for too long.

1. Lady Cassandra, “The Last Human”

When the Ninth Doctor and Rose first encountered Lady Cassandra in “The End of the Earth,” I think that was when I knew I would love “Doctor Who.” Of course, the fact that “Platform One,” the space station where our heroes meet Lady Cassandra in the year 5 billion, reminded me of “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” didn’t hurt the episode in my estimation, either. Lady Cassandra has had 708 cosmetic surgeries, and when the Doctor and Rose meet her, she is little more than a stretched out piece of skin with a face. She’s rather horrific-looking, but she loves how thin she is now. She also needs to be constantly moisturized. I’ll admit, I tend to watch my fair share of E! News Live when I need to decompress after work, so I found the critique of the Hollywood standard of beauty spot-on.

2. Satellite Five

When the Ninth Doctor and Rose spend some time in orbit around Earth on Satellite Five, they eventually come to realize that all of Earth’s news (and subsequently, society) is being controlled by a huge, disgusting creature called the Mighty Jagrafess. The Doctor tells Rose that the time in which they have arrived is supposed to be the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire, but something has seriously gone wrong. Obviously, that something is the Jagrafess. The concept that humans are sheep and will believe what they’re told, and the ease with which humans can be manipulated through news broadcasts is what intrigues me about Satellite Five. The fact that the humans are desperate for the power this knowledge brings (they pay through the nose for the privilege of having their body altered to connect directly in to the information stream) is fascinating as well.

3. The Gamestation

After defeating the Mighty Jagrafess, the Doctor was sure that the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire would be back on track towards greatness. Oh how wrong he was. Satellite Five was turned into the Gamestation, a satellite devoted to the filming of reality and game shows like Big Brother, The Weakest Link, and what looked like Extreme Makeover. Basically, the dregs of TV. All of these familiar shows are taken to the next, more frightening level. For instance, elimination on either Big Brother or The Weakest Link means death. Contestants also don’t have a choice about participation. They are chosen at random from the entire population. It’s great commentary on our society’s obsession with reality television. And also, who can resist laughing at the “Anne-droid!”

4. The Sanctuary Base of Krop Tor

The Sanctuary Base is a sort of impromptu mining colony on a very hazardous planet, to put it mildly. The planet of Krop Tor is dangerously close to a black hole, so close that those who know of the planet can’t figure out how it still exists. Beyond that obvious problem, it’s also the home to The Beast- Satan itself. Not a hospitable place. What was intriguing about this particular setting was that it showed the lengths to which humans will go to exploit the environment. The crew of the Sanctuary Base put their lives at extreme risk just to harvest some minerals. With the recent oil rig disaster in the Gulf, this episode has become more timely than ever.

5. The New Earth Motorway

When the Tenth Doctor and Martha make a trip to New (New, New…) Earth, they discover that it is not as the Doctor last left it. They are in the Undercity, where mood patches are bought and sold to junkies. Those in search of a better life take to the motorway and spend years in a fruitless quest to reach the planet’s surface. All it takes is one bad commute home from work to appreciate the satire here. We tolerate so much in our society for the sake of suburban sprawl. I guess it’s natural to question why these humans are content to sit in traffic for years on end, but I don’t actually find it that much of an exaggeration from reality considering how we really live.

6. The Adipose

The one example on my list that doesn’t come from the distant future, the Adipose are both disgusting and disgustingly cute. They’re squishy and they coo and wave and smile. And they’re also made out of human fat- the fat of humans that have taken a particular pill pedaled by a rather sadistic intergalactic nanny. The Adipose first appear in the UK, but I find their second appearance, in “Turn Left” even better satire. That’s when the Adipose hit the United States, where clearly, there are plenty of potential hosts. The whole thing is a thought-provoking commentary on our society’s fixation with food and weight.

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