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Rant and Ravey: A Guide To The BBC's Big Galaxy
by Colin Ravey

Doctor Who Video Cover

Subversion turns up just where you would least expect it, and as for the revolution not being televised -- well it has been, but it wasn't any funky yoof TV with flashing subtitles and nausea inducing angles. For me, it happened in Doctor Who, and Blake's Seven. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I remember meeting a friend of a friend, he had real-life Daleks, so I was told. Sat in his bedroom, I scanned his walls. Just like me he had posters of the Doctor. A male hero -- odd in a boy's room. Odd because he wasn't holding a gun, or snarled in some violent sporting action, nor scowling in a rock and roll disaffected way. He was smiling pleasantly, or looking perturbed. The nearest to rock and roll grumpiness was good old William Hartnell looking slightly displeased or disapproving. Troughton looked impish, and Davison looked pleasant. Yes, Peter Davison, there seemed to be a lot of him, and lo! -- also... the Chippendales? I thought no more of it and the memory was long surpassed by his garage. Oh wonder of wonders! Real, life size Daleks.

A fifteen year old boy was very impressed, and not at all hit with the fact that he'd just been in a gay man's bedroom. He wasn't raped or groped either -- despite the fact that most popular press have an odd dyslexic confusion between the words homosexual and paedophile, the words gay and groper.

The memory of the bedroom only surfaced when I began to emerge in fandom to find that the show had a gay following. But gays are like that aren't they? Into weird, kitsch things, a facile and surface screaming delight for anything camp and dated -- nothing more than that.

Then I grew up and realized there's more to gay culture than Abba and shiny shirts, and that people were attaching to the show at a deeper level, just like I had.

I still can't pretend to know exactly why -- can't pretend that I have an ability to tap into gay culture and growing up gay to find why the Doctor becomes the first man in some young boys' lives, but I have a few ideas.

The Doctor is sexless, and yet the show's gay following harbors no desire to swing him into homosexuality, as many Star Trek fans wish to push Kirk and Spock into bed. This is not an attack on Star Trek, just an observation. I have never read any literature which pushes Who into homo-erotica, whilst any other cult figures slide and slip into it with baby-oiled ease on countless web pages. (Even the Monkees, as I was bemused to note last week. Davy Jones will never sound the same to me again!).

Maybe this is because the Doctor emerged into gay children's lives at a time when they felt sexless, felt that the best path would be to hide their sexuality. (And yes, there are such things as gay children, my friends, it's not something people get saddled with in teenage years, like sexual acne). Why follow the exploits of heroes who strive to get or rescue the girl? -- it's like a vegetarian watching the exploits of a blood-hungry safari. Shagging women is just not pivotal to the world of Who -- ever, and there's perhaps only Biggles which can echo such sentiments. There's adventures to be had, and friends to save, and it's more important to throw open the gates of freedom and take people's horrors away than push apart and take legs and virginity respectively.

Macho can be attractive to gay men -- some by their very nature seek manliness rather than the stereotyped limp-wristed effete, but some macho life-styles and pursuit just aren't always that open to or attractive to the young and gay. You won't find much macho in Doctor Who, and it's usually exposed as weak and laughable bluff. Brain wins over brawn -- however attractive the brawn might be.

Perhaps this is looking too hard -- but Doctor Who also has all the right and positive messages for a young gay man. Bigotry is wrong, and difference is to be allowed and encouraged. The show's main "baddies", the Daleks, are based lock, stock and barrel on the Nazis, and that inherently comes with an attack on their bigoted views. We have to look at such evils wholeheartedly, and not sneak their views on gays out of the back door of disgust and condemnation to snuggle homophobia back into the breast of popular society. The Daleks are evil because they want to destroy anything that is different to them. A fairy tale notion, but take heed bigots everywhere. Disapprove and avoid as much as you like, but an active desire to seek out difference and exterminate it can only lead down one path...

Doctor Who Video Cover A UK soap opera nominated one of its characters to be gay some years back, (Tony in Eastenders?). His sexuality has now wavered slightly, as the plotline dictated. He is shown to be punished for this in subtle ways, his life is far from the hedonistic world that many young gay people live -- it's rather like teens having sex in schlock horror films being the first to get slashed. Whilst Doctor Who is admittedly lacking in out-and-out (no pun intended) gay characters, the Doctor is viewed as a success, and a complete person, and never punished for his avoidance of heterosexual ways. Interestingly however, he fears being left alone, and finds himself unable to settle down. He fears growing old alone -- a common enough preconception in a gay society still fighting the "silent majority" so unwilling to accept and frightened of a "normal" gay lifestyle.

Speaking of which, the most powerful and positive message comes from the show's declining years. The Happiness Patrol is best remembered for its use of a character made up entirely of sweets, and an OTT visual style which left many feeling that Doctor Who had finally given up and slid into children's television at its most puerile. The plot concerned the eponymous patrol, led by the matriarchal Helen A, trying to stamp out unhappiness. Unhappy people, who wouldn't fit in to Helen A's idea of a perfect society, were forced underground and subjugated.

At the time of broadcast, England was in the icy grip of Mrs. Thatcher, determined to create a society based on notions of family life and "proper life styles" that had never existed. The population was to be shoe-horned back to basics, with anyone choosing to live outside the rules to be offered no mercy, no sympathy. Thatcher's government, whether this was true deep down, had a surface bemusement at single mothers, gays, the homeless... Why would anyone want to live like this? Laws were brought out to help strait-jacket society's arms, lest weak willed minds allowed hands to grope outside of the sexual norms of society. Meanwhile top politicians just got strait-jacketed and tied up for fun by children, animals, whole families and anything they could afford.

Helen A is similarly bemused by killjoys -- the Unhappy. She has offered them happiness -- normality. Why have they not accepted? As they haven't, they have no right to shelter under societies umbrella. As Matt Jones, the script writer of Queer As Folk (remember, last issue, the gay drama currently infuriating tabloid bigots everywhere, being described as pink propaganda?) once postulated in a fanzine, the key to The Happiness Patrol is to replace the word Happy with Heterosexual, and the word Unhappy with Gay.

As in real life, in the Happiness Patrol Unhappy/Gay leaders are sacked amidst scandal. Large groups of Gays/Killjoys demonstrating are banned by law. Unhappiness/Homosexuality is not to be shown in public, it is evil. Imagine if you will, Thatcher in tears, stabbed in the back and driving from Downing Street for the last time, only to be confronted with a liberal hero. Imagine a world where her government's homophobic policies and policing was a central issue, and her achilles' heel.

Doctor Who Video Cover
Thatcher: They didn't understand me.
Hero: Oh, they understood you too well.
Thatcher: I wanted only the best for them.
Hero: The best for them? Prison? Disappearances?
Thatcher: They only came later -- I told them to be heterosexual but they wouldn't listen, I gave them every chance. I know they seemed heterosexual and normal sometimes, but still they were gay. It's unnecessary, those that persist in it must be punished.
Hero: Why?
Thatcher: For the good of the majority. For those that want to be straight, that want the opportunities I gave them.
Hero: What opportunities? You're heterosexual perfect world is cosmetic -- it is nothing unless it exists alongside homosexuality.
Thatcher: I will find a place where there is no homosexuality, where there are no gays. A place where people are strong, where they pull themselves together.
Strong stuff. And it's a Doctor Who script. Make Thatcher Helen A, and our Hero the Doctor, make Happy equal straight and we have, more or less verbatim, the final confrontation scene of The Happiness Patrol... The Doctor defends the feeling that dare not speak his name -- having just organized a killjoy Mardi Gras. "I can hear the sound of empires tumbling" to quote the Doctor.

Subversion happens in the strangest places, and perhaps it's not surprising that Doctor Who has a gay following. Not all gay people wave the flag or carry the torch -- they shouldn't have to. Not everyone is like the Doctor, not everyone fights the good fight. But what consenting adults do is their own business. And underneath a lurid children's tale of a Happiness Patrol lurks a coded message. "We will make this a happy (straight) planet despite of all the killjoys (gays), and if they're miserable (gay) then we'll put them out of their misery"

Exterminate, Annihilate, Bigots Conquer and Destroy.

The revolution was televised, and its most violent revolutionaries were the crew of the Liberator, Blake's crew of Seven. Next time we'll fly the flag of revolution and finally broaden our horizon beyond Who as we look at the BBC's own Federation -- and it ain't got nothing to do with Kirk.

Copyright © 1999 by Colin Ravey

Colin Ravey is a twenty two year old Internet journalist, born and bred in Glossop, Derbyshire. Nope, people in the UK haven't heard of it either -- head for Coronation Street, and take a left into the countryside. He isn't half as jingoistic as he sounds, and welcomes your comments.

Interested in reading more of Colin's commentary? You can find it in his other SF Site columns, Rant and Ravey.

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