Doctor Who

A while back I compared Michael Morpugo’s mawkish (but highly successful) children’s book Private Peaceful unfavourably with the ethically alert television series Doctor Who.

That judgement was confirmed by tonight’s episode of the series. It was set in New York of 1930. In the Hooverville shanty town built by the unemployed, one character reflected ruefully that he had gone to fight for his country thirteen years before, but that the one thing he’d learned from the experience was that a man needed to stand together with his comrades. Another character said that what he’d learnt from the War was that you had to concentrate on your own survival, and never mind what happened to the others.

If one of the episode’s bright young viewers noticed these two attitudes, and started to wonder how one experience could affect two men in such radically different ways, he or she would have learnt something more important about the Great War than any insights that ccould be gained from the wallow in self-pity produced by the Children’s Laureate.

(By the way, the chap who wanted to survive at any expense finished up being spectacularly absorbed into a Dalek. Great television!)

2 Comments

  1. Posted April 22, 2007 at 4:06 am | Permalink

    The new series hasn’t made its way down under yet. Interesting choice for a British TV series to use American WWI veterans as characters. Do you think that choice might have (intentionally or not) enabled the scriptwriter to ditch the usual stereotypes about British responses to the experience of the war?

  2. Posted April 22, 2007 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    The WW1 references are marginal – the story is mostly about the Depression (made even rottener by Daleks).
    One could read the episode as latching on to the key American myth about the War. They aren’t so interested in the horrors of trench warfare – their people saw less of that – but are keenly aware that during the Depression many returning soldiers felt betrayed by the country they had fought for. the story is told in Yip Harburg’s great song, Buddy can you spare a dime?

    They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,
    When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.
    They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
    Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

    Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
    Once I built a railroad; now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
    Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
    Once I built a tower, now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

    Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
    Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
    Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
    And I was the kid with the drum!

    Say, don’t you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
    Why don’t you remember, I’m your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

    Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
    Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
    Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
    And I was the kid with the drum!

    Say, don’t you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
    Say, don’t you remember, I’m your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?


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