Thursday, July 23, 2015

Planet of the Ood - "They don't ask. Same thing."

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Series 4, Story 3 (Overall Series Story #193) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via a study in floyd

Something's missing here. This one should be more memorable than it is. It's got some pointed, spot on dialogue that directly gets after how capitalism warps morality. Exchanges like:
DONNA: If people back on Earth knew what was going on here.
SOLANA: Oh, don't be so stupid. Of course they know.
DONNA: They know how you treat the Ood?
SOLANA: They don't ask. Same thing.
DONNA: Oh, it stinks. How many of them do you think there are in each one?
DOCTOR: Hundred? More?
DONNA: A great big empire built on slavery.
DOCTOR: It's not so different from your time.
DONNA: Oi. I haven't got slaves.
DOCTOR: Who do you think made your clothes?
DONNA: Is that why you travel round with a human at your side? It's not so you can show them the wonders of the universe, it's so you can take cheap shots? 
This is exactly what Donna needed to hear. Empires built on slavery are evil, this isn't exactly news, but applying that judgment to our circumstances, that perspective can be difficult to internalize. How people become complicit in their maintenance is worth thinking about, so something can be done about it. I love it that DW does this. When it does, we should sing its praises. So, why don't I love this episode more than I do?

It is, perhaps, as simple as the fact that Donna calls the Doctor's dig about the provenance of her clothes a "cheap shot," and he apologizes for it. In his tailored suit and brand name sand shoes.

Look, I'm not arguing he should've set her straight with a stern lecture and refused to travel with her until she admitted the crack made a valid point. I'm not even saying the dialogue needed to be changed, only that the reading that situation required was different than the one Tenant gave. A hard stare, held for as long as it takes to draw a deep breath, then the "sorry," to suggest he's sorry she doesn't get it, yet, not that he's sorry he's said it.

There's always going to be this disconnect, isn't there? We need the condemnation, the moral clarity. But we aren't in a position, any of us, as individuals, to make the system right. And the work to do just what we can do within the system is so hard, we can't all do it all the time. (I say that, hoping it's true, because I've got DW t-shirts made in Pakistan or Bangladesh or somewhere in my closet. The clothes I'm wearing right now are from a Kohl's department store. No doubt made by slaves.) The show knows this and isn't a Frontline documentary on labor conditions in the East Asian garment industry. So it has to be a story that fits into a certain mold. It can prick our conscience, but it has to pick its spots and move on. Donna can't break down in tears over her complicity in neoliberal policies of the early 21st century and start making her own clothes from fair trade fabrics. (She can't, can she?)

I don't mean to single DW who out for the moral failings of being television entertainment of its time and era. Most shows get this far more wrong. Most wouldn't even dream of poking us that way. Never mind if it's only a poke that draws no blood. Even science fiction, where we can move the characters to any narrative space, any imagined time or location, anywhere in the past, present, or future of the universe, or even to an alternate universe, even with all this freedom to question, to examine, to speculate, to suggest -- we're still watching it today, right now, in our reality. We (the creators and consumers) are the limiting factors, not the TARDIS.

We want the truth, but we can't handle the truth.

Except, we can. It's just hard. (Hard to imagine the path that gets us from where we are to where we would be if we were free to live virtuous lives in a just society. We are society, society is us. Cells in the body politic, we burn something to produce something else, by doing this we survive and reproduce. How to burn so the cells around us can also survive and thrive? We work with what we have at hand. The milieu matters. What the other cells do matters. The aggregate effect of what all the cells do matters.)

Perhaps I digress. This is about the Doctor Who episode called "Planet of the Ood," where an enslaved brain is struggling to break free of its bindings. A man and a woman hear the song of the brain and it makes them sad. Another man falls into the brain, another man loses his humanity, because it was already lost, and humanity goes on. And the Ood go on. And the Doctor/Donna go on.


  • DONNA: It's weird. I mean, it's brilliant, but. Back home, the papers and the telly, they keep saying we haven't got long to live. Global warming, flooding, all the bees disappearing. DOCTOR: Yeah. That thing about the bees is odd. [Donna mentioned the bees disappearing in "Partners in Crime" as well.]
  • Donna's for West Ham. I'm no Premier League buff, but am curious about what a person's routing interest in a club may signify about their personality. Me, I'm a Red Sox fan, and as I read about West Ham, I can't help but think there may be some rough similarities between supporters of West Ham and die-hard fans of the Red Sox and Cubs -- big city teams with a long history of being generally successful, but not winning it all. (That's changed since 2004 for the Red Sox, of course, but for most of my life the Sox were loved, despite not being able to put it all together.) West Ham's song speaks to this lovable loser identity. 
    • This pretty much seals it. I've been watching the Premier League without a team to cheer for the last few years, mostly paying attention to Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea, and the 'Spurs because they've been the top teams, but I like (minus the hooliganism, which I gather is endemic to sport) what I'm reading about the Hammers and their history. 
  • Jack Graham is, of course, more eloquent and insightful than I am on this one. Deliberately didn't read his post until after I was done so I wouldn't just throw my hands in the air and gripe that he'd already nailed it.

Additional Resources:
Tardis Wikia transcript
Sandifer post
AV Club review
TV Tropes page

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