Dr Who, X-Factor and social gloom

January 7, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Posted in Music, Art, Etcetera | 2 Comments


Last night, I finally got around to watching the last chapter in David Tennant’s role as Dr Who. Unlike other people who were sad to see Tennant go or infuriated by an incomprehensible plot, what I found depressing about ‘The End of Time’ was something entirely different.

The Doctor’s last assistant was Donna Noble. At first, they seemed an unlikely couple: Donna came across as negative, insecure, loud, and a bit mediocre. Of course, these first impressions were soon blown away, revealing a woman who was funny, witty, caring and exceptionally smart.

The next time the Doctor encountered Donna, she was back to square one: still working as a temp, planning for an unenthusiastic marriage and with all that brilliance remaining dormant & untapped. For his parting gift, the Doctor gives her a lottery ticket.

When the credits started rolling, my first thought was: ‘what does it say about our society when the only means Donna has of improving her life is by getting married to someone she didn’t express much love for & being given a lottery ticket by a time-travelling alien?’

What the scene demonstrated was a profound lack of faith in the prospect for social mobility, and it’s something which is quite a recurrent theme in television. In soap operas, youngsters who start out with hopes of attending university rarely get there, and in Hollyoaks, even those who graduate from university struggle to find good jobs.

Then there’s the desperate karaoke contest of X-Factor. The open auditions for the show are a depressing affair; a parade of tuneless, delusional hopefuls whose motivation for winning seems more about money and fame than talent. You’ll often hear contestants talk about wanting to win to escape their past lives in deprived communities, and they’ll contrast footage of drab, gloomy-looking council estates with the Technicolor glitz of the show’s studio.

The nagging fear among Conservatives is that they’ll be punished politically for what they feel is necessary economically. There’s a concern that Cameron’s cuts will be seized upon by the Labour opposition and rejected by the voters. They worry that the coming election will only result in a one term Tory government.

Whilst that fear is justified, it may yet be negated by the scale of the task Labour faces if it wants to build a positive message for voters.

I think the perception both in our culture and amongst the electorate is that not only were the ‘boom years’ a house built on sand, but that they weren’t even all that good. If people think social mobility is achieved through lottery tickets, X-Factor or Big Brother rather than education, work or government policies, they’re not going to be receptive to the claim that a new Labour government could improve lives.

Entertainment and culture may be distinct from society, but they are influenced by it, and if people look back on the ‘days of plenty’ and conclude that opportunities for social mobility mobility only improved because of a talent show, they may not look too fondly on the party which was in power.



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  1. […] The Bleeding Heart Show explains the link between Doctor Who, X-Factor and social […]

  2. A very good point, and one which could be extended to a general criticism of the idea that social mobility is a good thing in and of itself.

    After all, if talented individuals are so keen to escape the lower rungs of society (in terms of status and income) then what of all those individuals who are *not* talented? Should those among the lower levels who are not talented doomed to a life of poverty through a random quirk of genetics? And should those without talent born into wealthy families doomed to see their prosperity wither away as they are displaced by the talented from lower down the scale?

    The objective of a civilized society ought to be to ensure that even those at the very bottom live reasonably comfortable lives.

    It is the lack of equality, rather than social mobility, that is the problem with that particular DW plotline.

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