Doctor Who Tried To Overthrow The British Government

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Doctor Who's traveler managed to unseat Prime-Minister Harriet Jones with six words. But when he tried to do the same to Margaret Thatcher, it didn't work out so great. The show's creators admit they were trying to "overthrow the government."

People have long suspected that late-1980s Doctor Who featured some pretty strong anti-Thatcherite messages. The evil dictator Helen A, who leads a false utopia of forced cheer in "The Happiness Patrol," is frequently described as a Thatcher archetype. In another episode, the Seventh Doctor gave a speech about nuclear weapons that was lifted from CND materials. A tie-in novel, Turlough And The Earthlink Dilemma, featured a villain named Rehctaht, or "Thatcher" spelled backwards.

And our own painstaking research found the percentage of stories where the Doctor overthrows a planet's government, instead of just restoring the status quo, went up drastically in the late 1980s.


Now, maybe for the first time, people involved with the making of those final seasons of the classic series are admitting they had an anti-Thatcher agenda, and it's causing waves in Britain. Then-star Sylvester McCoy says:

We were a group of politically motivated people and it seemed the right thing to do. At the time Doctor Who used satire to put political messages out there in the way they used to do in places like Czechoslovakia. Our feeling was that Margaret Thatcher was far more terrifying than any monster the Doctor had encountered.


And script editor Andrew Cartmel, who worked on those last few seasons, says that he was honest when producer John Nathan-Turner asked him in his job interview what he'd like to do with the show:

My exact words were: I'd like to overthrow the government. I was a young firebrand and I wanted to answer honestly. I was very angry about the social injustice in Britain under Thatcher and I'm delighted that came into the show.


Cartmel says he assembled a group of "angry young writers" in the hopes of using the show to foment dissent. Instead, the show faded into obscurity and got canceled. Only to come back 15 years later, with overt anti-Tony Blair messages.

Top image: A member of the "Happiness Patrol" at last year's Dragon-Con, via Eclectic Muse on Flickr. [Times Online]