Doctor Who has flirted with “progressive” values over the past few seasons. And show runner Steven Moffat is now promising that the new season of the popular TV series will drive its engagement with social justice to the forefront by addressing the issue of race in a “progressive” way.
The sci-fi series returns after its year-long hiatus with a new female companion, Bill Potts, the show’s first openly-gay character. Bill goes on all new adventures with the Doctor, played by series star Peter Capaldi who’s in his . Speaking to TV Guide, Moffat expressed excitement to “restart” the series with the new character, and engage the show’s audience with stories centering around Bill Potts, who’s played by black actress Pearl Mackie, instead of the Doctor.
In last week’s episode, Thin Ice, Bill and the Doctor time travel to Regency-era London to confront a monster under the Thames river. Besides performing their usual Scooby Doo-like investigation, the duo must also deal with racism. According to Moffat, the show’s writers “didn’t see an alternative.”
“History is always white washed,” explained Moffat. “How do we manage to have a diverse cast despite that? The way we did it was [to just] say that [viewers] will see people of different colors [in Regency-era London]. In fact, there were.”
It’s historically accurate to say that the densely-populated city’s demographics were majority white during the period.
“People all didn’t arrive in the twinkle of an eye. It is bending history slightly, but in a progressive and useful way,” said Moffat to justify the diversity of the city’s population in the episode.
“Also, [real Regency-era London] wouldn’t be a pleasant place for [Bill] in several respects,” continued the showrunner. “Taking that on is just respectful of the audience really. It’s a chance to—I’m always reluctant to sound so pious and so do-gooding and all of that. It’s useful that these things are talked about. The evil in Doctor Who can sometimes be the evil in our real world, too.”
The show suggested that Jesus was black and that history itself is whitewashed.
Doctor Who has never pretended to be historically accurate, nor should anyone expect it to be—so it is curious as to why Steven Moffat even thought to justify his depiction of London, if not to virtue signal to a crowd easily pandered by surface-thin depictions of diversity.