The Thick of It creator, Armando Iannucci, has hit out at the UK government for using the word “woke” as a stick to beat popular culture with, and dragged Doctor Who into the debate once more.
Yes, we’re tentatively going into the “woke” debate which has been performed extensively on Twitter under various guises. Because at the MacTaggart Legacy panel, part of the Edinburgh International TV Festival, Iannucci spoke about the “colour-blind casting” of Dev Patel in Armando’s own The Personal History of David Copperfield (co-starring the Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi):
“It was an enormous relief. I felt liberated, I didn’t feel I was ticking boxes. I just felt, ‘my God, why have I not had access to 100% of the acting community [before]?’ It’s a really enjoyable step forward, it’s not difficult. It makes what we make better.”
He then added:
“My worry is that there is now this word, ‘woke’, that the government has weaponised to try and stop all that [joking about them]. I want someone to ask [Prime Ministerial candidate] Liz Truss, ‘Do you want Doctor Who just to be a white man?’ I’ve got to see what her response is, because that’s the thing that’s referred to as ‘woke’, the Doctor Who debate.”
Presumably, this is in response to the casting of Ncuti Gatwa, the first black Doctor (though not the first mixed race Doctor as some have claimed — that title goes to Peter Davison), and perhaps Jodie Whittaker, the first female Doctor.
This is all very difficult to get into because everyone’s got an opinion about diversity, representation, and “being politically correct”, as it used to be called. Nonetheless, Iannucci might raise a good point when he says:
“The woke thing is there, but the bigger, more chilling thing, is that politicians and parties are now beginning to say, ‘don’t make a joke about me’; ‘I will get my supporters to shout at you if you make a joke about me’; ‘if your interviewer and if your programmes make jokes about me, I will look into whether that channel has too much power’.”
With this, he moves from “wokeness” to censorship. Some might argue they’re linked. Others might say it’s a meandering rant against the government. Others still might say both those things are true. “Politician Doesn’t Like Being Made Fun Of” isn’t a great headline, but very few actively enjoy being ripped to shreds by the media, by peers, by anyone. (Still, it happens to us all, and Spitting Image is a great example of MPs and celebrities going along with the joke.) The worry is that the government can do something about it, albeit not with free rein. Just because some front-bench Tories don’t like the BBC and want to get rid of the license fee doesn’t mean the BBC is doomed; if that happens, it will have to adapt. The BBC is, of course, always a target for politicians: the Left says it’s too right-wing; the Right think it’s too liberal — testament to the BBC’s impartiality, perhaps. Similarly, the government has been threatening Channel 4, as Iannucci has previously railed against.
And as for the question, do you want Doctor Who just to be a white man? I’m not sure having a specific idea of what a TV character should be and should look like makes you a bad person. If you want a Doctor who is under 60, that doesn’t mean you’re ageist, for instance. Personally speaking, I like to think that the vast majority of people are good, and that their tastes in popular culture don’t necessarily reflect their wider moralities.
But this is the debate that will rumble on. Quite tiresome, but that’s life.
At least the political landscape in the UK isn’t shifting this week (on, say, Monday 5th September, when Parliament returns from recess), so we can all settle down and chill, right?