Doctor Who fandom, The Talons Of Weng Chiang, and racism

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Everyone loves Doctor Who, the kids own shown that grown ups adore.

*Doctor Who on Twitch happens*

We regret to inform you that Doctor Who is racist.


There are two broad groups of response to this fact. One is denial, and counter-accusing to say that PC killjoys are finding patterns in things that aren’t there. The other response is to accept it as true, and that your favourite is problematic, but watching it does not make you racist.

British culture and society are tainted by an intrinsic racism that permeates to even the most woke of white folk, so that we (by which I mean white people) are guilty of racist acts even though we aren’t conscious of them (for a primer on this try Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge).

The issue of racism in Doctor Who has been raised due to, well, all the racism in Doctor Who. Earlier this year it was commented on by Twitch viewers. To summarise: there aren’t many black and minority ethnic people in Doctor Who, and when there are they’re often stereotypes; strong, silent black men, inscrutable Asian characters, Jewish men obsessed with money. The numerous problems with The Celestial Toymaker make it a blessed relief that most of its episodes don’t exist.

Then of course there’s The Talons of Weng Chiang, based on the Yellow Peril stories of Edwardian literature. This era of fiction inspired some of the major writers of Doctor Who in its first twenty years, and so it’s not a shock that a show riffing on these pulp stylings echoes their explicit racism.

Plus, of course, there’s all the yellow face.

John Bennett and several white extras wear make up in The Talons of Weng Chiang in an attempt to make them look Chinese.

Doctor Who Magazine’s Time Team commented that the depiction of Chinese characters in Talons was a problem for them but that they still enjoyed the episode, so obviously this incredibly divisive rhetoric was an attack by Social Justice Warriors on possibly the greatest work of art of the Twentieth Century. Arguments in defence of this range from the lack of Chinese actors available to the societal context making this more allowable. I mean, you just don’t get black or yellow face in the political correct Twenty-First Century.

You certainly wouldn’t get it in The League of Gentlemen, Little Britain, Harry and Paul, The Mighty Boosh or That Mitchell and Webb Look. You definitely wouldn’t get Orientalism echoing Yellow Peril in post-2005 Doctor Who. It just wouldn’t happen nowadays. Bloody liberals.

Doctor Who fans generally like The Talons of Weng Chiang – a problem The Celestial Toymaker really doesn’t have – so it’s understandable that they don’t want to hear that it’s racist (this can be expanded to be about Doctor Who in general, which in turn can be expanded to be about Britain, which in turn…) because the immediate assumption is that this is an accusation that they are racist for enjoying it.

People are not racist because they like the characters of Jago and Litefoot, the Doctor as Sherlock Holmes, or Leela eating hunks of meat with her teeth. These can exist side by side with the racist elements of the story and show.

Pretending that there’s nothing wrong with Doctor Who though, that’s a red flag.

The people who hate Doctor Who the most are Doctor Who fans – no one else can muster the hatred for Season 24 that Doctor Who fans can – and yet the same people can strenuously deny that there’s anything wrong with Tomb of the Cybermen.

They want to protect what they love, and themselves, from a difficult truth. I can relate to that, it took me a while to accept the serious flaws with writers, actors and stories I love. The fact is, though, that they are there. Denying this is a symptom of a much wider problem.