It must have been a slow news week at the end of May last year, and a confusing time at the Daily Mail offices in London. A bunch of presumably lefty – and foreign! – academics and fans were criticising Doctor Who’s racism.
Although the Mail knows, just knows, that the BBC is a left-wing conspiracy and that the corporation’s privatisation is the very key to the survival of civilisation (see, for example, Kelly), the tabloid put aside its fury at public service broadcasting, rallied all the small-minded jingoism for which it is renowned and leaped to the series’ defence. Momentarily abandoning its anti-immigrant scare-mongering and Islamophobic harangues, the Mail, whose long track record of ‘not being racist’ is why it is so widely revered as the keenest arbiter of such matters, set the record straight. Under a long-winded headline and a couple of pretty meaningless bullet points, we were presented, really quite surprisingly, with a not-inaccurate summary of Lindy Orthia’s Doctor Who and Race, outlining some of its perfectly reasonable criticisms of the show as if they were damning indictments of the book. If that and a quote from some bland piece of BBC PR were not enough to persuade us of the nobility and justice of the Mail’s new crusade, then we should listen to the fans, who, the Mail assures us, ‘dismiss such criticisms as “groundless” and “ridiculous”’ (Hasting).1 [End Page 265]
Three days later, after rearranging the same paragraphs under a different headline (see Hasting and Sheridan), the Mail, confident that it had won over all right-thinking Britons by so roundly defeating the fearsome dragon-of-not-particularly-radical-cultural-criticism, retired from the field of combat. There were other dragons to slay. There are always other dragons for the Mail to slay. Many of them not from around here, or very slightly different in some way.
This peculiar episode in British journalism is every bit as intriguing as it was absurd. A television-series-turned-multimedia-franchise-turned-brand, that was long mocked by the tabloids for its wobbly sets and men-in-rubber-suit monsters but is now celebrated as quintessentially British and, especially in its revived version, as a global phenomenon, and that is aware of its public service commitment to a problematically construed and often only tissue-thin multiculturalism, suddenly finds itself being defended against charges of racism, on the grounds of its ‘colour-blind’ casting and other multiculturalisms, by the tabloid that elsewhere praised Prime Minister David Cameron for ‘ending the failed multicultural era’ (Forsyth). Here is a clear sense of Doctor Who as a British cultural institution, a sense so strong that a paper one would normally expect to deride fans as acne-ridden, anorak-wearing loners lacking social skills and female companionship actually identifies itself with them. Here also is a sense that the Mail, without this convenient stereotype to hand, cannot tell fans from a broader general audience – but then, who can any more?2
The transvaluation of fandom is evident in Doctor Who and Race, which happily includes both fans and academics, each sometimes writing in modes more commonly associated with the other. This is not merely the outcome of some Internet-enabled détente between two groups which were always far from mutually exclusive anyway, but a consequence of (and contributor to) broader shifts in cultural politics. Academics no longer have to deny personal taste, or even claim – as so many were still doing as recently as a decade ago – that their love of and interest in mass cultural products was, by some strange alchemy, ‘subversive’ or ‘transgressive’. In the...