Saturday, 19 December 2015

"School Reunion": Are the Krillitanes really the British in disguise?

By Danny Nicol,
University of Westminster

It seems a matter of consensus among Doctor Who scholars that one of Doctor Who’s authorial purposes is to represent and to fashion British national identity.  In this regard “School Reunion” (2006) is the first Doctor Who story in which a black British character, Mickey Smith, becomes a companion of the Doctor, albeit not for long.  Mickey is the on-off boyfriend of the Doctor’s beloved (white British) companion Rose Tyler.  His promotion to the role of companion is encouraged by the well-loved companion of yore Sarah Jane Smith, who quips that there should always be a Smith in the Tardis.   Sarah Jane thereby creates a sense of shared identity and continuity, tempering and easing the welcome transition from the long series of all-white companions.  Mickey’s inclusion, swiftly followed by Martha Jones’ longer period as companion, helped to emphasise Doctor Who’s commitment to racial diversity as a fundamental characteristic of Britishness.

Perhaps it is no coincidence, too, that the Doctor’s enemies in this adventure are the Krillitanes, a composite race.   Significantly they are led by an apparently human headteacher played by Anthony Stewart Head, an actor who represented Britishness par excellence in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  However, the Krillitanes turn out to be shape-shifting, horrifying bat-like creatures.  They are, we are told, an amalgam of the races they have conquered.  But they take on physical aspects as well, cherry-picking the best qualities of their colonised. 

Graham Sleight has argued that Doctor Who’s portrayal of monsters is a kind of moral parable: the Doctor opposes not merely the monsters but the values that they represent. (The Doctor’s Monsters (London: IB Tauris, 2012), 2).  But in the case of the Krillitanes they embody a favourable British trait – their mixed heritage is their source of strength.  They mingled, just as the British have mingled in terms of heredity and culture alike.  Hybridisation is a recurring theme in Doctor Who, not least in the 2015 series.  But being a hybrid is usually depicted as a good thing.  The value which the Doctor opposes in “School Reunion” is that the Krillitanes have deployed their hybrid strength to conquer rather than for living peacefully.  But are the British so different?  Doctor Who storylines often echo the British Empire, not always favourably (“The Mutants” (1972), “Kinda” (1982)).  More recently the show has satirised the country’s somewhat endless interventions in the Middle East, not least poking fun at Tony Blair’s notorious “45 minutes” claim in “Aliens of London”/“World War Three” (2005), and the Doctor’s trenchant criticism of bombing campaigns in “The Zygon Invasion”/“The Zygon Inversion” (2015).   It is one of Doctor Who’s strengths that sometimes the monstrous turn out to be ourselves. 

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