Only British TV Could Do This

May 14, 2011


Television programming in the US can be very innovative.  But sometimes, domestic issues can only be discussed in foreign media.  And so Steven Moffat (a writer for “Doctor Who”) chose to include President Richard M. Nixon in two episodes of the series.  When I watched these episodes, I marveled at the fun (and the respect) that Steven Moffat showed to this former President.

Here in the United States, very few people even talk about Richard Nixon.  Yes, he is discussed in history texts.  But I can’t think of a single time that I or my contemporaries have included this President in our discussions.  He is either reviled or simply ignored in America.  I know of no one who is kind, gracious or even the least bit deferential towards this man.

But a Scottish writer of a Welsh production company dared to make President Nixon a featured character in two episodes of their flagship series.  And they did a really fine job of it as well.  The character (as written by Moffat) was a reasonable representation of a man who was being swept away by an extraordinary situation.  And Moffat decided to go a step further: this characterization of Nixon dealt with aliens. And this version of President Nixon is now a “companion” of the Doctor.  I NEVER would have imagined Nixon as a companion.  But there he was.

The story was a middle-of-the-road Doctor Who narrative about aliens and the Doctor’s love for humanity.  It had the typical forward references to whatever the culminating episode will be this year.  And it had the obligatory Steven Moffat fascination with silence as a conduit for fear.  [Note: I really like this theme being woven in many Moffat stories. But I really wonder why Moffat has such a fascination.]

But I am not a TV critic.  I am a Doctor Who fan and I am a student of history.  For me, I find it exhilarating that people are talking about Nixon after all these years.  And they are talking about him as a man – not as a humiliated President.  I love the “in jokes” about tape recording things.  And I really like the implied (but never stated) consideration of the missing minutes of audio tape.

Bottom line: This was a respectful and innovative consideration of Richard Nixon, the man.  Unfortunately, it was only an average Doctor Who episode.


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