Howling:Howling archiveThe Howling archives → Doctor Who v Margaret Thatcher
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[Doctor Who in war with Planet Maggie]

"Sylvester McCoy, the actor who played Doctor Who for two years in the 1980s, has revealed that left-wing scriptwriters hired by the BBC wrote propaganda into the plots in an attempt to undermine Margaret Thatcher’s premiership."

“The idea of bringing politics into Doctor Who was deliberate, but we had to do it very quietly and certainly didn’t shout about it,” said McCoy “We were a group of politically motivated people and it seemed the right thing to do. At the time Doctor Who used satire to put political messages out there in the way they used to do in places like Czechoslovakia. Our feeling was that Margaret Thatcher was far more terrifying than any monster the Doctor had encountered. Those who wanted to see the messages saw them; others, including one producer, didn’t.”

Andrew Cartmel, the show’s script editor during the late 1980s, confirmed its deliberate anti-Thatcher slant.

He said last week that John Nathan-Turner, who produced the show throughout the 1980s, had asked him during his job interview what he hoped to achieve in the post.

“My exact words were: I’d like to overthrow the government,” said Cartmel. “I was a young firebrand and I wanted to answer honestly. I was very angry about the social injustice in Britain under Thatcher and I’m delighted that came into the show.”

He assembled a number of “angry young writers” to produce storylines that they hoped would foment anti-Thatcher dissent. They included Ben Aaronovitch, son of the late Marxist intellectual Sam Aaronovitch, and Rona Munro, who went on to become a scriptwriter for Ken Loach, the socialist film-maker.

Under Cartmel’s direction, Thatcher was caricatured as Helen A, the wide-eyed tyrannical ruler of a human colony on the planet Terra Alpha.

The extra-terrestrial character, played by Sheila Hancock, outlawed unhappiness and remarked “I like your initiative, your enterprise” as her secret police rounded up dissidents.

The Doctor persuaded “the drones”, who toiled in the factories and mines, to down tools and rise up in revolt, an echo of the miners’ strikes and printers’ disputes during Thatcher’s first two terms in office.

Helen A remained oblivious as close colleagues turned against her. Prophetically, she was shown shedding a tear as she finally realised that power was slipping from her grasp.

The three-part serial in which she featured, The Happiness Patrol, began in November 1988, in the same week that the prime minister was filmed waltzing with President Reagan in the White House.

The following year Cartmel wrote an emotive speech for the Doctor about the evils of nuclear weapons. It borrowed heavily from material obtained from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which was a persistent thorn in the side of the government.

A spin-off Doctor Who children’s novel called Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma, which was published under licence by the BBC in 1987, featured a despotic villain called Rehctaht — Thatcher spelt backwards.