Doctor Who: The War Games - The British Empire - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: The War Games - The British Empire

Chris Morley traces the fall of the British Empire, from a Timelord's perspective...

With the announcement that Series 12 of Doctor Who features a return to the theatre of war for a Second World War story featuring Noor Inayat Khan, time to take a SIDRAT & look back over (at least for starters) at New-Who's previous attempts to tell tales from the battlefield. The big question surely is whether Chris Chibnall can resist the chance to yet again play by the Black Orchid rule in telling tales that deal with some of the ugliest episodes in an all too human history - that is to say shoehorn alien influence into proceedings? It must at this point be said that Chibbers is by no means the only guilty party here, his predecessor as showrunner was actually the man to begin labouring the point if we go right the way back to 2005 & Steven Moffatt's The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. More of which later as, chronologically speaking, we've got the rise, decline & eventual fall of the British Empire to deal with first!

Mark Gatiss, who had earlier stuck the Ice Warriors, or at least one of them, into a literal Cold War aboard a Soviet submarine, would give considerably more of them an outing against Queen Victoria's finest in Empress Of Mars as they attempt to claim the Red Planet for good old Blighty!

The year is 1881, and no recorded history of the Victorian period mentions they had a space programme for starters... though a sizeable chunk of the known world was under their rule. Consider this from a Guardian report of 1906 on the state of play...
“Between 1881 and 1891 the extensions in the East Indies and in our Indian dependency and the great annexations of territory in West, South, East, and Central Africa added about two millions of square miles.

Since 1891 further expansions have occurred, principally in Africa and in Asia, raising the total as nearly as can be ascertained to 11,908,378 square miles. Thus, in the short space of forty years, the aggregate area of the British colonies, dependencies, and protectorates has increased by about 40 per cent, and now amounts to more than one-fifth of the land surface of the globe.

Of this huge territory somewhat more than four millions of square miles are situation in North, Central, and South America, three millions in Australiasia, two and a half millions in Africa, and nearly two millions in the Indian Empire and other parts of Asia, while the portion that lies in Europe constitutes a very inconsiderable fraction of the whole, amounting to only 125,095 square miles, of which 121,039 constitute the area of the United Kingdom.”

Similarly far-reaching expansion of that territory is mined in the Fifth Doctor novel Imperial Moon, which has Kamelion eventually persuaded to disguise himself as Prince Albert to talk the Queen out of a similar enterprise, and you might also recall her contempt for matters not of this world in exiling Sir Doctor & Dame Rose from her kingdom in Tooth & Claw even after they've helped her out with a nasty werewolf problem. Yet here he is again deep in the heart of battle for a potential new outpost of the Empire, the whole thing in a sense mirroring the British Raj. And just like colonial rule in India it will eventually collapse in favour of the natives, the Ice Queen Iraxxa leading her troops into what the Doctor terms the Martian Golden Age, with at least one notable addition to the ranks in the form of a token human survivor from the would be imperial conquerors. A neat reversal of Friday the Ice Warrior having been introduced as a manservant to the regiment. All he really wanted, though, was to get back to his fellow “upright crocodiles” who will go on to win the chance to first liberate their home & then take a new one elsewhere in the cosmos with a little help from Alpha Centauri.

Following the crumbling of the attempt to take Mars, the direct fallout from the real world partition of the country it stood in for is the focus of Demons Of The Punjab, the 1947 setting placing it firmly at the end of Empire as political & religious tensions boil over with the Thijarians on hand to observe. And while it isn't a pure historical in the sense of the William Hartnell years, it does at least ease off on the aliens & follow some of the early rules of the historical stories of the time in that the Doctor has access only to the TARDIS & whatever she can rustle up on wits alone, while also in a very New-Who way giving itself over to examining the context of what happened through the eyes of those who lived through it - Yaz's Nanny Umbreen profoundly affected as her first husband is murdered by his own brother following their wedding after nationalism turns his head. A very different beast, then, to Empress Of Mars, which gives us in essence Zulu in space.

Ironically, considering the Hartnell years were ripe with the pure historical format, the First Doctor had his own attempt at introducing India into proceedings mothballed! The Red Fort would have served as a lead in to the Indian Mutiny of 1857 when native soldiers serving in the armies of the East India Company decided they'd had quite enough of being subjugated and did something about it! Independence, then, was long secure by 1881, the British Raj dead & buried by the late Forties as mentioned above.

A war footing, though, would need to be maintained on these shores once more after Hitler decided to steal a few moves from the British playbook & build an empire of his own. That, then, is where our SIDRAT drops us next....

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