Opinion: A “Jolly Good Smacked Bottom”

Recently our podcast covered “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.”

At the time, there was some discussion about the “What you need is a jolly good smacked bottom!” line that the First Doctor says to Susan, his granddaughter.

In this situation, though, we did kind of just move on from it: given the way the Doctor says the line it seems quite obvious he has no intention of doing it, and is more concerned and scared for Susan’s safety. It is still sexist and not a good line.

It’s hard to find out where this line came from; it is claimed it is not in the original Terry Nation script, and is generally attributed to an ad lib by William Hartnell.

Now the First Doctor, as we have discussed, does have a lot of British paternalistic qualities and sexist elements. A lot of this does come from the time but it is still there. However, as we have also discussed, the show notices these and generally shows more nuance than you would expect with the character especially given that it was produced in the 1960s.

But if it isn’t that big of an issue in the episode, why do I feel the need to bring it up? Because on Dec. 25, 2017, more than 50 years later, the line came up again in Peter Capaldi’s final episode as the Twelfth Doctor and Steven Moffat’s last episode as showrunner, “Twice Upon A Time.”

In “Twice Upon A Time,” the First Doctor (played by David Bradley) and the Twelfth Doctor meet, right before they both are to regenerate. Moffat did intend this to be a cyclical thing showing how the character has changed and how they haven’t. Additionally, this episode wasn’t meant to happen when it did — Moffat wanted to complete his run with the end of Capaldi’s final season.

However, Chibnall did not want to start with a Christmas special, and if the show didn’t have a Christmas special, Doctor Who would have lost the Christmas special slot permanently. This meant Moffat had to rush to write and record a whole extra episode while still having basically wrapped the Twelfth Doctor’s story at the end of his final season. Meanwhile, Paul Cornell was writing the novelization at the same time the episode was being written, and they had to cut 30 minutes from the final episode.

Some of the issues I have can thus be explained, but I am judging based on what we got on screen.

The portrayal of the First Doctor that ended up on our screens for this episode seemed to be based fully on the “smacked bottom” line and sexist attitudes of the 1960s. They even had the First Doctor say that line to a woman he was not related to and had just met.

This is played as a joke in the episode, and it isn’t the only one. One of the only character traits Moffat plays up in the aired episode is how sexist and out-of-touch with the modern day the First Doctor was. Which is certainy an aspect of the character having been written and portrayed in the 1960’s we can’t ignore that aspect of the character,however Moffat exxaggarates an highlights no other aspects of the character.

In other post-Hartnell appearances, the First Doctor has often fared better; for example, in “The Five Doctors,” he is portrayed as being the most knowledgeable and experienced of all the incarnations.

This may have been Moffat’s way of popping that fan view… which is a complete misunderstanding of who the First Doctor is.

Even this one line was not as bad as it sounds, as I explained earlier, and while the First Doctor certainly comes across as paternalistic, sexist, and from the 1960s there is more equality there that Moffat in the aired episode seems to ignore, basically boiling it down to the Twelfth Doctor being embarrassed by this sexist, rude past version of himself that is completely out of touch with current attitudes.

This is completely unlike any other portrayal of the First Doctor, and bordering on an insult in how it is handled.

While it has been argued that instead of just the First Doctor, Moffat was portraying the attitudes of the 1960s show in general, there was also racism then and the episode really doesn’t deal with that at all. Also, putting all that on the First Doctor still makes it a terrible characterization.

As I mentioned earlier, Cornell was working on a novelization at the same time as Moffat was writing the episode, and at least 30 minutes of the episode didn’t make it to the final version on screen.

Some of the problems with the rushed episode are fixed in the novelization. For example, in the book it is explained the First Doctor acted sexist and out-of-character to annoy the Twelfth Doctor because he didn’t like him, and in the book he tones it down as he begins to like this other incarnation of himself.

Whether or not this was the intention of Moffat’s on-screen version, it does not come across that way when watching the episode.

Also, I want to be clear: none of this is on David Bradley, who has portrayed Hartnell brilliantly in the Big Finish audios and in the docudrama “An Adventure in Space and Time.” Moffat may have intended to show a more nuanced version at some point but what came across was an awful “joke” that really did not work and instead came across as the worst interpretation of the First Doctor in a canon appearance.

Let me know if you agree or disagree, and either way, I hope you join us by listening to future and past episodes of Daleks Aren’t Robots!?

Sources:

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