The BBC confirmed the TARDIS is accessible, so why are so many people so annoyed about it?
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TRANSCRIPT OF “ALL THE WHO-HOLES IN WHOVILLE”
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MALE VO [00:03]
This is Bad Attitudes.
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Hello friends and strangers! Welcome to another episode of Bad Attitudes: An Uninspiring Podcast about Disability. I’m your host, Laura.
This episode is dedicated to Bernard Cribbins, a shining star in the Whoniverse.
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As always, I want to remind you that disability is not a monolith. My experience as a disabled person is going to be different from the experiences of other disabled people. I am one voice for the disabled community but I am not the only voice.
I knew it was coming. I was braced for it. And yet, I was still inadequately prepared for the wave of ableism coming at me.
A few episodes ago, I was super excited by photos coming from the set of the Doctor Who 60th anniversary special, which showed David Tennant as the Doctor pushing Bernard Cribbins — who has since passed away — in a wheelchair into the TARDIS. As a hardcore Whovian and a wheelchair-user, the idea of it being canonically proven that the TARDIS is wheelchair accessible was thrilling. I have always thought that the TARDIS was accessible to a multitude of disabilities, but to see it proven? That’s big.
But then, the BBC decided to make a big deal out of it. An article was released highlighting the revelation that, yes, the TARDIS IS accessible, both in deference to Bernard Cribbins’ Wilf and, quote, “future characters.” This article was shared in the Doctor Who fan group I’m a part of.
Per capita, this particular group has the largest number of toxic people in it, of the few such groups I belong to. The fact that haven’t encountered a tsunami of racist comments following the casting of Ncuti Gatwa as the Doctor comes down to pure luck. It’s nothing more than a fluke. Plenty of members of this group think the Doctor should only be played by white men of a certain age, and shouldn’t include anything that they find to be too real.
Apparently, including characters with disability prevents certain viewers from enjoying the escapism of Doctor Who. If including disabled characters makes it hard for you to escape into a television show about a time-traveling, shape-shifting alien with two hearts, I’ve really got to wonder what you’re trying to escape from.
Reaction to this article was, predictably, mixed. A fair number of people shared my belief that the TARDIS has always been accessible, which pleasantly surprised me. But, again, it’s a sentient machine from an advanced civilization. Why WOULDN’T it be accessible?
Like me, there were plenty of disabled people excited by the prospect of including disabled characters in the show. Never underestimate how much representation matters. Never underestimate how empowering it can be to see someone who looks like you in the media you consume.
And, of course, the ableists were out in droves. The comment that sticks out in my mind was something to the effect of, “I’ve never given a shit about the experiences of disabled people, so why do we need that in Doctor Who?” Really, Kevin? You’ve never given a shit about people with whom you apparently have nothing in common? I am SHOCKED.
But, also, you answered your own question. We need disabled representation in Doctor Who and other mainstream media PRECISELY because people like you have never given a shit about the disabled experience. Disabled characters aren’t only relatable to disabled people. If that were the case, how would disabled people ever relate to all the able-bodied characters that have populated media up to this point? Yes, if I see a disabled character, I’m going to relate more to that character initially, but there’s no guarantee I’m going to CONTINUE relating to that character. I may not relate to that character’s personality at all. The character may not resonate with me beyond the fact of disability. But if you’re assuming you can’t relate to a disabled character solely because they’re disabled, well, you’re wrong.
I was feeling pretty salty at this point, so I made a comment on the article about all the ableist comments I was seeing and why were only non-disabled, cis, white, straight men allowed to enjoy popular media? And do you know who had a problem with that comment? All the cis, straight, white men in the group! Instead of acknowleding that historically, cis, straight, white men have been at the top of every proverbial food chain, they had to jump on my comment and remind me “not all cis straight white men.”
Does there exist a more thin-skinned creature than the cis white man?
For the record, I am aware that not ALL non-disabled, cis, straight, white men are against inclusion in popular media. I would even go so far as to say that most of them are not against inclusion in popular media — at least, in theory. In practice I would say their opinions are very, very different.
People got so angry when it was announced that the Doctor would be played by a woman. And I’m sure plenty of people got so angry when it was announced the Doctor would be played by a Black, gay man. To an extent, I understand it. Doctor Who has been around for almost 60 years. It occupies a significant place in many people’s childhoods. I get it. When something that is so ingrained in people’s minds changes, it is uncomfortable.
The people who think that Doctor Who growing to include different types of people is the result of “woke” culture haven’t been paying attention. Doctor Who has always been a hot bed of political discourse. I’d just wager that most viewers were young enough that all those messages went over their heads. Doctor Who has always been against fascism, classism, racism, sexism. It has always promoted inclusion and acceptance. The casting is finally reflecting that, and I, personally, am stoked.
If you have a problem with just the IDEA of the TARDIS being accessible, I will call you out on your ableism. But, also, I feel sorry for you. If the idea of a fictional spaceship being accessible to visitors with disabilities is enough to send you into a tailspin, the ground you are standing on is incredibly fragile. Like your ego. You are, fortunately or unfortunately, an endangered species. Thankfully, the majority of people are willing to accept new and different faces in their entertainment in the interest of better representing the viewing population.
Which is kind of the whole point. Or did you think Doctor Who’s audience is only made up of old white men?
Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you in the next one.
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