'The Beast Below': Doctor Who and the popular negotiation of constitutional values

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The Doctor’s adventures frequently see him explore worlds with problems that are not dissimilar to those facing contemporary society. As a result, Doctor Who (1963–89, 1996, 2005–present) often provides and invites political critique. In contrast, relatively little attention has been paid to how the programme provides and invites legal discussion, even though the law is rarely absent from the Doctor’s adventures. This article seeks to close this gap by examining the constitutional law message contained within the 2010 episode ‘The Beast Below’. In this episode, the Doctor and Amy Pond must solve a dilemma which involves secretive and state-sponsored torture; this evokes broader constitutional law debates around the roles of law and politics in securing and enforcing human rights. By showing the limits of the Doctor’s interventions, the episode casts doubt on the appropriateness of the judiciary in establishing the scope of human rights. It endorses a political model of constitutionalism directing that citizens must play an active role in the contestation of executive power, so that constitutional constraints are ultimately negotiated and articulated by the public rather than by elites. By offering this reading, it is hoped that Doctor Who, and science fiction television more widely, can be appreciated as a constitutional text and a forum for constitutional discussion.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)227-240
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Popular Television
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018

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