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Doctor Who loves its Nazi storylines but where are the Jews?

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I've been a huge fan of "Doctor Who" for years, so when I saw in the trailer for the new season that the iconic time traveler's adventures were going to feature a story set in Nazi-occupied Paris, I thought — finally. After 57 years since the first episode aired, and 15 years since the show was revived, it looked like "Doctor Who" was going to try its hand at a Jewish story.

Unfortunately I was wrong. While a good bit of the second episode did take place in occupied Paris, and there were a few tense confrontations with Nazis and Nazi-affiliated characters before the series returned to the modern day, again there were no Jews featured onscreen.

For nearly 60 years, "Doctor Who" has made a point of fighting Nazis. One of the show's most famous recurring characters, the Daleks, a warlike alien species genetically engineered to hate and destroy anything that is not like themselves, were deliberately designed as a Nazi allegory. Designer Terry Nation, who grew up during World War II, based his concepts for the Doctor's iconic enemy off aspects of Nazism - their distinctive salute, their use of the catchphrase "exterminate" and their belief in their own genetic superiority.

The Doctor and their traveling companions have also met and fought a handful of human Nazis over the years. A particularly memorable episode in 2011 features Hitler himself getting punched in the face and locked in a closet, which I'll admit was a little cathartic to watch.

However, by failing to include Jewish characters in both their allegorical and historical episodes, "Doctor Who" simply continues telling stories about triumph against indiscriminate hate rather than strengthening the heart of any Nazi-fighting episode by seriously exploring what it would look like to face an enemy with such a very discriminate hatred.

In fact, the show has only made specific references to Judaism twice in its entire modern run, and I've felt somewhat let down by both. I would feel differently about the lack of Jewish inclusion if the show had been generally secular. However, it has never shied away from overt religious content. Until Season 11, every modern character who has traveled with the Doctor — our audience surrogate — has come from an identifiably Christian background.

In the past two seasons, the show has prioritized a more inclusive view of religion, most notably by featuring Muslim police officer Yasmin (Yaz) Kahn, played by Mandip Gill, in a leading role.

If "Doctor Who" were to apply this same spirit of inclusivity to Jewish religion and culture, I can imagine the show including characters like an alien Jewish mechanic who saves a crashing spaceship by repurposing the device they use to figure out which way to pray toward Jerusalem, or a minyan facing down the next Dalek invasion of Earth on the steps of their synagogue. Maybe, someday, a Jewish companion could think about their decision to travel with the Doctor specifically in terms of "tikkun olam," or repairing the world (or, as my rabbi likes to put it, "repairing the space-time continuum").

While I was disappointed to see the show sidestep another excellent opportunity for Jewish inclusion, I am still holding out hope: Maybe next year in the TARDIS?

This story originally appeared on Alma and was distributed by JTA.


Caption: (From left) Karen Gillen as Amy Pond, Matt Smith as The Doctor and Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams in the 2011 "Doctor Who" episode "Let's Kill Hitler!"

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to whovian@cuttingsarchive.org

  • APA 6th ed.: Peterson, Julia (2020-02-21). Doctor Who loves its Nazi storylines but where are the Jews?. J.: The Jewish News of Northern California p. 47.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Peterson, Julia. "Doctor Who loves its Nazi storylines but where are the Jews?." J.: The Jewish News of Northern California [add city] 2020-02-21, 47. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Peterson, Julia. "Doctor Who loves its Nazi storylines but where are the Jews?." J.: The Jewish News of Northern California, edition, sec., 2020-02-21
  • Turabian: Peterson, Julia. "Doctor Who loves its Nazi storylines but where are the Jews?." J.: The Jewish News of Northern California, 2020-02-21, section, 47 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Doctor Who loves its Nazi storylines but where are the Jews? | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Doctor_Who_loves_its_Nazi_storylines_but_where_are_the_Jews%3F | work=J.: The Jewish News of Northern California | pages=47 | date=2020-02-21 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=23 February 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Doctor Who loves its Nazi storylines but where are the Jews? | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Doctor_Who_loves_its_Nazi_storylines_but_where_are_the_Jews%3F | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=23 February 2024}}</ref>