Friday, June 07, 2024

Saturday, June 01, 2024

In ‘Dot and Bubble’ Doctor Who Tackles With the Dark Reality of Certain Groups and Online Circles


(spoilers ahead)

‘Dot and Bubble’ was definitely an episode that went way beyond what its trailer made it seem. It’s also an episode that is absolutely made by its ending and how it all wraps up. It starts in a very lighthearted tone, taking place on the suffocatingly pastel planet of Finetime, in a futuristic environment that has a little hint of Black Mirror. The protagonist, Lindy Pepper-Bean, waking up and much like a ton of people in real life starts scrolling through that world’s version of social media, an actual bubble that surrounds her head, to which she also seems dependent upon for her every action and decision.

And just as you think that this might be commentary on how addicted we all are to social media, and how influencer culture has some people act online, things start taking a slow turn. It’s subtle, at first, but the hints pointing at what is going on are present from the start. I guess it will depend on how familiar someone is with certain language, behaviours, and microaggressions, but it’s not hard to pick on the occasional odd thing that Lindy and her circle says, and the more the episode progresses the more things add up.

It’s pretty clear, with how Lindy immediately dismisses the Doctor, a Black man, when he first tries to talk to her in order to help her escape the monsters that are hunting everyone down, and the contrast with how she responds to Ruby, a blonde woman with blue eyes makes the oddness of that behaviour even more apparent. Especially when she acts so surprised, even appalled that Ruby is in the same room with him. Overall, the way the episode shows the early signs is very clever, and very reminiscent of how things work in real life when you meet a person with problematic views that starts showing hints of bigotry, and you feel that there is something off but can’t quite place it, or even start trying to find excuses to explain it, until the pieces of the puzzle start forming a big picture. Same way in the episode you feel Lindy is a bit spoiled, or obnoxious, maybe a bit insensitive and privileged, but you sooner or later realise that Lindy, and everyone else in her circle, is unapologetically racist.

There is a lot of hyperbole and exaggeration in the way allegory is utilised in the episode, and not everything sticks the landing, but the overall build up works, and offers a really solid social commentary on how white supremacist online circles mostly act as echo chambers that cultivate and amplify a specific mentality, completely detached from the facts of the real world. It’s also very clever to have that one member of the group who had started thinking outside of the box, exploring different perspectives, and acting more like a better person be the one to be back-stabbed and discarded. Ideologies that are based on discrimination treat their own who deviate, even the slightest, exactly this way.

I know mileage may vary, but for me the ending really worked. Sure, it’d be just as good, cathartic even, to see the Doctor give up on the people who were revealed to be just a hateful group who viewed his skin as something that made him inferior. But beyond this going against the character of the Doctor, it also served in presenting a very real truth about people who are deeply sinking into their hate and bigotry, which more or less applies to any sort of prejudiced thinking: If someone’s entire mentality and worldview is shaped around seeing you as lesser, you can be as smart, as kind towards them, as perfectly-behaved as possible, and their stance won’t change.

Sure, growth is possible, people do change. The character of Ricky September showed us a hint of that, but it almost never happens in an instant or overnight. In most cases you cannot debate a racist out of their racism with one clever comeback. No smart and eloquent argument and no appeal to logic or empathy can induce an instant epiphany for someone who spent years believing that some people are inferior to others, and had their entire social group confirming that notion to them. The Manifest Destiny-like quote spoken before those people turned out refusing the Doctor’s help, and most probably dooming themselves, is very characteristic of how much faith individuals with that mentality put on the false belief that they are simply better than others. 

Ncuti Gatwa’s performence, especially by the end was brilliant and heartbreaking, conveying all the emotion of someone who still wanted to help, despite those people very clearly being prejudiced against him, and trying and failing to get through to them. Which for the Doctor, a character who has as one of their biggest strengths their ability with words and communicating with people, feels particularly significant, and Gatwa was phenomenal in that scene.

Overall, it was an episode that both gets better the more you think about it, and also benefits from a rewatch, as knowing the reveal in the ending makes the hints and subtle pieces become more obvious, even to someone that might have missed them at first. The only downside is that in a way it is another Doctor-lite episode, not as much as ’73 Yards’, but we know scheduling conflicts were a factor, so hopefully the remaining episodes will give Ncuti Gatwa even more opportunities to shine as the Doctor.


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