Doctor Who and Consent

I finally got the latest episode of Doctor Who. Thanks to Google Play, I’ve been dodging spoilers–in the internet age–on forums entirely full of science fiction fans–for four days. And I survived. But barely.

You may have noticed I don’t spend a whole lot of time talking about pop culture around here. I’m not one of those people who can name every Jefferies tube on the Enterprise, and I don’t usually have a whole lot to say beyond “Did you like it?”

I’m uncomfortable with the latest episode, and the current monster of the week’s insistence on “consent.” I’m uncomfortable with the–highly questionable–definition of “consent” the show presents.

And if there’s “more” to it, I’m not crazy about a lecture on consent being spread over two weeks so that the kids who miss part two are left with the questionable version.

So, in the beginning, the Doctor is Blind. (Pause for commentary from the Blind community, who in all likelihood are not crazy about the idea that Blindness has to be fixed for an extremely clever, time-traveling alien to save the world.)

So, the story is basically this–a short time until the end of the world, and a highly suspicious, probably evil group of aliens offers to help–if only the people in power consent to this. (And to being ruled by the aliens afterward.)

In the course of the episode, various powerful people try to consent, and are told that Fear is not consent… strategy is not consent.

The punishment for improper consent, by the way, is to be incinerated into a nifty pile of dust.’ I think we ran up a consent body count of four.

In the end, as a blind Doctor stands stymied by a combination lock, Bill–his current companion–bargains with the evil aliens to get his sight back and save the world.

As it turns out… The evil aliens say that love is consent.

Uhm… NO. That comes disturbingly close to if you loved me, you would. If you don’t consent, I will incinerate you.

I’m concerned. The truth is, that this is a badly mangled version of consent. And while it’s true that I’m mostly thinking about sexual consent (which is not stated explicitly in the show) I’m not sure this works for any other form of consent.

Imagine a hospital refusing to take a consent form because you figure that an appendectomy is the best strategy for staying alive. Gee, I’d really like to help your kid, but if you don’t consent because you love the surgeon, it doesn’t count.

And conflating love with consent is just…


You do love Uncle Humbert, don’t you? You do want to make him happy, don’t you?

I absolutely think that we should be talking about consent more often, but using the word to mean things other than consent is not helpful.

At best, it’s a modern morality table. You MUST love someone in order to consent. At worst… well, I don’t think every kid who loves Uncle Humbert needs to be told that love, in itself is consent.


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