Let’s talk about Indiana Jones for a bit.
Now, from a storytelling perspective, it might look like an arbitrary combination of cool bits. “Archeologist” + “whip” + “Nazis” + “traps” + “John Williams theme” = a franchise. But it goes a little bit further than this – there is a train of thought at work here. He’s not just an action hero – Indy is an archeologist, and that is not neutral. He’s a man that literally walks through history – a time-traveler, albeit a rudimentary one. A man that acts as an arbiter in the confrontation between “good” and “evil” sides of history. Because that’s an interesting point with these movies – he never actually defeats the bad guy. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Temple of Doom” both end with the antagonist executed by divine intervention, be that deity the Old Testament God or Shiva. “The Last Crusade” has the two evil guys dying because of their own greed and desire for riches and power, trying to seize the Grail no matter what. The Icons of ancient history are given new power to defeat another historical icon: because those movies are ideologically iffy as fuck, sometimes it is the Bad Native, the primitive sorcerer. But most of the time it’s the Nazis. Pop culture does so love a good Nazi. It’s just fact. HYDRA, the Red Skull, Hans Landa – that stuff sells. They’re a useful tool in terms of storytelling – they are so abject, so over-the-top in their evil that you can basically go anywhere with them and still not break the reader’s suspension of disbelief. Magician Nazis, Mecha-Nazis, whatever. It’s no coincidence that the rise of the classic FPS game, with a healthy dose of blood and guts, was heralded by Doom and Wolfenstein – one where you kill literal demons from hell, the other where you kill Nazis. Both franchises still exist, with (very good) modern reinventions, by the way – when you need to go outrageously violent, be that violence destined to be a recreation or an exploitative spectacle (‘cause we could also talk about Dyanne Thorne and the whole Nazisploitation vague, but that’ll probably get a little off topic), you still can’t do much better than the Nazis. They have become a meme – not just in a comedic way, but rather in that they constitute a shortcut in communication. A swastika or a mustachioed despot are units of meaning just as efficient as the effigy of a god, or a painting on the walls of a cave. They’re icons.
Superposition is a form of storytelling science-fiction revels in – glue together pieces of past and future and present, make them hold together through technobabble. So it’s not surprising a number of narratives in the genre are based on that precise opposition, between two divergent icons. Take Stargate, for instance – the US military, in all its might, with its heroic soldiers, plucky scientists and men in black, versus the Pagan Gods. If we’re searching for an example within the Doctor Who canon, “Victory of the Daleks” is maybe the most blatant to date. Jack Graham’s very good “Victory of the Icon” essay says it all.
Mind you, I’m not accusing the Doctor Who production team of consciously taking on the roles of ideological commissars. That would be to credit them with too much self-awareness. In the minds of the production team, foremost seems to be the issue of Churchill’s status as a “British icon” (this being assumed to be self-evidently good and implicitly appropriate subject matter). The various interviewees on the ‘Victory’ Confidential episode do a lot of blithering on about how Churchill and the Daleks are both “British icons”. Indeed, so steeped in this kind of thinking is Gatiss that, when commenting approvingly on the redesigned Daleks, he describes them as looking “like Minis”. (…)
‘Churchill vs. the Daleks’ was the way Moffat supposedly described his requirements to Gatiss. So Gatiss delivers a story in which the evil Daleks deceive and then fight the good Churchill. The evil “British icon” vs. the good “British icon”.
Still, Indiana Jones, bar the last minutes of “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, is not really science-fiction, more like a wish-fulfilling uchronic fantasy. Therefore, it’s pretty interesting to see what becomes of the archeologist figure, of this arbiter in the war between icons, once we put it in a science-fiction context. Once we have accepted archeology as a form of time travel, how can it be integrated in a universe where those kind of dimensional-hopping shenanigans are actually possible?