As Doctor Who buzz was beginning die down following the end of Season 12, the British series has found itself back in the headlines again thanks to British streaming service BritBox. Unfortunately, it's for the wrong reasons as the streamer has come under fire after making available a slew of classic episodes that were deemed racist by modern television standards.
The six-part series, "The Talons of Weng-Chiang," was available on BritBox with no disclaimer or warning about its material. In the series, the Doctor is pitted against a Chinese stage magician, played by white British actor John Bennett. Bennett utilizes "yellowface" in order to play the role, and portrays the villain in an offensive manner many would equate to "Fu Manchu." Characters in the episode also make broad and harmful generalizations about the Chinese and their culture, and phrases like "yellowfaced" and "inscrutable chinks" are used.
It's the type of racism The Doctor often doesn't stand for, though Tom Baker's Doctor doesn't challenge most of the notions in the episode. Obviously, Britbox isn't responsible for what Doctor Who said in 1977, but as Daily Mail reported, it does deserve some blame considering its stance about ensuring its offerings are suitable for modern audiences. The streamer made a point of keeping shows like Love Thy Neighbour off its platform for similar concerns, and has added content warnings ahead of episodes of other series that may contain sensitive material. Since the issue was brought to light, BritBox has added a content warning to "The Talons of Weng-Chiang."
"The Talons Of Weng-Chiang" has a complicated legacy in Doctor Who, and has been banned by networks in the past. Though the prevalent racism throughout the story is very problematic, many critics have called the story itself one of the best of the classic run of the series. Given that legacy, it's understandable why BritBox would still want to have it available on the platform, though I say someone should've put a disclaimer on it before groups like the British East Asians in Theatre & On Screen were forced to speak out.
Transferring the content of the past to new digital platforms has been an issue for multiple streaming services, not just BritBox. Disney+ ultimately decided not to re-release Song of the South on its platform, and it doesn't look like that decision will be reversed anytime soon. With more and more networks preparing classic lineups to share with potential audiences, it will be interesting to see how often issues similar to what BritBox experienced with Doctor Who will come up. Will we slowly see more "classics" from the past get phased out of the future of television?
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