Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of DOCTOR WHO via Netflix streaming. DOCTOR WHO, if you’re unfamiliar with the concept, is about the “Doctor”, a 900 year-old-alien who wanders all of space and time using his TARDIS, a combined time travel/spacecraft. Naturally, the Doctor gets into all kinds of adventures, and if there’s one thing he’s really good at, it’s blowing up dystopias. Like, the TARDIS lands in an alien dystopia or a parallel Earth ruled by the Daleks or something, and 60 to 120 minutes later, the Doctor has overthrown the dystopia.
So what would happen if the Doctor landed in the ultimate dystopia, the Oceania of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four?
Obviously, Oceania is in a parallel universe from our own, so the Doctor’s TARDIS would malfunction, and deposit him in London, in Airstrip One, in what used to be called the United Kingdom. Upon emerging from the TARDIS, the Doctor would quickly realize he is in a parallel universe, and that something is terribly wrong in this world – the telescreens, the drab clothes, the ruinous neglect of the city, and the posters of Big Brother everywhere.
Then the Doctor would see the parallel version of one of his companions – Rose Tyler, most likely. The Doctor, curious about his world (and missing his long-lost companion) would strike up a conversation with Rose, only to have her react in alarm, wonder if he is a thoughtcriminal, and quickly escape. Rose would retreat to her flat and try to purge her mind of thoughtcrime, but would find her thoughts moving more and more to the Doctor’s strange charisma.
Meanwhile, in the secret headquarters of the Inner Party, O’Brien (now the head of the Inner Party) receives a report of an anomaly – a strange blue box that appeared in downtown London. O’Brien quickly realizes that the box is of alien origin, and represents the Party’s potential destruction – or the key to its eternal triumph. He gives the order for the Thought Police to find the Doctor and bring him (and his box) to the Ministry of Love.
Meanwhile, the Doctor meets up with parallel-Rose again. She tells him about the omnipresent telescreens, and he realizes that the Party uses them to edit history. He tells her of some of his adventures, and Rose is intrigued, though she thinks he is a mad liar. Finally, the Doctor shows her the inside of the TARDIS, and Rose realizes he is telling the truth. Rose, now that she trusts him, shares a satirical cartoon making fun of Big Brother’s mustache. Rose offers to go with him, but after she makes sure her mom is okay.
But they emerge from the TARDIS to find the Thought Police surrounding them. The Doctor and Rose are taken into custody, and the TARDIS is taken to the Ministry of Love.
O’Brien himself meets with the Doctor. He explains that he knows perfectly well who the Doctor is, and what the TARDIS can do. Previously, the Party has relied on the telescreens and its control of the media to alter the past, to edit history to their liking. But now with the TARDIS, the Party can actually go back and erase people from history, perfecting the Party’s control over all of human history.
The Doctor responds that it’s a stupid plan, because he’s not going to tell them how to fly the TARDIS.
O’Brien, with a chilling smile, says that the Doctor will tell him everything, or else he’ll put Rose in Room 101 – where she will see her worst fears and go mad.
The Doctor, now growing angry, says that it’s still a stupid plan – even if the Party gets control of the TARDIS, they’ll use it to rip apart all of space and time, and they’ll wind up erasing themselves from existence all for the sake of their political program. O’Brien laughs, and says that the Party isn’t about a political program, it is about holding and maintaining perfect power, forever – and with the TARDIS, the Party can do that forever. And even if they cause paradoxes, the Inner Party’s skill with doublethink will allow them to thrive.
Rose, meanwhile, is led to Room 101, while O’Brien invites the Doctor to watch via telescreen.
The Doctor, now enraged, escapes from O’Brien and the Thought Police via cleverness. He races to Room 101, only to realize that he can’t get in once the program has started. But a burst of inspiration comes to him, and he instead makes for the nearest telescreen.
Rose, in Room 101, sees the day when he father dies (executed by the Thought Police, after being conditioned to love Big Brother) over and over again, and just as she is about to lose it, the image dissolves into static – and is replaced with the satirical cartoon mocking Big Brother’s mustache.
The same image appears on every single telescreen in Oceania. The Doctor, having realized that the Party in its arrogance never bothered to secure the telescreens with firewalls, uploaded the cartoon to the telescreens with his sonic screwdriver, and then encrypted the image so it can’t be taken off the telescreens.
Mass chaos erupts across Oceania as the population sees the cartoon and realizes that the telescreens and security cameras no longer function. O’Brien and the Inner Party watch with horror, and O’Brien announces that the solution is obvious – they take the TARDIS and use it to kill Rose Tyler as a child.
The Doctor busts Rose out of Room 101, and he races for the TARDIS with Rose in tow, fearful that if the Inner Party gets their hands on the TARDIS controls, they’ll do irreparable damage to space and time.
They arrive in the TARDIS control room to find the Thought Police and the Inner Party preparing to pry open the control panel and claim the TARDIS’s power source for their own. The Thought Police take the Doctor and Rose captive (again), and O’Brien demands the secret to operating the TARDIS.
The Doctor gives O’Brien one warning. O’Brien disregards it, and the Thought Police pry open the TARDIS’s control panel, and O’Brien and the Inner Party gaze into the Heart of the TARDIS – the power source that allows it to travel through space and time. As they look into the Heart of the TARDIS, O’Brien, the Inner Party, and the Thought Police see the totality of space and time and all its splendor and terror – a sight no human being was ever meant to see. Their doublethink-weakened minds utterly melt down beneath the strain, leaving them comatose vegetables.
With the telescreens defunct and the Inner Party brain dead, the government of Oceania collapses, and the resistance (led by the parallel-world versions of Mickey Smith and Amy Pond) takes over. The Doctor invites Rose to come with him, but she declines – she doesn’t want to leave her mom, and all his tales of wonderful places made her want to build something wonderful on Earth.
So the Doctor bids her adieu, and departs in the TARDIS – alone again, in the end, as always. And as the TARDIS dematerializes, we see a telescreen on the wall behind it – still displaying the cartoon mocking Big Brother’s mustache.
I suppose this would be unrealistic. After all, to paraphrase Neil Gaiman, DOCTOR WHO is about a space wizard with a magical box who solves problems. But Orwell’s tale of a perfect and eternal tyranny, while more frightening, is just as unrealistic. Every human system or institution, whether intended for good or evil, contains within itself the seeds of its own self-destruction. All it takes is a bit of water on the seeds – and one doesn’t even need to be a space wizard with a magic box to do that.