Doctor Who, #MeToo and Changing Times

Posted on by Beth Negus Viveiros
#metoo pertwee who
Jon Pertwee and Elisabeth Sladen, who played Sarah Jane Smith, one of the Doctor’s most popular companions. We suspect Sarah Jane wouldn’t have approved of the Doctor’s  language.

In the age of #MeToo, not all marketing has aged well. Case in point, a recently unearthed corporate video of Doctor Who’s Jon Pertwee from 1981.

Pertwee played the Doctor on the beloved long-running BBC program about Time Lord who travels through time and space in the TARDIS, his ship in the form of a blue Police Box. When a Time Lord dies, they are reincarnated in a new body, giving the show an excuse to easily recast the title character whenever an actor leaves the show.

From 1970 to 1974, Pertwee played the third incarnation of the Doctor. As reported by Bleeding Cool, online British TV archive The TV Museum posted a corporate marketing video featuring the actor portraying the character after he officially left the show, ceding the role to Tom Baker.

This isn’t the only time he reprised the character as an advertising shill; he also appeared as the Doctor in ads for companies like New Zealand Telecom (in a phone booth rather than a police box, naturally) and Vodaphone. But the video posted today is getting attention for the wrong reasons.

The clip is promoting a five-year warranty program in the U.K. on appliances for the Italian manufacturer Zanussi. It appears to be geared to salespeople and managers, to encourage them to offer the coverage to customers. The special effects are suitably low-budget in a Classic Who sort of way, and a robot acting like a spiritual cousin of the Doctor’s foes the Daleks helps explain the program.


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It all feels like cheesy throwback fun until the last line, when a woman asks where Zanussi is located. Out of left field, the Doctor randily says he tell her, if she shares a peek at a part of her upper anatomy. (I’m paraphrasing; his words were decidedly NSFW. The last line is a doozy.)

The video was decidedly geared to a male audience, and may have seemed appropriate for the old boys club at the time. In 2019, it’s another story. Twitter followers of The TV Museum were not amused.

Today, thankfully, thanks to now only #MeToo but changing attitudes across the galaxy, the state of the world of Doctor Who has drastically changed. In 2017, Jodie Whittaker became the first woman to play the Doctor, and the BBC has ample marketing opportunities to sell Who memorabilia to male and female aspiring Time Lords of all ages. (And, we also suspect that the BBC keeps a much tighter rein on its trademarks and intellectual properties these days too.)

Check out the video yourself and see what you think. And, think about your own campaigns: Forty years from now, will they have aged well? You’d need a TARDIS to answer that question.

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