Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss protested at the decision to cast a black actor in this past Saturday’s Empress of Mars, citing historical accuracy as an issue with the role.
Actor Bayo Gbadamosi played Vincey in the episode, yet the decision to cast a “brilliant young black actor” in the role was not taken by Gatiss. Speaking at Oxford University, Mark said he sent a “very difficult” email to colleagues, saying:
“This is very difficult email to send, but I don’t think we can do this…these are soldiers from the South African war, they’ve just been fighting the Zulus. There weren’t any black soldiers in Victoria’s army”.
Wow, really? You are trying to create a controversy here. Why didn’t you write a story about the passion of the research that gave light to a story almost lost in time? That’s the real story here, about finding the truth about the solder and his story!
Mark argues that while the show should be more representational, problematic situations can arise:
“Obviously, we try all the time to be more representational, and to make everything less homogeneously white, but then the argument is ‘It’s Doctor Who,’ so everything is already a strange and different world where from the time the show came back, Russell T Davies is very particular about making sure the show had colourblind casting. I thought that was a very interesting dilemma in terms of there are shows where you can be immediately more diverse and so you should be, and also times when it’s slightly more problematic.”
Gatiss researched the issue and discovered there was a single black soldier in Victoria’s army, Jimmy Durham, a Sudanese boy rescued from the River Nile in 1886.
“I got kind of obsessed with this great story. This boy, when he was 18 years old, was rescued by the Durham Light Infantry. And they made him their mascot – they called him Jimmy Durham. And he became what was called a listed officer, by special dispensation of Queen Victoria. He retired to the North East, married a white girl, and his descendants still live there. It’s an amazing story”
The BBC has pledged that one in seven of the their presenters and actors will be BAME by this year with OFCOM stating that that the corporation must stop focusing their output on middle-aged and middle-class audiences.
Doctor Who returns this coming Saturday with The Eaters of Light, airing on BBC One and BBC America.