I arrive at Parliament House to see Liberal MP George Christensen. I'm not here to talk to him about his conviction that Australia is at war with radical Islam, or his belief that the Safe Schools program is akin to pedophile grooming, or to ask why the death penalty should be reintroduced, or why climate change is fake, or why he's against same-sex marriage. No, I'm here to talk to him about Doctor Who.
As a die-hard fan of the show, I've been a little disturbed learning of Christensen's fandom. It's not like finding out someone you fundamentally disagree with also enjoys your favourite ice cream, or supports the same footy team. Doctor Who is a show about right and wrong, about making moral choices. For over 50 years, it has remained, at its heart, a show about doing the right thing.
So has George Christensen MP taken the complete wrong lessons from Doctor Who, or have I?
I meet him in his Canberra office and we start with the basics. His earliest memory of the show is watching "Brain of Morbius" on his grandparents' grainy black and white television. His favourite Doctors are Tom Baker, Jon Pertwee, and David Tennant. He used to love the Sylvester McCoy era, but now finds it a bit naff. After the pleasantries we got down to brass tacks.
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VICE: George, tell me, what do you consider the ethos of Dr Who to be? The moral centre?
George Christensen: Well, it's almost like a fairy tale. Good versus bad. The bad people are always trying to dominate, oppress, and do ruthless, mean, violent things. The Doctor and his companion try to sort the situation out through non-violent means, but there's very few episodes where it's resolved by non-violent means. It's the old tale of good and bad, and good always wins. I think that's really what I get from it.
Ok, I agree with that. But you and I disagree on the definition of good and bad when it comes to most things. Like, I find your views on same-sex marriage and Muslims and the death penalty really abhorrent. If we grew up loving the same show, how did we diverge?Well, of course there's many other influences other than Doctor Who. And I don't know that you can pull a lot of political issues out of a television show, admittedly one we both were absolutely fanatical about, and probably still are. But go through those issues again.
Yeah, okay. Look, I'd say that actually to me has no link at all to Doctor Who in terms of my view on that. That's a view that's essentially come from my faith background.
But the Doctor is friends with same sex couples, believes they are consensual loving people whose relationship doesn't hurt anyone. So if the Doctor represents a moral bedrock, then doesn't that suggest that this is the only reaction to have to these two people in this relationship?
Well, I think that the new series—and I don't rail against it, I watch it—plays to the new era and the signs of the times. There was never any overtly homosexual characters in classic Doctor Who. Not that it was a bad thing... but put it this way, the new series does tend to have a lot more episodes where there's a political morality lesson than the old series. The old series had a few, of course "The Green Death" was all about environmentalism, and that was seen as a left-wing episode. There was "The Happiness Patrol," which was supposedly an attack on Margaret Thatcher… although interestingly I've seen a reading of it that says "while it was meant to be against Thatcher, everything in this society that the woman stands for is oppressive leftist, rather than right." But then "Sun Makers" was all about oppressive taxation.
(Christensen is not wrong about that. Like George Harrison's Taxman, 1977's "Sun Makers" came about when writer Robert Holmes was angry over a huge tax bill.)
Ok, how about this? How would the Doctor react to refugees fleeing a violent place, looking for somewhere to go?
I think the Doctor would probably neutralise any threat in the situation and probably take those people to somewhere they'd be safe.
Well… he would neutralise the threat that was there. He would take them somewhere they would be safe, which potentially would be Australia, but you know, the real world is not a Doctor Who storyline. The real world is not black and white, and most of the people that are sitting in Nauru and Manus Island have been through many countries where they were safe already.
I think the show is a useful guide because, regardless of your political bent, if you're digging down to the values of a character like the Doctor, you arrive at this inevitable "this is how we should treat people" viewpoint.
Look, obviously the Doctor's fairly liberal on the issue of gay marriage I would think, so we'd probably have some disagreement around that issue. The Doctor also scoffed at the idea that global warming will end the Earth, so he might agree with me on that one…
When did he do that?
In the episode "The End of the World."
All right. I'll look into that.
I would like to think that on a lot of the issues, they're not black and white, and I know I don't want to get into a big philosophical discussion on my position on a few things, but do I see the choices that I make as being "evil" or "good"? I like to think that most times I think through the situation and I come up with an outcome or a view or opinion that is good. It is based on some value system that I find to be correct. You might not because there might be a different value system that you have.
There was a book that I did read a long time ago, all about the theology of Doctor Who, and it was written by a Christian writer, and it showed that the lessons of Doctor Who are the same lessons out of Christianity. Or you could say out of any major religion where there's a god and a devil and there's a fight between them. That's my value system, actually. That's what underpins my beliefs on everything just about.
You have voiced support for Donald Trump…
Donald Trump wants to bring down the establishment! He's anti-establishment!
I think he's proved that was a complete lie…
The swamp he said he was going to drain, they've all been given roles in the new government. And he's trying to make money off the Presidency.
But all the people who were there before him have been kicked out. [Note: this interview was conducted the day before Trump's National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was forced to resign after lying about his ties to Russia.] He's pulled in people that are very, very smart…
Well, some people out of Goldman Sachs. He's pulled in some very influential people, his Secretary of State's probably a very good pick.
Betsy DeVos? John Sessions, who was deemed too racist to be a judge in the 80s is now the Attorney-General?
People have this view of me that I'm this ideological hard and fast conservative. I am a conservative on a lot of social issues, principally based on my faith background, but on a lot of economic issues I'm not. I see myself as anti-establishment, and I think a lot of the time that's why I get pilloried a fair bit by the establishment media, and the establishment political class as well. And I think the Doctor's anti-establishment. He always wants to change the system. I feel the same about myself.
I agree that he's anti establishment and we get told we're running out of time. As I'm packing up, he wants to show me the Doctor Who clip where the Doctor denies climate change. The moment comes from the end of the 2005 episode The End of the World.
"You lot," says the Doctor, "you spend all of your time thinking about dying, like you're gonna get killed by eggs, or beef, or global warming, or asteroids. But you never take time to imagine the impossible, like maybe you survive."
"Oh man," I say. "That's a bit of a stretch."
I guess we're both seeing what we want to see.
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Lee Zachariah is journalist, TV writer, and author of Double Dissolution: Heartbreak and Chaos on the Campaign Trail, out now from Echo Publishing. You can also follow him on Twitter.