My thoughts on ‘Dot and Bubble’ – episode 5 of Doctor Who

Warning: do not read this blog post until you have watched/listened to the episode ‘Dot and Bubble’. Spoilers ahead!

At first, this episode is very ‘Black Mirror’-esque with a similar feeling to the start of the Black Mirror episode ‘Nosedive’.

‘Dot and Bubble’ appears to be a commentary on social media, on shallow and superficial influencers with no substance (the way Lindy talks is very familiar to us; she has the same inflections, way of speaking and content as influencers in real life). The ‘dot and bubble’ technology encloses the user’s head in a bubble full of little screens, each of which is a direct video connection to one of their “friends”. This fills their entire vision so they can’t see where to walk; they have arrows onscreen telling them which way to go. They are completely reliant on the ‘dot and bubble’ technology. It tells them when they need to go to toilet, when to stand up or go to sleep etc. It erodes their ability to think for themselves. They see nothing of reality, nothing of the truth all around them, nothing beyond their bubble, beyond their echo chamber; they cannot see the monsters that are literally eating them alive. Anything boring or uncomfortable can be swiped away or blocked from their life.

If you’ve seen Black Mirror, ‘Dot and Bubble’ doesn’t feel like anything original or new. I felt like I’d seen it all before but I didn’t mind because I love the genre.

However, this is where the audio description really let me down. With the audio description, all that you could tell was that a lot of privileged, rich young people had gone to a planet called Finetime, ‘where everything is fine all of the time’ (which has echoes of the ‘Everything is Awesome’ propaganda from The Lego Movie!), financially supported by their parents on their homeworld; the young people (solely 17-27 year olds are allowed in this domed bubble city) only have to work two hours a day and the rest of the time is for partying.

The audio description never mentions the race of any of the characters but then audio description rarely does. You just assume that there’s a fairly diverse cast, unless the audio description mentions anything specific. The accents were eclectic so it was reasonable to think that there were a range of ethnicities and geographical identities involved. So, given that I thought that the characters were diverse (there was no possible way to know through the audio description that every single person was white), the phrases that one might have usually recognised as racist microaggressions went over my head as meaning something else because I didn’t know that all the characters were white. So even at the end, it wasn’t completely clear from the audio description that they were discriminating against the Doctor on the grounds of race. It came across on the audio description as them not liking the Doctor because he wasn’t in the same clique, not on their ‘friends list’, not rich enough, not elite. It didn’t make any sense why the survivors refused to be saved by the Doctor. The audio description really should have been better.

However, I did start to realise that I had missed something when one of the men said at the end “we can go out there to this planet and we can fight it and tame it and own it, be pioneers just like our ancestors”. This set off alarm bells, especially the word ‘own’. There was mention of a ‘Great Abrogation’ but I didn’t know what the word ‘abrogation’ meant. But then it became very obvious from what three of the survivors said to the Doctor next that I had definitely missed that there was something more going on here.

After the episode, I had to go online to find out that the domed bubble city’s inhabitants had all been white, living in a segregated colony that had security settings (both physically and digitally) to keep out POC. There had been no way to tell via the audio description. This then made a lot of comments throughout the episode start coming to mind to see them for what they were and recognising them as microaggressions and white supremacy, and then at the end it became overt discrimination and devastating racism. This was one of the bleakest endings of Doctor Who. The characters refused to be saved by the Doctor. They chose to potentially die rather than be saved by him. There was no redemption.

I liked that the Doctor, even in the face of their abhorrence towards him, still tried his hardest to persuade them to let him save them. It shows us what sort of man this Doctor is; he even wants to save those who don’t deserve it.

This episode made me feel stupid because I very nearly missed the point of the whole episode. However, it seemed like you would need several university degrees to unpick all the layers and meanings. I don’t know if this was because of the audio description being bad or if I was being dense or because the writing was deliberately obfuscating and trying to catch you out. It felt rather scrambled, confusing and addressed lots of issues all at once. But the audio description definitely needs to improve! Anybody listening, as opposed to watching, was definitely at a disadvantage and kept in the dark.

I wonder at what point a viewer who was watching the episode visually would have noticed that everyone was white. I imagine that if you didn’t notice until the end, you would have to ask yourself the question ’why didn’t I notice?’, which is what the writers were trying to get the viewers to reflect upon. I’m not sure that getting the audience to feel shame that they didn’t notice is the best or most effective tool to address racism. It can make people get defensive as opposed to engaging in some self-reflection. The episode pulls no punches though and we all need to be challenged on our potential prejudices and blind spots.

Overall, I did enjoy the episode but it is not an easy watch/listen.

What did you think of the episode? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

1 thought on “My thoughts on ‘Dot and Bubble’ – episode 5 of Doctor Who”

  1. This was by far my favourite episode of the series. It’s really interesting that the audio description didn’t pick up on the race element.

    When the Doctor was first blocked I thought it was just a social media ‘bubble’ things (pun intended) but her reaction to the Doctor and Ruby being the same room was the final ‘aha’ moment for me.

    The view of social media was pretty good I thought, epseically with the advent of the Apple Vision Pro, which is basically the current version of Dot & Bubble… However, I thought the only ‘good’ person being the one that read a book once in a while was a bit heavy handed.

    It would have also been interesting to find out more about the creation/rebellion of the dots and the creation of the slugs.

    The episode had a bit of the feeling of Blink to me, with the Doctor & Ruby only being on a screen much of the time. Only in this one, it’s the people, in their bubbles who are the baddies…

    Oh and I still want Ruby’s mum as the Doctor’s companion…

    Reply

Leave a comment