Dr David Yuratich, School of Law, has recently carried out research that identifies a strong link between the British constitution and the popular television programme, Doctor Who. We caught up with David to find out more about his in-depth analysis of the 2010 episode, The Beast Below, and what his motivation was behind carrying out this research.
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? How long have you worked at Royal Holloway?
I’m a Lecturer in the School of Law and have worked here since August 2015.
2. Could elaborate on your role within the School of Law?
I teach a variety of subjects, mainly constitutional law, human rights law, and European Union law. I’m also the admissions tutor for the School.
3. Can you tell us a bit more about your latest research which identifies a strong link between the British constitution and the popular television programme, Doctor Who?
The article takes as its starting point the idea that popular culture often directly or indirectly engages with legal concepts, and that this can have an effect on the popular understanding of the law. Doctor Who is an interesting example because it often discusses or satirises political ideas, but much less attention has been played to how law is represented within the programme, even though the Doctor often acts like a judge called upon to solve moral problems.
In the article I focus on ‘The Beast Below’, an episode set on a spaceship that is powered by the electrocution of a ‘space whale’. To protect this secret, a police state has been created and the population lives in fear. It turns out that every few years the public are told the truth and asked to vote; they always choose to literally forget what is going on. When the Doctor finds out, he has two less than satisfactory options: release the whale and kill everyone, or render the whale comatose. Fortunately his companion Amy Pond has been paying close attention to this society and realises the whale is voluntarily powering the ship, so the torture is stopped.
I use this to discuss a few things about the UK constitution and the human rights. The episode is telling people to be like Amy – to not be apathetic, to participate in society and to always question things – because otherwise you risk a slide into authoritarianism. You can’t just rely on the judiciary – here, the Doctor – to prevent human rights abuses because they have to see things through a narrow legal lens and that might not get you the best or most democratic solution. So the arcs of Amy and the Doctor feed into debates around the Human Rights Act 1998 and the idea of ‘legal’ versus ‘political’ constitutionalism.
4. What was your motivation behind this research?
There were two factors. First, I tend to use a lot of popular culture material in my teaching and wanted to think about that a bit more than I could in the context of a small slice of a lecture. Second, and relatedly, I’m interested in how law and legal ideas are expressed in popular culture and the possible effects of that on the public’s understanding of law.
5. What are your main research interests?
Broadly, I’m interested in the interaction between law and democracy in constitutional law, particularly in the UK and the EU. My PhD looked at the how the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) articulates and tries to develop a particular form of democracy in the EU, and I’ve published some material out of that. The Doctor Who piece interacts with similar ideas, because I use it to discuss the limits of judicial decision-making on human rights. My most recent work argues that the CJEU should enable its judges to express dissent if they disagree with the majority, on the basis that its decisions will become more deliberative. I’m also increasingly interested in pedagogic research, especially legal education, and I'm developing a board game that teaches legal reasoning.
6. Do you have any interesting hobbies or interests?
I like to cook, but I’m not sure whether that counts as interesting.
7. You may have seen our latest recruitment campaign, ‘Find your why’. We are interested to find out what Royal Holloway has helped you to discover about yourself…
Our first batch of law students just graduated. I was there from their first day through to their Graduation, and taught all of them in their first and third years. Being part of that journey made me realise that the best part of the job, for me anyway, is the teaching – it’s great to be able to get to know and play a role in the development of a group of students and hopefully help to set them up for a great career.