I was recently reminded that in the Doctor Who story, "The Christmas Invasion," he whispers, "Don't you think she looks tired?" to a Prime Minister's aide. He does this in order to undermine the PM's career.

Later in the series, or in the next series, the PM has resigned, and I remember it being heavily implied The Doctor was the one who initiated it with his whispered words.

But aren't most high level politicians tired a lot of the time? They have a lot of stress and responsibilities to deal with.

Why did his words have such an outsized impact?

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    Potentially a duplicate of this?
    – gowenfawr
    Sep 7 at 16:25
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    @gowenfawr firstly good find, I'm not sure how I missed that. Secondly, I'm torn as to whether that's exactly what I'm after as and answer. I may have to bounty it up. Let me think
    – AncientSwordRage
    Sep 7 at 16:39
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    It's also a reference to Thatcher apparently - "Collinson also felt that Harriet's downfall could be seen as a "hark to Thatcher" as one of Thatcher's aides had reportedly stated her looking tired"
    – fez
    Sep 7 at 16:53
  • @fez The trouble with Collinson's drawing of that parallel is that, as far as I can make out, the initial assertion that Margaret Thatcher looked tired took place in 1973 (Vinen, 2013, Thatcher's Britain: The Politics and Social Upheaval of the Thatcher Era, Simon & Schuster), yet her career continued on a stubbornly upward trajectory for some years after that. Sep 7 at 19:04

I don't want to tread too far into the waters of gender politics or cause any arguments, but I shouldn't think it's too controversial to say it's an unfortunate trend that women in high office are often scrutinised much more heavily for their appearance compared to their male counterparts.

For instance, I think most Brits (whether for the blue team or the red team)* would agree Boris Johnson often looks a tad dishevelled, but it's not much of a talking point until he's outright stuck ziplining while waving about a pair of Union Jack flags. Theresa May on the other hand, despite being a female PM in the 21st century, was under far more scrutiny for how she looked and dressed during her premiership - see here, here, and here.

Gossip affects perception. If you hear something negative about someone, someone who you may even hold in a very positive light, the gossip nestles in your mind and places doubt within you. Couple this with the fact that the appearance of Harriet Jones is already under a harsher gaze by merit of her gender, and the person spreading the gossip is held in very high regard (the aide he whispers it to was present on the Sycorax ship when the Doctor whooped their leader, so has seen first-hand** what the Doctor is made of), and you've got a great way to undermine confidence in someone.

The Doctor, being brilliant, and with a penchant for humans and their behaviour as it is, knew that this sort of comment would be incredibly undermining. Yes, a bit of a dirty tactic to play on the psychology of humans and their early 21st century perception of female leaders, but she had just ordered the destruction of a fleeing spaceship and he was not particularly happy about it.

*Other teams available, enquire within
**Pun fully intended

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    An example of a male politician actively drawing attention to the fact that he looked tired because he expected to benefit electorally from it: a Labour Party political broadcast during the 1997 UK General Election campaign had Anita Roddick saying of Tony Blair 'I like the way he's working; I like the way he looks tired.' Sep 7 at 20:11
  • @Daniel How interesting, I like this fact. I think it's a great example of spin - you can attempt to turn anything into a victory with the right phrasing.
    – Ongo
    Sep 8 at 0:27

It was a psychological trick. A bluff.

Here's the dialogue.

DOCTOR: Don't challenge me, Harriet Jones, because I'm a completely new man. I could bring down your Government with a single word.
HARRIET: You're the most remarkable man I've ever met, but I don't think you're quite capable of that.
DOCTOR: No, you're right. Not a single word, just six.
HARRIET: I don't think so.
DOCTOR: Six words.
HARRIET: Stop it!
(The Doctor goes over to Alex and whispers in his ear.)
DOCTOR: Don't you think she looks tired?
(The Doctor, Rose, Mickey and Jackie leave.)
HARRIET: What did he say?
ALEX: Oh, well, nothing, really.
HARRIET: What did he say?
ALEX: Nothing. I don't know.
HARRIET: Doctor! Doctor, what did you? What was that? What did he say? What did you say, Doctor? Doctor! I'm sorry.

He told her that he could bring her down in six words. He then says six words. He manages to make her believe that they will destroy her. She gets paranoid trying to figure out what these words will do to her. Her own paranoia leads to her breaking down. The actual words are unimportant. It's the bluff that did it.

  • That seems at least possible, but it would be useful to have some evidence.
    – Adamant
    Sep 7 at 20:56
  • I don't disagree a bluff would normally work in this situation- but the fact that Alex can't repeat the phrase does indicate a strong possibility of hypnotic suggestion that will turn him into the leader of a whisper campaign to bring her down. perhaps the creators realized it was a bit cruel to the character and gave her a chance to go out fighting when she returned for that Dalek episode. Sep 7 at 22:48

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