Speed Reads

Don't you think she looks tired?

How Doctor Who explains Donald Trump's dark whispers about Hillary Clinton's health

On Monday in Ohio, Donald Trump suggested (in a teleprompter speech) that rival Hillary Clinton "lacks the mental and physical stamina to take on ISIS and all of the many adversaries we face — not only in terrorism, but in trade and every other challenge we must confront to turn our great country around." The Clinton camp, and many outside observers, took that comment as a nod to conspiracy theories about Clinton's health that have be spread around in the internet's fever swamps as well as Trump-friendly media outlets like The Drudge Report, Sean Hannity's Fox News show, and the National Enquirer. (You can find a summary of the debunked #HillaryHealth claims at BBC News.)

The Clinton campaign accused Trump of "peddling deranged conspiracy theories" and released a letter from Clinton's doctor reiterating that the former secretary of state "is in excellent health and fit to serve as president of the United States." On Thursday, Clinton strategist Joel Benenson told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell that the "ludicrous" and "ridiculous" theories being spread online "do not even rise to a level of rebuttal." Then he offered one. "Hillary Clinton flew around the world as secretary of state," he said. "People saw her stamina testifying against Congress for 11 hours and not wavering for one minute."

When Mitchell asked why Trump, who at 70 is a year older than Clinton, would attack Clinton's mental and physical stamina, Benenson suggested, "Because I think he's terribly weak right now; I think his ego is probably battered because he's getting battered in the polls." But there's another possibility, suggested in the 2005 Doctor Who episode "The Christmas Invasion." The plot involves a newly regenerated 10th Doctor, played by David Tennant, saving the Earth from an alien invasion, and ends with fictional Prime Minister Harriet Jones destroying the ship as it flees the planet. The Doctor is furious.

"I could bring down your government with a single word," he tells Jones. "You're the most remarkable man I've ever met, but I don't think you're quite capable of that," she replies. "No, you're right — not a single word," the Doctor says. "Just six." He walks over to an aide and whispers in his ear, "Don't you think she looks tired?" The episode ends with Jones being questioned about her health before losing a vote of no confidence.

The controversial ending is apparently a reference to a media frenzy near the end of Margaret Thatcher's tenure as prime minister after an aide suggested she looked tired, but people who spend a lot of time thinking about Doctor Who are split over what it means. Jones "was deposed because the Doctor manufactured a health scare by having everyone judge her solely based on her appearance (you have to also remember that any actual medical evaluation would've revealed she was fine)," argues Whovian feminist Alyssa Franke. "And attacking a politician based on their appearance is a particularly gendered attack." Racheline Maltese disagrees, calling the exchange "a criticism of the modern scandal-obsessed news media." Either way, Jones lost. If the media gloms onto unfounded Clinton health rumors, Clinton may suffer, too.