An Essay: Why Doctor Who is Awesome
Doctor Who depicts the adventures of a humanoid alien, the Doctor, who roams the universe on a sentient spaceship. This spaceship is referred to as the TARDIS which is an acronym for Time and Relative Dimension(s) in Space. As a Time Lord, the Doctor is able to regenerate his body when he is near death. Each of his incarnations has their own quirks but otherwise share the memories and basic personality of the previous incarnations. The Doctor often brings human companions to accompany him on his quests through parallel universes and different dimensions. On these adventures he saves civilizations and rights wrongs. The Doctor regularly gains new companions and loses old ones. The companions provide a surrogate with whom the audience can identify, and they serve to further the story by manufacturing peril for the Doctor to resolve.
Sam Moskowitz describes science fiction as “…a brand of fantasy identifiable by the fact that it eases the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ on the part of its readers by utilizing an atmosphere of scientific credibility for its imaginative speculations in physical science, space, time, social science, and philosophy” (Explorers of the Infinite, 11). Doctor Who uses fictional cultures and time-travel to explore prejudice and fear. The Doctor’s fictional adventures, made believable by well-developed cultures and scientific justification for time-space travel, are used to communicate messages about current sociocultural issues.
The show began as an educational series. The Doctor’s original companions were a history teacher and a science teacher. Historic lessons were taught through time travel into the past. Scientific lessons were taught through stories based in the future or set in space. As the scientific aspect of the show gained popularity in 1967, the historic aspect of the show devolved into a tool for creating believable settings for the science fiction tales. Time-travel is often used to draw correlations between past events and current events; this emphasizes the various ways in which history repeats itself. The show’s fantastical setting creates an entertaining and memorable way to communicate complex ideas and experiences to viewers.
Doctor Who also uses these adventures across time and space as a medium to address the modern struggle for equal rights. In Series 6, Doctor Who has weaved the issue of LGBT Rights into the Doctor’s intricate quests on multiple occasions. In Day of the Moon (Series 6 Episode 2), the show uses a story set in America’s racially segregated past to correlate racism and homophobia. The Doctor encourages Nixon to allow Delaware to marry the person whom he loves. When Delaware requests that Nixon legalize his marriage to his partner, Nixon inquires if “she’s black” to which Delaware responds, “He is.” In The Runaway Bride (Series 3 Christmas Edition), two men are dancing intimately together at the wedding reception. In The Idiot’s Lantern (Series 6 Episode 8), the hero, Tommy, makes a speech at the end of the story to his dad about, among other things, having the freedom to love who you want. Silurian warrior queen, Madame Vastra, and her “cohort,” Jenny, are a time-traveling, crime-fighting, interspecies lesbian couple who star in A Good Man Goes to War and Let’s Kill Hitler. Strax, a friend of the couple, points out that Jenny “gender-bends” and disregards traditional gender roles. In A Good Man Goes to War, it is revealed that Jenny’s family exiled her at a young age out of disgust for her sexual and romantic preferences. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual youth represent a large percentage (around 40%) of homeless youths in America and the UK. Doctor Who uses the story of a woman from an alien civilization (as she fights crime across time and space) to bring attention to this issue. The Doctor does not care about the sexuality, gender, or race of his traveling companions. The friends he has made (over nine-hundred years of roaming the universe) are selected for their moral and ethical viewpoints.
The monsters of Doctor Who are used as a platform to explore fear; they’re often embodied forms of the common fears of man. In The Idiot’s Lantern, “the Wire” is an alien that lives in electrical signals and literally consumes the minds of its audience. “The Wire” realizes the fear that an excessive consumption of media will lead to the degradation and eventual loss of individual thought.
In Silence in the Library, the “Vashta Nerada” are microscopic carnivorous creatures which disguise themselves as shadows to hunt and capture their prey. The characteristics of these horrible creatures play off of the common fear of the dark.
The Cybermen were originally wholly organic humanoids until they began to implant more and more artificial parts into their bodies as a means of self-preservation. This led to the race becoming coldly logical and calculating, with emotion removed to “purify” their minds. The race of the Cybermen is a warning against removing emotion from decision making in order to increase functionality. Additionally, in Rise of the Cybermen and Age of Steel, Cybermen reveal their belief that all humans must be “upgraded” to their cyborg form, repeatedly shouting, “Upgrade, or you will be deleted!” The phrase is terrifying, because it builds on our fear of religious terrorism. This terrorism is often driven by the belief that people with differing (“inferior”) belief systems must either convert or be eliminated.
The race of the Silence continues Doctor Who’s trend of using simple psychological concepts to create horrible monsters. Anyone who sees them immediately forgets about the encounter after looking away, but retains all commands made by the Silence to them during said encounter. This ability allows the Silence to have a significant influence across human history while being difficult to resist. The Silence are a double-whammy, because humans fear to be manipulated and we fear to lose control of our actions.
The Daleks were created as an allegory of the Nazis. Their chief role in the plot of the series is to “exterminate” all beings inferior to themselves. The repulsion that viewer’s feel toward their behavior mirror their disgust regarding Nazi Germany’s implementation of eugenics through mass extermination.
Doctor Who is a wonderful example of a science fiction series. The fantastic monsters of Doctor Who are physical representations of common human fears for the protagonists of the show to battle. The possibility of time-travel allows the show to present analogies of current sociocultural issues to those of the past, to raise awareness of present sociocultural issues, and to explore how our current societal standards might evolve in the future. The series uses stories set throughout time and space, with scientific justifications and historical backdrops, to teach its viewers about the various prejudices and fears held by themselves and/or their cultures.