Deletion presents Episode 5, Doctor Who: “…definitely a madman with a box!”
with Christopher Moore and Daniel Lewis at the console.
“The human race, brainless sheep being fed on a diet of … mind you, have you still got that program where three people have to live with a bear? – The Ninth Doctor (‘Bad Wolf‘)
Television has always played an important role in Doctor Who, connecting the transgression of time and space to the constraints of narrative and production for the ‘small’ screen. Even the howl-round effect of the very first title sequence is the result of a TV camera pointed at a monitor and capturing its own optical output in a twisted feedback loop. Synced to Delia Derbyshire’s electronic modulation of Ron Grainer’s characteristic tune, the original track returned to us briefly for the opening of the 50th anniversary special, ‘The Day of the Doctor’ (2013), before giving way once again to a new visual conveyance of the time vortex in the closing credits. In the very first episode, ‘The Unearthly Child’ (1963), the Doctor uses the metaphor of television to explain to the original companions, Ian and Barbara, how the TARDIS console room can be ‘broadcast’ to fit inside the police box.
The Doctor has had a number of encounters with production of extreme televisual content, perhaps most notably in ‘Vengeance on Varos‘ and ‘Bad Wolf‘, where humans are involved in serialised murder for mass entertainment. In the ‘The Idiots Lantern‘ Mark Gatiss unashamedly celebrates television as a mass medium of popular culture. The Doctor’s triumphant victory over the ‘Wire’ at a moment of mass TV gathering is Gatiss paying homage to the origins of television, the series and its progenitors at the BBC:
What we have here is Doctor Who paying tribute to the very set of political and social ethics that formed it…The idea that television is for a racially diverse set of working class people in north London living their lives, and that giving them good television is an act of public service is why the BBC adopted the attitudes that got Doctor Who made. It’s a restatement of the basic ethical case for Doctor Who, framed in the socially inclusive hedonistic ethics that form the backbone of what Doctor Who is (Sandifer 2013).
The thick nostalgia of the Gatiss adventures, like those in Sherlock, acknowledge the omnipresence of technologies for communication, surveillance, information and mediation in our own time. Screens, cameras, networks, transmissions and other technologies are framed as core components of the social order in his stories and as key threats to individual being. Gatiss’s contribution to Doctor Who is unique and includes four novels, two audio dramas and six screenplays, he has documented the series history and acted in multiple roles; in doing so his brand of British and Whovian nostalgia maps the transition from the classic series to ‘New’ Who, and perhaps even its future.
Fredric Jameson (2001) considered the traditions of SF in terms of the nostalgic appropriation of other genres of popular culture; the technofantasy and fetishism of the war movie or the intersection of melodrama and adventure adopted directly from the western. Doctor Who, like many good SF texts, brazenly cannibalises the styles and tropes of other genres and their interaction is an essential component of its cultural currency. Davies, Gatiss or Moffat have all used different types of nostalgia to look both forward and back, adopting the wandering, enduring, changing Timelord as a figure connecting past and future to the present, often through the thematic juxtapositions of old and new, synthetic and organic, technological innovation and obsolescence and the occasionally over indulgent mixture of genre (‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ (1977) or ‘The Town Called Mercy’ (2012) are a guilty pleasure in this case).
The intensification of self-referential name-dropping in the recent series amplifies the programme’s loss of the televisual serialisation of the classic series and no degree of nostalgic repackaging of its own past can replace the multiple episode story arc and less frantic pacing that has been relegated to an almost antiquated television broadcast history. Even with all the BBC’s high quality offerings across games, comics, novels, audio adventures and web content, there is a longing for the simultaneous experience of the serial mass broadcast (Perryman, 2008 ), but this too is fundamental to the success of the series as a transmedia enterprise moving beyond the televised broadcast to assist in the fulfilment of a common desire, the wanting to be in “sync” that connects and unites a global audience (Slavin and Cheese in Fish, 2013).
“There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea’s asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold. Come on, Ace — we’ve got work to do!” – The Seventh Doctor in ‘Survival’.
The classic series’ final words to its audience are a premonition of the stories that escape from the ‘official’ and semi-official domains of production, to be spread across multiple media formats in the intervening years between the classic series and new Who, and beyond. Somewhere out there in the endless oceans of user generated content and the seasonal waves of paratextual production and consumption by a multi-generational Doctor Who audiences, the Doctor and his companions continue their adventures across memes and animated gifs on Tumblr blogs, in podcasts and dramatic fan productions and parodies, through fan art, fiction and video. As the series continues with yet another regeneration it is interesting to note how much Television – or perhaps just the ‘screen’ – endures and remains at the center of this experience.
In this special episode of Deletion our contributors celebrate these intersections and more by examining Doctor Who’s history, present and potential futures.
Marcus Harmes in ‘Doctor Who and the early modern world‘ examines the differences between the many English histories in the classic series and the new. He considers the recently emphasised Elizabethan England and the transitions between two very different early modern ‘Englands’. Implicit in the reading is a sense of the treatment of the Tudor, Elizabethan and Stuart periods in the production as they have changed over show’s own history.
Leora Hadas considers the direct ‘fannish’ involvement in the series revival and subsequent contribution to the rebooted production with ‘Running the asylum? Doctor Who’s ascended fan-showrunners’. Her contribution explores the consequences of the ‘fanwanky’ invasion in the upper escherlons of Doctor Who production and its impact on the conceptualisation of the television series and the fandom around it.
Gregor Cameron’s contribution ‘Acting the gift: Serious in what I do but not necessarily in the way I do it… ‘ examines the concept of acting and the depiction of the Doctor. Inspired by Patrick Troughton’s performance as the Second Doctor, Cameron explains that while the Doctor is a complicated character to portray, he provides a distinct pleasure to analyse, as through each regeneration comes a different, albeit, similar being.
Sophia Davidson Gluyas takes us on a different direction with ‘The 51st Century Guy’ and the bold claim that Captain Jack Harkness is the most important figure in Doctor Who. Davidson-Gluyas considers how the unmistakable companion and Torchwood lead, and his portrayl by actor John Barrowman, are major steps forward in the inclusion of people with complex sexualities and identities in SF and on the screen.
Tom Steward in ‘Time Monsters and Space Museums: Doctor Who and Education’, considers the BBC’s early educational mandate for Doctor Who. Steward looks to early episodes, including “An Unearthly Child” and “The Aztecs” and the play of supporting characters as teachers whose educational effectiveness was not simply achieved by being entertaining and suggests the new series is interesting in its responsiveness to its audience over concerns with educating them.
Chloé Monin is a PhD student and her provocation Doctor Who: The Reflection of Social and Political Evolution of Great Britain, presented here in the original French and translated English version, considers the socio-political development of England through the lens of the Doctor Who. She nominates a range specific tropes to analyse and understand the series and its broader contexts.
Dann Lewis’ short story, The Mechanist’s Infirmary, examines specific tropes presented within Doctor Who. Inspired by junk(ology), his short story allows Lewis to play with the “trashy” themes of memory, regeneration and post-humanism.
Fish, Jordan 2013, The Audience Has an Audience: Kevin Slavin & Kenyatta Cheese, Future of StoryTelling,< https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXoNndQRX5c> 09/06/2014
Jameson, Fredric 2001, ‘Postmodernism and Consumer Society’ in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, ed. by Vincent Leitch, London: Norton.
Perryman, Neil 2008, “Doctor Who and the Convergence of Media A Case Study in ‘Transmedia Storytelling”, Convergence vol. 14, no. 1: 21-39.
Sandifer, Philip 2013, ‘When You’ve Seen The Ages That I’ve Seen (The Idiot’s Lantern)’, Philip Sandifer Writer, Wednesday, July 3, 2013, <http://www.philipsandifer.com/2013/07/when-youve-seen-ages-that-ive-seen.html> 08/06/2014.