On the Iffy Topic of Doctor Who

Bowties and SF? Do I have to?

Doctor Who: I’ve hated it for most of my life. 

But I’m afraid I’ve got to change my mind. 

Well — “hated” is pretty strong. In my 40 years, I’d never actually seen it until just now. But historically I could tell — I could just tell — from photos and from the way people talked about it that it would bug me intensely. That goofy looking guy with the scarf. Those pathetic looking trash can robots. The overall cheekiness was undeniable — and this comic was proof — even if the show was a Brit classic. 

Doctor Who just seemed too … trivial. It seemed to make light of the science part of science fiction, using that science-y part,  instead, as a wobbly platform for wacky exploits and antics that seemed to pay little to no credence to plausibility. Along these same lines: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I read those books, all of them, and liked — if not loved them. However, I did NOT love any movie/tv show/radio program of Hitchhiker’s. I didn’t appreciate the glibness, I guess for the reasons mentioned above. (The same can be said of movie adaptations of Tom Robbins’ books.)

I’d been getting some pressure to give Doctor Who another chance — particularly in light of its 2005 return to the BBC, with more modern production values. I’ve watched the “1st” season, and it’s fun to watch, I can’t deny it.

So what was the problem? I think I’ve always felt like if I’m a Doctor Who fan, I can’t be a fan of ‘serious’ SF. Don’t ask why. I don’t know. I guess I didn’t think SF could meaningfully contain satire and comedy (though my lifelong love of Rudy Rucker and Kurt Vonnegut, would suggest otherwise). 

That’s been the hardest thing to get used to — accepting the basic premise that many things/technologies/attitudes/plot twists in Doctor Who are ludicrous. Yet somehow that’s part of the fun, and — more importantly — part of what somehow allows the writers to tell interesting stories.

One of the things that an ardent SF fan might tell a skeptic (take the endless dialog between me and my wife) is that SF simply allows new and provocative stories to be told by loosening up the chains of “reality.” But I always held that those liberties could only be had if they seemed plausible. Doctor Who is implausible in the details, oh, about every five minutes. And it seems to be a Brit thing. What’s interesting is that — like my premise about my brand of “serious” SF, such whimsy also allows stories to be told, in new and refreshing ways.

It’s also a really interesting peek into the Brit perspective. There’s something about watching even the way the workaday Brit characters move, the way they dress that makes a really great counterpoint to being subjected 24/7 to American ideas of what’s cool, what’s hip. And even more so is the general British propensity to snicker even as the spectre of great misfortune approaches. It’s essentially different than an American perspective, somehow less angry… and more accepting of the nature of things, the circumstances of Life, good and bad. 

I’ve been particularly delighted to see Americans stereotyped in the show, because I think it’s not bad to see how “we’re” portrayed — and perceived — internationally. The episode Dalek features an American businessman who is farcically arrogant, megalomaniacal, and corrupt (as well as brilliant). It’s hard for me to not sympathize with this Americature in today’s post-9/11 world where “we” often seem to me like such dickheads.

Anyway — Dr. Who has its merits, after all there years in denial — I have to confess. But I regularly have had to limber up my willing-suspension-of-disbelief muscles in order to see them.

0 Replies to “On the Iffy Topic of Doctor Who”

  1. Have we never talked about this? I loved the guy in the scarf back in the day & to date have refused the new series. hmm…

    On the book side, some nice sci-fi (pronounced skiffy) stuff coming out about now. I'd recommend all of them. Sadly, I think I've given my precious advance copies already. Go visit Southland Drive & pick up one or all of these. Trust me – it's a surprisingly fertile crop this season:

    1. Machine Man by Max Barry
    2. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
    3. Luminarium by Alex Shakar
    4. Reamde by Neal Stephenson

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