Critical Hit with Drew Nordman

Allons-y, wibbley-wobbley timey-wimey, bow ties and jammy dodgers.

If the above terms triggers a childlike sense of glee inside you, chances are, you’re a “Whovian.” 

For the uninitiated, a Whovian is a person who actively enjoys (to the point of near obsession) the prolific BBC series, Doctor Who. Now when I say prolific, I mean it by its very definition. Having first aired in 1963, the show celebrated its 50th anniversary last week, making Doctor Who the longest-running science fiction television series of all time. Most programs are lucky to get picked up for a second season, never mind existing for half a century. It stands to reason that behind a show with such longevity, there must exist a true sense of magnetism for it to be so successful.

In the universe of the series, the enigmatic titular character, “the Doctor”, travels through time and space in a 1960s police call box-looking spaceship called the TARDIS. At its core, the show is about adventure. Having all of time and space as a canvas doesn’t hurt, however it’s the Doctor’s ceaseless curiosity and aptitude for problem solving that drives the series forward. Although the Doctor appears human, he’s actually the last of a nigh-immortal race of aliens called Time Lords. He has two hearts, and in most situations, cannot die – he merely “regenerates.” During this process, the Doctor’s body emits a radiant light that, once subsides, leaves him with an entirely different body. 

Unlike other monolithic characters, the Doctor’s physical instability is part of the fiction, compounding the mysterious and nebulous nature of the character. Initially this plot device was conceived of to facilitate the show’s continuation and the first Doctor, William Hartnell’s deteriorating health. Fifty years later, literally a dozen actors have filled his shoes, or scarf, or bow tie, each one bringing their own unique set of quirks and mannerisms to the character while still retaining the ineffable uniting factor that makes them all the Doctor. 

Most intriguing is how the show brings out and reflects ideas about the human condition. How being an outsider and being able to help are not mutually exclusive; how being an expert doesn’t mean having all the answers; and how being in control often means giving control to others. 

Conversely, the show inadvertently reflects some of the negative parts of our world, namely how the universe’s best and most frequent champion is a white dude who rescues attractive women from their mundane lives to show them the cosmos (I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bummed when I read that the next Doctor was another middle aged white male).

On a deeper, more philosophical level, the show has also evolved to reflect the fleeting nature of existence and the impermanence of life. Oftentimes with each regeneration, there comes a new cast of characters. While the Doctor certainly thrives on the the excitement of his cohorts, it’s very apparent that the constant loss of companions is wearing on him. Careful not to dwell on such dark motifs, the series straddles a wonderful balance between charming and brooding.

With plenty of room for progression, Doctor Who is still one of the most captivating and wondrous shows in existence and it wouldn’t surprise me if it lasted another 50 years.

Drew Nordman loves geek culture. Follow him on Twitter @Anomalous1.

Published in Volume 68, Number 13 of The Uniter (November 27, 2013)

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