With the fiftieth anniversary of one of my all time favorite shows, Doctor Who, coming up I recently decided to revisit and edit a paper I wrote revolving around the multi- genre nature of the classic “Sci- Fi” hit. Though, as you hopefully will agree by the end of this article, calling Doctor Who a Sci- Fi series really doesn’t foot the bill any more. Enjoy.
Image Source: The INDEPENDENT http://blogs.independent.co.uk
“Human beings, I thought I never get done saving you.” ~ The Doctor (S. Moffat)
The Multi Genre Universe of Doctor Who.
By: Kyle Adam
Doctor Who is one of the longest running television series in television history. From 1963 too 1989 the Doctor and his companions traveled through all of Time and Space, sharing their adventures with hundreds of families to around the UK. Then suddenly the adventures ended. Throughout the 90’s attempts to revitalize the series where made and in 2005 the series was re launched and has been gaining strength. A series that for all intensive purposes was dead, found re birth nearly 17 years later. And so this paper will examine the fifth and sixth seasons of Doctor Who, trying to understand the role of Science Fiction (or Sci-Fi) in the latest incarnation of the series, and determine if the series has become more of a genre highbred.
Doctor Who saw its end in 1989 and many thought that was the end of the Sci-Fi adventure series. Since the show’s return in 2005 the series has been noted to have an appeal to fans of the original show as well as winning over a new generation. In 2010 writer Stephen Moffat took over the position as producer of Doctor Who (Doctor Who) and the show has begun too grow in popularity overseas. Doctor Who has achieved a reboot that many series have failed to do so and I believe it is do to two main reasons. The first is that Moffat, and Russell T. Davis before him, made sure to keep the show a continuation of the original storyline, not a remake. The second, and the focus of this paper, is the fact that the latest incarnation of Doctor Who has replaced the Sci-Fi standard of the “monster of the week” with a sort of genre of the week, creating a show driven by character rather then the special effects that dominate the show.
All of time and space, infinite possibility and limitless potential, what better setting for the longest running Sci-Fi series on television (Meisner). Doctor Who follows the story of a 900 plus year old Time Lord; a humanoid alien with two hearts and the ability to regenerate his body before dyeing, simply named The Doctor and the various adventures he has with his (usually) human companions. Doctor Who began in 1963 on the BBC (IMDb) and has since found an international fan base. The series was canceled in 1989 much to the disappointment of fans. It was nearly 17 years before the Time Lord and his companions returned to television.
Doctor Who returned to the BBC in 2005 with the famous doctor in his 9th incarnation. No longer could the show run as it had before though. A younger more edgy doctor was needed to bring the show to a new generation. With an edgier doctor came newer, more adventurous story telling that was relatable to a 21st century audience. Since the shows return in 2005 there have been three actors to take on the iconic role of The Doctor. The latest is Matt Smith who is the eleventh actor to play The Doctor, as well as the youngest. Smith took over as The Doctor in 2010 as two new executive producers joined the show including writer Stephen Moffat (BBC News). Four episodes from the 2011/2012 season of Doctor Who will serve as the artifact for this paper. In this season, and these episodes we see The Doctor dealing with a companion who is linked to the potential unraveling of the universe, a fellow female time traveler from his future who knows more about him then he knows about himself, and the seemingly immortal Doctor must come to terms with his own approaching death and the ramifications of his hundreds of years of meddling in the very fabric of the universe.
What is Sci-Fi?
When trying to understand is the newest incarnation of Doctor Who one must first understand the definition of Sci-Fi. According to Read Write Think.org, Sci-Fi is “a genre of fiction in which the stories often tell about science and technology of the future. It is important to note that science fiction has a relationship with the principles of science—these stories involve partially true, partially fictitious laws or theories of science. It should not be completely unbelievable, because it then ventures into the genre fantasy.”
To say Doctor Who’s newest season is not a Sci-Fi series would be a stretch too far. The show deals with fairly relatable science, though one can argue that many of its elements border in the realm of the fantasy genre. The entire storyline’s main underlining plot for the past fifty plus years have been the adventures of a 900 year old alien called a Time Lord and his human companions. They happen to travel in an intergalactic, trans dimensional spaceship, and time machine called a TARDIS that looks like a 1960’s British Police Box. One can see where the Fantasy and adventure genres rear their heads in the Doctor Who saga. So really one can make a case that Doctor Who has always been a hybrid of genres. Yet at the end of the day the story of the Doctor is a Sci-Fi adventure. But from ones observations of the series one would have to say that with in the fifth and sixth seasons, under the direction of producer and writer Stephen Moffat, Doctor Who has incorporated newer and more diverse genres into it’s story telling.
“I’ve been running, as fast as I’ve ever run. And I’ve been running my whole life, but now it’s time to stop.” (S. Moffat) This line in the opening episode of Doctor Who Season six (The Impossible Astronaut) sums up the nature of the season itself. As opposed to previous seasons the audience is introduced to the concept of the Doctor’s impending death, actually witnessing it in the first episode. It’s a jarring concept for viewers of the show to witness. This episode introduced the idea that though the Doctor can regenerate if he is killed in the middle of this process his life ends. The episode uses two genres in the storyline and cinematic style of the show. The dramatic elements of the episode surround the death of the Doctor and the realization that he is still alive in the form of his younger self. The Doctors companions, Rory, Amy, and the mysterious River Song, must avoid revealing to the Doctor that they know when and how he will die and we have one of those rare occasions the Doctor’s companions know more about the Doctor then he himself. This fits into what many imagine when they think of the basic story format of a dramatic television series. “Often, these dramatic themes are taken from intense, real life issues. Whether heroes or heroines are facing a conflict from the outside or a conflict within themselves, Drama film aims to tell an honest story of human struggles.” (the script lab)
Episode one (The Impossible Astronaut) and two (Day of the Moon) also delve into the realm of the horror genre. “Horror film is a genre that aims to create a sense of fear, panic, alarm, and dread for the audience. These films are often unsettling and rely on scaring the audience through a portrayal of their worst fears and nightmares.” (the script lab) Moffat introduces the concept of a new alien enemy for the Doctor to fight, an alien that plays with the human fear of the unknown, the Silence. The Silence are a race that have lived on earth since “the wheel and the fire” as one of the creators claim. Moffat introduced the concept that we humans where just unwitting pawns the have been living for millions of years under the rule of these aliens that could remove themselves from or memories. Moffat states, “it was just a creepy idea” (S. Moffat, Doctor Who: Monster Files – The Silence) and that he just became fascinated with memory and how much of our lives we have forgotten. The Silence are always watching and always lurking, and they will kill just to intimidate the Doctor and his companions. Much of the two episodes show the silence lurking in dark doorways, standing behind people, or hanging upside down in a hive like cluster. Moffat creates a scenario where there is a constant sense of unease and you never know when you are being watched. As stated the Horror genre tries to instill fear and panic in the audience and these episodes do, how can you defeat something you can’t remember ever existing.
The fourth episode of the series was also looked at do to the fact that the episode was written by a guest writer that Moffat had brought in (as he dose from time to time); comic book, book, and film script author Neil Gaiman. In this episode, The Doctor’s Wife, the Doctor receives a distress call from one of his fellow Time Lords. This both shocks and excites the Doctor because till now he thought he was the only Time Lord left, having been the one to kill off his own kind. The Doctor, Amy, and Rory all arrive at an asteroid at the end of their universe where unbeknownst to them their ship, the TARDIS, has it’s living soul ripped out and put into a human body. Gaiman is hinting at a concept that has been toyed with in the Doctor Who universe for a long time. It is the idea that the TARDIS is an actual living organism and not just a mere machine. One can delve into why the TARDIS is placed into a female body but for the sake of this paper one just needs to merely note the references to the way the Doctor has treated the inter galactic space and time machine. The episode has this almost tongue in cheek humor dealing with the Doctor’s embarrassment over the fact that the TARDIS has heard all the conversations he has had with “her” and how he has called her “Sexy thing” so often that “she” assumes it’s her name. In the same sort of post modernist vein the TARDIS states that the Doctor was “her thief” and she “stole him” as opposed to the general perception in the series that the Doctor stole the TARDIS from a museum on his home planet.
The Doctor’s Wife is very creative in the use of the Romance genre in that through out the series Rory and Amy are our romantic leads, if that is not to far a stretch, and the Doctor and River clearly have a romantic relationship in the future with their current being very flirtatious. What Gaiman dose is he creates a new romantic relationship between the Doctor and his TARDIS. According to The Script Lab the romantic genre is defined as “a genre wherein the plot revolves around the love between two protagonists. This genre usually has a theme that explores an issue within love, including but not limited to: love at first sight, forbidden love, love triangles, and sacrificial love. The tone of Romance film can vary greatly. Whether the end is happy or tragic, Romance film aims to evoke strong emotions in the audience.” (the script lab) Much of this comes out in the inter actions between the Doctor and the TARDIS. They both hint to love at first sight, how it was love that motivated each to “kidnap” the other all those hundreds of years ago. The love is forbidden in a way as well because the TARDIS cannot remain in “her” human body for to long, as it will eventually die not being able to handle the machines energy, and so “she” must return to her confines with in the physical machine known as the TARDIS. What really defines the story line between the Doctor and the human TARDIS is the heart retching ending. The viewer knows the TARDIS’ human body is going to die, there is no stopping it, but it’s the fact that the TARDIS pushes herself accelerating her own demise in order to help the Doctor save the ones he loves defines this as a tragic romance. The Doctor begs the TARDIS not to go and she simply replies, “all things must come to an end” but to remember, “this was the time we talked.” (Gaiman)
The finale episode examined for this study was the mid season finale, A Good Man Goes to War. This episode meets many Sci-Fi and Adventure genre conventions seen through out Doctor Who. A looming battle, lots of enemies and aliens, and impossible odds, this is what the Doctor lives for. Amy Pond has been kidnaped, in fact she was never really in the season at all since she was kidnaped before episode one and was replaced with a puppet like clone controlled by the unconscious Amy. To make matters worse she is giving birth to her a Rory’s first child by the time to Doctor reveals the fake. So in order to rescue Amy Pond and her new born baby girl, Rory and the Doctor go fourth and gather the allies of the Doctor, many of whom are indebted to him, and plan to storm the headquarters of the enemy based at Demons Run. But what is interesting about this episode is that despite everything else going on in it the main driving force behind the story are the characters.
When the battle is done and over it is reveled that the Doctor has been tricked and now Amy’s baby is in the hands of the Silence. River Song arrives to reveal who she is as well as taunt the Doctor a bit. This scene has great commentary on how the show has evolved and how societies views have changed. The Doctor is aghast at the idea that the Silence would want to create a weapon out of a child just to defeat him, that he is seen as the bringer of the end of the universe. River tells the Doctor it’s because he never thought of the ramifications of his actions essentially through his years of adventures he must now face the fact the he has made himself, unknowingly, some sort of god. “The man that can turn around armies with the mere mention of his name.” (S. Moffat, Doctor Who “A Good Man Goes to War”) The episode concludes with River Song finally revealing who she is and in true dramatic style the show ends on a huge cliffhanger, leaving viewers with new questions and few answers.
A series, that like its main character, was able to be reborn even though many thought it was dead. Doctor Who is a cultural icon and a staple in the Sci-Fi genre, but still given what this paper has reviled one will be hard pressed to justify that the series is still a pure Sci-Fi adventure program. Like many shows today, Doctor Who has embraced a “post modern” style and the growing trend of Genre hybrids. Doctor Who has evolved from a single genre story to a dramatic/sci-fi/adventure over its fifty years on air, growing deeper and more complex with each regeneration of the Doctor himself. Moffat has created a character rich series with his contribution to the Doctor Who franchise, and he has humanized the all-knowing time traveling Alien. To say Doctor Who is a Sci-Fi series is to over simplify this complex and rich series that exemplifies the creation and transition to the genre hybrid. Knowing this one can be assured that now that the Doctor is back he will be with use for a long time. Besides, as he says himself, he never seems to be done saving us humans.
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