There are three things I love about Doctor Who: The characters, the one-liners, and the cultural phenomenon it’s created. As I’ve mentioned I’m a new Whovian, a guy who’s kept a foot in the science fiction arena (but not Fredric Brown’s arena) while otherwise living a clean life …
I first noticed that Doctor Who had gotten into our consciousness back in 2008 when I saw an endcap at Barnes & Noble chock full of Whovian goodies: a David Tennant doll, a couple of novel tie-ins, two stuffed TARDIS’s (TARDII?), and a sonic screwdriver (not, unfortunately, the cocktail). After watching a re-run of the new series’ first episode (“Rose”, 2005) I was not impressed, unfortunately. It had a campiness I’d come to associate with Lost in Space or, God help us all, the original Battlestar Galaxative. I thought Eccleston’s performance was wooden, found the episode plastic (pun intended), and winced at the tiresome earth-is-in-jeapordy-again theme. However, something stuck with me. And it wasn’t a character, a one-liner, or even a cultural reference per se. What struck me was that vat of bubbling Nestene consciousness. There was something so Lovecraftian about it that the image remained fixed in my mind even though I decided the show wasn’t for me. That would, of course, change, and change rapidly, as would my opinion of Eccleston’s role as the ninth Doctor.
Still curious, though, I talked to friends and came to realize Doctor Who is greater than the sum of its parts. It is interconnected entertainment. It is holistic. It creeped into our cultural consciousness by tapping into our collective subconscious, some how, some way, mixing science fiction, fantasy, and horror in ways that the experts say never work, and yet the show does work. Why? Why Who?
That sent me off onto another one of my infamous tangents of over-thinking: Are all major cultural phenomena rooted in fantasy?
Think about the blockbusters over the years: Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Star Wars, Stephen King’s novels, etc. They’re all speculative. Hell, even The Da Vinci Code, with its cardboard characters, possesses an element of the supernatural. Are there other cultural phenomena that are not “fantastic”? Sure. Angst among politicos, American football, and the wave of pasta cravings in the 1980s come to mind. But more often than not, cultural phenomena tap into that side of us that yearns for escape, safe adventure, and wish fulfillment. Maybe the vagaries of real life are too real.
This is just my opinion, but I do think there is something to this hypothesis. After all, my sister-in-law, who does not care for science fiction or horror, has started to watch Doctor Who. Her opinion is like so many others’: The show is bad, except when it’s good; it’s dumb, except when it’s smart; it’s ridiculous, except when it’s sublime. Luckily, we see many examples of the good, the smart, and the sublime. More than we should, but there they are. Doctor Who, the character and the show, is emergent.
Copyright (c) 2013, Fish and #TARDIS Sauce, a wholly owned publication of the The Parker Institute of Time Travel Studies (The PITTS)