Friday, February 22, 2008

Television: Doctor Who

It is difficult for non-British audiences to understand the cultural icon that “Doctor Who” is, but it would not be an exaggeration to place Doctor Who amongst the likes of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond. Beginning in 1963 as a semi-educational children’s serial, it quickly became a pop-cultural phenomenon with the introduction of the monstrous Daleks. The scary monster element of the program continued throughout its 26 years. In 2005, after a 16-year hiatus, it returned with new episodes.
Unlike later science fiction series and movies with specific philosophical approaches, (Star Trek’s Secular Humanism, Star Wars’ Taoism or Zen Buddhism) Doctor Who has been eclectic over its Decades-long run, but stories have always boiled down to the age-old battle between good and evil. Sometimes the Doctor faces true evil, like the Daleks who were clearly patterned after the fascist powers of the early 20th Century. Other times he tries to mediate between humanity and aliens who are on the verge of war, in an obvious commentary on the Cold War.
The most fascinating aspect of this show is its main character. He is an alien being with the ability to completely regenerate (whenever a new actor is needed.) The show goes to great lengths to present him as non-human. A sort of vagabond in space and time, he manages to always show up where some great moral dilemma is occurring and bring a higher ethic into play. He always manages to do the right thing and save the day.

With it’s intellectual storytelling the viewer is always made to think, that is at least when the cheap production values can be overlooked. This is a problem the show faced over its original run. In spite of its success, it was always hampered by being a publicly funded show.

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