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The Inner World of Doctor Who

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As Doctor Who approaches its fiftieth anniversary recent series have taken the show to new heights in terms of popular appeal and critical acclaim.The Doctor and his TARDIS-driven adventures, along with companions and iconic monsters, are now recognised and enjoyed globally. The time is ripe for a detailed analytic assessment of this cultural phenomenon.Focussing on the most recent television output The Inner World of Doctor Who examines why the show continues to fascinate contemporary audiences. Presenting closely-observed psychoanalytic readings of selected episodes, this book examines why these stories of time travel, monsters, and complex human relationships have been successful in providing such an emotionally rich dramatization of human experience. The Inner World of Doctor Who seeks to explore the multiple cultural and emotional dimensions of the series, moving back and forth from behind the famous sofa, where children remember hiding from scary monsters, and onto the proverbial psychoanalytic couch. The approach that the authors take recognizes the richness that Doctor Who contains, episode by episode and in its culture and mythos, in order to show how Doctor Who adventures can be appreciated in the acknowledgement that both sofa and couch provide lively places from which to enjoy the stories as they continue to unfold for the next fifty years.

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Chapter One - Bigger on the inside

ePub

“It's bigger on the inside” is the almost invariable remark of those who enter the doorway of the TARDIS for the first time, to the point that its regular inhabitants come to expect it. The TARDIS as nearly everyone knows is from the outside a fairly ordinary Police Box, of a kind no longer in use. But inside it is immensely, even infinitely spacious. What we most see of it is a circular area, surrounding the TARDIS's console or control system, which is made up of a bricolage of dials, levers, knobs, and gadgets, including an old typewriter. Much of it is like something that could have been put together by children collecting stuff from around the house or shed. (No doubt some enthusiasts for the show do try to build such consoles.) But we learn of other back areas—bedrooms, a swimming pool, and squash court 7, for instance—and occasionally doors have opened to corridors which seem without end. What this space represents in Doctor Who is an almost limitless source of energy and power, available to the Doctor to enable him to transcend the ordinary limits of space and time.

 

Chapter Two - Fathers and Daughters: Father's Day and the Parting of the Ways

ePub

The questions raised for audiences by the relationship of the Doctor and his young woman companion are explored in a most psychologically searching way in two episodes of the first series (2005). What becomes clear in Father's Day, and is returned to in The Parting of the Ways, the final episode of the series and of Christopher Eccleston's role as the Doctor, is that his companion Rose's principal emotional preoccupation is with her missing father, whom she has been told was killed in a hit-and-run road accident when she was still a baby. The unconscious issue explored in these episodes, and in different ways later on, is the connection between unconscious relationships to parent figures, and the desires and needs which young people experience as they grow up. Such issues are often explored in the best writing about childhood by placing fictional characters in “extreme” situations, such as the loss or death of parents. The effect of this device is to accentuate the meaning of the separations and losses which are natural in any personal development, and enable the responses to these experiences to be investigated, in a fictional form, in particularly intense terms.1

 

Chapter Three - The Doctor and the Two World Wars: The Empty Child and the Doctor Dances

ePub

This chapter discusses outstanding double episodes from the first and third series. The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances, the first episode to be written by Steven Moffat, are set in the London Blitz in 1941, and powerfully evoke the particular and often-recalled atmosphere of that period. Human Nature and The Family of Blood, written by Paul Cornell, are set in an English boarding school, in 1913, just before the outbreak of the Great War, and evoke the mentalities of an earlier English society, on the eve of a period of catastrophic destructiveness. These episodes are impressive in the ways in which they are permeated by the structures of feeling and by the significant patterns of relationship for which those periods are remembered. In the World War II episodes, a central focus is on the relationship between mother and child as a primordial emotional and social bond threatened by war, and needing to be repaired if recovery is to take place. This was the period in which psychoanalysis in Britain became most oriented towards relationships within families, and is one reason why these stories lend themselves to our psychoanalytically oriented attention to Doctor Who.

 

Chapter Four - Doctor who as Romance: The Girl in the Fireplace and Vincent and the Doctor

ePub

Among the many genres in which Doctor Who engages is romance, and the two episodes to be discussed in this chapter are two of the most striking and successful examples of this kind.

Romances of beauty and genius

The romance in question has at least two dimensions. One concerns the visionary and ecstatic aspect of the experience which the episodes explore. Whereas all Doctor Who episodes have “monsters” or “evils” of some kind as antagonists which have to be overcome, some of them also explore experiences and examples of the exceptionally good or beautiful. (One might think of this in terms of the sublime and the beautiful.)1 The Girl in the Fireplace (written by Steven Moffat) takes the Doctor and his companions, Rose and Mickey, to the court of Louis XV in 1727, and to an encounter with a little girl who grows up to be an exceptionally beautiful and creative woman, an idealised version of Madame de Pompadour, a figure of legend. (As the Doctor exclaims, “Uncrowned Queen of France. Actress, artist, musician, dancer, courtesan, fantastic gardener!”)

 

Chapter Five - Life and Death in Doctor who: Blink and the Angels Take Manhattan

ePub

These two episodes, Blink in Series 3 and The Angels Take Manhattan in Series 5, feature one of Steven Moffat's finest fictional inventions, the “Weeping Angels”. These are a species of alien which can hide themselves anywhere, as stone statues, and not be noticed. When they come to life, which is when they are not being looked at, they make deadly attacks, taking their victims back in time to live out their lives in the past. Because the Weeping Angels may be found anywhere in ordinary places, and because they strike when one turns away from them, they are particularly scary. As the Doctor Who team have said, the most frightening monsters are those nearest to the experience of normal life.

These two episodes allow an exploration of themes of loss, separation, and death, and of the countervailing powers of love and life. These are themes which have a remarkable impact, especially considering that Doctor Who is made for television viewers of all ages.

Perhaps one of its most frightening features is that the emphatic warning continually given by the Doctor in Blink, and repeated in its final moments, is “Don't Blink.” But as any child will find, the Doctor's advice is impossible to follow. It seems as if the Weeping Angels must get you in the end.

 

Chapter Six - Words, Symbols, and Magic: The Doctor Meets “the Bard”

ePub

Introduction

The Shakespeare Code is the second part of the third series. It explores the “post-Rose” era, this episode being the second instalment in the first series since Rose said “goodbye” to the Doctor at Bad Wolf Bay. Martha Jones's relationship with the Doctor is still new and Rose seems very present in it. This episode further introduces Martha as a new companion. The story begins to explore her relationship with the Doctor and the Doctor's relationship with her. Their interplay extends themes of deferred and denied romance.1

This chapter identifies shifts in the Doctor's capacity to recognise Martha in her role. This is connected to thinking about The Doctor's attachments, and to the recent loss of Rose. The audience shares some of this emotional work with the Doctor, as they, too, must get used to Martha, the first black female assistant,2 and one who is a “doctor” herself—or “almost”.3 This episode is partly about a simple thought: “Martha is not Rose”.

It is significant that the background performance in this Shakespeare-themed episode is Love's Labour's Lost. “Jack hath not Jill”4 and nor of course does the Doctor have Rose, by any name. The episode is full of such allusive punning. Rose is clearly missed, and seems initially to crowd Martha out in the Doctor's mind, in the earlier parts of the action. The Doctor underlines the finite nature of their relationship on a number of occasions, seemingly ignoring Martha's hurt. Martha starts to matter more to the Doctor by the end. The emergence of that concern is important to thinking about the Doctor and the series as a whole.

 

Chapter Seven - Framing Mystery: The Doctor Meets Agatha Christie

ePub

Doctor Who explores literary history in a number of episodes and in similar vein to The Shakespeare Code. The Unicorn and the Wasp foregrounds mystery-as-genre while also incorporating a magical, even surreal element in its frame. In part, the episode can be explained as a knockabout exploration of a thought expressed by essayist Robert Lynd: “There are insects that make us feel that we are in the presence of the uncanny” (1951, p. 287). Its main focus is the detective novelist Agatha Christie and the episode places her, along with Donna and the Doctor, in the middle of a parody version of events that seem very much like one of Christie's own novels.

Agatha Christie is widely known for her books, alongside well-known theatre productions, including The Mousetrap. Her work, popular in novel form, has led her to be among the top best-selling authors of all time. Christie is widely acclaimed, too, due to many successful television and film adaptations featuring her famous detective protagonists, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. The Doctor sums up Christie's achievement as The Unicorn and the Wasp ends by presenting Donna with a copy of the 1935 publication, Death in The Clouds, with the edition showing the hyperbolic year “five billion” as the publication date. The implication: Christie will never be forgotten.

 

Chapter Eight - Inside the Whale: The Beast Below

ePub

There are two stories of childhood to preface the main events of the The Beast Below. They are told in vignettes that might be headed, “Lightness” and “Weight”.1 The prologue scenes introduce a heavy, grey space city, floating as if recently detached from a planet surface, voyaging through the galaxy. Its concrete metropolitan facades are labelled. One by one they show familiar British county names; Surrey, Devon, Essex, Yorkshire, Kent. We connect county names to the huge faded Union Jack on the rim of the vast ship and realise this is some space-bound version of the United Kingdom,2 a whole country compressed into the form of a city, and found now drifting through the stars. Green pleasantness has been eradicated, the body of the nation re-rendered in the tower block form of Starship UK.

Inside presents a chilling classroom scene. Education, rarely off the political agenda, is placed front and centre in this episode. The classroom provides an effective dramatic mechanism appealing to the younger audience members by referring to school, and to older generations by evoking nostalgia of sorts; the classroom décor and uniforms resemble a 1960s or 1970s era of tatty tables, desks, and rows.

 

Chapter Nine - Ordinary Stories: The Lodger

ePub

In his The Diary of a Doctor Who Addict Paul Magrs captured an important truth about enjoying the show. He celebrates its ordinariness. “I love the fact that stuff in space comes from stuff you'd find in your kitchen at home” (2010, p. 209). This “kitchen sink” quality is revisited in The Lodger. The episode is an essay on the “normal” explored through the lens of the paranormal. Magic-realism meets comedy as the The Lodger opens. The TARDIS lands. The Doctor, leaning out of the door confirms that they have not arrived where they had planned to go: “No, Amy, it's definitely not the fifth moon of Sinda Callista. I think I can see a Ryman's.” Like a mistyped Google search, the Doctor has bypassed the celestial Callista and landed up in Colchester.1 There is an inexplicable explosion. Thrown to the ground, the Doctor looks on as the TARDIS disappears without him. Amy, left alone inside seems scared. The Doctor, outside, is worried for her. This hapless accident sets the knockabout tone for what is, nevertheless, a searching look at ordinary intimacy.

 

Chapter Ten - Madman in a Box: The Doctor's Wife

ePub

Same space: new relationships

This episode, the fourth instalment of Series 6, provides a poignant examination of another of the Doctor's relationships. In its title The Doctor's Wife1 provides a tantalising invitation, hinting at new insights into the Doctor and at some kind of family life. The unfolding episode does indeed extend our sense of the Doctor's emotional world. It is an oblique and engaging dramatisation.2 However, and perhaps predictably, there is no “wife” as such. We have considered fathers and daughters in Chapter Two. Alongside its allusion to the tantalising idea that the Doctor has a “wife”, this episode evokes elements in a drama between a “mother” and child.

In parallel, The Doctor's Wife elaborates our engagements with Amy's and Rory's relationship, exploring the quasi-love triangle between Rory, Amy, and the Doctor. This has continued to structure some of the background emotional dynamics in Series 5 and 6. Relationships have recently shifted. Rory and Amy are lately married. It is possible, given what we have proposed about the unconscious Oedipal dynamics in that triangle, that the Doctor feels (unconsciously) displaced, or perhaps infantilised by living with a married pair. The audience, too, might be thinking through the implications of this new on-screen alignment.

 

Chapter Eleven - Every Time we Say Goodbye: Closing Time

ePub

Closing Time refers ostensibly to the end of the day at Sanderson & Grainger, a department store in Colchester. Flickering electric lights in the opening scene once again signify something is amiss. Kelly, a whiny, put-upon, selfish-seeming adolescent shop assistant flashes a fake smile at a parting customer then schemes to leave early, abandoning her colleague, Shona. Kelly moans about “the lights”: “When's the council going to fix this? Last night my telly went off in the middle of Top Model.” Kelly goes. Shona, left alone, has to close up after her.

We cut to a further goodbye, a parting between Craig and Sophie. They have moved on from Aickman Road. Craig comes down the stairs. This is a new, more spacious home. Together they present a picture of domestic intimacy and playful care. They joke about Sophie's too-solicitous preparations for going away. Craig is doing Sophie a favour and she is grateful: “Thank you for this. And I do know you can cope on your own.” She mocks and underlines her own worrisome preparations for leaving: “And I may have drawn some arrows in the fridge.” Craig complains about the number of people Sophie has called to ask them to check on him. He doesn't need them.

 

Chapter Twelve - The Story of Amelia Pond

ePub

The principal focus of this book about the new Doctor Who is on the relationships which it explores and develops between its characters, and the emotional challenges with which these face them. The format of the show has been constant in at least one respect for the fifty years of its existence. It is the story of a superhuman Doctor Who who travels through time and space in his spaceship, the TARDIS, saving various kinds of beings from harms and evils. Although the Doctor often seems to be motivated in his journeys merely by whimsy, or by a desire to amuse or impress his companions by what he can show them, there is invariably a more serious reason why he arrives at any specific place or time in the universe (or indeed, in the show's terms, beyond the known universe). The Doctor seeks out trouble, harm, and cosmic danger, in much the way that Sherlock Holmes seeks out worldly crimes and evil deeds. Those found to be in danger in Doctor Who may be entire worlds, especially Earth to whose people the Doctor is especially attached. Or particular communities, such as A Town Called Mercy, in the American Wild West. Or vulnerable kinds of beings, such as children, or the tortured Star Whale in The Beast Below. Or they may be particular individuals, such as Van Gogh in Vincent and the Doctor, or Mme de Pompadour in The Girl in the Fireplace. Saving worlds and people is essentially what the Doctor does—that is really why he is called the Doctor. Sometimes he seems to discover sinister features of the environment simply through his keen powers of observation (again like those of Sherlock Holmes), in a place or time which has been chosen for a TARDIS visit for apparently “innocent” reasons. An example is the monster which the Doctor spotted in Van Gogh's painting of a church in the Musée D'Orsay, where the Doctor had taken Amy as a special treat. Or the distress of a father at the disappearance of his daughter, in The Vampires of Venice, where the Doctor had taken Amy and Rory ostensibly as a wedding present. (Should they not have known by now that it would not be that simple?) Sometimes the Doctor is specifically summoned across time and space in response to a known menace—for example, when he is called by River Song in The Time of Angels to the planet Alfava Matraxis to assist her in recapturing the Weeping Angel which is believed to be hidden inside a mountain there, following the wreck of the starship Byzantium in which it was imprisoned. But whether the Doctor merely comes across a danger as it were “by accident”, or knowingly goes looking for it, seems to make little difference in practice. Wherever and whenever he appears, however apparently benign the setting, evil forces will be found to be present and active. It is his vocation to be drawn to them. He becomes bored and restless when asked to live, even for a few days, the mundane routines of everyday life. (As we see, for example, when he stays with Amy and Rory in the story of the strange black cubes, The Power of Three). He puts his malaise down to boredom, the converse of the pleasurable excitement and adventure he seems principally to be offering to his companions in the TARDIS. But the reality is that it is the continuing confrontation with perverse, dark forces that give the Doctor his principal—perhaps his only—reason for living.1

 

Appendix I

ePub

 

Appendix II

ePub

List of television programmes cited

Agatha Christie's Poirot (1989–present). UK, ITV.

Battlestar Gallactica (2004–2009). Sci-Fi, US.

Blackaddder II (1996). BBC, UK.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003). The WB, US.

Coupling (2000–2004). BBC, UK.

Doctor Who Confidential (2005–2011). BBC, UK.

EastEnders (1985–present). BBC, UK.

In Treatment (2008–present). HBO, US.

Madmen (2007–present). ABC, US.

Miss Marple (1984–1992). BBC, UK.

Our Friends in the North (1996). BBC, UK.

Queer as Folk (1999–2000). Channel4, UK.

Sopranos, The (1999–2007). HBO, US.

Star Trek (1966–1969). US, NBC.

Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987–1994). NBC, US.

Steptoe and Son (1962–1974). BBC, UK.

Wire, The (2002–2008). HBO, US.

List of films cited

Alien (1979).

Aliens (1986).

Alien 3 (1992).

Alien Resurrection (1997).

Blade Runner (1982).

Inception (2010).

Matrix, The (1999).

Matrix Reloaded, The (2003).

Matrix Revolutions, The (2003).

Minority Report (2002).

Shakespeare in Love (1998).

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986).

Star Wars (1977).

Terminator, The (1984).

 

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