Out of Time

The Deaths and Resurrections of Doctor Who

by Alec Charles (Author)
©2015 Monographs VIII, 229 Pages


Doctor Who is one of television’s most enduring and ubiquitously popular series. This study contends that the success of the show lies in its ability, over more than half a century, to develop its core concepts and perspectives: alienation, scientific rationalism and moral idealism. The most extraordinary aspect of this eccentric series rests in its capacity to regenerate its central character and, with him, the generic, dramatic and emotional parameters of the programme.
Out of Time explores the ways in which the series’ immortal alien addresses the nature of human mortality in his ambiguous relationships with time and death. It asks how the status of this protagonist – that lonely god, uncanny trickster, cyber-sceptic and techno-nerd – might call into question the beguiling fantasies of immortality, apotheosis and utopia which his nemeses tend to pursue. Finally, it investigates how this paragon of transgenerational television reflects the ways in which contemporary culture addresses the traumas of change, loss and death.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1 Genre Trouble
  • Chapter 2 The Reality Bomb
  • Chapter 3 The Show that Never Dies
  • Chapter 4 A Fate Worse than Death
  • Chapter 5 One Being’s Utopia
  • Chapter 6 Time Can Be Rewritten
  • Chapter 7 Imitatio Christi
  • Chapter 8 Lord of Time
  • Chapter 9 Coping Strategies
  • Chapter 10 A Very Naughty Boy
  • Chapter 11 The Uncanny
  • Chapter 12 Everybody Lives
  • Bibliography
  • Index

← vi | vii → Acknowledgements

The thoughts behind this book began life in a piece I wrote in 2010 for Science Fiction Film and Television: my thanks go to my editor on that occasion, Mark Bould, for his invaluable support and advice. Thanks are also due to David Butler, Valentine Cunningham, Terry Eagleton, Julia Ipgrave, Rob Latham, James Leggott, Andrew Milner, Tom Moylan, Lindy Orthia, Nicole Pohl, Matthew Ryan, Simon Sellars and Robert Young who have also supported my efforts in these areas across the years. Thanks are also due to my friends and colleagues Lesley Albon, Lawrence Bellamy, Jen Birks, John Cain, Lynne Connolly, James Crabbe, Peter Dean, Mark Duffett, Russell Dyson, Ian Edgington, Ato Erzan-Essien, James Evans, Caroline Ford, Neville Ford, Neil Fox, Ian Fraser, Neil Grant, Dave Grimshaw, Kelly Hallam, Emily Harmer, Peter Harrop, Chris Hart, Chris Haslam, Paul Hassall, Michael Higgins, Matt Hills, Luke Hockley, Dan Jackson, Keith Jebb, Malcolm Keach, Matthew Kilburn, Simon Lydiard, Haili Ma, Brian Machin, Anna Mackenzie, Mary Malcolm, Marie Manuel, Jim Mason, Nancy Mbaya, Lesley McKenna, Bethan Michael, Michelle Morgan, Beth Morris, Simon Morrison, Tom Neville, Andy Nixon, Steve O’Brien, Wayne O’Brien, Nada Oldfield, Brendan O’Sullivan, David Pattie, Michelle Ponting, Phil Potter, Mike Pumford, Karen Randell, Ian Rasmussen, Laura Ravenscroft, Simon Roberts, Gary Russell, John Ryan, Heather Savigny, Kate Sillitoe, Vera Slavtcheva-Petkova, Paul Smith, Darren Sproston, Jenny Spruce, Bill Stothart, John Sullivan, Matthew Sweet, Mick Temple, Jo Warburton, Jem Warren, Alexis Weedon, Garry Whannel, Tim Wheeler, Fiona White, Karen Willis and Jason Wilson. Thanks are also due to my colleagues at Peter Lang, Lucy Melville, Laurel Plapp and Jasmin Allousch, with whom this is now my fifth title in as many years: always a pleasure to work with. And thanks, of course, to all my students whose brilliance over the years has so often renewed my faith. ← vii | viii →

← viii | 1 → CHAPTER 1

Genre Trouble

The original run of that popular drama series Doctor Who was first broadcast on BBC Television between 1963 and 1989. The programme returned briefly in 1996 in the form of a north American television movie co-produced by the BBC Worldwide, Universal and Fox; and then returned rather more durably to television screens in 2005, when the BBC entrusted the well-regarded screenwriter Russell T Davies with the responsibility of reimagining the franchise.

There seems something almost miraculous, in industry terms, about the series’ ability to return from its multiple cancellations and threats of cancellation (in 1969, 1985, 1989 and 1996 to list the most significant). Its ability to return from the apparently and the actually dead – and indeed to achieve greater glories in its resurrections – is something achieved by relatively few screen franchises. It is a quality which confers a certain mythical status upon such franchises as Star Trek, Star Wars, James Bond and Doctor Who, one which has transfigured these cult texts (of varying degrees of fantasticality) into icons of popular culture. In the case of all four (although most obviously in the case of Doctor Who) their ability to resurrect and to regenerate themselves has been underpinned by their capacity to resurrect and regenerate their central characters.

As of writing, the role of the Doctor has (thanks to his miraculous capacity to regenerate) been played, on the television screen, by twelve main actors: William Hartnell (1963–1966, returning for ‘The Three Doctors’ in 1972), Patrick Troughton (1966–1969, returning for ‘The Three Doctors’ in 1972, ‘The Five Doctors’ in 1983 and ‘The Two Doctors’ in 1985), Jon Pertwee (1970–1974, returning for ‘The Five Doctors’ in 1983), Tom Baker (1974–1981, returning for ‘The Day of the Doctor’ in 2013), Peter Davison (1981–1984, returning for ‘Time Crash’ in 2007), Colin Baker (1984–1986), ← 1 | 2 → Sylvester McCoy (1987–1989, returning for the American TV movie in 1996), Paul McGann (1996, returning for ‘The Night of the Doctor’ in 2013), Christopher Eccleston (2005), David Tennant (2005–2010, returning for ‘The Day of the Doctor’ in 2013), Matt Smith (2010–2013, returning for ‘Deep Breath’ in 2014), Peter Capaldi (2013 onwards). In addition to this, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy returned to play the Doctor in an incongruous and uncomfortable crossover with the BBC soap opera EastEnders in 1993’s ‘Dimensions in Time (possibly a comic parody, though this was never made entirely clear) produced for the BBC’s annual charity telethon Children in Need. (This is generally considered rather less canonical within the series’ narrative continuity than 2007’s ‘Time Crash’ which united Peter Davison and David Tennant’s incarnations in another Children in Need mini-episode, one which more clearly fitted into the series’ contemporary continuity.)

In 1999 the series’ future showrunner Steven Moffat had scripted Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death as part of that year’s BBC Comic Relief telethon; the part of the Doctor in this fond parody had been taken by Rowan Atkinson, Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and Joanna Lumley (transgender regeneration issues are further addressed in chapter two). In 2003 Richard E. Grant would return briefly to the role of the Doctor of the BBC’s flash-animated webcast story ‘Scream of the Shalka’ written by future TV series screenwriter Paul Cornell. Other BBC animated Doctor Who webcasts have included ‘Death Comes to Time’ (featuring Sylvester McCoy in 2001–2002), ‘Real Time’ (featuring Colin Baker in 2002) and ‘Shada’ (featuring Paul McGann in 1983).

Another television incarnation of the Doctor – a missing and morally problematic incarnation between the character’s eighth and ninth lives – was introduced in 2013’s ‘The Name of the Doctor’ and ‘The Day of the Doctor’ (and was seen in flashback in 2014’s ‘Listen’): played by John Hurt, this character has become known as the War Doctor. Further to that, 1986’s ‘Trial of a Time Lord’ introduced a character called the Valeyard (played by Michael Jayston): ‘an amalgamation of the darker sides of [the Doctor’s] nature, somewhere between [his] twelfth and final incarnation.’ In 1981’s ‘Logopolis’ Adrian Gibbs played a mysterious character called the Watcher, a curiously chrysalis-like creature apparently representing the regenerative ← 2 | 3 → interface between the Doctor’s fourth and fifth bodies. And in 2010’s ‘Amy’s Choice’ Toby Jones played a nightmare version of the tenth Doctor.

Most of the original series stars have also played the character in other media. Jon Pertwee played the Doctor in two BBC radio series broadcast in 1993 and 1996. Pertwee and Colin Baker also played versions (or approximations) of the character in various unofficial video projects (of various qualities) produced by some of the show’s more die-hard fans. Off-screen, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy also returned to the role of the Doctor in 1999 for a series of original audio adventures – still ongoing – produced by the fan-led company Big Finish Productions; these are published on CD and have also been broadcast on BBC Radio. Paul McGann joined the Big Finish series in 2001, and Tom Baker signed up in 2012. The characters of the first, second and third Doctors have reappeared in Big Finish audiobooks narrated by actors who once played their TV travelling companions.

Following the cancellation of the original television series in 1989, the adventures of Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor were continued in print in a series of original novels published by Virgin Books between 1991 and 1997. Between 1994 and 1997 Virgin Books also published novels featuring the first through sixth Doctors. Virgin’s final Doctor Who novel, published in 1997, featured the eighth Doctor. Between 1997 and 2005 the eighth Doctor’s print fiction adventures moved beneath the banner of BBC Books, whose Doctor Who series also featured original novels charting the escapades of Doctors one to seven. Since 2005 BBC Books have focussed their Doctor Who series on stories of the contemporary incumbents in the role, the ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth Doctors.

The first Doctor Who novel had been released in 1964 by Frederick Muller Ltd. A novelization of the series’ second story, Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks is notable for its divergences from the original television version’s plot, particular in relation to the first appearance of the Doctor. Muller published two further novelizations of TV stories, Doctor Who and the Zarbi and Doctor Who and the Crusaders, in 1965 and 1966 respectively. Between 1973 and 1991 Target Books not only republished Muller’s three titles but also published novelizations of the vast majority of stories (more than 150 of them) from the television series ← 3 | 4 → (as well as a handful of original titles based upon untelevised scripts and the adventures of the Doctor’s companions). Since then, Virgin Books and BBC Books have published novelizations of most of the few remaining unpublished ‘classic era’ Doctor Who stories.

These are not the only print elaborations of the Doctor’s adventures. Between 1965 and 1985 World Distributors Ltd published original short stories and comic strips in their series of Doctor Who annuals. From 1964 the Doctor’s adventures also appeared in comic strip form in such publications as TV Comic, Countdown and TV Action. Such cartoon adventures continued from 1979 in Doctor Who Weekly, a periodical which moved to monthly publication the following year and which continues to this day under the title Doctor Who Magazine. Similar comic strip stories also now appear in the rival title (for younger readers) Doctor Who Adventures. The Doctor’s cartoon adventures have also been published as a range of graphic novels.

The Doctor’s history was also charted on the cinema screen in two films starring Peter Cushing as a human inventor called ‘Dr Who’ – Dr Who and the Daleks in 1965 and Daleks: Invasion Earth – 2150 A.D. in 1966.

In addition to his live action television portrayals of the Doctor, David Tennant also voiced the character in two original BBC animations made during the period of his incumbency – ‘The Infinite Quest’ (2007) and ‘Dreamland’ (2009). He also played the Doctor in a 2009 outing of The Sarah Jane Adventures; Matt Smith appeared as the Doctor in the same series in 2010. The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007–2011) is one of a number of spin-off television programmes to emerge from the Doctor Who franchise. These also include K9 and Company (1981), Torchwood (2006–2011) and K-9 (2009–2010).


VIII, 229
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (August)
Doctor Who television series, scientific rationalism moral idealism media and culture immortality, television television studies
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. VIII, 229 pp.

Biographical notes

Alec Charles (Author)

Alec Charles is Head of Media at the University of Chester and has previously taught at universities in Japan, Estonia, Cornwall and Luton. He has worked as a print journalist and has made documentaries for BBC Radio. He is the author of Interactivity: New Media, Politics and Society and Interactivity 2, co-editor of The End of Journalism, and editor of Media in the Enlarged Europe, Media/Democracy: A Comparative Study and The End of Journalism 2. He has written for journals such as Science Fiction Studies, Utopian Studies, Science Fiction Film and Television, Journal of Popular Television, British Politics and Journalism Education and has contributed to various books on cinema, television and social media. He serves as co-convenor of the Political Studies Association’s Media and Politics Group.


Title: Out of Time
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