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Out of Time

The Deaths and Resurrections of Doctor Who

Alec Charles

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.
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Chapter 1 Genre Trouble


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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...

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