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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 2 The Reality Bomb


← 20 | 21 → CHAPTER 2

Death may eventually be the only reality, but other, more or less mundane external realities intrude upon (and underpin) the pleasures of viewers of escapist fantasies in many different ways. In the weeks before the 2014 referendum on Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom, for example, fans of Doctor Who, while engaged in online dialogues within the phenomenally popular Gallifrey Base forum, debated such topics as whether the Scots Peter Capaldi’s contract would be dissolved (or his accent merely adjusted) if his homeland broke free of British rule, under such discussion threads as ‘if Scotland become independent does this mean 12 has to regenerate?’ and ‘would the Doctor be Scottish if there was a yes vote in the referendum?’

Around the same time, fans online also discussed the BBC’s decision to cut a decapitation scene from a 2014 Doctor Who episode following the murders of western hostages James Foley and Steven Sotloff by the so-called ‘Islamic State’ criminal terror organization. Some fans echoed the perspective that ‘the scene in question may be upsetting in light of recent events’ while others reflected the view that the cut was unnecessary insofar as ‘Doctor Who is hardly echoing the real world out there.’

When a number of Asian broadcasters chose to cut a lesbian kiss from another 2014 episode, the majority view among posters appeared to be that this move was ‘outrageous’ and ‘pandering to homophobia.’ Rather more controversy was sparked...

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