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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 3 The Show that Never Dies

Extract

← 52 | 53 → CHAPTER 3

Between 1963 and 1989, during the original run of what has become known as ‘classic’ Doctor Who, the Doctor regenerated six times, although only five of those regenerations were shown on screen. (In 1969, when Patrick Troughton left the series, the second Doctor’s spinning body was seen receding into a void, as he was banished by his own people to an exile on the planet Earth where he would assume a new face and identity so as to avoid recognition. At that point the BBC had not committed to renewing the series the following year.) During this twenty-six-year period, viewers were also treated to the sight of the on-screen regenerations of two other Time Lords – in 1974 and 1981. Eight regenerations, then, in 26 years.

By contrast the reimagined Doctor Who had in its first ten years (since its return in 2005) shown the Doctor regenerating on eight occasions: Paul McGann into John Hurt, John Hurt into Christopher Eccleston, Christopher Eccleston into David Tennant, David Tennant into David Tennant (indeed), David Tennant into Matt Smith, Matt Smith into a dead Matt Smith (an interrupted regeneration, shown twice) and Matt Smith into Peter Capaldi. In addition to those, audiences have seen the Master (the Doctor’s nemesis) regenerating, Jenny (the Doctor’s daughter) semi-regenerating, and River Song (the Doctor’s wife) regenerating twice. Regeneration is evidently a highly significant characteristic – indeed a defining feature – of the returned series.

In the original series, regenerations, happening...

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