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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 5 One Being’s Utopia


← 88 | 89 → CHAPTER 5

Former Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies’s Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood: Miracle Day (2011) explores the scenario of what would happen in a world in which nobody could die. Suddenly, one day, all across the planet Earth, nobody dies: nobody, however severe their ailments or injuries, is able to die, not even a burnt, flayed, disembowelled, decapitated corpse on an autopsy table.

The programme focuses upon what happens to a world in which the dead will not die, a world with declining resources, increasing needs and a growing section of the population whose uncannily otherly presence calls into question the existential integrity of the majority. It witnesses an escalating process of denigration, discrimination, disempowerment, disenfranchisement, segregation and extermination. In 1922, F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu had offered the condition of the undead as a metaphor for the situation of minority ethnicity (specifically Jewishness) within an increasingly paranoid and discriminatory culture. Miracle Day similarly sees the fate of the not-dead as analogous with the special treatment accorded to European Jewry during the first half of the twentieth century.

When the dying stop dying, the first wave of anti-dead prejudice is spearheaded by the leader of the newly formed ‘Dead is Dead’ campaign, one Ellis Hartley Monroe, a Sarah Palin wannabe described in Miracle Day as ‘the darling of the Tea Party.’ Monroe’s call to remove all rights from the not-dead echoes not only the opening tactics of the Nazi Holocaust (because to divest...

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