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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 6 Time Can Be Rewritten


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‘I see into your soul, Doctor,’ says the Dalek into which the Doctor has travelled in ‘Into the Dalek’ (2014). ‘I see beauty. I see divinity. I see hatred.’

In 2008, Davros, the creator of the Daleks, had attempted to force the Doctor to face his own ‘anger, the fire, the rage of a Time Lord who butchered millions.’ Davros argued that the Doctor’s power had corrupted not only himself but also his companions: ‘You take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons […] How many have died in your name?’

For a man who decries violence, killing and the use of any kind of weaponry – for a man who can resurrect, perform miracles and turn back time – for a self-avowed healer – the Doctor is certainly surrounded by (and is indeed very often responsible for) a very great deal of death.

Though a television series intended primarily for younger and family audiences, Doctor Who is much concerned with acts of killing. The programme is at once repelled by such acts, and yet glorifies in often graphic depictions of killing. The series, for example, in the mid-1970s appeared to relish the possession, consumption and slow murder of living human flesh by parasitic larvae and parasitic plants; it established a trend in the mid-1980s for deaths to be accompanied by often copious quantities of regurgitated or postulating sea-green swarfega; and since 1988 the victims of a Dalek death...

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