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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 8 Lord of Time


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Thomas Aquinas (2006: 93) proposes that ‘we can only come to know eternity by way of time which is merely the numbering of before and after in change.’ However, he adds that ‘something lacking change and never varying its mode of existence will not display a before and after’ (2006: 93), and therefore argues that, as ‘eternity itself exists as an instantaneous whole lacking successiveness’ (2006: 93), it becomes apparent that ‘time and eternity clearly differ’ insofar as ‘eternity measures permanent existence and time measures change’ (Aquinas 2006: 98). Finite time, then, represents the human domain while ‘eternity and God are the same thing’ (Aquinas 2006: 95). Eternity has this much in common with resurrection – both remain the exclusive province of the divine: ‘resurrection, strictly speaking, is miraculous and not natural’ (Aquinas 1985: 939).

To what extent then is the repeatedly resurrected Lord who walks in eternity to be considered divine; and to what extent might the act of audience participation in his adventures approximate a mode of religious experience? Jameson (2007: 211) has suggested that our fantasies and science fictions represent ‘the projections of our own social moment and historical or subjective situation.’ If such texts offer us defining metaphors for our present histories and ways of life, then perhaps they serve functions similar to ancient epics and religious fables.

Doctor Who’s potential for religiosity is from time to time directly echoed in its iconography. The quasi-Christian image of...

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