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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 9 Coping Strategies


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The process of regeneration lies somewhere between the emergence of something innate and a projection through the extant subject of radical difference: somewhere between a rebirth and a posthumous usurpation. A similar ambiguity may be discovered in tales of other revenants – be they vampires, zombies or those more miraculously returned from beyond the grave – an uncertainty as to whether they are the original surviving subject or a body-snatching impostor.

Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula is clear that its undead are demonic usurpers, and that their annihilation therefore represents a heavenly release for those souls they have displaced. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003), however, counters the notion that ‘a vampire’s personality has nothing to do with the person it was.’ Buffy follows the line taken by such modern vampire tales as Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, L.J. Smith’s Vampire Diaries and Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries – tales whose romanticization of the vampire as a watered-down Byronic hero portrays the revenant as an ensouled perpetuation of its original subject.

Zombie narratives have also explored the idea that the original human subject continues to exist within the monstrous revenant. In The Walking Dead (2010-) David Morrissey’s conflicted villain is motivated by ambition to restore the human subjectivity of his zombified daughter. Other more sympathetic figures in the series are also shown to permit the survival of zombies in the vain hope of their restoration.


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