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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 10 A Very Naughty Boy


← 166 | 167 → CHAPTER 10

‘If I change the events that brought you here,’ Peter Capaldi’s Doctor explains in 2014, ‘you will never come here and ask me to change those events.’ This, he says, is why, this time, time cannot be written. It would cause the disintegration of the timeline in what he calls a paradox loop.

When in Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future (1985) Michael J. Fox managed at once to maintain his parents’ timeline, to improve their future lives and to sidestep his future mother’s flirtations, he was enacting an incongruously Oedipal version of the grandfather paradox: the problem of what happens to history if you return in time to prevent your ancestors from engendering your family line (Schachner 1933).

One solution to the grandfather paradox is the opening up of a multiverse of alternative timelines, thus allowing for the possibility that the past may be fluid, a choice of divergences into many worlds (cf. Hawking 1988). Changing history is possible, in fiction at least, but can have disastrous consequences: the hero of Stephen Fry’s novel Making History, for one, prevents the birth of Adolf Hitler, and thereby inadvertently establishes a timeline in which Nazism eventually triumphs in its ambitions of global domination precisely because it was not led by a mustachioed megalomaniac. In Richard Curtis’s 2013 film About Time, although time travel can have its romantic uses, there are certain parameters that should not be breached; in a classic...

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