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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 11 The Uncanny

Extract

← 178 | 179 → CHAPTER 11

There is a moment at the end of the second episode of the 1967 Doctor Who story ‘The Moonbase’ in which the lead characters suddenly realize they are not alone. The scene has taken place in the sickbay area of a claustrophobic base on the Earth’s moon in the year 2070, one of a number of scenes which have occupied that space during the episode. These sickbay scenes have been low on excitement and high on exposition: the sickbay has represented a safe space for the characters to regroup, and for the Doctor to conduct his scientific experiments, to collect his thoughts and to pontificate to his companions. But in this final scene, as the episode draws to its close, the Doctor notices that there are one too many bodies in the sickbay beds; as his companions turn to look, they see a pair of silver boots sticking out from beneath one of the blankets. Suddenly the blanket is thrown aside and a Cyberman leaps to its feet.

What is so dramatically effective about this scenario is that the monster had been there all the time: there is a sense of the threat that had lain unseen within this protective space, of the danger that lies constantly beneath the surface of appearances – and therefore a sense that what appears safe and ordinary may always hold such terrors down deep.

Jon Pertwee, the actor who played the third incarnation of the...

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