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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 12 Everybody Lives


← 196 | 197 → CHAPTER 12

Everybody lives: because just this once, once in a while, everybody does – or dies. Which comes to the same thing anyway. Because, like Groucho Marx, we are all going to live forever, or die trying.

We are each of us immortal in our imaginations, because to face up to the absolute truth of death would drive us insane. We are each of us mortal in our minds, because the inevitability of a restless eternity would make us mad. We can only survive, psychically, by holding both possibilities in an indefinitely deferred suspension. The myth of resurrection allows us, quite literally, the best of both worlds.

When in 1991 Damien Hirst pickled a shark in a tank of formaldehyde, he entitled this vision of a deathly, deadly juggernaut, dead and death incarnate, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. The image of Hirst’s shark adorned the cover of the first paperback edition of Will Self’s novel How the Dead Live – a parable whose appalling conceit is that the dead do not die but merely relocate to a suburb of north London called Dulston. The absolute finality of oblivion is bad enough; but the mundane continuation of physical existence after death is even worse. The myth of miraculous resurrection allows us indefinitely to defer both desperate possibilities.

Another tale of the London dead, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol defers Scrooge’s death by rewriting time: Scrooge will...

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