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An Impossible Story

On one hand, with the premise “adventurer can travel anywhere in time and space, in stories that can be pretty much any genre or mashup of genres”, it makes sense to me that Doctor Who would be such an incredibly long-running, popular series. But…

…On the other hand, “mysterious, eccentric scientist known only as ‘the Doctor’, who looks human but is from a highly advanced alien race, except he dresses like someone from Earth’s history with a weird sense of style, weaponless and technically a pacifist, traveling in a time machine that looks like a 1960s British police box but is much larger and futuristic on the inside and has a name that’s an acronym that doesn’t even spell a real word *–oh, and it’s a show for children” has got to be the weirdest damn premise for a series that would go for 40-plus years. I can barely believe it got made in the first place. That’s not even counting later additions, like how when the actor that plays the main character leaves the show, the character changes into a new incarnation, new appearance, new personality, but remains the same character (imagine if George Clooney was leaving E.R., but they kept Dr. Doug Ross on the show, just played by a different actor, and that was acknowledged in fiction as “same guy, but different face and personality”) **, or giving him a weapon that’s not really a weapon, it’s not a gun or sword, it’s a high-tech tool that’s called a screwdriver but basically does whatever the story needs it to do.

It’s definitely one of the reasons why it’s my favorite TV show. You discover it, and everything you learn about it is “Wait, how is this a thing?” It’s such a great example of improvisation in writing–never say “no”, say “yes, and” or “yes, but.” Whatever daft idea you or whomever you’re collaborating with comes up with, don’t throw it out, see how you can weld it onto the fiction with a bit of jiggery-pokery. Embrace the impossible. Which is what Doctor Who is about anyway. That and, as Craig Ferguson put it, “the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism” (another reason why it’s my favorite show).

* I mean, they could have called the ship “the Zephyr” or even just “the Time Machine”, or made an acronym that spelled TIME or QUEST or something, but no, they went with “Time and Relative Dimension in Space, or TARDIS for short.” It amazes me that TV execs would say “A word salad name that abbreviates to a nonsense word? Sure, let’s go with that.”

** It’s a clever way to keep the show going with the same main character while allowing the lead actor to do the show for 2-7 years or so and then move on to something else. But it’s almost too clever for most television.


  1. `Lex Pendragon wrote:

    I love Doctor Who. I watched the leaked copy of Rose (2005), was so enraptured I way he’d it again, immediately, went to bed, woke up and watched it a third time, then got An Unearthly Child (1963) and watched that. One thing my wife and I bonded over was that after I suggested we watch it, she agreed. She wanted to watch *all* of it. (Took us seven years to catch back up to current.) The only reason one of my kids isn’t named after a character is that we didn’t have a female character we both loved who had an interesting name.

    Tuesday, August 28, 2018 at 6:53 pm | Permalink
  2. `Lex Pendragon wrote:

    *I watched it again…

    Tuesday, August 28, 2018 at 6:56 pm | Permalink
  3. josh wrote:

    Lex, I love that!

    Tuesday, August 28, 2018 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

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