Saturday, September 11, 2010

What's Up, Doctor?

Sometimes I’m what I call a “peripheral fan.” That means that I generally appreciate something, but I am not ga-ga for it, nor do I seek it out regularly. But I know enough to get by and will gladly watch (or read or whatever the case may be) that ‘something’ every so often.

Well, one thing I am a peripheral fan of is Doctor Who.

I just wanted to say that I think Doctor Who is pretty damn ingenious. if you’re not aware of him, you’ve been in a virtual closet. He’s been around since 1963. At any rate, here’s a good description, as per how it appears on Wikipedia:

Doctor Who is a British science fiction television programme produced by the BBC. The programme depicts the adventures of a mysterious and eccentric humanoid alien known as the Doctor who travels through time and space in his spacecraft, the TARDIS (an acronym for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space), which normally appears from the exterior to be a blue 1950s British police box. With his companions, he explores time and space, faces a variety of foes, saves civilizations, defeats alien, human and technological enemies of sorts, helping others and righting wrongs, as well as improving the way people, aliens and robots choose to live their lives.

What I really like about this show is the built-in aspects that allow for ease of production. One could argue that they’re cop-outs, I suppose, but when it’s woven into the fabric of story with such wonderful coloration, it’s hard to easily dismiss it as anything but adding to the overall fun.

Not mentioned in that summary is that the Doctor has died many times. But you see, he’s actually a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. Gallifreyans will “regenerate,” and can do so 12 times, for a total of 13 incarnations. What fun! But what that means in practical terms is that 13 different actors can play him over the course of, er, time. Not only is that cooler/fairer to actors, but it also, of course, enables the story/character to go on for many years. (But not forever... they’re on the 11th Doctor now!)

Another deliciously conspicuous “cop-out” is the TARDIS itself. It’s supposed to have a “cloaking device,” by which it seamlessly blends into its surroundings so as not to disrupt space-time (or expose the Doctor.) Well, we only see it as a 1950s-style British police box. The reason? It has a malfunction of its Chameleon Circuit and is thus stuck in that shape. Not only is this convenient for filming and budgetary concerns, it present quite a “joke.” It’s rather funny on its own, but to have it negating one of the very technological wonders of the Doctor’s device... that’s especially humorous.  [Note:  My friend Nightfogger who is a devoted fan of the Doctor who read this post before it went up informs me:  "We do get to see the TARDIS as other things a few times (a harpsichord, a stone pillar) but it always ends up back as the police box."]  See, I'm just peripheral.  :)
And since he can travel in time, well, that allows for any number of scenarios. One of my personal favorites is when the TARDIS lands on the deck of a ship at sea. It frightens the hell out of the crew and passengers and they all jump overboard, thus instantly and forever abandoning their vessel. The Doctor looks over and sees the name of the ship: Mary Celeste. He comments on that mystery being solved. (Click the ship name if you aren’t aware of it.) But how great is it to not be limited to a particular time or place?  From one episode to the next you can be in the future or the roaring 20’s.

So there you have it. Wacky “devices” nicely tucked into a witty, sometimes funny and always poignant storyline. No wonder it’s the longest-running science fiction television show in the world as well as the most successful science fiction series of all time.

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