Ed Webb and I were on National Public Radio on Sunday, April 3rd, talking about Doctor Who, the Daleks, and genocide. The show, Keepin’ the Faith, is hosted by University of Illinois emeritus professor of Religion, Steve Shoemaker, and since the program deals with issues of ethics and morality, he thought it might be a good venue for a discussion of our Doctor Who and Philosophy chapter, “Should the Daleks Be Exterminated?” Despite the gravity of the subject, we all had an excellent time and greatly appreciate Steve’s inviting us on the show, which is now available as a podcast:
An outstanding title for a remarkable show, and I’ve been watching quite a bit of it lately thanks to YouTube user, DFORCE1969. The show, which originally aired from 1970-1972 on BBC 1, was the brainchild of Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler, the creators of Doctor Who‘s Cybermen. The focus of Doomwatch is, essentially, mad science, and it chronicles the travails of a government scientific agency charged with monitoring potential scientific and technological threats to nature and society. These duties, in turn, make the team equally unpopular with the scientific community, big business, and the very government that is funding them, so that its scientists are perpetually threatened, both physically and existentially, from all sides. Socially conscious, bleak, paranoid, and perpetually ahead of its time, the show not only made an impact on contemporary British programs (Doctor Who, Survivors) but also influenced several later series (The X-Files, Fringe).
Though several episodes are online, I’ve found the audio and video to be out of sync in many. I would recommend starting with these:
There’s also an excellent documentary available.
On Nov. 23rd, 1963, the BBC aired the first episode of Doctor Who, “An Unearthly Child”, launching what has become the longest running science fiction show ever. Though there was a significant “hiatus” between 1989 and 2005, during which no new episodes were aired, the series continued with books, audiobooks, and a (to put it politely) disappointing Fox Movie of the week. Since Russell Davies brought it back to TV in 2005, it has once again become a worldwide ratings success, and today the show is celebrating its 45th anniversary.
Its success throughout the years can be largely attributed to the strength of the writing behind each episode. This is where, as Harlan Ellison correctly (and belligerently) states, it trumps the Star Wars films, which in all honesty, despite their brilliant special effects and pacing (both areas where Doctor Who often fell a bit short) suffer from sophomoric and slapdash plotting and dialog. The only science fiction series that really approached Who in the sophistication of its scripts was the contemporaneous Star Trek. But, because The Doctor’s adventures were regularly serialized in half-hour episodes over the course of 4-6 weeks, Who was often able to achieve greater depth than Trek, and over the course of 45 years, has become an incredibly dense text. As my friend Ed and I found while recently writing about the show, there are almost unlimited thematic threads that can be traced throughout the many years of episodes, and this has undoubtedly also contributed to the show’s success, that it has created a vaster universe than even Start Trek for its fans to explore.
Another thing that set Doctor Who apart from most science fiction fare was the show’s eccentric origins, and these are being celebrated by the BBC with the creation of the new Genesis of Doctor Who archive. For more history and episode details, the BBC’s New and Classic Doctor Who sites are a must, as well as the Doctor Who Wiki. Finally, for fan fiction, there is A Teaspoon and an Open Mind and The Doctor Who Project. The latter began as a very serious attempt to continue the series in the 90’s and contains fiction of a very high quality.
Here’s to another 45 years!
Imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever.”
In 1954, the BBC aired a teleplay of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four that has become legendary. Produced and directed by Rudolph Cartier and scripted by Nigel Kneale, it stars Peter Cushing as Winston Smith. By making the most out of stark studio sets, location shooting in still war-devastated London neighborhoods, and virtuoso performances from Cushing, Donald Pleasance, and Yvonne Mitchell, this adaptation succeeds at being both genuinely disturbing and deeply moving. This version is also striking for its frank treatment of sex, particularly the segment that takes place in Pornosec, and violence. You can download the show in its entirety by navigating to the host of the clip below.
The departments of philosophy at the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Tennessee, of all places, “are looking for scholarly philosophical essays written for a lay audience to be included in Doctor Who and Philosophy, to be published by Open Court Press.” There’s more info. available here.
Update: My friend, Ed Webb, and I wrote a chapter for the book, titled “Should the Daleks Be Exterminated?”, and the book is now available.
“They could not have been more offended, confused, enraged and startled. . . . There was a moment of stunned silence . . . and then an eruption of angry voices from all over the fifteen-hundred-person audience. The kids in their Luke Skywalker pajamas (cobbled up from older brother’s castoff karate gi) and the retarded adults spot-welded into their Darth Vader fright-masks howled with fury. But I stood my ground, there on the lecture platform of the World Science Fiction Convention, and I repeated the words that had sent them into animal hysterics:
‘Star Wars is adolescent nonsense; Close Encounters is obscurantist drivel; ‘Star Trek’ can turn your brains to purée of bat guano; and the greatest science fiction series of all time is ‘Doctor Who!’ And I’ll take you all on, one-by-one or in a bunch to back it up!'”
–Harlan Ellison 1979