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mygif

It’s not pure reason, it’s “intellect AND romance”. That makes it a little more complicated than just brains over brawn- he wins because he’s clever but also because he’s a little bit magical.

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I really like the idea of the Doctor as reflective of Britian’s cultural character. It also makes desires for the Doctor to reincarnate as a woman, a Black person, an American, and so forth interesting in a new light: see, in the face of increasing globalization (and diversification in the UK), the Doctor is now an international phenomenon that transcends all the old boundaries of sci-fi.

Not saying I -like- the idea of the Doctor as something besides a pleasantly daft English gentleman, just that it might be an interesting commentary on the cultural stereotype (archetype?) if the Doctor became something completely different.

tl;dr: when nerds in the UK aren’t limited to English white boys anymore, why should the Doctor be? Why shouldn’t he?

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“tl;dr: when nerds in the UK aren’t limited to English white boys anymore, why should the Doctor be? Why shouldn’t he?”

The Doctor shouldn’t be a ‘nerd’ and to think he should (or worse, to think he should be some kind of geek-chic figure as Davies and Moffat both seem to) is to pretty much miss the point of the character.

Which is not to say that the Doctor couldn’t be non-white, non-English (though of course we had a Scottish Doctor in the late 80s) or whatever, just that the makeup of ‘nerds’ should have less than nothing to do with that decision.

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Surely all the powers listed here are *derived* from intellectualism, though? Even Venusian Akido? They’re things you have to learn, or develop, or something (like snapping your fingers to open the TARDIS–isn’t that something the Doctor simply programmed in?)

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I’m gonna second Evan. I always thought “romance over cynicism” was the insightful part of that quote, not “intellect over brute force”. He doesn’t necessarily win because he’s smarter-a lot of the Doctor’s enemies are dangerous because they’re as smart as he is, especially the Master. The Doctor wins because he’s an idealist, and that gives him strength.

It’s not directly related, but I’ve been noticing how, for a science fiction show, Doctor Who has a pretty negative view of science. I can’t think of an episode where an experiment or exploration didn’t somehow cross the boundaries into Things Man Was Not Meant To Know with catastrophic results, Mary Shelley style.

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The Doctor has to stay English because, and this is very important, he was created here. While there isn’t an in-canon reason that he can’t become a woman, or change his ethnicity as he regenerates, he has to stay ENGLISH. He is one of our greatest cultural icons – and our culture contains women and many different ethnicities. The appearance, gender and colour of skin can change absolutely, but the accent has to stay. Or to put it another way, Americans wouldn’t like it if the world decided that Superman should really be Chinese because as our best fictitious global saviour/messiah/totem of all the good potential we have he should represent as much of the human population as possible. I know I’m exaggerating the point, but still. American Dr. Who? He’d just be another space cowboy, with an interesting but cancelled tv show.

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I’m not sure I’d say that Doctor Who is just negative towards science, as science is usually the solution to the episode’s issue as well. It just uses science as a filter to tell the story. If anything, the show seems to be firmly aligned against pride and hubris, as these are often the reasons someone pushes science out of reasonable bounds and puts themselves and others in peril, and thus requires the Doctor to come in and save the day. More importantly, it’s not always a scientist who pushes the action in that direction. I think it would be fair to say that Doctor Who has an ambivalent take on technology and science, but usually it’s someone going “Eh, screw double checking things” or “It is our destiny to learn about this thing telling us to go away!” that causes the problem.

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Die Macher said on April 20th, 2011 at 2:52 pm

True enough. How many times have we seen “Mnyah ha ha, this evil device will doom everything!” only to have the Doctor zap it with a sonic screwdriver and turn it into a save-everything machine? The machine itself is a neutral party.

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Kid Kyoto said on April 20th, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Obiviously it’s silly to talk about what the Doctor symbolizes, while the BBC may be publically funded it’s still looking for ratings and not entirely disineterested in making money. So he symbolizes what’s best for the Dr Who brand from year to year, walking the line all franchises must of being familiar but not dull.

So that changes from stuffy authority figure to counter culture to geek cool are mre following trends than making them.

I’ve only seen season 1 and half of 2 (but working on it) so it’s a bit early for me to talk about what the show’s ethos is but I do note that 2 of his main foes are brains in robots bodies that either have no emotions but hate, or no emotions at all (Daleks and Cybermen). So I think Craig is right when he says its about intellect AND romance over brute force and cynism.

Ethos-wise it’s a lot like Star Trek which always held that with advancing science we would become better more moral people but also more emotional, more adventurous and not cold and robotic. It’s very much in keeping with classic science fiction themes.

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Yes, but I wouldn’t say that waving a sonic screwdriver and reversing the polarity is a scientific solution so much as it’s the Doctor using his trickster powers to steal the villain’s tools. The Doctor doesn’t build things on his own, he just repairs and/or subverts what’s already there. I think Tales to Enrage is onto something with the problem being hubris rather than science itself, though I’d argue that the two are strongly related in the show’s narrative.

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Oh, they’re definitely related, I think that’s true. And in that sense, it does have the influence of Frankenstein that you noted. But like Frankenstein, intent on an individual level matters more than the technology used. The Daleks are evil not because they have such advanced destructive technology, but because they’ve decided to exterminate anything non-Dalek. It’s the same with the Cybermen trying to convert everyone, or the Sontarans being willing to turn entire planets into troop generation stations-the hubris of thinking they can, and should, determine how others should live (or not live) is what the Doctor fights against. And that comes up in “The End of Time,” too. From what I understand of the old series (I haven’t watched any of it), the Doctor was at odds with most of the Time Lords, but only for being inactive and secluded. With the Time War, that changed to the Time Lords actually becoming like the Daleks, and thus changing from people the Doctor wanted doing more to improve the universe into people he was frightened of.

Even the Doctor isn’t immune to thinking he’s got a situation well in hand and suffering for it. His rules about not changing time are both to avoid profound chronological consequences, and to keep himself from thinking he can be above the lives of others and change things until they’re “right.” The Christmas Carol episode is a perfect example of that, in my opinion, though obviously on a very small scale.

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Fred Davis said on April 20th, 2011 at 3:51 pm

It’s a bit complex because you’re missing out one key element: Doctor Who is a sort of archetypal teacher figure – all of the Doctors fit neatly into the mold of the three main teacher archetypes; the formal and stuffy Professor who’s really a softy at heart (1, 3, 6, 7, 8), the informal and friendly “nice teacher” (2, 4*, 9, 11) and the PE Teacher (gym teacher) (5, 10).

Those in turn affect the behaviour of the doctors in response to the problem of the week, with the Professors being only really concerned with getting disruptions to his class (the antagonists) dealt with as quickly as possible, the PE teacher enjoys adding a bit of emotionally charged visceral and physical punishment to their reaction to antagonists and the Nice teacher tries to be fair and just and help the antagonist even as they’re being punished.

* 4 is a bit hard to really pigeonhole because it was Tom Baker, who was completely mad, working during the late 70s when everyone else at the Beeb was on drugs. He’s mostly Nice with a bit of the PE teacher and some tiny amount of Professor in there.

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Dilettante said on April 20th, 2011 at 4:24 pm

The ‘nerd’ obsession with ‘nerdiness’ is a bit misleading here, I fear.

The programme was originally designed to appeal to a family audience, not to a ‘nerd’ subgroup (which didn’t really exist in 1960s England anyway). There was even originally a fear that the science-fiction trappings of time & space travel would ghettoize the show (and waste licence payer money), fears that were allayed with the surprise early popularity of the Daleks.

It’s important to realize that the show was and is a good deal more mainstream in the UK than in the US (though the real anoraks and actual children are much more likely to go to actual conventions, of course). The Doctor is the hero of the show (though even that was unclear with Hartnell’s original vaguely menacing portrayal) and is an unusual hero. However, UK culture is more accepting of (apparently upper-class) eccentrics as heroes. Thus, the Doctor can be intellectual and eccentric and a scientist and a leader. US culture is more likely to have a hero/leader be more overtly muscled and strong (some exceptions, of course).

The idea that the Doctor appeals to nerds because he succeeds with his intellect seems wrong as well. To make an obvious point, nerds also embrace heroes like the Hulk or Wolverine who do not really represent the triumph of the mind. And plenty of non-nerds like the Doctor.

Finally, viewing the Doctor as representing Britain’s imperial decline is a red herring. Tom Baker is awfully imperious, but that hardly tracks Britain’s real standing in the 1970s. (And does Colin Baker represent an insane Britain in the mid 1980s?) That’s a case of viewing what you know: if you’re conscious of Britain largely in terms of the Empire and politics, then you naturally over-interpret everything British that way. There are plenty of interesting insights about colonialism in the series, BTW, but not from the good Doctor *personally symbolizing* declining Empire. The Doctor is really more interesting as a picture of British aspiration & ideology; as an idealistic cerebral eccentric dealing with a hostile but interesting universe.

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Dilettante said on April 20th, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Also, interesting that the Doctor is a rebel fleeing a powerful, controlling regime. He’s striking out from a cold, repressive society. That tracks very well with British ideas in the 1960s and 70s. That elements is almost completely absent from the new series, though. Is that because British society has grown beyond the need to strike against the chains of British repression? Or just a coincidence?

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I think the people saying Who is anti-science are overlooking the fairly frequent episodes where the Doctor comes across a seemingly supernatural threat and manages to identify it as something that can be explained, and then defeated, by science. Comic booky-pseudo-science, yes, but it’s still science in principle, in that it goes “let’s think about this, classify it, draw on our existing pool of knowledge, and find a solution”. If that’s not the triumph of the intellect, I don’t know what is.

“Science run amok” stories are basically neutral in this regard–it’s not anti-science to say that science can be abused or misused, especially when the problem is then solved using science as well.

And of course, when you’ve got the whole premise of the show relying on a piece of technology that lets you explore the universe and meddle in the space-time continuum, which your standard ancient Greek/Frankenstein morality would pretty unhesitatingly qualify as an act of horrendous hubris, but which the show consistently portrays as a very good thing, i think it’s safe to say that the show is extremely pro-science in spirit.

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Cookie McCool said on April 20th, 2011 at 6:19 pm

I’m not going to be very wordy, because I don’t see how can I shoehorn bears into a post about Doctor Who, but I just want to say that I always thought Colin Baker was unfairly maligned in his time.

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Cookie McCool said on April 20th, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Also, as an adult looking back at my childhood favorite (and everyone’s favorite, really) Tom Baker, I realize that he is in fact kind of a terrifying loony.

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That’s why I say the Doctor can fall victim to hubris as well, Prankster. He uses his transportation in a relatively benign manner (that “relatively” stretches quite a bit, though, depending on how you see the Doctor and his involvement in past events), in part because it could be so dangerous. Hell, the cliffhanger for Season 5 was a perfect example that as wonderful as the TARDIS can be, it could also be horrifying in the wrong hands. That was also the case with the Season 3 cliffhanger where the Master got his hands on it, but Season 5 was a more overt demonstration of the problem.

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LazyCustomizer said on April 20th, 2011 at 11:59 pm

One of the elements of the Classic series that I think has been absent from the New incarnation (and also a reason that I enjoy it less) is the sense that if the Doctor was involved, then justice would prevail. Not without some loss or sacrifice, perhaps, but the Doctor was always fighting for justice, which has a lot of nerd appeal (as in the idea that nerds’ tormentors will eventually repent and recogize the nerds value, or suffer for not doing so). This is a romantic notion, to be sure.
In New Who, however, I find that the Doctor is often put in a position where he has to fight for the least un-just outcome. It’s less satisying to me.
On a similar note, I’ve been extremely put off by how often the New Doctors have consigned beings to a state of living un-death. It’s kind of justifiable in the case of the Family of Blood, but he repeatedly did it to people who were his friends and allies (Captain Jack, the Girl in the Paving Stone, Astrid Peth, River Song and associates). He might have thought he was helping them, but it always struck me as ghoulish and cruel. And the Doctor is never cruel, according the Terrance Dicks. It smacks of cynicism.

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@ Cookie McCool: You are 100% correct. He was set up to be the fall guy for a BBC looking for any excuse to can the show. That’s why he was stuck with the crap costume.

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I frequently fantasize about doing a new Sapphire & Steel series that’s about the struggle between causative and correlative logic. Causative logic is what we think of AS logic, the logic of science and rationality. Correlative logic is the opposed system, the logic of magic and dreams. Acid logic.

Part of this fantasy is that they would make use of the Doctor in a crossover episode, because Gallifreyans are so immune to correlative logic, or magic, that they actually destroy it by looking at it.

“Tell me, Doctor, do you remember when you saw the dead rise up and walk, moved by spirits?”

“Oh yeah, that turned out to be aliens.”

“And that time you met a werewolf?”

“Alien, actually.”

“Those vampires in Venice?”

“Well, they called themselves vampires, but they were aliens really.”

“That time you ran into actual witches practicing actual magic?”

“Particularly funny aliens.”

“Doesn’t that strike you as odd?”

“Doesn’t what strike me as odd?”

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I think my friend defined the Doctor best as a Nyarlathotep who’s a good guy.

Into the lands of civilization came Nyarlathotep, swarthy, slender, and sinister, always buying strange instruments of glass and metal and combining them into instruments yet stranger. He spoke much of the sciences – of electricity and psychology – and gave exhibitions of power which sent his spectators away speechless, yet which swelled his fame to exceeding magnitude. Men advised one another to see Nyarlathotep, and shuddered. And where Nyarlathotep went, rest vanished; for the small hours were rent with the screams of a nightmare.

The Daleks however, are fucking boring. Especially in large numbers.

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itboxitboxitvox said on April 21st, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Every time the modern Doctor has gone myffic and been able to trap people in mirrors or whatever I die a little inside. One of the worst parts about Tennant’s reign was the “I saw the Time Child swallow the seven peladies, I saw the Shadow Proclamation dance in the moonlight sun at the fall of gommorrah! I! Am! The! Doctor!”

Fortunatley it’s been ditched – there was a scene cut from the pandorica opens where the alliance of the doctor’s enemies have him all chained up and are speaking about how he is immortal, a lonely god with powers beyond the ken of man (or dalek or sontaron whatever) and he rails at them “You idiots, is that what you think I am?”

Things like mind meld headbuts and respiratory bypass systems (and to be honest even regeneration) are arsepulls to get out of plot corners. These special powers the Doctor shows are rarely used more than once. The Doctor rarely uses the Tardis in stories – even to travel about – the core of the story is “bloke turns up in magic box, finds something is bad and uses his brain to fix it”. Anything else is not true to the spirit of the character.

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itboxitboxitvox said on April 21st, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Oh and the Doctor is never, ever in control. He’s faking it. He’s never really sure what’s going on when he turns up in place (and usually the audience is ahead of him) and works it out slowly whilst people drop likes flies around him.

Moffat gets this. Look at the first scene with grown up Amy in the opener to series five – he changes his story about fifteen times in five minutes as circumstances change. It’s why the Cosmic Puppetmaster of NAs was such bollocks.

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mygif

Isn’t the fact that the Doctor chooses to solve so many of his problems with intellect and cleveness as opposed to just using the power apparently at his disposal part of it, though? It’s a preference, a personal code of honor.

Remember, in Family of Blood, he wasn’t running for his own sake, he was HIDING for their sake, so that he might be able to spare them his wrath.

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itboxitboxitvox said on April 24th, 2011 at 6:21 am

Matt – A guy who could use his immense cosmic power to save the day in a twinkling of an eye but chooses not to because he feels like giving the genocidal monsters a sporting chance? That is the exact opposite of a character I want to watch.

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[...] is more of a thinker than a fighter, even if it doesn’t always follow up on that idea (here is an analysis of that). Despite being an alien and having lots of gadgets (and, at one point, [...]

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