Is The Character of Doctor Who a Living Thing?

From the Daily Grail:


Higgs later looks at Doctor Who through the framework of Moore’s Ideaspace, and it’s a wonderful little insight into the self-regenerating (pardon the pun) nature of the famous Timelord character:

Once it was off the air Doctor Who continued as a series of novels, and many of the people who wrote Doctor Who fiction in this period – Russell T. Davies, Mark Gattis, Paul Cornell and Steven Moffat to name a few – were responsible for resurrecting Doctor Who in 2005. Indeed a number of these people, and many British writers of their generation, have gone on record as saying that they only became writers in the first place because of Doctor Who.

When Russell T. Davies brought the series back to television he reinvigorated the character by using the narrative device of surviving a great ‘Time War’. The ‘Time War’ idea originally came from Alan Moore, who wrote a number of Doctor Who comic scripts in 1981 about a ‘4D War’ which had two time-travelling armies attacking each other at increasingly earlier points in time so that neither side had any idea about what the war was about, or who started it.

…The Doctor is the first British folk hero of the TV age, and the nature of his TV origins make him unusual. There is no definitive creator standing behind him, no Arthur Conan Doyle, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ian Fleming or J.K. Rowling. Instead, he popped out from the space between many minds. There was a succession of different actors, writers and producers who all invigorated the character for a short while before moving on or burning out. The character is defined by his ability to regenerate and change his personality. He can change all his friends and companions. He can go anywhere, at any time. He is, essentially, the perfect never-ending story. He will survive long after you, me or anyone currently involved in making the series has died. He adapts, grows, mutates and endures. In this he fulfils much of the standard definitions for a living thing. This is not bad going, for a fiction.

Already, there are many thousands of Doctor Who stories which, for a character of fiction, is almost unheard of. There have been hundreds of stories on TV, and there are countless more available as novels, audio CDs, comic books, films, stage plays, webcasts, fanfics and radio programmes. The growth of the story, compared to any other fiction from the same period, is deeply unusual. Indeed, it has become arguably the most expansive and complex non-religious fiction ever created.

According to Moore’s model of Ideaspace, this fiction may be complicated enough to act like a living thing. Note that this is not to say that Doctor Who is a living thing, for that would sound crazy It is to say that it behaves as if it were a living thing, which is a much more reasonable observation. Of course, if you then go on to try and define the difference between something that is living and something that behaves like it is living, you will be a brave soul indeed.

When the current Doctor Who writers claim that they only became writers because of Doctor Who, they usually credit the series of novels which [David] Whitaker started and which young boys devoured during the 1970s. There is another explanation, however, which comes from the very format of the programme. In the original series, episodes built towards a climax and ended on a cliff hanger in which the Doctor or his friends appeared to be in inescapable danger. Of course, the children watching knew that the Doctor would somehow survive. He always did. The question, then was not would he escape, but how? What could possibly happen to get the Doctor out of that situation? There would be much debate about this in school playgrounds after each episode. And as the kids thought about the problem, their imaginations were being stoked. They were thinking like writers. Indeed, they were trying to write the next episode themselves.

What we have here, then, is a character of fiction, neither created or ‘owned’ by any one imagination, who is actively creating the very environment – writer’s minds – that it needs to survive into the future. Not only is Doctor Who a fictitious character that acts like a living thing by constantly evolving and surviving, it is also a self-sustaining living thing that creates the one thing that it needs to survive. From an evolutionary point of view, that’s impressive.

I’ve skipped over a number of other fascinating elements of Higgs’ discussion of Doctor Who, such as the influence of alchemical thinking on David Whitaker’s creative output. And the Doctor Who segment is just one small part of what is a brilliant book that touches on everything from JFK assassination conspiracy theories through to the fascinating philosophical theories of Alan Moore and Robert Anton Wilson. All of this is framed in terms of the careers of Drummond and Cauty, the two halves that make up The KLF, and the strange scenarios and synchronicities that seem to have charged the duo with some sort of magical power. And ultimately, it’s about exploring the motivations, or influences, that led to their most infamous and debated act – taking the profits of their music career, a million British pounds, and burning it in the fireplace of a deserted boathouse on the Island of Jura in the middle of the night (see the video below for an interview with Cauty and Drummond discussing it). Higgs hits the nail on the head when he explains why most people find the burning of the million quid so disturbing – unlike someone spending millions on goods or services, “this wasn’t money being wasted; it was money being negated.”

The article’s description of the “character” of Doctor Who imitating the very nature of a living thing and I found that impressive.

But one must ask the question “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, is it a duck?”

The Regeneration of Doctor Who

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