Why Doctor Who Is A Pillar of Sci-Fi

TARDIS2Newcomers to science fiction will learn that the art doesn’t adhere to any one theme, but a multiplex universe of human concepts easily understood in the path of exploration. Too complicated? You’ll get used to that.

Science fiction just can’t survive without good dialogue. Conversation is the glue that keeps characters together. And any chat about quantum mechanics, clones, warp drive, interstellar travel, and robots requires a modicum of playful, witty banter to stomach all this complex gibberish. (What our Star Trek friends refer to as “techno-babble”.) Let me provide you with a random example.

Captain Quasar: “Hey, Bob, my forward navigational array is acting up again. Now I can’t tell if our ship is under attack by the Zargothians.”

Copilot Bob: “Did you adjust the optical filters to account for interstellar radiation?”

Quasar: “How should I know? I’ve been fidgeting with knobs and buttons on my console for the last hour.”

Bob: “Just hit it a few times, then.”

Since 1963, Doctor Who has wrangled the complexity of alien armadas, evil masterminds, and time machines with a simple formula. By habitually casting one Doctor and one Companion, a pair of adventurers can figure out time travel as casually as two cowboys talking about rattlesnakes. Often, this dynamic duo must occasionally figure out each other.

Martha Jones: I battle with textbooks.

The Tenth Doctor: I battle with monsters.

Martha Jones: I’ve tried to save money.

The Tenth Doctor: I’ve tried to save the universe.

Martha Jones: I’m going to be a doctor.

The Tenth Doctor: I am the Doctor.

Martha Jones: Well, let’s hope this box is big enough for the both of us.

On special occasions, the Doctor must spar with another Time Lord, and the brilliance of either character explodes like wildfire.

The Tenth Doctor: …The Master, He just showed up again, the same as ever

The Fifth Doctor: Oh no. Really? Does he still have that rubbish beard?

The Tenth Doctor: No, no beard this time. Well, a wife…

My particular favorite comes from Matt Smith’s Doctor, who refuses an unholy alliance with a monster that’s trying to take Renaissance Venice: “Madam, I’m a Time Lord. You’re a big fish. Think of the children.”

You need this sort of quirky banter. It’s the only way to keep us afloat on an infinite sea of story lines. And should the episode take a dip into the morose or morbid, there are ways to lighten the mood.

The Doctor: Sonic Blaster. 54th century. Weapons factory at Villengard?
Captain Jack: You’ve been to the factories?
The Doctor: Once.
Captain Jack: Well they’re gone now. Destroyed. Main reactor went critical. Vaporized the lot.
The Doctor: Like I said: once. There’s a banana grove there now. I like bananas. Bananas are good.

Before I get any comments from a diehard Red Dwarf enthusiast, we can also find plenty of good writing in other works. Star Trek has fired off some of the best lines (Q: “It’s hard to make friends when you’re omnipotent.”) and Firefly delivers a sort of casual chit-chat like a bunch of dudes on a deep-space road trip. Quips from Farscape‘s Ben Browder kept the show flying along—one needs them when working with puppets—while Richard Dean Anderson had a similar style after years of Stargate: SG-1. Yet it was Doctor Who that established some of this human speak after airing in 1963 (three years before Trek). After all, the discoveries of science fiction are really discoveries of human nature. The best stories to date are ones that explore relationships, conflict, personal and cultural evolution, religion, and other enlightened realms that ignite our intelligence, imagination, and inspiration.

I was over the moon after Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary episode, and I am thrilled to see what Peter Capaldi can do with a refurbished TARDIS and new sonic screwdriver. But a show is more than props and CGI. Let the characters unfold. Let their words place things in proper context. Let the story carry viewers as they have been carried us for ages and making us part of the adventure.

 

Photo: Wikipedia.org

Dialogue: IMDB.com, PlanetClaire.org

 

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