Last of the Time Lords

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Culture, Politics, Visual

About a week ago, after watching the second part of a three part finale to the third season of Doctor Who, I got to thinking about the show. For awhile, meaning for most of the first season and about half of season 2, I was a big fan of Battlestar Galactica. My feelings on the series soured after a particularly bad second half of season 2, and a generally pretty mediocre season 3, with a spectacularly bad season 3 finale.

Some spoilers behind the cut.

Battlestar Galactica had/has a lot of problems, perhaps the most prominent of which was the third season’s weak attempt at making the show “relevant” by having the humans [for no particularly explicable reason] have their settlement occupied by the Cylons. Overall there is a lot more to it, meaning weak writing, lack of continuity, out-of-left-field revelations, and so on, but a lot of problems can be seen as stemming from the hoops the shows writers went through in order to set up situations for political commentary. Even though Battlestar Galactica definitely was the best sci-fi show in recent memory during its first season, the show lost its direction and floundered and is only a shadow of what it could’ve been.

So after watching this particular episode of Doctor Who, I am pretty confident in saying that it’s definitely one of the best sci-fi shows on right now. I’m not sure if it beats out Heroes, but it’s got much more sci-fi chops, for sure, and its mixture of camp, humor, and seriousness works out surprisingly well. Further, the storytelling is usually pretty solid — There’s a definite episodic structure, but it also develops relationships and meta-plots over the course of each season (or many seasons). There have been a couple of incidents in season 3, that I’ve noticed directly relate to events in season 1. Usually this would be reversed, but it is a show about time-travel, after all.

I never followed the original series when it was showing, but I’ve been informed that the new series actually mentains continuity with the old series. This makes it even more appealing, as we’re talking about a character with substantial history. In fact, one of the key points for the new series is how The Doctor is the last of the Time Lords. There are allusions and discussions all the time to how The Doctor was responsible for ending the war between the Dalek empire and that of the Time Lords, by means unknown. All that we know is that both of these great civilizations were destroyed and only The Doctor escaped.

I looked back to Battlestar Galactica and it’s contrived plots intended as political commentary, and then began to think about The Doctor’s history. We have this history drawn from [as far as I know] the 80’s run of the show of The Doctor being the sole survivor of the fall of two empires, and it’s hard not to see that as at least an unintentional zeitgeist-inspired reference to the cold war. And from there, we can look at The Doctor as this sort of post-Cold War hero.

With the continuation of series in its new incarnation, we can actually see some other interesting parallels. In the first season of the new series, the recurring villains are the Daleks. If we’re to continue the analogy from the previous incarnation of the series, the Daleks might be an allusion to Communism. However, I don’t think this is a particularly valid analogy at the level the Daleks function in the new series. Daleks are no longer a massive civilization engaging in a universe-ravaging Time War, but are instead stragglers, groups or individuals that managed to survive against all odds. And, although the Dalek imperative has always been to “Exterminate,” without the promise of a Dalek civilization flourishing in the vacuum of their exterminated rivals this imperative takes on a more nihilistic tone. Even though there may only be one Dalek left, he will fanatically seek out and exterminate what he sees as impure, the non-Dalek. Further, the Daleks we have seen thus far (the Emperor Dalek, the Cult of Skaro) have all had a religious dimension to their madness, something we’re led to believe is highly atypical of Daleks.

The new recurring villains introduced in season 2 are the Cybermen. As a representation of “Communism” in the new series, the Cybermen are much more fitting. Their methods, at least as shown in the new series, revolve around attempting to convert all non-Cybermen into Cybermen through a gruesome process involving brain transplantation into an artificial shell that supresses emotion and individuality. Those who resist are “deleted.” I don’t know whether the Cybermen were destroyed during the original series, but I can assume this is the case since they were introduced in the new series as from an alternate dimension. If we’re to continue the analogy, then, one may not see Cybermen as “Communism” but rather an offshoot “alternate dimension” version…

If we take these together, The Doctor actually appears to be quite the “WW4” hero, opposing, amidst various sporadic threats, two of the more persistent, virulent and insidious ones of our time, that of fascist religious fanaticism such as Islamism, or imperialistic homogenizing meta-beliefs of Political Correctness.

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