The longest-running science-fiction television series in history, BBC’s Doctor Who has become a major cultural icon in the United Kingdom and is gaining popularity in America. Originally running from 1963 to 1989, an updated Doctor Who started in 2005. The fifth series aired in 2010 with a new head writer (Steven Moffat) and a new lead actor (Matt Smith).
Armed only with his wits and a sonic screwdriver, the Doctor travels through space and time fighting monsters and saving planets. Often the Doctor will bring a human companion with him to experience the wonders of the universe. The Doctor travels in the TARDIS, a blue police phone box that is bigger on the inside than the outside.
Doctor Who contains postmodern elements. Absurdity is the Doctor’s constant companion. He responds to danger and death with wacky and random humor. Characters often face absurd situations. Doctor Who also reflects a postmodern distrust of metanarratives. Any serious question about truth and the supernatural has no answers. When the Doctor discovers a beast that claims to be the Devil, the Doctor admits he doesn’t believe in it, but also that he hasn’t seen everything. He keeps traveling “to be proved wrong.”
Change is central to Doctor Who. Truth is relative, and so is time. The Doctor says time is actually “a great big ball of wibbley-wobbly, timey-wimey….stuff.” Thus, time can be rewritten and reality is in flux. Even the main character of the show changes. When the Doctor is near death, he can regenerate every cell in his body, changing his appearance, personality, and even his ethics. At first, this process smacks of reincarnation, but differs greatly: unlike reincarnation, regeneration is a natural process, not a spiritual journey, and the Doctor retains his memories and whatever makes him him. The current Doctor (played by Matt Smith) is the eleventh regeneration of the Doctor.
Like time and truth, Doctor Who’s worldview is also wibbley-wobbly. The show flits between elements of destiny and the hopelessness of a chaotic universe. The Doctor acts as a savior-figure, and the TARDIS and time are almost characters themselves. However, the Doctor can’t stop people from dying purposelessly, and he always ends up alone. Although Doctor Who alludes to Laws of Time and the possibility of destiny, the show stays atheistic. The Doctor, the last of a race called the Time Lords, comes the closest to a god-like figure. But the Doctor and the Time Lords are flawed and limited. Gaining true godhood is considered the ultimate danger. Death is final with no hope of a supernatural afterlife. Even so, psychic abilities, whether human or the Doctor’s, sometimes play important roles. One character helps save reality through the power of memory. Doctor Who does have a sense of hope: the Doctor almost always saves the day, and most episodes end happy or bittersweet. But hope seems based in chaos, not in a God or overriding purpose. “The universe is huge and ridiculous,” The Doctor says. “And sometimes miracles happen.”
The show’s worldview is hard to pin down because it changes with different writers. Still, Doctor Who worldview wobbles closest toward western spiritualism, and postmodernism clearly colors Doctor Who with its absurdity and reluctance toward metanarratives.