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In praise of the doctor (1979)

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Ours is an age of nihilism and I supose it should come as no surprise that many television programmes reflect it day in, day sat. No more so than in the presentation of science. To find lope, a glimmer of a different kind of future one has to look :o children's television these days; more of that later.

The latest Quatermass epic ground to a rather silly halt just the other week. Its author Nigel Kneale has, until now, been one sf my particular favourites, despite his frequent personal pessimism. But really, the new Quatermass was a very old and sad mixture of doom and despondency, a kind of 20th century sigh Gothic.

When the superficial "threat" to the human role (what else, these days?) is stripped away it is not very much to do with alien forces gobbling up the young—who in Kneale's version of the near future turn out to be singularly unpleasant thuggees—more to do with the energy crisis. I wonder if Jimmy Carter has been watching it. The Planet People might easily be compared to the Ayatollah's Red Guards or whatever they call themselves this week. I especially did not like Bernard Quatermass telling me in Episode 4 that our evil might turn out to be someone else's good out there in the cosmos; but then, as you have noticed, I ant becoming old-fashioned about these matters.

For those of you who, like me, want good red meat and the confusion of the bad, it is the Doctor all the way. And, to my mind, Dr Who has taken on a new lease of life this season, a spurt not entirely due to Lalla Ward, the new Romana.

I began to sit up and take notice when our galactic goodies found themselves in Paris recently trying to ensure that the human race actually happened (you know, the usual simplistic plot to do with time vortexes, super-bad one-eyed monsters, and child's play physics). Zap—and there were John Cleese and Eleanor Bron pretending to be arty-crafty types looking at the Tardis which had lodged itself temporarily in an art salon. Their dialogue was priceless as the Doctor rushed by and disappeared into the machine, the whole lot then vanishing to its radiophonic burping. "Exquisite," breathed E. Bron, "somehow made more perfect by its very .. . absence." Since then, to my mind, the Wit has continued to improve.

Of course, it has not been a children's children's programme for years, although I grant that only an average child could keep up with the mind-bending technical backcloth. Sample: some time ago a girl of eight, I think It was, wrote to the Radio Times to ask innocently how it was that when the Doctor cloned himself his double appeared with all his clothes on.

The thrust of the series darts ever more at the biggest current problem of all. How do people communicate when faced with the monstrous reality confronting them: bureaucracy, energy crises, nuclear war, pollution, over-population. One of the very best recent stories dealt with a planet which had been fighting a nuclear war for centuries, military personnel mindlessly repeating the same orders. It was normality—like the arms race, or the threat, just recently brought home, of a machine starting the whole damn thing. And the last story, the Creature From the Pit, was much concerned with being afraid to find out what something is, to reach out and touch the unthinkable. The Doctor talks to the Creature, some poor misguided delinquent blob shut up In the dark by a wicked woman, a blob crying out for the touch of understanding.

Nothing could be further from Quatermass and. to take an earlier version of the saga, his creature from the pit, who turns out to have been the Devil Incarnate. As in this last series what we are enjoined to do is to hit back—sting it, kill it, it cannot comprehend you, goes a familiar plot line. Meanwhile, out there on another planet fears are allayed, ghosts exorcised and, most significantly of all, generally without any violence.

Every universe has to have its bestiary: for Dr Who it has been the Daleks. Even there we learn that they were once human, only they, like humans all too often do, wanted to reach for immortallity. The Doctor stays aloof, an alien who is fond of human frailty—and in his travels much upon because of it.

But the series, going back 16 years now, has been coherent in its desire to see order—in time itself—an essentially Taoist vision between black and white, maybe between matter and anti-matter. There is a profound difference between the struggles engaged by this vision with its emphasis on the futility of violence. its recognition of humour, realised love, and the need for all kinds of aberrant life to communicate. and the black miserable existence shown in Quatermass with its final farcical ending of children in meadows.

Dr Who has had the benefit of a number of writers in its time, each of whom brings a part of the total picture. It has also had, in Tom Baker. a remarkably good character portrayal, a believably eccentric wanderer as ultimately unsure of his reason for being as the rest of us. In one respect Dr Who is the archetypical hitchhiker of the galaxy; in his liberation from earthly constraint may we continue to find a space for ours.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Robinson, Tim (1979-11-29). In praise of the doctor. New Scientist p. 715.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Robinson, Tim. "In praise of the doctor." New Scientist [add city] 1979-11-29, 715. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Robinson, Tim. "In praise of the doctor." New Scientist, edition, sec., 1979-11-29
  • Turabian: Robinson, Tim. "In praise of the doctor." New Scientist, 1979-11-29, section, 715 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=In praise of the doctor | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/In_praise_of_the_doctor | work=New Scientist | pages=715 | date=1979-11-29 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=17 June 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=In praise of the doctor | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/In_praise_of_the_doctor | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=17 June 2019}}</ref>