Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

What Makes Who Special

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LAST YEAR, THE BBC ran a competition to select the best on-screen boffin. More than 40,000 people voted but it was still a fix. The winners were Honeydew and Beaker from The Muppets. Doctor Who came a poor third (after Mr Spock) with only 13% of the vote. That can't be right.

Ever since, I've been regretting I did not vote for the Doctor. It was a principled abstention, on the grounds that the callow, Oxbridge Tristrams who run the BBC had not put Professor Bernard Quatermass on the shortlist. If you think the Daleks were bad, just wait till you see what Quatermass had to deal with in the Pit, back in the days when all television sets were monochrome.

Forget American puppets who need wires to make themselves animated. And definitely forget Spock, whose character is actually the epitome of an eastern seaboard, Ivy League intellectual of the Kennedy era, busy getting the Federation into some galactic Vietnam War.

Give me British sci-fi heroes every time - Dan Dare, Jeff Hawke, Jet Morgan, with the eponymous Doctor high on the list. Why? The answer gets to the heart of the enduring appeal of the Doctor (and of Quatermass, who is also about to be reincarnated, on BBC4).

To put it in a very highfalutin way, societies only prosper if they share common virtues. And, as the Greeks and Romans knew, the best societies are the ones with the highest virtues. But to truly understand and learn virtues you need mythic heroes (and heroines) who embody them - Hercules, Achilles, King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, Joan of Arc, Robin Hood.

Unfortunately, in a fit of modernisation a few hundred years ago, we abolished the Classical virtues and the heroes who embodied them. We are now a selfish "me" society and the empty plinths of former heroes are filled by cheesy celebrities with nothing to celebrate.

Yet there is a spiritual vacuum we all feel. Deep down, we really need heroes to look up to. Any child can tell you that. But proper heroes are not misogynist footballers or selfish pop stars. Heroes have virtues: honour, duty, wisdom, courage, justice and the cultivation of the arts and sciences. All the things the Beckhams can't spell.

When Doctor Who popped out of his TARDIS - I saw the first episode back in 1963 - we knew a proper hero had returned to us from Gallifrey. He was not the military wing of some vast Galactic empire but a lone individual lost in time and space, armed only with his own code of honour and justice. He was not an artificial Superman, leaping tall buildings, but someone we knew we could be if only we tried hard enough - after all, he liked jelly babies and wore a long scarf.

Like the ancient Greek heroes, Doctor Who was always at the mercy of the Gods and a wayward navigation device in the TARDIS. That's the whole point of heroes - they show you how to deal with an indifferent, even perverse, universe with wit, courage and a stiff upper lip.

There was indeed a definite alien quality about the Doctor: he was still archetypally British in an era when being British was an embarrassment. Pretending to be from Gallifrey and having two hearts was an elegant ruse. Audiences could indulge in following a great British hero without feeling the cringe factor.

The fascinating thing about British heroes is that they are quintessentially anti-establishment, like Doctor Who. They draw their courage from their own individuality. Nelson gleefully put the telescope to his blind eye. In similar circumstances Captain Kirk might defy Star Fleet Command, but he'd have a moral fit doing so.

Yet I worry about the new Doctor Who. In this era of I'm a Celebrity and Pop Idol, the temptation will be to dumb down the Doctor or eviscerate his character. The Americans did it in 1996, when the impostor Paul McGann pretended to be Doctor Who in the one-off TV movie. McGann used violence and fell in love with an Earth girl. This was Captain Kirk, not the true hero from Gallifrey.

This is how the BBC is billing the Who revival: "He's from an ancient alien civilisation, she's from SE15." Now SE15 is EastEnders territory. Do I detect a move to turn the TARDIS into the Big Brother House? Is it Doctor Who meets Victoria Beckham, falls in love and has children with strange, alien-sounding names?

God forbid. But if all else fails, there's still the cerebral Professor Quatermass to save us from ourselves.

  • George Kerevan's favourite Doctor Who is Tom Baker. His first cat, Henry, came from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop which devised the Doctor Who theme tune. George claims Henry had two hearts and took a strange interest in police boxes.

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to whovian@cuttingsarchive.org

  • APA 6th ed.: Kerevan, George (2005-03-19). What Makes Who Special. The Scotsman p. 6.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Kerevan, George. "What Makes Who Special." The Scotsman [add city] 2005-03-19, 6. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Kerevan, George. "What Makes Who Special." The Scotsman, edition, sec., 2005-03-19
  • Turabian: Kerevan, George. "What Makes Who Special." The Scotsman, 2005-03-19, section, 6 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=What Makes Who Special | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/What_Makes_Who_Special | work=The Scotsman | pages=6 | date=2005-03-19 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=1 December 2022 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=What Makes Who Special | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/What_Makes_Who_Special | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=1 December 2022}}</ref>