Doctor Who is Not Science Fiction — It’s Something Much Older
Doctor Who is often called the “longest running science fiction show.”
And on the face of it, it certainly looks like science fiction. The Doctor runs around in a time machine, uses high tech tools and often fights against villains which use technology. True, it does have time travel and (sometimes more than others) psionics, but those are generally considered science fiction.
So, how can I possibly argue that it isn’t?
Why Doctor Who is Not Science Fiction
So, here’s my evidence against Doctor Who being science fiction:
- The science is almost never rigorous to any degree. There are a few exceptions (Logopolis did a good job with what was then known about the potential end of the universe). But then there’s an entire race of cyborgs somehow being “allergic” to gold. Whatever the heck was going on in Kill The Moon. Stellar engineering. The science in Doctor Who is, to be blunt, bad.
- The Doctor has the sonic screwdriver. Which does whatever the writers say it can. In other words, it’s a maguffin. It’s never properly explained and it has as much continuity as anything else in Doctor Who.
Ah, but it feels like science fiction.
No. It feels like it’s wearing a science fiction scarf. Doctor Who is not science fiction. Star Trek is science fiction.
Doctor Who is something else. So, what is Doctor Who, then? The technical genre term would be “science fantasy.”
But I’d argue that Doctor Who is something much older; and that explains it’s lasting appeal.
Doctor Who is a Fairy Tale
Whaat? You might ask that, especially if you aren’t a scholar of fairy tales. But let’s go through a few things:
- The Doctor is a shapeshifter.
- The Time Lords are mysterious, powerful, and have morality that is alien to us. Just like the Fair Folk.
- Those who travel with the Doctor often return to the exact moment they came from…years older. This is something which is often attributed to fairies, although the Doctor’s motivation for taking people with him is much more, shall we say, child friendly. Ahem.
- The enemies in Doctor Who are monsters. The show is about fighting monsters. Sometimes the monster is humanity. And yes, more than once, the Doctor is the monster. The monstrous, in all of its forms, is a key element of European fairy tales.
- River Song is a changeling.
The stories of Doctor Who, the feel of it, the wonder of it owe nothing to the golden age of science fiction (One can argue that the Doctor is a scientist-hero, but that’s an entire other article). They owe far more to the Brothers Grimm.
So, my conclusion…for years…is simple:
Doctor Who is a fairy tale wearing a science fiction scarf.
Yes, I will die on this hill.