The Null Device

Doctor Who vs. American scifi

An American scifi fan writes an appreciation of Doctor Who, and its difference from American television/film scifi:
Before you brand me a Benedork Arnold, let me explain: There’s a fix I just don’t get from mainstream American science fiction, perhaps because of its grinding obsession with the imperialistic (and its depressive sibling, the dystopic), not to mention its wearisome push for ever-shinier effects. Like its not-so-distant cousin American religion, American sci-fi is fixated on final battles, ultimate judgment (particularly on questions of control and leadership), and an up-or-down vote on the whole good/evil issue. Even the most morally restless imaginings — the Losts and Battlestars — eventually prolapse into Bruckheimer-esque excerpts from the Book of Revelation. As an antidote, I turn to the Doctor — a fussy 900-year-old neurotic who’s part Ancient Mariner, part Oxford don, with a whimsical fashion sense, a close acquaintance with defeat and futility, and a tendency to rattle on. He subscribes to no Force-like creed. No enlightened military Federation stands behind him, photon torpedoes at the ready — indeed, his race, the Time Lords, is more or less extinct. His signature gizmo isn’t a blaster or a phaser but a souped-up screwdriver. His Millennium Falcon? The Tardis, which looks to the unschooled like an old telephone booth. It’s actually a police call box, a relic from the ’50s, and the ship’s most spectacular feature isn’t artillery; it’s feng shui: It’s bigger on the inside.The Doctor is courageous and heroic, sure, but in the Mèdecins Sans Frontiéres vein. Oh so Euro!
The thesis that American scifi is, at worst, shaped by imperial bombast and triumphalism, and at best saddled with the weight of manifest destiny, whereas British scifi is shaped by the pathos of faded glory and the possibilities opened by not having a heroic destiny, and is so much richer for it, echoes a Charlie Stross piece on the state of sci-fi literature, from April 2005 (previously blogged here).

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