Signs of The Times


Perhaps its odd that a time travel adventure series should generate so much discussion (on fan websites if not on this blog site) about the importance of reflecting the times we live in. It might be worth considering therefore how the very first story of the Classic series differed from the recent re-launched series.

As I?????ve mentioned before the very first Doctor Who story was An Unearthly Child which featured two ?????Coalhill’ secondary school teachers. These were science teacher Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and history teacher Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill). Their speculations regarding the mysterious pupil, Susan Foreman (Carol Ann Ford) lead them crashing into the TARDIS to become the Doctor?????s (William Hartnell ) first human companions. It is no accident that they were teachers of History and Science. ‘Doctor Who’ was intended to be educational as well as entertaining. Ian and Barbara were there as our interface to explore the Doctor?????s universe. Originally the proposed cast list was to be ?????Handsome Young Man Hero?????, ?????Handsome Well-Dressed Heroine????? and a more Mature Man, with ?????Character????? Twist?????. It was Sydney Newman, the BBC?????s then Head of Drama that decided that the line up should include a youngster. This was ostensibly to give the show?????s significant youth audience a focus, but it was also the sixties when young people?????s spending power was, for the first time, making a significant impact on fashion and music.

How did Ian and Barbara compare as companions against Rose? For a start we know very little about them. They are teachers and we know what and who they teach, but we know nothing of their family, hobbies or existing relationships. We know that they care for each other, especially after experiencing so many adventures together and depending on each other for their survival. That they have a relationship is implicit if not explicit, but what sort of relationship is it? It might be platonic or on the cusp of becoming romantic. In a sense the ?????never spoken of????? sexual tension (as it might be called today) predates that of Scully and Mulder?????s from the X-Files.

In the new series, we have Rose, a young woman who has few aspirations or expectations for her life, seemingly content with, or at least accepting of, her occupation of shop girl. The Sexual Tension is oozing out of the walls of the TARDIS like a bathroom mould. We know Rose was good at gym class, who her boyfriend is, who she fancies (in each particular episode), what sort of a relationship she has with her mother, a whole episode dedicated to what happened to her father. She is in fact the girl of the times we live in. Reality TV and soaps give the viewing audience an expectation of, and an appetite for, these (possibly irrelevant?) details because they seem to have become associated with drama.

The fact that the new Doctor Who series has been such a success reflects that it caters for TV publics tastes and habits in this way; to some extent at least. But it does leave me wondering if any drama with educational aspirations could ever be produced again?

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