21st Century Who

Spoilers for Doctor Who: Fugitive of the Judoon

Doctor Who, the BBC show that first aired in 1963, defines its own genre rather than fitting into a pre-existing category. It’s not purely science fiction, fantasy, historical, or mystery, though a given episode might have elements from one or more of those genres. Mostly, it’s just … Doctor Who. Which is fine, and we love it for being itself.

Yet as much as I love Doctor Who, there are things that gnaw away at me. Particularly the limited technology the Doctor has at their fingertips. Technology that’s not too far beyond what came with the show in 1963. Let’s assume that the following are canonical facts and go from there.

  1. Gallifrey is among the most ancient, the most advanced planets in the universe (when it isn’t busy being destroyed).
  2. From “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”, we know that the Doctor’s ship can manufacture pretty much anything. Plus, given (1) it stands to reason that this would be the case.
  3. The TARDIS is not only intelligent, we know from various episodes, particularly “The Doctor’s Wife”, that it is sentient.

Given all this, I think it’s fair to ask why the Doctor doesn’t make use of, say, drones. Weren’t they invented on Gallifrey? Suppose we materialize on a planet whose identity, time-period, and politics is unknown. What would you do? Stroll merrily out the door, or perhaps deploy some insect-sized drones to scout out the vicinity and get the lay of the land? I know what I would do.

For another thing, why, oh why, can the Doctor not radio the TARDIS to come fetch them? How many times have we seen the TARDIS materialize, the Doctor & companions go wandering out, only to find that some insurmountable obstacle has separated them from their ticket to ride. If not radio, pick a Time Lordy technology that, say, channels thought waves through the Vortex or some such thing.

Here’s another scenario. Let’s say the Doctor and their companions have run into trouble of the deadly sort. They’re captured and scheduled for execution. Why can’t the Doctor ask the TARDIS to manufacture a platoon of robots to free them? They wouldn’t be allowed to kill anyone, of course. After springing our heroes, the robots would dutifully march back to the TARDIS where they would be disassembled and reabsorbed into the manufacturing apparatus.

Did you notice, in Fugitive of the Judoon, that the Ruth Doctor transmats back into her buried TARDIS? A very useful feature, and it certainly saved a lot of digging. Has a post-Hartnell Doctor ever done that? And by done that, I mean use their own transmat, not something conveniently available on a planet, or a companion’s vortex manipulator.

The Doctor has to push a lot of buttons and pull a lot of levers on the TARDIS console to make anything happen. Wouldn’t a voice interface be simpler? “Hey TARDIS, take me to London, England on November 23, 1963.” They could give the TARDIS voice interface a different personality with every control room revamp. I’d love it to have some snark, and make cutting comments when the Doctor is about to do something dangerous or just silly. In fact, why not give it holographic form and have an actor play the holographic interface. They’ve already done this in the episode, “Hide.” (In that case, the interface took the form of Clara.) They could literally make the TARDIS a character in the show.

The one bit of technology that the Doctor does employ regularly is the fabled sonic screwdriver, which, let’s be honest, bears more resemblance to a magic wand than a technologically advanced device. After all, it can do everything from picking locks, to reprogramming computers, to dropping forcefields. Mind you, to be fair, Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote may be applicable here: “Any sufficiently advance technology is indistinguishable from magic.” But this begs the question, why the screwdriver and nothing else?

If Doctor Who were to bring truly advanced technology to bear, would that damage the kind of stories it could tell? I don’t think so. I think it would open the door to some very interesting story possibilities. Besides, the best stories have always been about how people are affected by their encounters with the Doctor.

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