It is interesting how much our cultural environment shapes our popular entertainment. Even more how just a decade or two can twist a single character.
I was watching Dr. Who this morning, unfortunately the recent series, not the original one, specifically the series with David Tenant, when I was struck by how much our era has changed the character. In the episode I was watching, in which the Doctor faces off against Davros in one of the series finales, Davros mentioned that the Doctor abhorred violence, never even carrying a gun. To which I had to say "What?"
The Doctor in the original series was something of a nonviolent individual, but hardly the pacifist he has become. I am not expert enough in the first two actors to play him -- William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton -- to say much one way or the other, but John Pertwee was quite a proficient sword fighter, who also had no objection to picking up a gun and using it when it was needed. He might not have gone about armed, but he was no pacifist. And, if at times he chided the reaction of humanity to other species, it was less out of pacifism than out of his concern for the shortsightedness of mankind. Tom Baker, who came next, was a bit more pacifist, but still not adverse to violence when needed. He did say he didn't carry a gun, but his reason was, when you did others tended to point them at you. He also tried to keep Leela from killing people, but at times, such as when she killed a man stalking them in "The Talons of Wen Chiang", he accepted it as necessary. Now, Peter Davison was much more pacifist (and preachy), but I always viewed him as the odd man out in the series, more akin to the modern series than the original. (Though his preachiness was mild compared to the modern version, though overwhelming -- at least to me -- at the time.) And, even Davison was not a complete pacifist. The next two doctors, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, were far from pacifist. They still didn't go about armed, but they were capable of violent action when needed.
I know, this is of little interest to most of my readers, but it is somewhat relevant. You see, the character of the Doctor has been pretty well established. From 1964 until 1989, he was drawn --and redrawn, I admit -- many times, but his basic character was pretty well established. He was a moral man, concerned with the ethical problems involved in, say, exterminating an entire species, even if it was a violent one. He also had a strange, non-human perspective on things, which made sense as he was not human. And he was more prone to try to talk through problems than fight. But he was no pacifist, and certain was not the media hound, fame seeking space Jesus that the new series made of him. (Though a disturbing first step in that direction came in the bizarre movie Fox made in 1996, though some fans have tried to excuse the strange changes Fox made to the character. But I think they are more concerned with saving a character who was redeemed through novelizations and radio plays rather than excusing the dreadful "eighth doctor" movie.)
What is of interest is what the changes say about our culture. (Though it is a British series, the two cultures are similar enough, especially in their entertainment media, I feel comfortable using British media to examine Western culture in general And American culture in particular, especially given the appeal the series has in the US.)
First, there is the change I discussed before in "Musings About A Television Series
", "More Off Topic Musings
" and "A Final Digression On the New Dr. Who
", taking a character who was a relatively unknown wanderer, who went from world to world, time to time, helping people, but almost never recognized beyond a handful of individual, and turning him into a superstar, known to the masses, gathering strength from broad popular support. (The Doctor was known on a few worlds in the original series, but he never had the sort of self-congratulatory praise that appeared in several of the recent episodes.)
Second, there is the focus on pacifism, as well as other issues, such as homosexuality. Now, I grant the second was likely due to the series head, and even modern fans think it got a bit tiresome, but the pacifism is interesting, as it shows how moderns could misinterpret past episodes, ignoring contradictions, and imagining the character was always the pacifist they wished.
Finally, there is the most modern aspect of the series, changing from an adventure tale focused on the Doctor's adventures to a reflexive series, focusing more on the Doctor, his problems and "story arcs". In other words, it is no longer enough to have good tales, we must have a troubled character who spends time thinking about himself rather than things around him. I know people think it quite sophisticated to run "story arcs" through a serial program, but it has now reached the point when I long for the simpler, episodic shows of the past.
I am sure I could find other changes that are disturbing, such as the introduction of romantic storylines between the Doctor and his companions. (Though that was predicted in the 1996 film.) However, I think these three are more than enough to point out how much we have changed since just the 1980's. And it is surprising. The 80's were hardly a prudish, conservative time, much less the 1970's, yet the stories from those eras seem positively reactionary compared to what we have today.
As I have said many times, it is amazing how much things change in a relatively short time.
What has struck me recently, while watching old programs from the later 1970's and early 1980's is how much more explicit sexual material appears in popular media. Having a seven year old, I am constantly reminded of how hyper-sexual our society has become thanks to trying to figure out how to explain things to him. Society was hardly repressed in my youth, yet many of the things which are commonplace on television and in films today would have seemed quite shocking back then. It is surprising to see how far we have lowered the bar in those few decades. (See, for example, "Faux "Maturity"
" and "Argh! Enough KY Ads Already!