It must be a thankless job to write for a sci-fi TV show. After all, these programs frequently end up with an afterlife inversely proportional to their original run (name another ’60s show that has mattered for as long as “Star Trek,” or was treated as shabbily by its network). “Kid stuff,” the critics sneer. But sci-fi shows, by the very nature of their story materials, end up raising serious philosophical questions: What is time? What is reality? What is the value of our species?
Take “Doctor Who,” the British time-travel series that ran from 1963 to 1989 and again—with more consistent results—from 2005 to the present. The Doctor is an otherwise-nameless adventurer from the planet Gallifrey who, when fatally wounded, turns into another actor—ahem, generates a new body—thus posing the mind-body-soul problem in a fairly stark form. Is the regenerated Doctor still the Doctor? His life, constantly crossing and recrossing itself, is one long logical paradox, which raises again all those fun questions about time that Augustine spends Book X of Confessions worrying his bulging head over. During the show’s stellar fifth season, now out on DVD (can you say “stocking stuffer”?), the Doctor seems to be falling in love with a woman who knows him already—in his future.
But what I love most, besides the smarter-than-“Lost” scripts and the warmly manic performance of the current Doctor, Matt Smith, is the Doctor’s never-flagging admiration for the human heart, even at the edge of space-time.
For all the show’s popularity among militant atheists—Richard Dawkins did a disarmingly funny guest spot in the Season Four finale—the Doctor seems more impressed with humans’ capacity for loyalty and kindness than with anything else in his vast universe. This makes the show a wonderful, humane antidote to the “Space cares nothing for your flimsy human values!” rhetoric one often finds in bad sci-fi. It’s clever enough to realize that a robust appreciation for human beings leads you straight into questions science alone can’t solve. (BBC Warner)