You may have noticed the larger than life billboards that started appearing last year in Los Angeles touting someone called, “The Doctor” standing in front of a British police call box. Welcome to the wild and wonderful world of Doctor Who, a British science fiction TV show produced by the BBC that’s been listed in Guinness World Records as the longest-running science fiction television show in the world. It was also deemed the “most successful” science fiction series of all time, in terms of its overall broadcast ratings, DVD and book sales, iTunes traffic, and tellingly enough, illegal downloads. The show’s about the time-travelling adventures of a being known as the Doctor who explores the universe in his sentient time machine called the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimensions in Space). Along with a succession of companions, The Doctor faces down foes while righting wrongs, saving civilizations, and generally trying not to muck up timelines.
And now award-winning author Naomi Alderman, has been given the reins of the newest Doctor’s newest book. What I found compelling was that Naomi had been raised as an orthodox Jew and further, that her first novel, the Orange award winning and controversial “Disobedience,” depicted a rabbi’s daughter from North London who comes out as a lesbian. In short, there’s a rich history brewing in Naomi’s noggin and I, for one, wanted to get inside. What follows is a brief interview:
Q: In what way do you think the Doctor’s sussing of a mystery is Talmudic?
His method is obviously one of chevruta - he doesn’t need the companions to solve things, but he enjoys exploring through discussion.
Q: The Doctor never seems to deal with actual religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc) but rather faux “orders”. Assuming this is done so as not offend, is it possible that the show is missing an opportunity to explore something seemingly fundamental to human nature?
Hmmm, interesting. In fact, there has been some portrayal of actual religion, including a positive portrayal of Buddhism in Planet of the Spiders. But I suspect that the answer is that the UK is a fundamentally not-very-religious country, and that Doctor Who accurately represents our suspicions and our non-confrontational but deep-rooted agnosticism. To go back in history and have the Doctor ‘prove’ that Moses, Jesus and Mohammed didn’t exist would clearly be offensive and far too confrontational for British people. But to have him meet the ‘prophet’ or ‘god’ of an imaginary civilization and find that they are either misguided or plain manipulative I think is a way of saying what - dare I say it? - most British people quietly think about religion: that it’s fine as long as it’s comforting, but shouldn’t be taken too seriously or followed blindly. The Doctor is an atheist hero.
Q: Who do you think the most influential doctor is and why?
I think the most influential Doctor to the show was probably Tom Baker. His era encompassed so many different genres and styles of writing; it was a real time of exploration.
Q: If you could make the TARDIS look like anything other than a police phonebox, what would it be?
I suppose it would be useful to reinstate the chameleon circuits. But having said that, I have been known to lose my own car in a car park or parked on the street, and this would only be more of a problem for me if I could make my car blend into the surrounding environment. So for practicality, I’d keep it as a police box. Or maybe something larger, and more picturesque. Maybe the Giant Wooden Elephant.
Q: Who do you think should be the first female Doctor?
I think I would like to see someone older, someone with gravitas. If Joan Hickson were still around, she would have made an amazing Doctor. Having said that, I’m not campaigning for the Doctor to be a woman. I think the structure of the show has always allowed for strong female characters like Rose, Donna, Leela or Sarah Jane, women who have their own motivations and don’t just follow the Doctor round being in love with him or tripping over and twisting their ankles.
Q: The Doctor always seems to demonstrate the curiosity of a child. How fundamental is that to his nature?
Heh. It’s true actually, even as far back as William Hartnell, he’s unable to resist a mystery or the chance for more knowledge. It’s a wonderfully optimistic and hopeful way of thinking about the world, that the one thing we will always be able to get is more knowledge - even if it’s accompanied by fear and pain.