Doctor Who and Philosophy
Bigger on the Inside
Edited by Courtland Lewis and Paula Smithka
Vol. 55 in the Popular Culture and Philosophy® series
Not only is Doctor Who the longest-running science fiction television show in history, but it has also been translated into numerous languages, broadcast around the world, and referred to as the “way of the future” by some British political leaders. The old (or Classic) Doctor Who series built up a loyal American cult following, with regular conventions and other activities. The new series, relaunched in 2005, has emerged from culthood into mass awareness, with a steadily growing viewership and major sales of DVDs. The current series, featuring the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, is breaking all earlier records, in both the UK and the US.
Doctor Who is a continuing story about the adventures of a mysterious alien known as “the Doctor,” a traveller of both time and space whose spacecraft is the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimensions in Space), which from the outside looks like a British police telephone box of the 1950s. The TARDIS is “bigger on the inside than on the outside”—actually the interior is immense. The Doctor looks human, but has two hearts, and a knowledge of all languages in the universe. Periodically, when the show changes the leading actor, the Doctor “regenerates,” changing his body and his personality quirks, but retaining all his memories. Regeneration causes the Doctor to be temporarily disoriented and weakened, both before and after. The Doctor usually has one or more companions, most often attractive young females, who also change from time to time, giving the Doctor the opportunity to explain some basic facts about himself to the new companion. The Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey and battles various evil forces in the universe, including the nasty robot Daleks and The Master, a renegade Time Lord.
In Doctor Who and Philosophy, a team of mostly human philosophers (who are also fans) looks at the deeper issues raised by the Doctor's mind-blowing adventures. The book examines issues of personal identity, and explains how the Doctor provides valuable insights into understanding “who” we are. The volume also discusses Doctor Who’s representation of science, logic, speciesism, perception, physics, and causation. A section on ethics provides both a nice introduction to ethics and also some important insights into how the Doctor tells us to live the good life. In addition, two chapters deal with human existence and aesthetics.
The book includes two bonuses. First, there is a collection of insightful quotes from the Classic and New series of Doctor Who. These quotes provide a wealth of philosophical knowledge, sure to enlighten and entertain readers. Second, the volume contains a complete list of episodes and companions, so the reader can look back on all of the Doctor’s adventures and friends.
“Opening this book is like opening the door to the TARDIS: we get to spend time with our favorite incarnations of the Doctor whether the First, the Fourth, the Eleventh, or Doctor-Donna, and ponder what it means to travel through time, grow a new personality, fall in love, sacrifice for a greater good, and experience the cosmos for all the wonder it is. Really, Doctor Who and Philosophy is even better than a Sonic Screwdriver.”
—Josef Steiff, Professor of Film at Columbia College Chicago and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Independent Filmmaking
“This dimensionally transcendental volume explains what the Doctor never gets around to until later: the basics of Gallifreyan philosophy and ethics, as translated through Earth’s philosophers. A fun, informative volume for folks interested in an introduction to philosophy through the vortex of Doctor Who.”
—Lynne M. Thomas, co-editor of Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It
“Lewis and Smithka have done all sapient species a brilliant service by introducing Doctor Who and Philosophy into the time continuum. Like the Doctor’s human companions, we get to travel through a universe of Big Ideas with a caring, clever, and, yes, conflicted friend. Next to a real TARDIS swooping down and carrying us off, nothing could beat the experience of reading this book.”
—Patrick D. Hopkins, editor of Sex/Machine
“Doctor Who and Philosophy makes you want to go right back to episodes like ‘Robot’ and ‘The Brain of Morbius’ so you can watch them again, now that you know what they’re really about. No series in the entire history of television has lit up all the beacons of classic philosophy like Doctor Who, and this brilliant book is chock full of Time Lord enlightenment.”
—Rob Arp, Consulting Ontologist and author of Scenario Visualization: An Evolutionary Account of Creative Problem Solving
“An intriguing collection of essays that examines Doctor Who from every philosophical angle imaginable. Do you want theories and contradictions of time travel? It’s in there. Do you want a deep examination of the nature of identity, as understood through the Doctor and his regenerative ability? It’s in there, too, and it is considered from a variety of philosophical approaches. And so is much, much more. Lewis and Smithka have assembled a fascinating anthology, one that all Who fans, media scholars, and armchair philosophers should want on their shelves.”
—Chris Hansen, editor of Ruminations, Peregrinations, and Regenerations: A Critical Approach to Doctor Who
Courtland Lewis came to philosophy ultimately through Doctor Who, after his brother tried to explain regeneration to him when the Fourth Doctor became the Fifth Doctor. Court has contributed chapters to Mr. Monk and Philosophy: The Curious Case of the Defective Detective (2010) and Ruminations, Peregrinations, and Regenerations: A Critical Approach to Doctor Who (2010).
Paula Smithka had a deprived childhood: as an American growing up without cable, she missed her required shots of Doctor Who, and has been desperately trying to make up for it ever since. Paula is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern Mississippi.