Everybody Lives: How Doctor Who Saved Science Fiction From Pessimism

Sorry to dissapoint you but the reason why Dr Who is optimistic is demographics not optimism for optimism sake. Dr Who is aimed at an audience aged between 7-70 of both genders but US sci-fi is aimed at an audience of 16-30 males. The size of UK tv audiences mean that for Dr Who to get enough viewers to warrant its budget the show has to have broader appeal than the grimdark will get. The BBC is much more prosaic in its reasons for optimism.

I really wish they'd stop saying the Doctor is going to be "darker". He never is. They said Matt Smith would be "darker" for pretty much his entire run, which usually just amounted to making a few more empty threats and scowling a little bit more. They hyped John Hurt's War Doctor as incredibly dark and ruthless and he turned out to just be a sad nutty professor. Stop teasing Moffat: we know by now that you don't put out.

That said, the Doctor's unbridled joy and positiveness is what made me love the character in the first place, so I'm not terribly bothered by them keeping him a nice guy. Just stop promising what you know you won't deliver, that's all.

It's worth noting that a similar thing happened in Stargate. SG1 and Atlantis were light-hearted and optimistic sci-fi, and then Universe went all grimdark. I really didn't like Universe, not because it was bad, but because it felt like it had taken away that optimism and replaced it with the pessimism that was everywhere else.
And I hadn't thought about it until reading this article, but right about that time was when I really got into Doctor Who.

While I agree that science fiction has gotten more pessimistic in recent years, it's misleading to say that audiences of the 90's weren't ready for a darkly cynical show. After all, this was the decade that brought us The X-Files, a show about fighting an unwinnable fight against government conspiracy, and one that portrayed aliens as unequivocally dangerous to human existence. At many times (especially near the end), the X-Files got darker and more depressing than Battlestar Galactica ever did.

albino boo:
Sorry to dissapoint you but the reason why Dr Who is optimistic is demographics not optimism for optimism sake. Dr Who is aimed at an audience aged between 7-70 of both genders but US sci-fi is aimed at an audience of 16-30 males. The size of UK tv audiences mean that for Dr Who to get enough viewers to warrant its budget the show has to have broader appeal than the grimdark will get. The BBC is much more prosaic in its reasons for optimism.

My point wasn't that someone at BBC was pushing for a grand statement about optimism. It's that the New Doctor Who's optimism, for whatever reason it exists, clicked with the audience that needed to hear it at that moment.

I suspect that's part of why Doctor Who became an international phenomenon during David Tennant's run, while the original series wasn't really known outside of Britain. Not that there aren't other factors, but I'd say it's a big one.

WickedLordJasper:
While I agree that science fiction has gotten more pessimistic in recent years, it's misleading to say that audiences of the 90's weren't ready for a darkly cynical show. After all, this was the decade that brought us The X-Files, a show about fighting an unwinnable fight against government conspiracy, and one that portrayed aliens as unequivocally dangerous to human existence. At many times (especially near the end), the X-Files got darker and more depressing than Battlestar Galactica ever did.

Interesting point. And you're right in that X-Files tapped into a conspiracy vein that was pretty popular for a period in the 90s.

That said, it's worth noting that the darker X-Files got, the less popular it became. By the final season a lot of die-hard fans had given up.

I'd also argue that X-Files had it's own brand of optimism:

Early Episode Tagline: I want to believe.
Movie Tagline: Fight The Future
(What Might As Well Be The) Final Episode Tagline: Aliens Are Invading The Government Will Let Them Kill Us All

Fanghawk:

That said, it's worth noting that the darker X-Files got, the less popular it became. By the final season a lot of die-hard fans had given up.

I'd also argue that X-Files had it's own brand of optimism:

Early Episode Tagline: I want to believe.
Movie Tagline: Fight The Future
(What Might As Well Be The) Final Episode Tagline: Aliens Are Invading The Government Will Let Them Kill Us All

I have to admit, I'm one of those people, and although I tuned in for the final episode, I'd stopped watching because the show seemed to wallow in despair and meaningless death. The show really did work so much better when it kept that optimism alive, and that's the part of the show I look back most fondly on.

The Coctor is optimistic because otherwise he would kill himself. Although that looks to be changing with the latest Doctor because he no longer thinks that he

. Thus, number 13 will be more serious and Scottishly dour.

I liked Enterprise's optimism as an escape from all the pessimism I saw in the real world. I never really got into Battlestar Galactica because of the grim-n-grittiness that people think automatically means "mature". If every character in a show is an a-hole, I see no reason to root for anyone on it and fail to see the appeal.

Everybody Lives: How Doctor Who Saved Science Fiction From Pessimism

Doctor Who proves that sci-fi doesn't have to be devoid of optimism, even when it seems like the real world is.

Read Full Article

What happened here? Very confusing. Also, this weeks episode really went against this article, not everyone can be saved.

The truth is, you can only be in the dark for so long before longing for the light. Humans by their very nature are not without hope. Sure, you get the shut ins who think we are on the verge of absolute destruction pretty always. But the reality is always different. I think it's the fact that the Doctor always has this sense of hope about him that makes him so fun. I can't count how many times I couldn't think about how a terrible situation was going to end, but the Doctor just always brings is together. The doctor loses hope from time to time, which is why the companions are necessary. I can't be the only one who notices how the companions are always in the opposite mindset of the doctor. I think the Doctor does not work without the companions for that reason. I don't personally buy a grimdark future because life is not grimdark, as a whole.

Mcoffey:
I really wish they'd stop saying the Doctor is going to be "darker". He never is. They said Matt Smith would be "darker" for pretty much his entire run, which usually just amounted to making a few more empty threats and scowling a little bit more. They hyped John Hurt's War Doctor as incredibly dark and ruthless and he turned out to just be a sad nutty professor. Stop teasing Moffat: we know by now that you don't put out.

That said, the Doctor's unbridled joy and positiveness is what made me love the character in the first place, so I'm not terribly bothered by them keeping him a nice guy. Just stop promising what you know you won't deliver, that's all.

To be fair, the show has gotten a bit more creepy since Matt Smith turned up, with the Weeping Angles being more prevalent and The Silence turning up and such. As far as a darker Doctor goes though, Matt Smith is about as light as it gets. Capaldi's Doctor does seem to be pretty unfazed when people died in Into The Dalek, though, and the Doctor's immense capacity for hatred was a pretty big factor in the episode. I'd say we're probably in for a colder Doctor, rather than an outright dark one though.

uro vii:

Mcoffey:
I really wish they'd stop saying the Doctor is going to be "darker". He never is. They said Matt Smith would be "darker" for pretty much his entire run, which usually just amounted to making a few more empty threats and scowling a little bit more. They hyped John Hurt's War Doctor as incredibly dark and ruthless and he turned out to just be a sad nutty professor. Stop teasing Moffat: we know by now that you don't put out.

That said, the Doctor's unbridled joy and positiveness is what made me love the character in the first place, so I'm not terribly bothered by them keeping him a nice guy. Just stop promising what you know you won't deliver, that's all.

To be fair, the show has gotten a bit more creepy since Matt Smith turned up, with the Weeping Angles being more prevalent and The Silence turning up and such. As far as a darker Doctor goes though, Matt Smith is about as light as it gets. Capaldi's Doctor does seem to be pretty unfazed when people died in Into The Dalek, though, and the Doctor's immense capacity for hatred was a pretty big factor in the episode. I'd say we're probably in for a colder Doctor, rather than an outright dark one though.

Matt Smith's run definitely had more creepy space weirdness stuff than Tennant or Eccleston, but I don't think he ever touched the bleakness of episodes like Midnight or the last few minutes of Waters of Mars. That was some rough stuff!
I'll definitely give you that Capaldi is playing it way colder than I was expecting. Maybe since they're not trying to make Tumblr swoon anymore more willing to go there.

For the record, Enterprise didn't fail because it clung to 90's (really 60's since this is Star Trek we're talking about) era optimism in a pessimistic world. It failed because the characters were bland, the show spent 90% of the time being boring and sticking to the tired single episode stories that Deep Space 9 had the good sense to move away from, and because the producers and writing staff that were left with the series at that point weren't very good. Most, if not all, of the writers who had written some of the seminal TNG and DS9 episodes were pretty much gone after that show ended. Sure, it might have helped Enterprise a bit to address the sort of events happening in the real world at the time since good science fiction often is allegory for what's happening in the real world, but it was still, overall, just a bad show much like Voyager was.

And during all of that time we supposedly had nothing but pessimistic sci-fi, we had Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis being successful just being fairly fun and light hearted shows. And I wouldn't say that the balance of optimistic to pessimistic sci-fi even changed in the last decade or more, I think people just stood up and took notice because BSG was really damn good, and was something completely different from any sci-fi show in the decade that preceded it. That does not mean that Doctor Who came along and saved sci-fi from pessimism. It's just a fun show that's had a great run and balances the two pretty well. Nothing more to it than that really.

albino boo:
Sorry to dissapoint you but the reason why Dr Who is optimistic is demographics not optimism for optimism sake. Dr Who is aimed at an audience aged between 7-70 of both genders but US sci-fi is aimed at an audience of 16-30 males. The size of UK tv audiences mean that for Dr Who to get enough viewers to warrant its budget the show has to have broader appeal than the grimdark will get. The BBC is much more prosaic in its reasons for optimism.

i almost completely agree

however i don't think that really interferers with his wider point about "optimistic sci-fi".

star trek, star gate and who are all shows i personally love as a viewer for for their "optimism" regardless of the reason for it's manufacture.

i know other people like/dislike different things and that's fine but "the death of star trek" should metaphorically have someone crucified on the offices lawn because as far as i can work out going from having that many shows in production/syndication to nothing should probably deserve it.

"grim dark" is fine if you like that kinda stuff...but i've always felt the writing off of peoples desires to see "a better future" represented has been more than a bit misplaced.

Vivi22:
I think people just stood up and took notice because BSG was really damn good, and was something completely different from any sci-fi show in the decade that preceded it.

Ehhhh I don't know about that. BSG was a show that "replaced" the excellent Farscape. Which had already proven that you could do dark, elaborate Sci-Fi and make it work on a weekly show. True the first season was mostly a lame episodic Star Trek-y "adventure of the week" affair. But by the second season we had stuff like this

And it only got more serialized[1], darker and more experimental as it went on. BSG and everything that took inspiration from it owes a huge, generally forgotten, debt to Farscape.

PS-

[1] With the deeper, more interesting characters and characterizations that format allows

Great piece!

I was also struck by how progressive the show was, making a point to show the complexity of sexuality and even gender at times. I loved that about Star Trek: TNG growing up, that view of a kinder, more caring, bolder humanity, that wasn't afraid of itself nor what lay out there. You saw male crewmen wearing dresses in the background. And though Roddenberry never got to push sexuality into the limelight as he hoped, they gave it an allegorical attempt with their tackling an androgynous race of alien beings that repressed gender identity itself.

I can't comment on the course Doctor Who's taken since Moffat took over (a lot of people claim he's not that progressive in his vision) but I wouldn't know, I quickly found the show under his leadership just wasn't entertaining to me.

 

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