Friday, 24 April 2015

TVAD Talk: Dr Ivan Phillips, on his forthcoming book Once Upon A Time Lord: The Myths and Stories of Doctor Who.

On Wednesday March 11th in our TVAD Talks series, we heard Dr Ivan Phillips, talking about his forthcoming book Once Upon A Time Lord: The Myths and Stories of Doctor Who for I.B.Tauris, due for publication in 2016.

Towards the end of the 2010 series finale, ‘The Big Bang’, as he reboots the Universe and waits to fade forever from existence, the Doctor talks to the sleeping child Amelia Pond about the adventures they will now never share, the lives he will never have lived: ‘We’re all stories in the end,’ he says. ‘Just make it a good one.’ Although the contributions of the current show runner, Steven Moffat, have not met with universal approval among either fans or casual viewers, his scriptwriting here, as elsewhere, shows a sharp awareness of the centrality of storytelling to the enduring success of the Doctor Who phenomenon. It is no coincidence that fans of Doctor Who tend to talk in terms of ‘stories’: the first story they remember, their favourite story, the ‘lost’ story that they most wish could be found, the most under- or over-rated stories, and so on. The merging of this storytelling element with features from traditional mythologies has been reflected in the analyses of many critics in the years since John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado’s pioneering study Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text (1983), most notably Matt Hills in his Triumph of a Time Lord (2010). My own book, however, is proposed as the first full-length monograph to focus entirely on Doctor Who as an accumulated and richly interwoven, often contradictory, body of myths. The need for such an analysis was indicated over a decade ago by David Rafer: The Doctor himself is a carrier and purveyor of his own myth but also encounters images and patterns drawn from ancient world mythology. The way that the Doctor confronts and feeds into myth reveals something of the enduring nature and appeal of mythic narratives and symbols and is a contributory factor in the mysticism of the character (In Butler, p. 123). Acknowledging the status of Doctor Who as a substantial myth in its own right – Miles Booy has referred to it as ‘a significant national narrative’ (2012: 166) – this also promotes an exploration of the many ways in which it has become a locus of translation for existing mythologies, ancient and modern. Central to my study is a recognition that Doctor Who – ‘a voracious gobbler of ideas’ (Newman, 2005: 70) – has always taken its raw material from elsewhere, reimagining elements of classical mythology as well as drawing upon the established ‘mythic’ traditions of literature, cinema, television and other media. By examining the diverse stories which Doctor Who has generated across the last half-century, my aim is to demonstrate not only its singular ability to carry fantastical narratives into everyday life but also, perhaps, the continuing need for such narratives in the modern world. The joy of this project is that it enables me to merge a lifelong fan obsession with my academic research interests and the kind of subject matter that I have long discussed with my students. The story has only just begun, but I look forward to sharing it with some of you...

Booy, M. (2012) Love and Monsters: The Doctor Who Experience, 1979 to the Present. London and New York: I.B. Tauris.
Butler, D., ed. (2007) Time And Relative Dissertations In Space: Critical Perspectives on Doctor Who. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Matt Hills, Triumph of a Time Lord: Regenerating Doctor Who in the Twenty-First Century. London and New York: I.B.Tauris, 2010.
Newman, K. (2005) Doctor Who (BFI TV Classics). London: BFI.
Tulloch, J., and Alvarado, M. (1983) Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Watch Ivan's TVAD Talk here:

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