"Job Done, History's Safe": Doctor Who and the Wibbly Wobbly Lessons of the Past

Alyson Miller, Ellie Gardner

Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


First airing on 23 November 1963—the day after the assassination of JFK—BBC’s Doctor Who is one of the longest running drama series in the history of television. The eccentric and quintessential Britishness of the Doctor, the bizarre range of alien and robotic foes, and the ever-faithful companions have become cultural icons, capturing imaginations with world-saving adventures into time and space. Like all science fiction narratives, Doctor Who is invested in the contemporary nature of history, examining broad notions of humanity and ‘otherness’, for example, as well as how the politics of the past shape the present moment. As Priya Dixit argues, “science fiction provides different ways of imagining the world we live in and centralizes discussions of how to live in changing times” (Relating to Difference: Aliens and Alienness in Doctor Who and International Relations. International Studies Perspectives 13.1: 289–306, 2012, 292). Focusing on the ‘new Who’, and particularly the first female doctor played by Jodie Whittaker, this chapter examines how the series participates in ‘real world’ events through the mechanism of time travel. In doing so, it explores ideas about the fixity of historical events and the desire to ‘correct’ violence and injustice, thus revealing the pedagogical—and sometimes neo-colonial—function of the time-travelling adventurers in Doctor Who. Further, the chapter considers how travel to the not-so-distant past—and symbolic parallels via alien worlds and alternative universes—risks what Saljooq M. Asif and Cindy Saenz refer to as “revisionist timelines” (Colonial Pasts and Afrosurrealist Futures: Decolonising Race and Doctorhood in Doctor Who. Journal of Medical Humanities. New York: Springer, 2017), as the need for entertainment is weighed against the positioning of the Doctor as a witness to atrocity. We argue that by troubling the borderlines of time and relative dimensions in space, Doctor Who offers a critical reflection of modern history that uneasily moves between subversion and romanticisation as it engages with complex ideas about identity, difference, home, and power.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTime Travel in World Literature and Cinema
Place of PublicationCham, Switzerland
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages136
ISBN (Electronic) 978-3-031-52315-1
ISBN (Print)978-3-031-52314-4
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2024


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