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Interview: Kevin S. Decker

Kevin S. Decker is author of Who is Who?: The Philosophy of Doctor Who. He is also Associate Professor of Philosophy and Associate Dean of the College of Arts, Letters and Education at Eastern Washington University.
So Doctor Who is turning 50. Is this actually a big deal?

Hardly. When we first met the Doctor in Shoreditch, 1963, he must have already been over a hundred years old. The only birthday we’ve seen him celebrate was a scene cut from ‘The Stone of Blood,’ which was the programme’s 100th story. It’s clear he has trouble keeping track of his own age, since he claimed to be older in his seventh incarnation than in his ninth. Matt Smith’s Doctor managed to while away two hundred years somewhere in between episodes of the sixth series. And now that he’s topped a millennium, fifty years is ‘a handful of heartbeats to a Time Lord.’ So I really think all this focus on the fiftieth anniversary merely shows the inherent limitations of the human perspective.

Who would you like to play, or have seen play, the Doctor?

First, I eliminate all non-British actors and actresses. Stephen Fry, of course. In casting for the 1996 television movie, I know that John Sessions did a screen test and he would have been brilliant.

What directions do you see Doctor Who going in the future?

I’d like to see the programme return to a format that emphasises the writing and acting of individual episodes and focus less on story arcs. Arcs seem to be an intrinsic feature of contemporary fantastic television, yet they are almost always too much build-up and an unsatisfactory resolution (witness 2011’s ‘The astronaut killed a Doctor in a Doctor-suit’ for evidence of this).

Since we’re in the region of the Doctor’s 12th and 13th incarnations, I’d like to see the Valeyard brought back as an adversary. That might take the show in a darker direction, portraying the Doctor as someone who must defeat his future self without resorting to the Valeyard’s tactics—so that he can somehow avoid becoming him (I suppose that means I’m in favour of story arcs after all, sigh).

What is your favourite episode?

From the classic series, ‘Ghost Light’ (1989). From the new series, ‘The God Complex’ (2011). In retrospect, they’re very similar: quirky, claustrophobic horror stories that take on big themes like evolution and human psychology.

Jon Pertwee’s famous catchphrase was ‘reverse the polarity of the neutron flow’. Can you explain how this is done?

That depends on whether the wibbley lever is up or down, and what the reading on the reticular vector gauge is. I’d never reverse the polarity when the gravitic anomaliser is between .000000012 and .000045. That, as we can all recognize, is a recipe for trans-temporal disaster. But it does make for a great souffle.

Daleks vs Cybermen: who should really win in a head to head confrontation?

Well, since the Quarks aren’t an option, and the Cybermen have recently had a major upgrade (‘Nightmare in Silver’, 2013), I’m going to say the Cybermen. Their speed and ability to use their limbs modularly may be a great advantage over the Daleks. A far cry from being beheaded by a man in a silver leotard wielding a curtain rod (‘The Five Doctors’). ■

Who is Who?Who is Who?: The Philosophy of Doctor Who is the first in-depth philosophical investigation of Doctor Who in popular culture. From 1963’s An Unearthly Child through the latest series, it considers continuity and change in the pictures that the programme paints of the nature of truth and knowledge, science and religion, space and time, good and evil, including the uncanny, the problem of evil, the Doctor’s complex ethical motivations.

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