Review: Who Is Who? – The Philosophy of Doctor Who / Author: Kevin S. Decker / Publisher: I.B. Tauris / Release Date: Out Now
Given the fact that there are numerous episode guides, behind the scenes exposés, original fiction, comics and tie-in novels already in existence and that every single last molecule of Doctor Who trivia and minutiae is known inside-out to a global community of ardent Whovians, is there anything new that can possibly be presented that we haven’t seen before?
Of course there is, and philosophy professor Kevin S. Decker has just the thing for you in his latest offering, Who Is Who?: The Philosophy of Doctor Who.
The search for truth in fiction is certainly nothing new, we’ve all learned life lessons while watching our heroes go about their heroic business on screens both large and small. We all take something insightful from these wondrous stories we watch, but Professor Decker raises the concept to a whole new level. He has already explored the philosophical significance of Star Wars, Star Trek and (incredibly) The Terminator in earlier books and now turns his attention to the last surviving Gallifreyan.
The book shifts between two gears. The easier of them to read looks back at the character’s rich history in a way that is informative and that inspires the reader to re-explore some past episodes. And then you get the extremely involved academic examination of what it all means. This latter is the book’s USP and it’s also a very real stumbling block to the casual reader because it assumes a near expert level of understanding of some pretty weighty theories which are likely to be beyond the scope of your average man in the street.
Professor Decker takes us on an intellectual voyage, exploring the theories of philosophers such as Pierre-Simon LaPlance (who was an advisor to Napoleon Bonaparte) and Descartes in terms of the light they might shed on what Doctor Who really means. Needless to say, it gets very heavy, very quickly. For example, when discussing the Doctor’s homesickness in 2007’s Gridlock, Professor Decker explains: “While the Doctor exhibits melancholia for an actual place, existential phenomenology posits an analogous metaphysical homelessness that has the potential to affect anyone, even those of us who haven’t locked the last members of our species in a time loop for eternity.” And while reeling from that, we’re then treated to a quote from Simone de Beauvoir about how “one may falsely assert oneself as being or assert oneself as nothingness”. Anyone?
For anyone still trying to get their head around the Daleks and what they're all really about, it's a lot to take in. Great book for academics and philosophers, but for the average fan, not so entertaining.