There’s a radical fan theory that Doctor Who isn’t actually a television programme at all.
If there really were such things as time travel and beings who had conquered most of the mechanical problems of nature when the universe was less than half its present size, says the theory, then might not one of them be attempting to communicate with us over a period of what we know as Time, through a medium that we know as ‘television’? Using this medium, and various complex methods that fall under our pathetically-ill-informed category of ‘telepathy’, might not such a being gradually develop a foothold and a following amongst the human race?
If this theory were true, we would expect that being to use symbols to help to convey his or her message to a selected audience. Let’s say he (or she) chose Britain in the 1960s as a group of human beings who, for the next decade or so, would be clustered collectively around a newly-popular and freshly available medium, the television, which used a combination of assets -actors, technicians and networks- to reach into the homes of millions at the same time, creating a group experience called a ‘programme’. This period was finite -towards the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s, television began to lose its place as a commanding mass medium and would be less significant in the lives of so many people, so, the alien being could conclude, around 1989 there could be a safe hiatus in transmission of the message while other media were established.
Chosen symbols would need to be to do with the idea of ‘help’. There would need to be a set of universally-trusted images to create a basis for the message. Looking around Britain at that time, one could do worse than select a ubiquitous Police Box, bearing also the sign of St. John’s Ambulance. Then the chief character would need to be a figure respected at that time of greater deference, an older man, say, perhaps even a grandfather. What could his title be? Something into which, almost universally, the population put its faith, especially as the National Health Service was still weaving its place into the heart of the nation: a doctor. The Doctor.
The message itself would be one of help: wherever this Doctor went, he would act as a catalyst for change, bringing about justice and order, triumphing over obvious evils and always leaving his mark.
After a few episodes, such would be the effectiveness of the partly-unconscious symbology and the storylines, the show would have established itself as a favourite and would live on, even when the television medium which gave it birth became weaker. Later storylines wouldn’t matter so much, once the concept itself was rooted in the national psyche. The alien outsider could even sit back and observe as the generation which had been infiltrated in this way set about ‘rebooting’ the programme with new blood and fresh ideas of their own. Indeed, that might be the ‘test phase”: had the original message impinged enough so that later versions remained true to it?
Around this time, then, so the fan theory goes, the whole experiment might be being evaluated. Has it worked? Has a foothold and a following been established? If a Police Box were now to materialise for real on the streets of London, would it be greeted with opprobrium or with delight?
Of course, it’s only a theory…