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Is a Deus ex Machina Science Fiction?

BoingBoing posted about this essay by Terry Pratchett, wherein he claims that Dr. Who is not science fiction because he’s gone well beyond “sufficiently advanced technology” and seems to be careening into the realm of straight up magic.

People say Doctor Who is science fiction. At least people who don’t know what science fiction is, say that Doctor Who is science fiction. Star Trek approaches science fiction. The horribly titled Star Cops which ran all too briefly on the BBC in the 1980s was the genuine pure quill of science fiction, unbelievable in some aspects but nevertheless pretty much about the possible. Indeed, several of its episodes relied on the laws of physics for their effect (I’m particularly thinking of the episode “Conversations With The Dead”). It had a following, but never caught on in a big way. It was clever, and well thought out. Doctor Who on the other hand had an episode wherein people’s surplus body fat turns into little waddling creatures. I’m not sure how old you have to be to come up with an idea like that. The Doctor himself has in recent years been built up into an amalgam of Mother Teresa, Jesus Christ (I laughed my socks off during the Titanic episode when two golden angels lifted the Doctor heavenwards) and Tinkerbell. There is nothing he doesn’t know, and nothing he can’t do. He is now becoming God, given that the position is vacant. Earth is protected, we are told, and not by Torchwood, who are human and therefore not very competent. Perhaps they should start transmitting the programme on Sundays.

The comments on BoingBoing went from zero to wharrgarbl in about 30 seconds, arguing about the nature of SF vs. fantasy and where the Doctor falls on the continuum. I think I more or less agree with the commenter who argues that a deux ex machina weakens SF without necessarily derailing it entirely, but I do have to question whether the Doctor’s tendency to solve every problem that way perhaps moves him out of the sphere of science fiction and toward something more akin to fantasy.

What do you think?

Posted in Books & Authors, Movies & TV May 4th, 2010 by Chip
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