content by

Max Kashevsky

Folk Heroes and the Doctor: Doctor Who’s “Mythological Celebrity” Stories

It’s rare that you can pinpoint not only the exact episode, but the precise line, when Doctor Who invents a new subgenre. The Twelfth Doctor spends most of “Robot of Sherwood” (2014) certain that Robin Hood—green tights, Merry Men, the whole shebang—must be a hologram, or a theme park attraction, or even a robot controlled by the Sheriff of Nottingham. A story to give the peasants false hope. Until the Sheriff points out what a terrible idea that is. “But he can’t be,” the Doctor says. “He’s not real. He’s a legend!” At which point Robin fires another quip from his quiver: “Too kind!”

With nearly every modern season of Doctor Who featuring famous faces like Charles Dickens, Vincent van Gogh, or Queen Elizabeth, visiting Sherwood Forest might seem like just a modest twist on the established “celebrity historical” format. But it was the start of the Peter Capaldi era as a stark exception: not a single one of his episodes featured real historical figures. Instead, across five episodes, Capaldi’s Doctor faced a pantheon of gods and folk heroes—Robin Hood, Santa Claus, the great Odin, a store-brand Superman, and finally, the most mythic figure the Doctor could ever face: himself. And lo! The celebrity historical fell into myth and legend, with a new subgenre I’m dubbing the “celebrity mythological.”

[Spoilers for Series 8-10 of Doctor Who, plus the existence of Santa Claus]

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Doctor Who’s False Gods and Cyber-Zealots Face a Devout Doctor

It might seem like an incidental detail, but the fact that both of Jodie Whittaker’s season finales as the Doctor feature crucifixes—one that grants the demonic Tzim-Sha the powers of a god, the other a pilot’s seat for an evangelical Cyberman—offers a revelation about the era’s single most unifying theme: faith. This is a Doctor who has twice attended funerals, twice prayed to the universe, and as of this month’s season finale, twice faced religious extremists. But this avoids any chance of a crass Faith vs. Science battle by pitting them against the series’ first and most spiritual Doctor.

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