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Let’s be fair, all science fiction is drawn from a small pot of ideas, most often based around where science fact (and cultural reality) has got to when the ideas are first minted. And the more science fiction there is, the fewer new ideas there are, and the higher the chances that some of them will have been used before, in some shape or form, by Doctor Who.
This can only be a good thing:
You can’t create an entirely new universe without accidentally picking up bits and bobs from other universes as you go, and Doctor Who and Star Trek (any variation will do) have both created new universes, over many years.
Some of the common points and references include:
• The planet Vulcan first appears in the 1966 Doctor Who story “Power of the Daleks,” as a mineral rich wasteland populated by a colony of humans, none of whom have pointy ears.
• The Borg are, to a certain extent, modelled on the Cybermen (their debut episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation is called “Q Who”).
• Commander Riker has been known to try and open doors with a “sonic driver”
• Elsewhere, characters have been revealed to have two hearts, and there’s even a TARDIS-y time machine that is bigger on the inside, in an episode of Enterprise called “Future Tense.”
• And the Klingons are basically bohemian Sontarans with better hair and ridgier skulls.
There are fewer obvious points of Whovian reference in the Star Wars universe, but both realities do share a fondness for scuttling robots on the floor, like the cybermats. You could argue that R2-D2 looks like a home-schooled Dalek with hippy parents, but actually the biggest direct influence is probably the Millennium Falcon, an iconic spaceship, with special powers, that appears to have its own character and personality and doesn’t always do what it is supposed to.
Bill and Ted
A time travelling phone box, y’say? Excellent!
Life On Mars
Is it a sci-fi show? Is it a fantasy show? Who cares! Without Doctor Who pushing at the outer limits of the kind of stories TV shows can tell, it’s hard to see a timey-wimey show like Life On Mars being commissioned, especially as it’s a drama that has comedy for a backbone and uses references to other TV shows as dramatic plot points.
The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy
An obvious one, given that Douglas Adams worked on Doctor Who as a writer and script editor, and clearly his original scripts for Hitchhikers contain a lot of the ideas that would have possibly (but not definitely) been a little too comic for Doctor Who. All that stuff about under-arm deodorant and digital watches, for starters. But you could easily see the Doctor doing battle with the Vogons, or discovering the true origins of the Earth with a coastline designer called Slartibartfast.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Doctor Who is just as often a horror show as it is a sci-fi show, and Buffy shares a lot of this cross-genre appeal. So it plays with concepts of time and reality, there are unpleasant people of different biology messing up a suburban environment, there’s even a bookish English man who helps a young, pretty girl who has a lot of spirit, and they share snappy comebacks at one another. Buffy would be Doctor Who if Doctor Who was called Rose Tyler (The American).
And while we’re on the topic…
So this is like a horror movie, but in space? And the baddies can’t be reasoned with, they just exist to colonise the universe and kill everything in their way, and some of the humans aren’t actually human, and it’ll take more than big guns and brawn to save the day? And John Hurt is in it? Interesting…
If George Orwell had written Doctor Who, it would be like Blake’s 7. The totalitarian jackboot stamping on the human face, forever is there ready to drop from the very start. Written partly as a reaction to Doctor Who, but also inspired by that show’s success, Terry Nation (who invented the Daleks) removed the redeeming qualities of an eccentric Time Lord to raise the spirits, leaving a band of outlaws who don’t seem quite able to get along, on the run from a vicious Galactic Federation that makes the Empire of Star Wars look almost cuddly.
And yes, don’t some bits of the credits look familiar?
As a parody of science fiction itself, it would be odd if Red Dwarf didn’t contain a few of the more fanciful ideas first pioneered by Doctor Who. So Kryten the robotic butler could be said to have shared circuitry with the nicer Robots of Death; Holly, the laconic ship’s computer with the atrocious memory, comes from Douglas Adams, and Rimmer is every buttoned-up starship officer the Doctor encounters just after leaving the TARDIS. The guy who always accidentally helps the evil aliens with their plans by being a little bit venal and a little bit rubbish.
Back To The Future
There’s this eccentric genius, a doctor, and he’s got a time machine that doesn’t look like a time machine. In fact it looks almost mundane. And he’s got this young companion, a more street-wise sort of a person, who he wants to show it to, and the pair of them go off and have adventures in the past and the future and have snappy comeback dialogue with one another and in the end, causality is re-routed in fairness’s favor and everyone gets what’s coming to them.
And then there’s Back To The Future…
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See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic