Five Reasons ‘Doctor Who’ Owes C.S. Lewis A Debt Of Gratitude
Today marks 50 years since the death of C.S. Lewis, the academic and novelist who created the enduring Narnia series of children’s books.
That he died on the day before the first transmission of the first episode of Doctor Who is merely a moment of historical happenstance, but there are points of commonalty between the universe he created and that populated by Time Lords, Daleks and TARDISes, and some of them are direct enough to suggest a tip of the hat (or a passing of the torch) from one British children’s fantasy reality to another.
He solved problems that Doctor Who would also have to solve, in order to become popular with a family audience. And if you don’t believe me, ask Verity Lambert:
Let’s start with the most obvious one…
A Girl In A Wooden Box
In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, a hidden wardrobe is the gateway to a magical realm. It is, therefore, bigger on the inside, and interdimensionally transcendent. Sound familiar?
Never mind the TARDIS circuit that translates all languages, in Narnia everything can speak, from humble beavers to exciteable fauns. And they have quite the heirarchical society, in which big ugly muscular animals are baddies, and cute, resourceful, pretty animals are goodies. This is clearly not something C.S. Lewis invented, but as a way of driving dialogue along, anything that allows interspecies chitchat is to be welcomed.
The Enigmatic Hero With Great Hair
Doctor Who has the Doctor, Narnia has Aslan, the great lion who spends a lot of time travelling abroad, and only comes back in time to save the day. He strikes up a relationship with some new young friends (or companions), and has to make some great sacrifices in order to win the day. He is spoken of in hushed tones, out of love and respect from his friends, and awe and fear from his enemies, and when he gets killed, he somehow comes back to life again.
A Cast of Thousands
There’s no reason why a story can’t change all of its protagonists and maintain a sense of ongoing reality. In the Narnia tales, beloved characters are allocated a certain amount of time, before being replaced. This gives a story an epic historical sweep, telling the tale of ongoing magical nationhood, not unlike the books of the Bible. But Aslan is the constant figure, standing outside of time and space, ready to pounce at the first sign of trouble. The parallel with the Doctor could only be more direct if he starting coming back as a leopard or a tiger.
Mucking About With Time
Time runs differently in Narnia, so that an entire lifetime can be spent there, and you’d still be back for tea on the day you left. This is naturally hugely appealing for a younger audience, who want to go off adventuring but don’t want to get in trouble with their parents, and it’s an idea that Doctor Who has used as recently as the second half of Season Seven. Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, Narni-arnia.
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