Tag Archives: Doctor Who

The Alien and the Existentialist

As is usually the case, the lack of regular updates has mostly been due to stress. I’ve been dealing with a rather rough patch, and sitting down to talk about philosophy hasn’t been at the top of my list of things that need done. It’s also been miserably hot, and my brain doesn’t like to work when it’s busy trying to melt into a puddle. That aside, lately I’ve been watching the third season of The Boondocks and finally started watching Torchwood. I’m not going to be talking about The Boondocks this time out; not because it’s not worth talking about so much as because I still need to decide what I’m going to say, and how I’m going to say (though I will go ahead and say if you’ve never watched Boondocks go do so – it’s well worth it). So it looks like I’ll be talking about Torchwood.

I never got in to Torchwood when it premiered, or during the course of the three seasons that have run, or the forth that premiered this year.  First and foremost I don’t actually watch telly anymore. Most of it is insufferably vapid, and even when I find something worth watching, finding the time to sit down and watch it on a regular basis rarely happens, or will be interrupted. Less importantly, though still a factor, was my disappointment that Christopher Eccleston had only signed up for one season of the revived Doctor Who. Other than Tom Baker I just haven’t been interested in most of the other portrayals of the Doctor, so when he left so did my interest in the show and its spin-offs.

Still, I finally decided to give it a chance. So far I’ve watched the first nine episodes and to be honest it just isn’t a very good show. These early days are often inconsistently done, and full of plot holes bigger than the Cardiff Rift. That said, it’s a not very good show that has had some good episodes, so I’m hoping that the later episodes live up to this potential. It’s also a show that has had some very philosophical episodes… so much so, that at times it feels like it’s beating me over the head with said philosophy. Some of that may be simply because I’m already familiar with the ideas the show has been trying to express; though for all that I’m not ruling out the possibility of simple ham-fistedness on the part of the people involved with the show.

Of course I wouldn’t really be doing my job if I just said, “Yup, a philosophical show,” and left it at that. Particularly since I can’t rule out that I’m catching things that someone who isn’t familiar with philosophy would miss.

Torchwood, at least in its early days, deals rather heavily with existentialist concepts, particularly taking an existential view of death. This is particularly apparent in the episodes “They Keep Killing Suzie,” and “Random Shoes,” but pops up as early as the very first episode. This is something I’ve talked about before, and something I suspect I will talk about again. The message Torchwood keeps giving us is that death really is the end. Oh sure, fancy alien technology might bend the rules as we understand them a bit, but ultimately when we die we’re gone. There is no bearded fucker up in the sky ready to sweep our souls up into blissful light, or if we’ve broken one of his arbitrary rules, kick us into a lake of boiling sulfur.

This isn’t some abstract, navel-gazing point that’s only of interest to philosophers, but something important to living our everyday lives, particularly of living in a philosophically engaged fashion. What does it mean for us if indeed this life, this world is all we have? Does it mean that anything goes, and that we are not only free to, but indeed should indulge our every whim no matter how petty, selfish, or cruel? There are certainly those who would argue that that’s exactly what it means, either because it satisfies their own desires, or they simply can’t imagine the ability for man to be moral without the fear of heavenly punishment hanging over our heads.

We could take a state of affairs as is posited in Torchwood as an excuse to be thoughtless hedonists. Alternately, we could also take the time to consider that if this is all we get, we should try to make it worthwhile; because we don’t get any do overs, and Auntie Millie won’t be waiting up in heaven to tell you she forgives you for all the times you were a raging douchebag to her. That’s a large part of what the existentialist project was (and for those still engaged in it, or in one of its offspring, still is); to bring meaning and value to an inherently meaningless universe. Though for all that Torchwood encodes this basic message into some of its episodes the characters do spend a rather large amount of time engaging in the hedonistic bits of life.


Posted by on July 23, 2011 in Philosophy, Pop Culture


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