Wednesday, July 11, 2012


I went out of town to Dallas to visit with my brother around the 4th of July, so I've been busy getting back into home life again.  I ran across this Dr. Who essay by Harlan Ellison, and I thought I'd share it here.  Knowing Mr. Ellison, if he gets wind of it, he'll probably sue me and then flay the flesh from my bones.  But I digress...

(as transcribed from my yellowish copy of "Doctor Who and the Loch Ness
Monster" by Terrance Dicks, copyright 1976 by Terrance Dicks and Robert
Banks Stewart. Introduction copyrighted 1979 by Harlan Ellison.)
Introducing Doctor Who
amenities performed by Harlan Ellison
     They could not have been more offended, confused, enraged and
startled....There was a moment of stunned silence...and then an eruption
of angry voices from all over the fifteen-hundred-person audience. The
kids in their Luke Skywalker pajamas (cobbled up from older brother's
castoff karate *gi*) and the retarded adults spot-welded into their
Darth Vader freight-masks howled with fury. But I stood my ground, there
on the lecture platform at the World Science Fiction Convention, and I
repeated the heretical words that had sent them into animal hysterics:
     "_Star Wars_ is adolescent nonsense; _Close Encounters_ is
obscurist drivel; _Star Trek_ can turn your brains into puree of bat
guano; and the greatest science fiction series of all time is _Doctor
Who_! And I'll take you all on, one-by-one or all in a bunch to back it
     Auditorium monitors moved in, truncheons ready to club down anyone
foolish enough to try jumping the lecture platform, and finally there
was relative silence. And I head scattered voices screaming from the
back of the room,"Who?" And I said, "Yes. Who!"
     (It was like that old Abbott and Costello routine: Who's on first?
No, Who's on third; What's on first.)
     After a while we got it all sorted out and they understood that
when I said Who I didn't mean *whom*, I meant Who....Doctor Who...the
most famous science fiction character on British television. The
renegade Time Lord, the far traveler through Time and Space, the sword
of justice from the planet Gallifrey, the scourge of villians and
monsters the galaxy over. The one and only, the incomparable, the
bemusing and bewildering Doctor Who, the humanistic defender of Good and
Truth, whose exploits put to shame those of Kimball Kinnison, Captain
Future and pantywaist nerds like Han Solo and Luke Skywalker.
     My hero! Doctor Who!
     For the American reading (and television-viewing) audience (and in
this sole, isolated case I hope they're one and the same) _Doctor Who_
is a new factor in the equation of fantastic literature. Since 1963 the
Doctor and his exploits have been a consistent element of British
culture. But we're only now being treated to the wonderful universes of
Who here in the States. For those of us who were exposed to both the TV
series on BBC and the long series of _Doctor Who_ novels published in
Great Britian, the time of solitary proselytizing is at an end. All we
need to do now is thrust a Who novel into the hands of the
unknowlegable, or drag the unwary to a TV set and turn it on as the good
Doctor goes through his paces. That's all it takes. Try this book and
you'll understand.
     I envy you your first exposure to this amazing conceit. And I wish
you the same delight I felt when Michael Moorcock, the finest fantasist
in the English-speaking world, sat me down in front of his set in
London, turned on the telly, and said, "Now be quiet and just watch."
     That was in 1975. And I've been hooked on "Doctor Who" ever since.
Understand: I despise television (having written it for sixteen years)
and I spend much of my time urging people to bash in their picture tubes
with Louisville Sluggers, to free themselves of the monster of coaxial
cable. And so, you must perceive that I speak of something utterly
extraordinary and marvelous when I suggest you watch the "Doctor Who"
series in whatever syndicated slot your local station has scheduled it.
You must recognize that I risk all credibility for furture exhortations
by telling you *this* TV viewing will not harm you...will, in fact,
delight and uplift you, stretch your imagination, tickle your
risibilities, flense your intellect of all lesser visual sf
affectations, improve your disposition and clean up your zits. What I'm
saying here, case you're a *yotz* who needs things codified simply and
directly, is that "Doctor Who" is the apex, the pinnacle, the tops, the
Louvre Museum, the tops, the Colisuem, and other etcetera.
     Now to give you a few basic facts about the Doctor, to brighten
your path through this nifty series of lunatic novels.
     He is a Time Lord: one of that immensely wise and powerful
super-race of alien beings who, for centuries unnumbered, have watched
and studied all of Time and Space with intellects (as H.G. Wells put it)
vast and cool and unsympathetic. Their philosophy was never to interfere
in the affairs of alien races, merely to watch and wait.
     But one of their number, known only as the Doctor, found such
inaction anathema. As he studied the interplay of great forces in the
cosmos, the endless wars and invasions, the entropic conflict between
Good and Evil, the rights and lives of a thousand alien life-forms
debased and brutalized, the wrongs left unrighted...he was overcome by
the compulsion *to act*! He was a renegade, a misfit in the name of
     And so he stole a TARDIS and fled.
     Ah, yes. The TARDIS. That most marvelous device for spanning the
Time-lines and traversing all of known/unknown Space. The name is an
acronym for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. Marvelous! An amazing
machine that can change shape to fit in with any locale in which it
materializes. But the TARDIS stolen from his fellow Time Lords by the
Doctor was in for repairs. And so it was frozen in the shape of its
first appearance: a British police call box. Those of you who have been
to England may have seen such call boxes. (There are very few of them
currently, because the London "bobbies" now have two-way radio in their
patrol cars; but before the advent of that communications system the
tall, dark blue street call box--something like our old fashioned wooden
phone booth--was a familiar sight in the streets of London. If a police
officer needed assistance he could call in directly from such a box, and
if the station house wanted to get in touch with a copper they could
turn on the big blue light atop the box and its flashing would attract a
     Further wonder: the outward size of the TARDIS does not reveal its
relative size *inside*. The size of a phone booth outwardly, it is
enormous within, holding many sections filled with the Doctor's
super-scientific equipment.
     Unfortunately, the stolen TARDIS needed more repairs than just the
fixing of its shape-changing capabilities. Its steering mechanisim was
also wonky, and so the Doctor could never be certain that the
coordinates he set for time and place of materializing would be correct.
He might set a course for the planet Karn...and wind up in Victorian
London. He migh wish to relax at an intergalactic pleasure resort...and
pop into existence in Antarctica. He might lay a course for the deadly
gold mines of Voga...and appear in Renaissance Italy.
     It makes for a chancy existence, but the Doctor takes it all
unflinchingly. As do his attractive female traveling companions, whose
liasons with the Doctor are never sufficiently explicated for those of
us with a nasty, suspicious turn of mind.
     The Doctor *looks* human and, apart from his quirky way of
thinking, even *acts* human most of the time. But he is a Time Lord, not
a mere mortal. He has two hearts, a stable body temperature of 60
[degrees], and--not to stun you too much--he's approximately 750 years
old. Or at least he was that age when the first of he 43 _Doctor Who_
novels was written. God (or Time Lords) only know how old he is now!
     Only slightly less popular than the good Doctor himself are his
arch-foes and the distressing alien monsters he battles through the
pages of these wild books and in phosphor-dot reality on your TV
screens. They seem endless in their variety: the Vardans, the Oracle,
Fendahl, the virus swarm of the Purpose, The Master, the Tong of the
Black Scorpion, the evil brain of Morbius, the mysterious energy force
known as the Mandragora Helix, the android clone Kraals, the Zygons, the
Cybermen, the Ice Warriors, the Autons, the spore beast called the
Krynoid and--most deadly and menacing of them all--the robot threat of
the Daleks.
     Created by mad Davros, the great Kaled scientist, the
pepper-pot-shaped Daleks made such an impression in England when they
were first introduced into the series that they became a cultural
artifact almost immediately. Movies have been made about them, toys have
been manufactured of Daleks, coloring books, Dalek candies, soaps,
slippers, Easter eggs and even special Dalek fireworks. They rival the
Doctor for the attention of a fascinated audience and they have been
brought back again and again during the fourteen years the series has
perpetuated itself on BBC television; and their shiveringly pleasurable
manifestations have not been confined just to England and America.
Doctor Who and the Daleks have millions of rabid fans in over thirty
countries around the world.
     Like the three ficitional characters *every* nation knows--Sherlock
Holmes, Tarzan and Superman--Doctor Who seems to have a universal
     Let me conclude this paean of praise with these thoughts: hating
_Star Wars_ and "Star Trek" is not a difficult chore for me. I recoil
from that sophomoric species of creation that excuses its simplistic
cliche structure and homage to the transitory (as does does _Star Wars_)
as violently as I do from that which sententiously purports to be deep
and intellectual when it is, in fact, superficial self-conscious twaddle
(as does "Star Trek"). This not to say that I am an ivory tower
intellect whose doubledome can only support Proust or Descartes. When I
was a little kid, and was reading everything I could lay hands on, I
read the classics with joy, but enjoyed equally those works I've come to
think of as "elegant trash": the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels, The
Shadow, Doc Savage, Conan, comic books and Uncle Wiggly. They taught me
a great deal of what I know about courage and truth and ethic in the
     To that list I add _Doctor Who_. His adventures are sunk to the
hips in humanisim, decency, solid adventures and simple good reading.
They are not classics, make no mistake. They can never touch the
illuminative level of Dickens or Mark Twain or Kafka. But they are solid
entertainment based on an understanding of Good and Evil in the world.
They say to us, "You, too, can be Doctor Who. You, like the Doctor, can
stand up for that which is bright and bold and true. You can shape the
world, if you'll only go and try."
     And they do it in the form of *all* great literature...the cracking
good, well-plotted adventure yarn. They are direct lineal heirs to the
adventures of Rider Haggard and Talbot Mundy, of H.G. Wells and Jules
Verne, of Mary Shelley and Ray Bradbury. They are worth your time.
     And if you give yourself up to the Doctor's winsome ways, he will
take substance and reality in your imagination. For that reason, for the
inestimable goodness and delight in every _Doctor Who_ adventure, for
the benefits he proffers, I lend my name and my urging to read and watch
     I don't think you'll do less than thank me for shoving you down
with this book in your hands and telling's Who. Meet the
     The pleasure is all mine. And all yours, kiddo.
                                      Harlan Ellison
                                      Los Angeles


At 6:58 PM, Anonymous Mike Combs said...

I remember this article very well! I think it might have also gotten published in Starlog. The phrase "..the retarded adults, spot-welded into their Darth Vader masks..." will stay with me for a lifetime.

At 11:42 AM, Blogger El Vox said...

Mike--Ellison has a way with words, and doesn't pull punches. I don't always agree with him, but I admire his backbone, and appreciate his writing.


Post a Comment

<< Home