‘Nietzsche and Doctor Who – the serial form and the three teachings of Zarathustra’

Film-Philosophy Conference (2016).
Panel presentation.
University of Edinburgh, 6-8 July 2016.

Perhaps you can imagine the encounter? A philosopher out for a walk amongst the hills and forests of Engadin. Then, a cyclic ‘wheezing, groaning’ sound; a London 1950s-style police box (necessarily unrecognised by the philosopher) materialises, cleaving time and space. Out bobs a strange man calling himself a doctor – human-like, but (as the philosopher will soon realise) very alien. The two figures spend an afternoon in conversation. What was or will be discussed is unknown.

This paper proposes, in lieu of the above, a rather different kind of encounter between Nietzsche and the Doctor. It explores the resonances between the eponymous tv show and Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The programme rises to the challenges of, I will claim, the three central teachings of Nietzsche’s book. These three teachings are the interweaving trefoil knot of the overhuman, will to power, and eternal recurrence. These three teachings unground notions of chronological time, comprehensive space and comprehensive consciousness. Doctor Who will prove to be an affirmation of Zarathustra founded upon three interrelated narrative disciplines: the atemporal (time travel), the aspatial (many worlds) and the ahuman (alien states). Taking a taxonomic approach (teachings and disciplines which cut across one another), this paper focuses upon the fundamental serial form of both Zarathustra and Doctor Who. Douglas Burnham and Martin Jesinghuasen describe Zarathustra as having ‘aphoristic discontinuity’ (NTSZ:47). Doctor Who is similarly productive of such discontinuities: the Doctor is a multiplicity of beings; and spatio-temporal events are endlessly problematized and ungrounded.

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