Doctor Who, Constitutional Values, and the Problems of Change

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Doctor Who, like much popular culture and science fiction, reconstructs developments within and challenges to the law. Constitutions, and the contested values underpinning them, have been a recurrent theme of the dilemmas driving the Doctor’s experience of imagined societies. Throughout the canon, his interventions in those worlds are rarely unquestioned. They frequently concern a genuine moral quandary or reasonable disagreement; supporting characters often object to his proposed actions and provide valid alternative perspectives. This projects debates about the values underpinning those societies, creating a spillover effect allowing us to explore and negotiate the normative underpinnings of our ‘real world’ constitution.
However, this reading must not be overplayed. This paper examines whether the uncertain and piecemeal nature of constitutional change may undermine the use of Doctor Who, and science fiction generally, in the cultural negotiation of constitutional values. Constitutions are not simply about broad ideas. They mix high principles with technical rules. The Human Rights Act 1998 is illustrative: it demands broad questions around the scope of fundamental rights protection, but couples these with more legalistic problems such as defining public authorities. Constitutional change is often piecemeal, uncertain, and compromised: it has been over 100 years since the first proposals to introduce an elected element to the House of Lords, the future relationship between the UK and the European Union is in flux, and devolution is in constant negotiation.
Mindful of this, negotiations of constitutional values within science fiction cannot precisely depict, simulate, or anticipate constitutional problems and changes. This does not remove the utility of Doctor Who as a forum through which to traverse the constitution, but it highlights limitations to this methodology. As far as constitutional law is concerned, useful and credible analyses and representations of the present and future must be limited to an abstract and incomplete level.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015
EventLaw and Culture Conference 2015 - St Mary's University, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 10 Sept 2015 → …


ConferenceLaw and Culture Conference 2015
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Period10/09/15 → …

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