The Regenerate: The Paradoxes of Nostalgia and Empire in the Doctor Who Series

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Yue Yuan


This essay examines the role of nostalgia for the Eleventh Doctor (Seasons 5-7) in the longest running BBC sci-fi TV series Doctor Who. Memory plays a paradoxical role as both that which plagues and exalts the nameless protagonist. As the Doctor travails the universe in search of a home he eradicated long ago, he remembers both his self-induced trauma and the hope he now provides as a hero independent of time and space. A walking paradox of creation and destruction, the Doctor epitomizes modern Britain’s identity conflicts with its colonial and empirical past. Doctor Who unpacks the shame of Empire while it also glorifies a thoroughly imperial personality as a near divine exception. He, like the nation, struggles with the guilt and prestige of his past. Neither can completely separate from the overwhelming influence of nostalgia. The source of the Doctor’s greatest tragedies and greatest aspirations coincide in memory. His nostalgia for his imagined homeland perpetuates his undying guilt for laying it to ruin. However, it is the nostalgia others have for him which spares him from the brink of erasure. Juxtaposing work on nostalgic memory by Frederic Jameson and Svetlana Boym against Michael Rothberg’s theory of multidirectional memory, the Doctor work as a paragon of memory’s role in identity formation. Memory acts as the most accessible form of time travel, though not the most reliable. As what the Doctor chooses to remember reveals how the mind restructures events in ever evolving identities, memory seems more storyteller than camera.

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