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RIP Harlan Ellison (A big Dr Who fan)

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1RIP Harlan Ellison (A big Dr Who fan) Empty RIP Harlan Ellison (A big Dr Who fan) on Sun Jul 01, 2018 12:57 pm

In tribute to Harlan Ellison, who died on Thursday, I wanted to share this intro to Doctor Who.

Harlan Ellison wrote: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 cast-offs 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 up!”

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 traveller through Time and Space, the sword of justice from the planet Gallifrey, the scourge of villains 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 Britain, 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 marvellous 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 future exhortations by telling you *this* TV viewing will not harm you…will, in fact, delight and uplift you, stretch your imagination, tickle your risibility, 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 Coliseum, 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 unlighted…he was overcome by the compulsion *to act*! He was a renegade, a misfit in the name of justice. And so he stole a TARDIS and fled.

Ah, yes. The TARDIS. That most marvellous 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. Marvellous! 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 “bobby.”)
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 Victoria London. He might 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 travelling companions, whose liaisons 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 the 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 artefact almost immediately. Movies have been made about them, toys have been manufactured of Daleks, colouring 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 shivering 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 fictional characters *every* nation knows–Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan and Superman–Doctor Who seems to have a universal appeal.
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 cliché structure and homage to the transitory (as 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 world.

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 him.
I don’t think you’ll do less than thank me for shoving you down with this book in your hands and telling you…here’s Who. Meet the Doctor.

The pleasure is all mine. And all yours, kiddo.

Harlan Ellison

Los Angeles

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2RIP Harlan Ellison (A big Dr Who fan) Empty Re: RIP Harlan Ellison (A big Dr Who fan) on Sun Jul 01, 2018 10:55 pm

One can only shudder to think what he thought of New Who. Big Grin


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3RIP Harlan Ellison (A big Dr Who fan) Empty Re: RIP Harlan Ellison (A big Dr Who fan) on Sun Jul 01, 2018 11:18 pm

@iank wrote:One can only shudder to think what he thought of New Who. Big Grin


I've noticed that a lot of sci fi authors and directors LOVED the original, but hated the new one.

Steven Spielberg famously loved Classic Who, said the world would be a poorer place without it, whilst also saying there is a lot missing from the new one that made the old so great. (Something which George Lucas agreed with.)

Terry Pratchett also said that New Who whilst enjoyable was not for people who liked Sci Fi.

Iain Banks author of The Culture series also said in the final ever interview he gave that he had "fallen out of love with Doctor Who" and that he just couldn't get into the new version.

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