Yesterday we looked at the most overt reference to the Narnia series of books in Doctor Who, The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. The episode features many references to the books beyond the obvious. For example, the statues frozen in time recall the statues in the Witch’s courtyard in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which are brought back to life by Aslan, and he is our obvious Doctor parallel, which is something I will look at in more detail shortly. There is also a family leaving the blitz to live in an old house in the country, and even a direct quote from Professor Digory Kirke:
What do they teach in schools these days?
So perhaps we also need to bear in mind that Digory is an interesting comparison to the Doctor. His younger adventures, witnessing the creation of Narnia (The Magician’s Nephew), make him more of a companion figure, with Aslan as the Doctorish mysterious super-being, but in his old age he is the creator of the wardrobe and therefore the Cushing Doctor is actually the closest comparison.
Before we look at the wider influence of the Narnia series on Doctor Who, let’s do the usual Six Degrees thing of looking at some superficial links: actors who crossed over. Now, obviously this is a book series and I will be treating it as such, but for the purposes of this bit it seems appropriate to take a look at the BBC adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which was another Christmassy highlight of my childhood, along with The Box of Delights, which Narnia owes a lot to.
Ronald Pickup (the physician in The Reign of Terror) voiced Aslan. Inside the Aslan prop was Ailsa Berk, who has choreographed many Doctor Who monsters since 2005. Keith Hodiak (the Raston Warrior Robot in The Five Doctors) played Aslan’s satyr. Maureen Morris (one of the spider voices in Planet of the Spiders) was Mrs Macready. Kerry Shale (Doctor Renfrew in Day of the Moon) played Mr Beaver. There are also a wealth of behind-the-scenes connections.
Leaving behind the television production and looking at how the Narnia book series plays into the world of Doctor Who, let’s pause along the way just to acknowledge one melancholy fact: C.S. Lewis died on 22nd November 1963, the day before Doctor Who was first broadcast. But although he sadly never got to see any of it, his ideas had a profound influence on Doctor Who, as they did many a television series.
Most obvious is the wardrobe, which is simply a portal to another world, an old literary trope. The TARDIS works in a similar way, and by comparing it to its openly fantasy equivalent we can see how Doctor Who is actually steeped in fantasy with its veil of sci-fi. Just as the wardrobe is not entirely reliable or predictable, neither does the TARDIS always do as expected, and is no more under the complete control of the Doctor than the wardrobe is under the control of Digory.
Doctor Who, like the Narnia series, thrives on the battle between good and evil, although it is not always described in those terms. There are nuances in both. The “evil” races that are loyal to the White Witch have exceptions, with some “good” amongst those races defecting to Aslan. Likewise there are bad apples within the “good” races. Doctor Who often does this, especially when there are more intelligent portrayals of alien races, such as Ice Warriors and Draconians, and then of course we have the humans who work with the Earth invaders in stories such as The Invasion, The Android Invasion, and countless others.
In Narnia humans have a special significance and are shown to be a powerful race, with four humans needed to undo Jadis’s curse. Doctor Who also massages our ego by showing humanity as something special, and of course the Doctor’s favourite race. Interestingly the whole four humans thing is a prophecy that needs to be fulfilled, so Jadis is on a hiding to nothing from the word go because she is existing in a fatalistic universe, a problem that often crops up in Doctor Who, particularly in the historical stories.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has a careful gender balance and, like Doctor Who, something of a contradictory relationship with feminism. At times it seems to have a Victorian patronising attitude, such as the infamous “battles are ugly when women fight” line, and Lucy only getting a dagger so she can defend herself but not attack. On the other hand, Lewis does allow Susan to be a fighter, complete with bow and arrows, and this is actually something almost unprecedented for the time, decades away from a society that allows women to go into battle. As well as two female and two male protagonists, we also have one male and one female antagonist, with the latter going into battle at the head of her troops.
A quick look at the roll call of Doctor Who companions will reveal that not only are most of them female, but they are almost without exception very young. Somehow they always seem to part company before they get the chance to grow older, something that is tackled in School Reunion. Likewise, Narnia is a place for the young. After Prince Caspian Peter and Susan are told that they are too old ever to return, and the same happens to Edmund and Lucy in Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
I have focussed mainly on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe so far, but it is also interesting to look at the wider book series, and see how the world of Narnia is developed with various different plots, which often display approaches that are typical of Doctor Who. So we have invasion stories, with Narnia overrun by human pirates in Prince Caspian, and a threat from an underground kingdom in The Silver Chair (compare Doctor Who and the Silurians). Voyage of the Dawn Treader is our location-jumping travel adventure story, which Doctor Who has done a few times despite the idea’s seeming incompatibility with budgetary restrictions (The Keys of Marinus, The Chase). The Horse and His Boy is the equivalent to our historical stories, set totally within Narnia and not much in the way of magic or religious parallels. It is an invasion story, but a domestic one. The Magician’s Nephew is both a prequel/origin story (Genesis of the Daleks, The Doctor Falls) and also a tale of awakening a sleeping danger who then tries to wreak havok (The Daemons, The Awakening). Finally we have The Last Battle. There are comparisons to be made, but principally this exists as a final ending, which is something that Doctor Who will hopefully never do.
To return to the most important comparison I mentioned earlier, we have our main comparison figure with the Doctor, Aslan. Just like the Doctor sets himself up as the guardian of Earth, Aslan is the guardian of Narnia. Like the Doctor he is gentle and kind, but he is not “tame”. He still retains his power and element of danger. He has many followers and is willing to sacrifice himself, even to save an enemy. His enemy tries to humiliate him before killing him by shaving off his hair (compare this to what the Master tries to do in The Sound of Drums, by aging the Doctor and then the Doctor’s Jesus moment in Last of the Time Lords, rejuvenating in a halo of light). Aslan dies and then comes back from the dead, just like the Doctor. But ultimately the comparisons were always going to be there to be made because the Doctor and Aslan share the same inspiration: Jesus being reborn. CS Lewis was an atheist who returned to Christianity because he was persuaded by theological arguments of his friends, principally JRR Tolkien. Whether you agree with him or not, you can’t deny that he created a whole world that captured the imagination of generations of children and adults.
Just like Doctor Who. RP