Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975) was a Russian philosopher with a particular interest in language and its relation to the social world. Marginalised and even persecuted for much of his lifetime he has more recently been recognised as one of the leading cultural thinkers of the 20th Century. This essay is brief introduction to his ideas as presented in his dissertation Rabelais and His World and further developed in Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics and the four essays contained in The Dialogic Imagination.
I explore these ideas by applying them to Doctor Who – mainly because I like Doctor Who! But I also aim to show that complex processes play themselves out in popular TV shows as much as in self-consciously ‘difficult’ work – I mean, it wouldn’t be much of a challenge to find Bakhtin’s ideas at work in the science fiction ‘campus novels’ of Samuel R Delany, would it?
I read Bakhtin’s concepts of the carnivalesque, grotesque realism, heteroglossia, polyphony, unfinalizability and the chronotope into Doctor Who, and illustrate Bakhtin’s ideas through examples drawn from that show: this essay is, in effect, an exercise in dialogue between Bakhtin and Doctor Who.
This essay is a greatly expanded version of an article which originally appeared in the Doctor Who fanzine Shockeye’s Kitchen # 9 in July 2001