The Integrated Universe

By | Friday, January 16, 2009 Leave a Comment
Here's something I've understood for years but, for some reason, it just really struck me this evening.

I'm catching up on a sorely-needed Dr. Who fix. Up until around May of last year, it was at least a twice-weekly event for me to turn on the television, and watch some Dr. Who related show. Sometimes it was the Tom Baker episodes being aired on my local PBS station, sometimes it was the BBC America broadcast of Torchwood... just some recognition that the universe inhabited by the Doctor was still out there.

Ah, but economic issues hit and I couldn't justify subscribing to cable any more. Those shows were the ONLY ones I was watching, and one of them I could pick up with a pair of rabbit ears sticking out of the back of my TV. But, of course, shortly afterwards, my PBS station switched to broadcasting the newer Dr. Who episodes which I'd already seen ad nauseum at that point.

So, starting last weekend, I began catching up with my old friends. Tonight, I finished season one of The Sarah Jane Adventures and, while I'm not overly partial to the series (being as it's clearly written for a younger demographic, and Sarah Jane was one of my least favorite companions*) I generally enjoyed it. And here's the bit that really struck me...

It was NOT about the Doctor. I'd spent years watching the adventures of the Doctor. He'd fly around the universe, picking up this companion or that, saving this planet or that, defeating this alien or that, but it always centered around him. I -- and everyone else watching -- was another of his companions, going along for the ride. It was the Doctor who the show was about and he was clearly the hero. Everybody else, including the audience, pretty much just sat on the sidelines.

But, sitting there watching The Sarah Jane Adventures, it really hit me that this is what goes on when the Doctor's not around. Same with Torchwood. This is the planet Earth when the Doctor isn't there to defend it. This is what goes on when he's not watching. This is the same story -- the story of life -- from another perspective.

And that's the exact same thing that Marvel and DC tap into each and every week. That's why we have "Secret Invasion" and "Final Crisis" and whatever mega-crossover they've got planned next. We use entertainment like comic books and TV to help us sort out life. They present ideas to us from a perspective outside of our own, and suggest ways to understand what it means to be human. And, while that's useful in and of itself, it's that much more useful if we can get the same ideas from multiple perspectives. How does Spider-Man view New York City differently than Gorilla-Man? How does Superman feel about abuses of Presidential power compared to Elongated Man?

Entertainment examines the human condition. You could better understand the dynamics of a football game if you were to watch it in its entirety from every angle at which it's filmed. Likewise, a shared universe like those seen in Marvel and DC (and Star Wars and Dr. Who and Buffy and...) franchises helps you to better understand that portion of the human condition.

Just something to think about the next time you're reading up on the adventures of the Avengers or the JLA.

* Nothing against actress Elizabeth Sladen, but the first story I saw her in was "The Hand of Fear." She wore that phenomenally awfully candy-striped pair of overalls, and her "Eldrad must live" chant bugged me to no end. It was about the worst first impression you could give someone. Not to mention that she buggered off at the end of the story anyway! That said, that scene between Rose and Sarah Jane in School Reunion is priceless! But, seriously... of the three words in "Eldrad must live" the absolutely least important is "must" -- why would you want to emphasize that?
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