Whenever Charles Dickens is introduced in a film or on television, I cringe. As a man who owns two and a half complete sets of Dickens (one published in 1898), it’s disheartening to see writers go for the easy references and avoid the fact that Dickens was a far more complex figure than people know him as (his lifelong affair with Ellen Lawless Ternan, for example, had considerable influence on his work).
However, the most recent Doctor Who episode, “The Unquiet Dead,” demonstrates a surprising familiarity with the great Boz’s material:
COACH DRIVER: Everything in order, Mr. Dickens?
DICKENS: No, it is not.
THE DOCTOR: What did he say?
DICKENS: Let me say this first. I’m not without a sense of humor.
THE DOCTOR: Dickens?
THE DOCTOR: Charles Dickens?
THE DOCTOR: The Charles Dickens?
COACH DRIVER: Should I remove the gentleman, sir?
THE DOCTOR: Charles Dickens! You’re brilliant, you are! Completely 100% brilliant! I’ve read ’em all! Great Expectations, Oliver Twist. And what’s the other one? The…the one with the ghost?
DICKENS: “A Christmas Carol?”
THE DOCTOR: No, no, no. The one with the trains. “The Signal-Man!” That’s it! Terrifying! The best short story ever written. You’re a genius!
COACH DRIVER: Do you want me to get rid of him sir?
DICKENS: Uh, no. I think he can stay.
THE DOCTOR: Honestly, Charles…can I call you Charles? I’m such a big fan!
DICKENS: Wh..wh..wh..what? A big what?
THE DOCTOR: Fan! Number one fan! That’s me.
DICKENS: How exactly are you a fan? In what way, do you resemble a means of keeping one’s self cool?
THE DOCTOR: No, it means “fanatic.” Devoted to you. Mind you, for God’s sake, the American bit in Martin Chuzzlewit, what’s that about? Was that just padding? Or what? I mean, it’s rubbish, that bit.
DICKENS: I thought you said you were my fan.
THE DOCTOR: Well, if you can’t take criticism. Come on! Do the death of Little Nelly! It cracks me up!
For any Dickens afficianado, the last piece of dialogue is particularly amusing, for It invokes Oscar Wilde, who famously remarked, “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing.”
It’s good to know that there are some writers out there working in television who pay attention to these things.