Doctor Who Meets Charles Dickens

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.


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  2. later in the same dr who show they had an amusing bit where dickens says he’s going to finish of edwin drood with an ending based on aliens – “the uncle? hes and alien!” – but dr who says at the end to his assistant “no he won’t he’s only got x weeks left” – great to see a tv show not patronising its viewers – they didn’t introduce the book as not being finished they just expected the viewer to know it – 100% briliant.

  3. I wasn’t going to spoil the ending, Joe. But yeah, absolutely. Also, the episode was written by one of the guys behind “The League of Gentleman” (a truly funny show, if you’re into dark wit) which accounts for the smart dialogue.

  4. I also like the part at the end where Dickens is considering changes he might make to one of his books in light of his newfound knowledge about the world.

  5. “Miss Havisham? Is that you?”

    So weird! That’s what everybody asks me! No, it’s me, the convict? I’m doing very well now in bridal apparel. Raising sheep is hard smelly work! Retail is working out so much better. Big sales soon!

  6. Oh, for the love of Mike, give me a break already about “Little Nell.” Everywhere I go it’s, “is that you, Miss Havisham?” and “gosh, what happened to Nancy?” and “wasn’t Little Nell cute” like there is anyway on this green earth I had anything to do with that? Or Nancy either. You fuck up once in your life and it just never stops! I got that shit behind me now, that’s over. Just buy some damned dresses.

  7. Little Nell — little girl from “The Old Curiosity Shop” who was about the schmaltziest character that good ol’ Boz wrote. Although since “The Old Curiosity Shop” also has Quilp and the silly “Pilgrim’s Progress” parallel is eventually abandoned, Dickens is recused. ๐Ÿ™‚

    And, Maud, I had no idea about the complaints. Thanks for the link. And never use geek as a pejorative. I’ve been pretty damn excited about the new Dr. Who too. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Okay, I’m a geek and I’m proud.

    So did you like the third episode? I thought it was great, but Max (husband) thought some of the dialogue was stupid, and he thought the pacing was off. He and his best friend have been massive Who fans for years — I was a latecomer, via VHS, to the original series — and they both think the new, short shows try to do too much in too short a time.

    But so far I like the comparatively frenetic pace and condensed stories. Sometimes, in the old Dr. Who, people were endlessly running through corridors for five or ten minutes at a stretch.

    Anyhow, what do you think?

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