I recently heard a comment made on one of the Big Finish CD Extras that Jago & Litefoot wasn’t steampunk even though some stories had some similarities. This got me thinking – is there anything to this idea? Clearly some people think that there is something in this for Doctor Who in general given that a short search turns up the steampunk K9 (known as K-1889) along with Daleks and lots of other stuff. I also have the instinct that says something about the Eighth Doctor could be steampunk as well. I thought I would muse deeper on this as follows:
- Define steampunk
- Look for evidence that Doctor Who might be steampunk
- Waffle a bit then finish the article.
Let’s stoke some more coal into the type 40 engines and let’s go! NB — I updated this article shortly after posting.
What is steampunk?
Bastardising wiki, steampunk is sub-genre of science-fiction (I would argue science-fantasy as I am old-fashioned) dealing with worlds typically featuring steam-powered devices [sic] and either in a Victorian, Wild West or post-apocalyptic setting. Influenced by Verne, Wells or Mary Shelley the term arose in the late 1980s though there are many examples of steampunk novels from the 1970s including works by Michael Moorcock.
Evidence of steampunk in Doctor Who
My first piece of evidence is the giant Cyberking from the Tenth Doctor story The Next Doctor. This is incontrovertibly steampunk — we have the Victorian Age, a giant machine, fires and even a balloon. This couldn’t be a more steampunk story if Jules Verne himself had written it!
Yes the Cybermen are born out of more modern technology but even so the nu-Who Cybermen have a definite mechanical flavour rather than an electronic one.
I mentioned the Eighth Doctor‘s TARDIS console which I show in all its glory (picture courtesy of the BBC Doctor Who website).
Any look and feel for steampunk includes a lot of brass, dials, levers and wood which is a good a description of the Eighth Doctor‘s TARDIS console as any you could produce.
I then move to the recent Fourth Doctor adventure The Justice of Jalxar in which the Doctor and Romana in the company of Jago & Litefoot wander the streets of Victorian London in search of a mysterious figure who is executing criminals. This, it transpires, is an alien justice machine damaged in a crash and repaired using local (and steam-powered) technology! There you have it – Jago & Litefoot has been steampunk!
I think it is clear that there are influences on Doctor Who as a whole and that Jago & Litefoot (when not in 1960s London) are capable of being as steampunk as you might want. Doctor Who as a whole, though, rather defies categorisation and not every Jago & Litefoot story is steampunk. So the answer is sometimes!
I will, however, be running a steampunk gauge over future releases!
This post triggered some interest from Cavan Scott who posted a full article on steampunk and Doctor Who over on his blog here (and I enjoyed the equation), he also argues that Doctor Who is maybe better regarded as an influence on steampunk. Cavan also seems to be on the side of the position that J&L is steampunk though Jonathan Morris tweeted me with a rather different view:
J & L is not about the technological trappings IMHO. Stories either about supernatural or highly-advanced technology as viewed/interpreted through Victorian mindset
This led me to think – maybe J&L is post-steampunk?
Just confirmed in the promotional material for Series 6 (due November 2013) is that the third story in the boxset – Military Intelligence by George Mann – is
perhaps Jago & Litefoot’s first major step into steampunk storytelling
I rest my case!
What do you think? Do you care? Do you just enjoy your Doctor Who or are you a big steampunk fan?
Let me know!
4 Comments Add yours
Interesting post Tony. Just blogged a response – http://cavanscott.com/2013/04/is-doctor-who-steampunk/
Thanks Cavan – I like the equation you have in your piece. Interesting how steampunk touches a nerve with some people!
I would say that Steampunk is more than technological trappings though. That’s a very basic way of looking at it. At its heart written Steampunk is about exploring that victorian mindset and its legacy
I can tell I will have to dig out a copy of Resurrection Engines and read your story!