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Chapter Ten - Doctor Who’s Shaken Faith in Science: Mistrusting Science from the Gothic to the Neo-Gothic

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 February 2022

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Summary

Neo-Gothic stories have enjoyed immense popularity in contemporary popular culture. Science fiction in particular has developed a very productive relationship with the Gothic in the past several decades. It has often been claimed by scholars that such sci-fi Gothic demonstrates a fear of the future (or rather, a speculative future extrapolated from the rapidly changing present) in contrast to early Gothic literature, which feared the pre-modern past (or rather, a wilfully misrepresented version of the pre-modern past). I would argue, however, that to make such a distinction is to yet again wilfully misrepresent the past, only this time it is not the pre-modern past, but early modernity, that is being misrepresented. The Gothic's original entry into mainstream culture in the 1790s came at a moment when many Britons found themselves as unsettled by the radical ideological and epistemological transformations of their present moment as they were critical of the ideologies and epistemologies of pre-modern Europe. In other words, fear of a revolutionary present or a terrifying future is nothing new to the Gothic. Indeed, it is one of its most essential elements.

In this chapter I aim to show that the contemporary neo-Gothic, especially neo-Gothic science fiction, has more in common with the earliest popular Gothic novels than is often acknowledged, and that their similarity is due in considerable part to the waning of public trust in science. For reasons I shall discuss, the status of science as a dependable foundation for knowledge about the world—a status it was just beginning to attain among European elites at the time of the Gothic's original rise to prominence—has been severely challenged in recent decades. Using episodes of the longest-running science fiction program on television, Doctor Who, as a case study, I will show how the loss of faith over the reliability of science has contributed to the effectiveness of the Gothic qualities of neo-Gothic science fiction. The neo-Gothic's contemporary popularity is largely due to the fact that the Gothic has always been the literature of modernity that most effectively reflects ideological and epistemological doubt, and our present moment is one of considerable doubt.

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Neo-Gothic Narratives
Illusory Allusions from the Past
, pp. 155 - 168
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2020

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