In this wonderful meditation on two of the great cult shows out there right now – Community and Doctor Who* – the New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum writes about how certain cult shows open up worlds and expand reality for their fans.
The connection between the two shows, beyond the cult factor, is of course Abed’s love of “Inspector Spacetime,” Community‘s version of Doctor Who. Where the Doctor is a Time Lord, Inspector Spacetime is an Infinity Knight. Instead of the Doctor’s stream of companions, the Inspector has his companion in Constable Reggie Wigglesworth. Nussbaum says that a show like Doctor Who is exactly the sort of show that would inspire Abed and by extension, now-former Community showrunner Dan Harmon.
In this past season of Community the show went beyond being the usual sitcom, even beyond being the usual Community. As the show moved its center from Jeff to Abed, we explored alternate timelines, went into Abed’s psyche, experienced the gang in video game form, and even saw a breakdown in the codependent but beautiful relationship between Troy and Abed. In short, this past season Community rose above itself, not always successfully, but always seeking a new relationship with its audience and the idea of what it means to truly love pop culture.
Doctor Who‘s rebirth in 2005 with Russell T. Davies’s reboot also changed the show from being just a great sci-fi show to one with season long emotional stakes. Rory, the Lone Centurion watching over Amy for 2,000 years was the truest form of love I’ve seen on TV since Penny and Desmond. And speaking of great love stories, the relationship between the Doctor and the TARDIS itself as examined in “The Doctor’s Wife” (penned by one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman) was incredibly touching. As Nussbaum explains,
In one lovely moment, the TARDIS itself is transferred into a female body and marvels to Doctor Who about the experience: “Are all people like this? So much bigger on the inside.”
The little inside joke being that the TARDIS itself, in non-human form, is a small blue police box that is itself huge on the inside.
Nussbaum closes with a positive note about cult shows and those of us who love them:
Cult shows, such as “Doctor Who” and “Community,” often have this quality: they shrug off the condescension that people have toward their “lower” genres, using their constraints to find a greater freedom. When you look at a show like that from a distance, it might seem too narrow to contain much of interest. But it’s so much larger when you’re on the inside.
This is so, so true.
*All six seasons of the rebooted Doctor Who are available on Netflix streaming. Note that the past 2 seasons were being run by Sherlock co-creator, Steven Moffat. Here is a great video of Moffat winning this year’s BAFTA Special Award, handed to him by Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock himself) and Matt Smith (the latest iteration of the Doctor).