Obey! Or is that oy vey? Who knew - the Doctor and the Daleks are Jewish

By Simon Rocker, November 21, 2013
Exterminating the myth: the Timelord’s broiges with the Daleks is about more than just plans for inter-galactic domination

Exterminating the myth: the Timelord’s broiges with the Daleks is about more than just plans for inter-galactic domination

For many, the long-awaited television event of the year will finally arrive tomorrow night when the BBC shows the 50th anniversary episode of what must now be its most famous programme, Doctor Who.

While viewers are promised the revelation of hitherto closely guarded secrets about its central character, it will probably not be that the Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey is able to make up a minyan.

But avid followers have nonetheless detected in the story of ‘the wandering Who’ a Jewish sub-text.

Naomi Alderman, whose spin-off Doctor Who novel for the BBC, Borrowed Time, was published in 2011, said: “The character himself is an intellectual who is exiled from his homeland and who therefore has to wander the universe making himself useful, wherever he can. And he’s a doctor.”

Although none of the actors who have played the Doctor or his companions have been Jewish, the series owes its existence to a Jewish Canadian Sidney Newman, who commissioned it after becoming the BBC’s head of the drama in 1962.

He recruited Verity Lambert, the daughter of a Jewish accountant, to produce it when it hit the screens in black and white: she was the Beeb’s only female producer at the time.

The doctor’s oldest foes, the Daleks, with their master-race aspirations, have been called “canned Nazis” by American Jewish writer Liel Leibovitz. The metallic bark, “Obey”, of some of the earliest Daleks to appear was voiced by Jewish actor David Graham. (Oy vey if you didn’t obey.)

When the series went into a lengthy hibernation off-screen before its restoration in 2005, Rebecca Levene kept fans fed during the 1990s as editor of Virgin’s New Adventures series of Doctor Who fiction.

Some of the contributors to those stories became instrumental to the subsequent TV revival including Russell T Davies and Stephen Moffat.

Rebecca Levene herself co-authored a spin-off novel about a Whovian companion from the book adventures who was called Bernice Summerfield.

Under a pseudonym, she also penned the story The Last Days — available in the audio book collection Short Trips — which transported the first Doctor to the fall of Masada.

“At the time I saw it as taking the character somewhere he hadn’t gone before,” she said, “But in retrospect I’ve come to believe he was, in a way, always one of us.

“He was and remains a hero who abhors bullies, chooses brains over brawn, can make himself at home anywhere but belongs nowhere and values compassion far more than strength. If diaspora Jews can’t see their reflection in him, they’re not looking hard enough.

“His modern incarnation, of course, is the survivor of a genocide who struggles with survivors’ guilt. If anything, he’s more Jewish than ever.”

While the tardis has yet to land in a synagogue and Cybermen don’t like smoked salmon, the series has found its way into religious education.

American Jewish lecturer Holly Jordan shows episodes from the David Tennant era to introduce students to ideas about Satan and the afterlife in a course on the Abrahamic faiths at the University of Georgia.

And in a book on religion and Doctor Who edited by Manchester University lecturer in modern Christianity Andrew Crome, there’s even a chapter called “Midrashic Adventures in Time and Space”.

Who’s who?

● In one 1971 classic, Terror of the Autons, actor Harry Towb was swallowed up by an armchair.

● In the 1977 Sun Makers, Henry Woolf played an alien who is turned back by the Doctor into his natural form of seawood.

● Alexei Sayle got zapped by Daleks in the 1985 “Revelation of the Daleks”, while Eleanor Bron also bit the dust in the same story.

● In 1994, Leonard Nimoy – Star Trek’s Mr Spock – was offered the part of the Doctor in a proposed American movie version.

● Philip Segal was the executive producer of the one-off 1996 movie which temporarily revived the character on TV.

● Will Cohen, executive producer of Milk, has been the special effects mastermind of the successfully regenerated BBC series since 2005

● Maureen Lipman was the villainous alien in the 2006 episode The Idiot’s Lantern, stealing people’s faces from TV screens.

● Tracy Ann Oberman shed a tear in the 2006 “Doomsday” – after being converted into a Cyberman

● Author Neil Gaiman, who has penned two episodes, upgraded the Cyberman in “Nightmare in Silver”, shown earlier this year

● Steven Berkoff appeared in the 2012 episode about little black cubes, The Power of Three, as did, fleetingly, Lord Sugar playing himself

● Alex Kingston, who has played River Song since 2008, found her “inner Jew” last year when she learned her father was descended from a Jewish brothel-keeper

Last updated: 12:15pm, November 22 2013