December 10, 2022

Bioethics anniversaries: Doctor Who

In a week in which the US mourns the 50th anniversary of the death of John F. Kennedy, Dr Who fans are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the cult TV series. The timing is not particularly sensitive, but tonight the BBC presents a special episode, “The Day of the Doctor.”

In a week in which the US mourns the 50th anniversary of the death of John F. Kennedy, Dr Who fans are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the cult TV series. Tonight the BBC will screen a special episode, “The Day of the Doctor.” (See trailer here.

There is a bioethical dimension to the Dr Who series, contends a University of Leicester academic, Dr Chris Willmott, especially in the characterisation one of Dr Who’s most fearsome enemies, the Cybermen.

These creatures arefor humans, but they have been altered to the point where they have few remaining organic parts, apart from their brains. They are emotionless, ruthless and evil. In a chapter in a book commemorating the anniversary, New Dimensions of Doctor Who, Dr Willmott says that the Cybermen offer an insight into the transhumanist movement:

“What we see portrayed is one of the classic dilemmas in modern bioethics – the tension between an intervention being a ‘therapy’ or an ‘enhancement’…

“The therapy/enhancement tension is particularly well examined in the 2006 two-parter ‘Rise of the Cybermen’ and ‘The Age of Steel’. On a parallel Earth, inventor John Lumic has been developing the Cybermen as a research tool as he sought a resolution to how he might survive his own degenerative illness. However the story finishes in a transhumanist’s nightmare when he is forcibly upgraded by his creations.

“Most people would agree that the various Cybermen storylines offer a pretty bleak image of the potential interaction between humans and Posthumans. There are, however, some philosophers who still argue that their ambition for pain-free immortality sits squarely with the goals of many humans. Over the years the details of how humans get turned into Cybermen have varied, but regardless of the mechanics of the conversion process, it has always been clear that the creatures within the shiny suits started out as people.”

Michael Cook
Creative commons
Doctor Who
enhancement
transhumanism