I was thinking about two British characters in particular. Both are about the same age on screen, both have an iconic 60’s theme tune that sums up the character and nature of their stories. A theme tune that almost speaks for itself, proving that some of the best theme tunes came from that era. They both have an iconic mode of transport that further exemplifies their taste and internal character.
They both reincarnated many times since the sixties, yet the people around them were consistent and didn’t even comment about the previous guy. Unlike many other reboots and rebuilds that never refer back to their long history, both frequently link to their past lives. Watch Skyfall for the weirdest meta-fiction ever, were 2000’s Bond has his predecessors car.
Yep, I’m thinking about Doctor Who and James Bond.
Both icons, one is a ice cool killer calmly following orders whatever the danger the other an unarmed bumbling eccentric trying to save the universe.
Both represent an aspect of the British class system, in so far as both are upper class (one’s a Lord, the other educated at Eton). There is a sense that their values come from a lost time,
So what makes them so iconic, why do they keep coming back for over 50 years?
1. They can never run out of problems to deal with; one has all the problems of the world, the other, all the problems of time and space. If you can’t find an idea there, you’ve pretty much failed as a writer.
2. Both are very secretive about their pasts, you never (or very rarely) see their personal spaces or know much about their families. In the last 6 years we’ve probably learnt more about them than in the preceding 6 decades.
3. Both are characters that did exist; the bumbling eccentric was a bastion of Academia and the cut-glass Navy Commander was straight out of WW2.
They are disappearing characters in the modern world, their place uncertain and in some cases redundant. We don’t consider their virtues, we are less altruistic or unquestioningly loyal. In a Britain of target setting form filling box-ticking, that kind of loose cannon can belong on screen only.
Lastly, I think it’s the fact that you can identify a certain Britishness in both, the arrogant spy and the bumbling professor. There is something cosy about them, Bond is out there protecting Britain’s interests (however dubious they are), Doctor Who is out there protecting everybody (but especially Britain).
So they are the two archetypes; the Brain and the Brawn. Both men of action, but different actions, they split us up into the cool and the geeks. But you can like both, because they are us, especially for the children raised on them. They sit in the back of our heads, theme tunes playing in dramatic real life situations. We’d like to be as cool as Bond and as clever as the Doctor.
They are British icons, the cool hero and the eccentric professor, regenerating time and again, modern versions of King Arthur and Merlin, with better theme tunes and transport.