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Doctor Who… Librarian?

“You want weapons? We’re in a library. Books are the best weapon in the world. This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have. Arm yourself!”

Doctor Who, S2E2, “Tooth and Claw”

The second part of Doctor Who’s seventh season has, apart from all its other interesting aspects (“The Impossible Girl”! The Doctor’s name!), a particularly neat episode entitled “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.” Sure, the endless corridors seem like a throwback to the Doctor Who of my childhood (in which corridor-wandering sometimes seemed to be the dominant theme), and the trope of monsters-that-aren’t-quite-what-they-seem has probably been played out by now. What’s fascinating, though, is the episode’s in-depth look at the TARDIS itself, which at any given time is arguably the third most important “character” in the series.

In the course of the episode the Doctor explains for about the zillionth time that, yes, his space-and-time-traveling vehicle is far, far bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside.

In that sense, then, the TARDIS is really a lot like a book, isn’t it?

In the same way that the TARDIS is disguised as a very ordinary-looking police call box, the most utterly transporting art form of all—literature—often doesn’t look like much, i.e., it can be dog-eared, a refugee from the remainder pile, or sport coffee stains or a cheesy illustration on the cover. Of course we all know that “you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” but the TARDIS takes that idea to an extreme: the gateway to countless worlds of pure fancy intentionally looks pedestrian—one has to transcend the importance of “surface” to be rewarded with the riches that lie beneath. In short, one has to go beyond image alone in order, paradoxically, to reach true imagination. This is something that book-lovers already know, and why they instinctively feel a bit conspiratorial when they encounter each other; they’re aware that they recognize living, breathing treasures where other mortals might just see bundles of paper and glue. E-books, for their part, heighten this comparison since they make it possible for a single device to encompass a world of worlds. Or, in simpler terms, a library.

Of course the connection between Doctor Who and things literary is nothing new. Indeed, two of my favorite episodes, “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead” from S4, explicitly deal with a “library planet” (pictured above and below).

What “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” accomplishes is to bring the notion of a library much closer to home.  For one thing, we actually see the TARDIS’s library (below), which is pretty awesome. Moreover, the TARDIS itself is revealed as a vast repository, not just a gateway to other worlds but a world unto itself.

Obviously if we follow this conceit to its conclusion, and the TARDIS is more than a single book but rather a signifier of All Books and thus a library, then that would, potentially, make the Doctor the universe’s greatest librarian. Does this reading of the character and the series really hold up, though? It does insofar as we consider the Doctor to be a master of information, and how he critically examines all the data he’s supplied by others as to its source, validity, and implications. In fact, this is precisely how he saves the day in most cases, by being more nimble than everyone else in terms of finding and using the best available information. Certainly he’s a compassionate soul, a playful gamester, and a courageous hero when he needs to be. And, oh, yeah, as a Time Lord he’s clearly smarter than any of our species.

Or is he really? Is it possible that he simply knows more, has a thirst for new knowledge, and loves sharing that knowledge and his thirst with others—hence the function of the companion, who over time comes to act like an assistant librarian. And the patrons? I guess the most logical candidates for that role would be the various creatures and people that they help along the way. Emotionally, though, I think the patrons who are empowered and edified the most are viewers. Lucky us.

…luckier still if one happens to win today’s two new releases. The second release is 2012’s Christmas Special, “The Snowmen.” It sees the Doctor in classic Victorian mode, complete with the monstrous title characters and a villain who later—wait, sorry, I almost spoiled things there. In any case, thanks to the generosity of BBC America, there are Blu-ray copies of both “The Snowmen” and Part Two of S7 for three readers/fans to own.  Just follow the rules below to enter.


1. Double-check that you live in the U.S. or Canada.

2. Leave a thoughtful comment here (through 11:59 pm ET May 31). And by “thoughtful,” sorry, I don’t mean just saying, “I’m a big Doctor Who fan.” If you know the show, or libraries, I’m sure there’s more you can say.

3. If you don’t see your comment after several hours, just contact me via email or Twitter (see below).

4. I’ll email the winners, who’ll then be asked to provide (via me) their mailing addresses to BBC America. If I don’t hear back from you within 48 hours of notification, I’ll simply draw another name.

About Peter Gutierrez


  1. Kat Kan says:

    I’m embarrassed to say that, despite having watched a number of Doctor Who episodes (all of this just-ended Season and others here and there, including those Library Planet episodes), your thoughts hadn’t occurred to me. I’ll certainly pay more attention as I watch more episodes (I have a lot of catching-up to do). I do like the idea of the Doctor as a kind of librarian – he really does use the information he gathers, not just collect it, and for the benefit of others.

  2. Alicia Conklin says:

    Yes, for true book-lovers, it doesn’t matter what that outward image is, old fashioned police box or not-so-exciting-book jacket. No matter what is looks like, it’s a portal to something much richer and greater than it at first appears.

    Unfortunately, in my non-Doctor life, I’m dealing with high school students, most of whom would not self-identify as book-lovers (or even, *sigh,* Doctor-lovers.) What makes my job easier, in trying to lure them into the it’s-bigger-on-the-inside world, is the crafty marketing of YA publishers, who post book trailers online (that I download and replay) and create covers with “teens who look like me”– edgy, urban, “of color,” or LGBT. Younger and older readers don’t need that looks-like-me identification, but this is the age that does.

    In the show, it’s the companions who invite us into the frightening world of the Doctor’s craz– eccentric adventures. For the high school student, trying on another identity every few weeks, it’s the “me” they see on the cover, or in the blurb on the back, that signals them that it’s ok to take the risk. And, just like the TARDIS adventurers, once they’re in, they have to be active participants. The TARDIS may be a library, but it’s not one where we sit quietly paging through print or clicking on links. Learning by doing is what the Doctor offers, and what more high schools should.

  3. If “books are the best weapon” and the TARDIS is full of them, it’s a bit more frightening, isn’t it? Sure, knowledge and a library, but also an armory for the Time Lord Triumphant with the blood of entire worlds on his hands. It is small and large, hope and fear, growth and destruction: The Doctor and the TARDIS together are the universe’s most prolific paradox.

  4. Not only are books like the TARDIS because they are larger on the inside, but they can take you to different times and places instantly.

  5. David H says:

    The use of libraries throughout the new run of Dr. Who is an interesting. The Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” only added to it but to me libraries and Dr. Who will always make me think of the two-parter Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead from Series Four.

    “Hey, who turned out the lights!”

  6. As people bemoan the death of libraries, especially when it comes to the advent of e-books, it is depictions like these and those in movies like Star Wars, that show that libraries are integral to the present and the future. Libraries have a place today and tomorrow. The power of words and information is without doubt and libraries will only go away when these things don’t hold power anymore!

  7. Shoshana says:

    I think librarians are attracted to Dr. Who because of the message that ideas and words are what ultimately wins most battles – not weapons. As the only one in the universe who seems to know everything, his long-forgotten knowledge often gets him (and the companions) out of tight spots. Librarians and our archivist cousins certainly understand that!

    • I actually wrote mlyesf a little blog post about the horse named Susan, as it’s obviously one of the things that stuck out to me! I liked this episode a lot more than I thought I would I’m definitely liking the dark doctor stuff. Interesting to see the Doctor with a gun, for example

  8. The Doctor has always been about exploring time and space, which is pretty much what happens when we open a book. Like the Doctor we select a place to visit and our book or Tardis – might not take us exactly where we mean to go but it will always show us something new and different something to think about be it good or bad!
    I like your librarian analogy, I hadn’t thought of it like that before – then again you could view Doctor Who as an author dragging his readers through his imagination!

  9. Meagan Towle says:

    The Doctor has made a huge impact on me and my students. On a recent trip to London with a school group, three of my students and I were able to get on the tube and Geronimo! take the 30 minute ride outside of the central city to The Who Shop, a fantastic shop of Who merchandise and memorabilia. We were late for our meeting point and we only got to spend 10 minutes there. It was a great bonding experience for my students and now we have discussions about Doctor Who all of the time.

    On April Fool’s Day, I jokingly wrote that I was going to be starting a Doctor Who discussion group in the Library (along with Librarian Ninja training and such) and a few of my students were actually interested in it (so there is an idea for the future).

    Doctor Who has opened the door of conversation between my students and myself that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. We are able to debate over whether we like Nine, Ten, or Eleven the best, we can discuss episodes (with no spoilers, sweetie, because my DVR erased all of series 7 last week), and we can thoughtful discussions about who the Doctor is, why he matters to us, etc.

  10. Two of my favorite Dr. Who memories are literature related. English literature, as befits BBC. One is the fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) reading Peter Rabbit aloud to K-9 lying on the floor of the TARDIS control room. It was just a short bit at the opening of the episode, but completely endearing. The other is the Agatha Christie episode with the tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate). Having saved the world and solved the mystery of Agatha’s disappearance, the Doctor shows Donna a paperback book printed millions of years in the future. Not an e-book, but an actual paper and ink book. Loved it!

    • Mar30 That sounds like the voice of Gabriel Woolf tenillg the Doctor to fear him. Gabriel Woolf did the voice for The Beast in The Impossible Planet/Satan Pit in 2006. He also did the Voice for Sutekh in the 1975 Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars. I am certainly looking forward to this.

    • Mar30 That sounds like the voice of Gabriel Woolf tleilng the Doctor to fear him. Gabriel Woolf did the voice for The Beast in The Impossible Planet/Satan Pit in 2006. He also did the Voice for Sutekh in the 1975 Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars. I am certainly looking forward to this.

    • Oh fercryinoutloud. What are they doing to Doctor Who? Do they plan on doing a sengemt updating Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals next? Soon we’ll find out the Master is actually the Doctor’s father. Bah. A murrain on them.

  11. Jennifer says:

    Being a Who fan and a librarian, your article has given me food for thought. I do know that “Silence in the Library” is one of my favorite episodes. I also enjoy seeing various famous literary characters on Doctor Who – Shakespeare and Agatha Christy are two who come to mind. How many people picked up one of Christy’s books due to her being on DW?

    And can I just say that the TARDIS library is just as amazing in person, though not as big. I was in Cardiff, Wales on May 4 to visit the “Doctor Who Experience” and had some time to visit Cardiff Castle. Imagine my excitement when I learned that the castle library played theTARDIS library! Had a lovely chat with the guide stationed at the library.

  12. bree mann says:

    One of the longest running TV series ever. I watched it when I was young and now my son and many other middle school and high school students are discovering the wonder of Dr. Who. I am glad Peter menitoned the episodes relating to libraries. A library planet is intriguing. I like connecting classical works to popular culture that kids are familiar with and Dr. Who is a great resource. The Doctor’s thirst for knowledge is what I hope to inspire in my own students.

  13. As a middle school librarian, I am finding a new generation of Doctor Who fans both of the TV show & the graphic novels. It gives us a common ground to begin discussing other books. I have been watching Doctor Who since I was in college (the fourth doctor) and I love that my students are being drawn in as I was.

  14. bree mann says:

    As a middle school librarian I like how Peter relates Dr. Who to the library. I definitely want to take a look at the episodes he mentions that share a library planet. I like to connect classic literature to popular culture and Dr. Who is a great resource. Being one of the longest running TV shows I remember it from many years ago and middle schoolers today are being reintroduced to the series and loving it.

  15. Eve Harm says:

    With enemies like the Silence who fear the first question, how could the Doctor be anything but a librarian? As a children’s librarian, I love questions and the search for the answer. That in itself could be what I love about Doctor Who… though I myself couldn’t bare to take the last page out of my books. But I can hope that the story of Doctor Who is like those books..ones without end : )

  16. Susan Claus says:

    How very like the Doctor libraries throughout history have been; destroy them by fire, pillage, plunder or underfunding, they regenerate and make themselves ever more useful, with upgraded screwdrivers, always ready to open the door on another adventure.
    Because I cannot afford the cable package that includes BBC America; I place myself on the DVD holds list and wait as patiently as a certain Roman centurian for the most current season.
    Thank you, Doctor, for the timey-wimey goodness that makes going backwards and forwards through seasons (and regenerations) not matter a bit.

  17. Crystal Becker says:

    The Doctor is always adding to his collection. New companions, new adventures, places, ideas, and information about humanity (and other creatures from other places among the stars). What I love about the Doctor and his “library” is that these things are never lost. He is an ongoing entity, passing the torch from one incarnation to the next as he sometimes loses himself (his physical form) but never losing WHO he is and what he represents. (Fact finding, hope, faith, redemption, and most of all WONDER). I am currently an Instructional Assistant to a middle school librarian. Something that I think Dr. Who does that ALSO occurs in libraries is that they are this great meeting place for the past and present. Our library, like many libraries today, is also a media center. We are constantly looking for ways to connect to youth and stay current and incorporate technology. We are a place to find the past, read stories with rich meanings about people who were here before us and did things that still matter. Dr. Who is a wonderful blend of past and present. And always the link to what makes us human. and Who we are. Also, I am making my husband build me a mini-Tardis for our garden. Because, why not? :o)

  18. I’d call this episode a csmluy exploration of the morality of war. Spoilers ahead . . .It was interesting that the question of how to behave morally in a wartime situation was answered very differently by not one, not two, but six characters (cyborg, doctor, mayor, Doctor, mob leader, and Amy).So what was csmluy? A lot of the dialogue about war and morality. It’s too complex a topic to be answered with one-liners, which mean the one-liner answers were wrong. What else was csmluy the Doctor being saved from killing somebody (although a death occurred anyway) in the episode right after he killed somebody. Conflicting messages here.I thought this episode was veering away from the dark Doctor crap because Amy stopped him. It repeats the theme of the Doctor needing a companion to remain a good guy.