Steampunk October: Is Doctor Who Steampunk?

Doctor Who is not entirely a steampunk show, nor has it ever been. Still, the element of time travel is one that steampunk often employs, and what television program is more time travel oriented than Doctor Who? To that end, Doctor Who winds up having steampunk elements in it as the aesthetic of time travel media and fiction have changed and grown more steampunk-oriented. There are artists devoted to creating steampunk-esque Who costumes and props. The TARDIS itself in its Eighth and Eleventh Doctor years has sported more of a gears-and-machinery look and a more Victoriana-influenced look (sandwiching a rather living-organic spaceship style used by the Ninth and Tenth Doctors that was more Farscape than steampunk). In the era of “new” Who (2005 and beyond), there have been clockwork robots, steamships, and absinthe-soaked romps through 1890s Europe. The Eighth Doctor looked quite like Lord Byron and even had his own Frankenstein’s monster-style regeneration (though it’s a bit early in the Victorian era, there is definitely an affinity amongst some steampunk afficianados for the Byron/Shelley literary group). And even in its older eras, Doctor Who has employed an aesthetic full of clocks and levers, hourglasses and flowing frock coats. If we one day found out that the TARDIS itself somehow ran on water vapor, I doubt any fans would be terribly surprised.

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6 thoughts on “Steampunk October: Is Doctor Who Steampunk?

  1. I think that the big question is “Can something be steampunk without steam?” I think yes because there are so many more elements that mix into steampunk other than just “steam.” Maybe I’m wrong, but I see Doctor Who leaning towards steampunk just as you do.

    • K.W. Taylor says:

      Right on! I almost think the genre could be further divvied up into things like “neo-Victorian SF/F” that don’t specifically have literal “steam” elements, because the aesthetic is still there.

      • OH that would be a good classification! I really like that, my manuscript right now was going to be neo-Victorian SF/F exactly but then I had to modify it to fit steam technology to fit the genre more specifically. I read that when you’re a new writer, you have less freedom in your genres.

  2. HelmStone says:

    Hi, interesting angle – I just posted on a connected topic that being a set of spin-off Doctor Who universe stories called Jago & Litefoot. In my post http://redrocketrising.com/2013/04/steampunk-j-and-l/ I consider the question of steampunk influences.

    Interestingly this prompted author Cavan Scott on his blog to post on this in some detail and make the point that maybe Doctor Who influences steampunk and not the other way round! His post is http://cavanscott.com/2013/04/is-doctor-who-steampunk/

    Thoughts?

    • K.W. Taylor says:

      Oo, yes! I like both your angle and Scott’s as well. Not sure which I think is true, chicken or egg conundrum, indeed. Who has been around longer technically than steampunk overall, but steampunk has existed longer than New Who, even longer than the Eighth Doctor, who is certainly cited as being particularly Victorian. Since writing this series of posts back in October, I’ve read Tim Powers’ Anubis Gates, which is considered one of the seminal works of neo-Victorian SF/F, if not steampunk specifically, and it’s INCREDIBLY Whovian. I would definitely say its style is eerily similar to some Who novels I’ve read over the years, particularly Eighth and Tenth Doctor novels.

  3. [...] had some fabulous comments on one of my older steampunk-related posts, “Is Doctor Who Steampunk?” (10/22/12). I encourage you to check out the new comment [...]

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