Is Doctor Who Steampunk?

April 17, 2013 5 Comments »
Steampunk Doctor Who wallpaper. Grab yours at Aberrant Rhetoric

Steampunk Doctor Who wallpaper. Grab yours at Aberrant Rhetoric

Over on his Red Rocket Rising blog, Tony Jones asks if Jago and Litefoot (and Doctor Who itself) is Steampunk?

It’s an interesting question. Steampunk, according to Jeff Vandermeer, author of The Steampunk Bible is best summed up in this equation:

STEAMPUNK = Mad Scientist Inventor [invention (steam x airship or metal man / baroque stylings) x (pseudo) Victorian setting] + progressive or reactionary politics x adventure plot.

Still confused? Well, in essence, Steampunk is a literary and cultural sub-genre where folk re-imagine the Victorian age with added science fiction and fantasy elements. It’s a world where the Victorians had anachronistic technology; computers powered by steam, clockwork robots, chrome-plated bionic limbs. Quite often there are lovecraftian monsters, zombies and ghosts to deal with too. And goggles. Lots and lots of goggles.

Well, sometimes. The problem defining Steampunk is that is doesn’t always follow defined rules. As points out, Steampunk may:

  • Take place in the Victorian era but include advanced machines based on 19th century technology (e.g. The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling);
  • Include the supernatural as well (e.g. The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger);
  • Include the supernatural and forego the technology (e.g. The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, one of the works that inspired the term ‘steampunk’);
  • Include the advanced machines, but take place later than the Victorian period, thereby assuming that the predomination by electricity and petroleum never happens (e.g. The Peshawar Lancers by S. M. Stirling); or
  • Take place in an another world altogether, but featuring Victorian-like technology (e.g. Mainspring by Jay Lake)

Then there’s Steampunk costuming, model building and music. It’s a sub-genre, with its own sub-genres.

The ultimate Steampunk cosplayer?

The ultimate Steampunk cosplayer?

So, how does Doctor Who fit in with all this. Well, let’s ignore Big Finish’s rather wonderful Jago and Litefoot series (which I do class as a form of Steampunkery, by the way) and focus on Doctor Who itself. What was that original equation?

  • Mad Scientist Inventor? Well, there’s the Doctor himself, of course – a man who has been known to cosplay as a pseudo Victorian / Edwardian himself (Yes, number eight and eleven I’m looking at you!)
  • Invention with baroque stylings? An alien time craft disguised as a wooden Police box. Controls that are, at times, a ramshackle collection of anachronistic tech (Number eight and eleven again!). Souls stored away inside pocket watches. The list goes on and on.
  • Victorian setting? Sometimes but certainly not all the time. But when the Doctor does visit the 19th Century it largely has Steampunky / Jules Verne / Conan Doyle trappings)
  • Progressive or Reactionary politics? The show has examined both. Imperialism and authority are constant themes and the sexual politics of the recent seasons are either progressive or reactionary depending on your point of view.
  • Adventure plot? Naturally.

There are also monsters, robots and even a few ghosts. Oh, and goggles too.


But does this all make Doctor Who steampunk? Maybe not. You could expect a lot of crossover in a venn diagram, but there’s more to Doctor Who than all this.

I would say, however, that while Doctor Who isn’t inherently Steampunk but there’s certainly a lot of Doctor Who in Steampunk itself…

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Cavan Scott
Bestselling author Cavan Scott is a writer of novels, comics, audio dramas and non-fiction books for adults and children. He has written for Doctor Who, Star Wars, Tekken, Star Trek, Penguins of Madagascar, Skylanders, Adventure Time, The Beano, Pathfinder, Angry Birds, Judge Dredd, Blake's 7, Warhammer 40,000 and more.
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  1. Tony Jones April 17, 2013 at 11:40 am - Reply


    Thanks for the mention and I did find your piece fascinating – I definitely need more equations on my blog!


  2. Robert White April 17, 2013 at 11:44 am - Reply

    I hope not. Steampunk is so backward looking and Doctor Who should always be about the future.

    • Steampunk Major April 17, 2013 at 11:48 am - Reply

      What nonsense! Steampunk isn’t backward looking. Yes, it’s usually set in the past, but like all good SF it tackle themes of modern life

      • Tony Jones April 17, 2013 at 12:27 pm - Reply

        Agree – there is a difference between setting and theme in my view – plenty of stories can be set in the past yet about modern or universal themes

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