Scooby Doo vs. Doctor Who

It has been observed that some science fiction stories seem to make the opposite point to the one made in the classic cartoon series Scooby Doo. This image highlights the contrast well, using Doctor Who as the specific example:

We can all appreciate stories that explore scenarios in which aliens visited our planet in the past and/or continue to do so in the present and future. The issue seems to be treating such entertaining storytelling options as though they are relating factual or historical information.


Does the same apply to stories of religion and the supernatural? We can all appreciate tales of magic or of gods and humans interacting. But those too, if treated as factual accounts, can have problematic and even toxic effects – particularly if those who treat their own stories in this way then set out to show that theirs are really true, while everyone else’s are false.

It would be easy to view this as a matter of religion and superstition on the one hand vs. science and skepticism on the other. But the line is not so clear cut. I don’t think that it is only those who prefer religion to science who embrace the “ancient aliens” viewpoint, and indeed, some regard it as precisely a scientific alternative to, or explanation of, religious phenomena which those who adhere to the religion in question would be quick to reject. And there are other examples of the same phenomenon.

So the more interesting questions seem to me to be the following. First, is there a danger in watching too much X-Files or Stargate or Doctor Who, and not enough Scooby Doo? And if not, then what precisely determines whether someone can enjoy such stories without treating them as factual or realistic accounts, or as offering a view of or approach to knowledge and history to be adopted?

On a somewhat related note, check out the recent article on IO9 about whether it is possible to tell compelling science fiction stories without resorting to things that are essentially magic.

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  • You could also compare Doctor Who to the Harry Potter mythos. His sonic screwdriver is little more than a magic wand he waves around and the plot lines are pretty similar too.

    Conspiracy theorists, believers in the paranormal and UFO cultists are their own thing. People *want* to believe, they want to live in a rich environment that sustains their desires. Reality will not give you that. In spite of my misgivings of him in other areas, I am reminded of Zizek’s “Welcome to the Desert of the Real”. People cannot live under the harsh sun of science. We have to construct a narrative, a mythos, a fantasy, a religion that nourishes us in ways the Real cannot.

    In the real world there are no colors, no tastes, no qualia at all. There is no such thing as “Nature”, no such thing as the “self”, no such thing as “free will”. Yet even the most rationalist people still believe they have agency over their lives. They believe they chose who to fall in love with, what their career should be, when to have children, when to have their midlife crisis, when to die.

    Who could live knowing, really knowing, that your sense that you have of being an embodied self or soul is an illusion? We are just a bundle of resources and capabilities that is deluded into believing it is something set apart from the rest of the world.

    What atheist could live with the reality that his/her most prized possession above all others, her rationality, is just a pre-programed response to external sitmuli? “Reality” the world of quanta, isn’t rational at all.

    “We’re all stories in the end”.

  • GakuseiDon

    It’s interesting that later series of Scooby Doo featured villians who were REAL demons and witches. I saw a fascinating series on Youtube from a Christian Ministry channel that looked at the influence of the supernatural in cartoons (apparently filmed in 1984). The first 7 mins of the clip below deal specifically with Scooby Doo:

    I find it fascinating that the rational naturalistic explanations in the 1960s/1970s Scooby Doo, had been replaced by supernatural explanations by 1980s. I wonder if society in general in Western countries have ‘moved on’ from naturalistic explanations, which drives the emphasis on fantasy over science that we see in sci-fi/sci-fantasy nowadays. Even the Dr Who of today seems more driven by fantasy and fantastic story lines than the more down-to-earth Dr Who stories of yesteryear.

  • arcseconds

    You really think that a TV series featuring a talking dog (sometimes two), a guy who eats dogbiscuits, slapstick routines featuring preposterous costumes which materialize from nowhere, and a cast that can so easily be fooled by someone in a latex mask, despite the fact that some of them encounter this week after week and *still* think it’s a real supernatural phenomenon every single time is somehow modelling rationality?

    • Very good points! 🙂

    • You really think that a TV series featuring a talking robot dog, a guy who eats fish sticks and custard, slapstick routines featuring a pot of coffee, 12 Jammie Rodgers and a Fez, and a cast that can so easily be fooled by people in giant salt and pepper shakers that are eliminated for good week after week and *still* can’t walk up a flight of stairs is somehow modeling rationality?

      • You need to watch the newer episodes. Stairs no longer present the challenges to Daleks that they once did! 🙂

      • arcseconds

        No, and I never suggested I did :]