Debate: Which has had more lasting impact, the assassination of JFK, or sci-fi series Dr Who?

Share

 

What's going on?

At precisely 5.16pm on 23 November 1963 the world stopped…as a hauntingly evocative theme tune heralded the earthly arrival of a mysterious time traveller known as Doctor Who. Of course, just 24 hours earlier the assassination of JFK had also caused a bit of a rumpus.

As both epoch-shaking events are marked with lavish 50th anniversary commemorations, it’s time to ask which of these landmarks has actually had the most impact on the lives of people today?

Case for: JFK Assassination

“If anyone’s going to kill me, it should happen now,” JFK reportedly told his wife Jackie, as the President basked in the glow of the successful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.

Not for a mortal President, the endless regenerations conjured up by a clever scriptwriter to revive each iteration of Doctor Who.

The assassination which followed a year after President Kennedy’s prescient remark stopped the world, and continues to grip the imagination because its consequences still reverberate.

Did our era of stage-managed, security-bubble politicians hatch from the President’s insistence on letting the public get up close and personal with its elected leaders?

@adamsherwin10

In fact, by most measures, Mr Kennedy’s political legacy is modest. He was not a bold liberal reformer as legend has it; rather, he was a cautious and pragmatic moderate.

While he appeared to be hitting his stride in his final year in office, it was his successor, Lyndon Johnson, who enacted historic welfare and civil rights reform. Whether Mr Kennedy would have kept the US out of full-scale war in Vietnam – as his supporters have maintained – can never be known.

Rupert Cornwell

This was one of the most horrifying events of the 20th century, broadcast on television so that millions could - and did - see it. Forget the political implications, this event chilled hearts. It is fair to call it the most traumatic peacetime event of the last hundred years. Fiction like Dr Who cannot compare.

Case for: Dr Who

From the first note of the electronic theme music, Doctor Who was more than just one TV serial among others. The music really was ahead of its time, before the use of synthesisers in pop music and anticipating the entire Pink Floyd oeuvre. With the arrival of the Daleks in the second series, the grip of the show on the imagination of generations was tenacious. So tenacious that its BBC overlords invented regeneration, so that the show could go on after the retirement of William Hartnell, the original Doctor. The plot device by which the same character came to be played by a new actor gave the series the evolutionary advantage of adaptability.

Its reinvention in 2005 was a triumphant reassertion of British creative genius, and of the individual creative genius of Russell T Davies in particular, and a surprising rediscovery of family TV against the grain of the supposed atomisation of the age of the internet and the computer game.

What a metaphor for the power of fiction the Tardis is: a blue box that opened minds of so many not so much to science but to immeasurable realm of imagination and story-telling.

@johnrentoul

Doctor Who, having survived its own assassination attempt, when Michael Grade “axed” the series in the 1980s, has inspired, scared and exhilarated generations of fans by placing very human dilemmas at the heart of whatever alien life form-generated planetary catastrophe its writers have dreamt up.

The physics that allows Doctor Who to travel through space and time are sufficiently solid for Prof Brian Cox to assess its scientific contribution. The series itself has become one of Britain’s most valuable “brands”, cited by politicians as an important cultural export. On Monday, the red carpet was rolled out for the Daleks at a Buckingham Palace anniversary reception.

The JFK legacy is one of “what might have beens” but Doctor Who’s proven ability to regenerate and reinvent itself across time and space is one every politician must envy.

Which event did the BBC consider the most significant? When President Kennedy was killed, the BBC saw no reason to displace normal programming. Despite the enormity of the assassination, the debut Doctor Who episode was delayed for just 80 seconds by the Saturday teatime news.

@adamsherwin10

 

Dr Who has had more lasting impact than JFK's assassination

 

Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace

Gabriel Sassoon
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride