Lords of Time #6: Doctor Who Vs Steins;Gate
Gustaff Behr continues the series pitting Doctor Who against some of the biggest time travel fiction.
“It’s safe to say String Theory doesn’t jive with the notion of bouncing around through time in a blue police box, however charming that sounds.” — Kurisu Makise
What would happen if Steven Moffat and Russell T. Davies decided to co-write Doctor Who? What if they agreed to use RTD’s mastery of in-depth character-driven stories with the Moff’s penchant for making time travel so important to the plot, placing clues right in front of us and making us ignore them until the last moment. What if they decided to add RTD’s capacity to bring an audience to tears at the end of every episode without it feeling forced AND give us Moffat styled timey-wimey alphabet soup in every episode? I’ll tell you what would happen: Steins;Gate
About the Challenger!
Country of Origin: Japan
Okabe Rintarou is a self-proclaimed mad scientist who invents gadgets and likes to use the alias Hououin Kyouma. He also likes to imagine that he is fighting a secret evil government conspiracy called The Organization. On the morning of July 28, 2010, Okabe attends the lecture of world renowned physicist Makise Kurisu, only to find her body dead on the floor in a pool of blood. He flees the scene and messages his hacker companion Daru when everyone around Okabe suddenly vanishes, only to reappear a moment later. Afterwards, Okabe meets Kurisu – alive again – shortly before Daru mentions the message Okabe sent him, now in a spam-like format, but the details state that it’s from a WEEK ago. The investigation leads to the invention of a gadget (in the shape of a microwave) that can send text messages back into the past and change history if the reader is convinced to act upon the information. Okabe is the only person able to retain knowledge about what happened on the other world lines and he soon finds himself fighting desperately to keep his reality and the lives of his friends from dying at the hands of SERN.
The connection you make with Okabe and Makise determines whether you love or hate this tale. These two are the driving force behind Steins;Gate. Admittedly, I found both characters instantly likable (some of my favorites of all time) and fell into the emotional spider web that this show weaves afterwards if you decide to love it. If you, like me, manage to fall into this web, then you will cry when they cry, you will hate when they hate and you will find yourself sucked completely into this mystery from start to finish and enjoy every second of it.
Another thing that makes this series so enticing is the inclusion of John Titor who is based off a legend in our world. The series borrows from John Titor and imagines what if his story was true. For those of you who don’t know John Titor: Back in 2000-2001 (in the real world) when the Internet was much smaller than it is now, a poster calling himself John Titor appeared, claiming to be from the year 2036. According to posts he made, Titor was an American soldier who’d been assigned to a top secret time-travel project. His reason for travelling back in time was to locate and take back an IBM 5100 computer which he claimed was needed to help solve the UNIX year 2038 problem. Titor also made numerous future predictions about a war and the United States breaking into five regions. He also claimed that the multiple world-line interpretation of time travel was indeed correct and that travelling back from his future might have caused history to alter, thereby rendering all his predictions unfalsifiable (meaning you can’t prove he’s lying). You can read the full story here or the short version here.
Dynamics and Differences
Like Emmett Brown, Rintarou can be seen as an expy of the Doctor. He’s very eccentric and ridiculous like the Fourth Doctor, but speaks with the confidence (and the large vocabulary) of the Sixth Doctor, which is an unusual, but an enticing combination. His antics are quite entertaining and his verbal jousts with Makise reminds one of the Doctor and Donna’s relationship. Another Doctor Who-ish occurrence is that the time machine in this story is – a microwave! We’ve had police boxes, cars, 19th travel vehicles running on who-knows-what, why shouldn’t we have microwaves? Tick the ridiculous looking time machine off the list of time travel clichés. It is played straight in this series though as the machine is only capable of transporting information back in time, not living things.
While Doctor Who primarily follows the grandfather paradox theory of time travel, Steins;Gate follows the parallel world theory. Shared traits involve time travelers remembering previous histories in Doctor Who, unless it pertains to extraordinary rewriting of personal timelines, whereas Okabe remembers regardless of what alternation has been made. He is also the only one capable of remembering. It is implied that if the change is significant enough, as with Doctor Who, he might erase himself. Another difference that should seem familiar is that like Future Diary, text in Steins;Gate doesn’t create fixed moments, quite the opposite. They cause history to shift to a new world line and opposite to Back to the Future, the characters are writing back to the past, not to the future.
As mentioned, this series borrows just the right amount form RTD and Steven Moffat to be considered a masterpiece. The series follows a standard pace; the episodes are both emotionally driven, as well as fantastically imaginative like most of Steven’s scripts. The characters are diverse, something Doctor Who excels at, but probably borrowing from the longest running science fiction TV show, Steins;Gate manages to balance humor and serious perfectly.
Keep in mind though: If you don’t get time travel (paradoxes confuse you) or if you’re one of those people who needs every little thing happening in front of you to be explained, then don’t bother watching this show. This story may be animated, but it assumes that the audience it’s pleasing understands what’s going on, why things are happening the way they are and that its audience is intelligent enough when it comes to temporal storytelling. Don’t interpret this as me calling you intellectually challenged. You know what I’m talking about. Most of what’s happening in the show follows a reasonable trail of logic, but if you’re one of those people that complains about how people were talking in space in The Rings of Akhaten even though ‘air bubbles’ and ‘air shields’ have made numerous appearances on Doctor Who in the past, but can’t put two and two together unless it’s mentioned by word of mouth, then this show will disappoint you.
Lastly, I need to mention the best aspect of this show – the Rewatch Bonus. Steins;Gate features the biggest Rewatch Bonus of any show I have ever watched (even Sherlock and Moffat and Gatiss put a lot of them in there scripts). The bonus is when creators proceed to show off just how much work they’ve put into writing the story by making you notice new things every time you watch a rerun of the episode. Imagine The Big Bang Doctor making an appearance in Flesh and Stone. Now if the Doctor somehow lost his jacket in The Big Bang and then came back, looking exactly like the Flesh and Stone Doctor, then that would stand as a Rewatch Bonus. Steins;Gate is chalk full of these. In fact, I’m not even spoiling it for you when I tell you that basically everything in episode one from start to finish is a rewatch bonus. Even with this foreknowledge, you won’t be able to spot a single thing until the very end of the series. That’s how good Steins;Gate is!
- Plot – 4/5
- Characters – 4/5
- Character Development – 3/5
- Tearjerkers – 5/5
- Timey-Wimey ball – 4/5
- Plot Point – 5/5
Based on this criteria, Steins;Gate scored…
25 out of a possible 30. This means that the rankings look like this now:
- Steins;Gate – 25/30
- Back to the Future – 24/30
- Future Diary – 22/30
- Quantum Leap – 20/30
- Shadow of Destiny – 19.5/30
- The Time Machine – 16.5/30
Join me next time when we rake up another challenger. Clue for next article: Stardust.