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Doctors in space (ships): biomedical uncertainties and medical authority in imagined futures
  1. Lesley Henderson1,
  2. Simon Carter2
  1. 1Institute of Environment, Health and Societies, Brunel University London, Uxbridge, UK
  2. 2Department of Sociology, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Lesley Henderson, Institute of Environment, Health and Societies, Brunel University London, Marie Jahoda Building, Uxbridge UB8 3PH, UK; lesley.henderson{at}


There has been considerable interest in images of medicine in popular science fiction and in representations of doctors in television fiction. Surprisingly little attention has been paid to doctors administering space medicine in science fiction. This article redresses this gap. We analyse the evolving figure of ‘the doctor’ in different popular science fiction television series. Building upon debates within Medical Sociology, Cultural Studies and Media Studies we argue that the figure of ‘the doctor’ is discursively deployed to act as the moral compass at the centre of the programme narrative. Our analysis highlights that the qualities, norms and ethics represented by doctors in space (ships) are intertwined with issues of gender equality, speciesism and posthuman ethics. We explore the signifying practices and political articulations that are played out through these cultural imaginaries. For example, the ways in which ‘the simple country doctor’ is deployed to help establish hegemonic formations concerning potentially destabilising technoscientific futures involving alternative sexualities, or military dystopia. Doctors mostly function to provide the ethical point of narrative stability within a world in flux, referencing a nostalgia for the traditional, attentive, humanistic family physician. The science fiction doctor facilitates the personalisation of technological change and thus becomes a useful conduit through which societal fears and anxieties concerning medicine, bioethics and morality in a ‘post 9/11’ world can be expressed and explored.

  • Television
  • Doctor
  • Popular media

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  • Twitter Follow Lesley Henderson at @lesleyhenders

  • Contributors LH and SC both contributed to the research and writing of this paper. LH conceptualised the study, analysed the visual material and drew on her research in health and science in television fiction to provide insights from cultural and media studies. SC helped conceptualise the study, analysed the visual material and provided insights from Medical Sociology and Science and Technology Studies.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement The programme episodes are all available publicly and additional information on analysis can be provided by writing to the authors.