A transatlantic exercise in cartoon understanding

To fully appreciate this cartoon (passed on to me on Facebook), you need to have two pieces of pop-cultural knowledge, one originally American, one originally British (though it is the way of such things to cross the Atlantic culturally):


You need, of course, to recognize — American cultural knowledge — that this is a baseball diamond, with a game in progress, and that there’s an object on first base. Then — further American cultural knowledge — you need to recognize the (note: declarative, not interrogative) sentence Who’s on first as the first move in one of the greatest America comedy routines ever. Then — British cultural knowledge — you need to recognize the thing on first base and connect it to the fact that Who’s on first, both of them elements from one of the most popular British tv shows ever.

Where from? Then there’s the question of the source of the cartoon. The strip is signed, but I didn’t recognize the signature, and so far no one else has identified it for me. It looks like TomT — but it’s not the signature of Tom Tomorrow, Tom Toles, or Tom Toro, all cartoonists with Pages on this blog. Maybe the first letter is a fancy script F, but FomT leads me nowhere.

“Who’s on first”. The great Abbott and Costello comedy routine, discussed on this blog in the 3/30/14 posting “Hu on base”, with a video and some comic variants. The routine turns on the ambiguity between /hu/ as the interrogative pronoun who and as a proper name Who (or Hu).

(Doctor) Who’s on first. Or as the proper name Who, short for Doctor Who. Who you would get to by recognizing the object on first base as a TARDIS. From Wikipedia:


The TARDIS (“Time And Relative Dimension In Space”) is a fictional time machine and spacecraft that appears in the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who and its various spin-offs.

The TV show Doctor Who mainly features a single TARDIS used by the central character the Doctor. However, in the series other TARDISes are sometimes seen or used. The Doctor’s TARDIS has a number of features peculiar to it, notably due to its age and personality. While other TARDISes have the ability to change their appearance in order to “blend in” with their surroundings, the chameleon circuit in The Doctor’s TARDIS is broken, and it always resembles a police box. However in the new series a plot device used called a “perception filter” to blend in with the surroundings so it is often ignored by passers by. While the exterior is of limited size, the TARDIS is much “bigger on the inside,” containing an apparently infinite number of rooms, corridors and storage spaces within.

Doctor Who has become so much a part of British popular culture that the shape of the police box has become associated with the TARDIS rather than with its real-world inspiration the original police box. The name TARDIS is a registered trademark of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The police box design has also been registered as a trademark by the BBC, despite the design having been created by the Metropolitan Police. The word TARDIS is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Ooh! It’s in the OED!

One Response to “A transatlantic exercise in cartoon understanding”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    So many of my US friends are Doctor Who aficionados that, although I know it’s a British show, I tend not to think of it as a British cultural phenomenon.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: