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Doctor Who And Science edited by Marcus K. Harmes and Lindy A. Orthia (book review).

October 10, 2021 | By | 4 Replies More

I’m not altogether sure if I agree with this book’s editors Marcus K. Harmes and Lindy A. Orthia that ‘Doctor Who And Science’ is the first book looking at the science of the Time Lord’s TV series but that maybe because we see enough UK specials of ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ over here and other books on the subject. Mind you, the last two chapters also disagree with that assertion showing most of the books. Their 13 contributors here are from world-wide and cross-checked for mistakes amongst themselves.

The sub-title of this book is ‘Essays On Ideas, Identities And Ideologies In The Series’, which doesn’t mention science is disconcerting, so we’ll see which one holds out the most as I hit on some highlights.

In their introduction, Harmes and Orthia look at how when ‘Doctor Who’ started, the intention was to use it to educate the young viewers before being superseded by Science Fiction with the introduction of the Daleks. Personally, I think that was inevitable if they were to widen their storybase away from Earth and go anywhere in time and space. As they go through the list of companions, there’s a sharp reminder of how many had a science background and paled when faced with the Doctor’s intellect.

The only one who was moved on because they considered her more of his equal on Earth was Liz Shaw, but that was because she needed less explaining to, hence Jo Grant needing to know what was going on, the same as many of the audience. Equally, the list of villains with scientific backgrounds also mounts up. Like a lot of SF shows, ‘Doctor Who’ is no exception for the number of fans who take up science for a living having been influenced by the show although this is the first time I’ve seen the numbers. Mind you, no one’s made a working time machine yet.

J.J. Eldridge has a look at the alien planets that are visited, although is strangely quiet about Vortis as being the most alien. The early stories on Skaro at least had the Thals there, but Vortis’ lifeforms were developed from insect lives and the Doctor and companions had to wear a form of gas respirator to tolerate the atmosphere. Please note, you’ll be reading this book comparing your own knowledge as you go along.

The TARDIS’ translation circuit is explored by Mark Halley and Lynne Bowker are both experts in translation, so they come in on the problems all of this entails. They missed out on the example from Farscape where John Creichton was injected with translator microbes and when he returned to Earth; it took a while for him to speak English again as the microbes had to learn the language. I agree with them that there have been problems with the TARDIS translation circuit but it is an old 40-model and might not be up-to-date on some things. Also, just because the words are translated, it doesn’t follow that we can understand the context, but it’s as much for the viewer as the companions.

I might have gone deeper and asked is the translation only one way when, in fact, based on some examples given, it might well be translating the Doctor and his companions speech for the people they are addressing than the other way around. It would also explain any slowness as it assesses a new language and just as slowly with written text as it needs more examples to get understood. If you’ve ever played with language translation on-line, their database has grown so it’s not always a direct translation. I wish they had explored beyond the TARDIS though, especially as so many aliens have also visited the Earth and no one has questioned how they can be understood.

Regeneration gets two chapters. The first by Natalie Ring rings alarms on some questions. In his original regeneration cycle, the Master stayed in his Roger Delgado guise until you realise was only for a couple regenerations until taking on Nyssa’s father’s Anthony Ainsley look. Other than the second regeneration, the Doctor’s regenerations have been outside of the TARDIS and take a while to stabilise. With Romana experimenting with her appearance in regeneration, it has been pointed out that within the TARDIS there was some flexibility before settling on her look.

The retention of memories of previous regenerations suggests they are ringed so not lost and the time to be reconnected explains the Doctor’s bewilderment from time to time. Unlike other Time Lords, the renegades are most likely to regenerate from injury than old age. With these things, you can rationalise the logic. Mike Stack focuses more on the Jodie Whittaker regeneration and cross-gender. I think it’s a more complex issue and we need to see what happens with the next regeneration as to how stable this gender change is.

There is some debate about what kind of scientist the Doctor is. Considering he/she comes from an advanced civilisation, I suspect even the most rudimentary sciences would be ahead of humans in any time period. Something I have observed myself is the more qualified scientists become, the more they are removed from lab and practical work and become administrators instead. In many respects, the Doctor is still a practicing scientist in many subjects. He/she has probably learnt more in his travels than the other Time Lords back on Gallifrey.

Kristen Larsen looks at examples of other female scientists in ‘Doctor Who’ and yet neglects Romana herself. I’m still a bit confused as to her focus on the Rani’s clothes making her look like a better scientist when I think I might have gone for her ethnics and her attire more akin to showing she’s in charge.

The last two chapters look at other science orientated magazines and books about ‘Doctor Who’ and you might well keep a notepad handy for any you think you missed for your collection. That there have been many books on the subject does more than a taste for the intrigue.

It’s either that or wanting to know how to quickly disable a Dalek. I would correct Tonguç Ĭbrahim Sezen about the speed of light as being given as absolute by Brian Cox on TV. There might be a slight difference going through transparent matter. It’s so little to be negligible. I mean, light being drawn into a black hole doesn’t really go any faster.

As you can tell, there’s a lot to get from this book. If you’re a ‘Doctor Who’ fan, once you know of an existence of a book you don’t have, it’s going to sell. It doesn’t have photographs, but these types of books rarely do. If you don’t come away better informed, then you will have plenty to discuss with your mates on the subject.

GF Willmetts

October 2021

(pub: McFarland, 2021. 235 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: £36.50 (UK), $49.06 (US). ISBN: 978-1-47668-112-2)

check out websites: www.mcfarlandpub.com and www.eurospanbookstore.com

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Category: Books, Doctor Who

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

Comments (4)

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  1. Julian White says:

    Regeneration 2 – 3 takes place inside the TARDIS: the figure falling out is definitely 3…

    5 – 6 is also inside the TARDIS, as is 6 – 7. All the ‘new’ regenerations have been inside as well (including War into 9, which oddly I don’t remember from the original broadcast though it’s in the version I have online).

    3 – 4 (UNIT lab), 4 – 5 (Pharos Project), 7 – 8 (morgue drawer) and 8 – War (on Karn) do take place outide the TARDIS but that’s just four out of thirteen regenerations, hardly enough to blame location for the Doctor’s disorientation. We don’t have many other examples – both the Romana and Master regenerations we actually ‘see’ (so not counting the latter hijacking Tremas’s body on Traken) take place in the TARDIS…

    • UncleGeoff says:

      Hello Julian
      I think what I as getting at was the Doctor’s regenerations are to recover from serious injury and not controlled. The only other Gallifreyan we’ve observed regenerating is Romana and she played with her appearance. It would have been interesting to see how the Master does his, presumably from some injury and its only in recent regenerations that he’s changed his appearance although I think that’s more to allude the Doctor than be obvious from the start.
      With knowing that the Doctor was the primary regenerator, it might not be a perfect ability and only geneticially refined when imposed on true Gallifreyans, suggesting he isn’t.
      Geoff

  2. Paul Beardsley says:

    Don’t forget we also saw the General regenerate.

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