There are many, many books about Doctor Who (I’m even thinking of writing one!) and not all of them can stand out. I’m pleased to report The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who seems destined to join the ranks of the successful. Put together by Simon Guerrier and Dr Marek Kukula, this book has a lot to recommend it, and TARDIS-like there is much more to it than the cover might suggest…
A strange chimera
Science and Doctor Who are at times uneasy bedfellows (I have too many examples, including Kill the Moon) and thankfully this 400 page book doesn’t try to argue for the accuracy of the show. Instead this uses the programme as a way to get people more aware of science than they might be. In this it succeeds very well. It does this thanks to a secret ingredient, the little bit extra hidden inside the covers…
If you don’t know by looking (and I don’t see how you can) this is not just a book about learning some science, but is also a collection of fifteen brand new short stories by well-known authors and about a whole range of incarnations of the Doctor, enemies and companions. The stories fall into three loose groups, comprising the themes of the book: Space, Time and Humanity. Each story leads a chapter, introduces some ideas in passing and these are then explored in reference to various TV episodes (modern and classic) and then modern scientific theory.
Even if you don’t want to know much science, or are reasonably well read, you still get fifteen new stories! Bargain.
Too many to talk about, and with great apologies to Andrew Smith, James Gosss, Jaq Rayner, Jonathan Morris and everyone else (and some of these wrote my favourite stories in the book), I am going to single out the Andrew Cartmel story The Girl Who Stole the Stars.
The story uses Raine Creevy (a character Andrew Cartmel invented who has appeared in various Big Finish audios) along with Ace in a Seventh Doctor tale of game playing and cyber security. This introduces the concept of artificial intelligence. In the science chapter, this allows Simon and Marek the chance to talk about stories ranging from The War Machines to The Greatest Show in the Galaxy before getting to Turin and thence to Curse of Fenric. The discussion moves through androids, robots and gets to K9, allowing the narrative to include Robot and School Reunion. The various attitudes of the Doctor to artificial life are well explored and the chapter ends up with consideration of the TARDIS itself as a living, conscious entity.
The book goes for breadth, and along with the discussion of artificial intelligence, we get time travel, relativity, genetics,what it takes to be a companion and regeneration. It is all written in a comfortable style and pitched at around the same level as a television documentary; who knows, could BBC 2 pick this up as a series? Not the worst idea in the world.
Overall I enjoyed this a lot. Simon and Marek (and chums) are touring this at various events and signings; do give them a few moments of your time.
I can’t do better than the writers themselves, so I will quote Leela (Horror of Fang Rock):
I, too used to believe in magic, but The Doctor has taught me about science. It is better to believe in science.