Why I like ‘Dr Who’ when I usually diss stupid science in SF

I’ve been a huge Dr Who fan ever since I was a kid and had to hide behind the couch when the Yetis appeared.

It’s great. Scientifically hokum – but great. Which sounds odd given that I usually diss bad movie science. What gives?

Eta Carinae. NASA, public domain. Click to enlarge.
Eta Carinae. NASA, public domain. Click to enlarge.

It’s like this. A lot of Hollywood SF is set in the ‘real’ world – then ignores the basic observable realities. Space fighters, sound in space, fake visible lasers that go ‘pew pew’ – all of it is just irritatingly dumb. Destroys the suspension of disbelief.

But not Dr Who.

Dr Who is about concepts we cannot directly see or understand, and which might be true. Maybe. I mean, things bigger on the inside than they are on the outside? That can go anywhere in space and time?

That gets my vote. It’s totally counter-intuitive. Cool. And that sustains the suspension of disbelief. Then there’s the fact that he can go anywhere in space and time. Want to snog Jeanne Antoinette Poisson? No problem. Fly to the far side of the universe? Easy. Couple that with whimsy and tongue firmly in cheek where it needs to be – and you have a winner.

Entertainment, whimsy and maybe science. The BBC got it right. Hey – does anybody remember the BBC version of TrekBlake’s 7?

 Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Coming up: a fun wrap-up for 2013. Regular writing tips, humour, science geekery and other posts start early January. Get ready for the big reveal; the way to measure the speed of light with custard. Seriously.


10 thoughts on “Why I like ‘Dr Who’ when I usually diss stupid science in SF

  1. There’s a balance somewhere between fake science that’s too corny and believable fake science. The storyteller has to really enroll us in the idea that the story world is real. All of the rules have to stay true to the story world.

    1. “Who” was brilliant at that consistency. What gets me is that stuff trotted out in the ‘revived’ series often harks directly back to the 1960s concepts and is consistent with them, yet is completely contemporary with our expectations today – which says just how marvellous those concepts were and (in many ways) innovative the BBC were back then.

  2. Oh yes, good old Blake’s 7. When on long drives, we still occasionally say “Speed, Standard by six” – or if pressed for time, “Speed Standard by 10”!

    1. It was a wonderful show. Wa-a-a-ay better than Trek, not least because every single crew member was a psychopath, one way or another…I could always forgive the 1970s Who era special effects (one episode, I swear they went into battle with an alien fleet of dangling yoghurt pots).

  3. I love Dr Who as well and love the quirkiness of it – as you say you can go anywhere at any time. There are big concepts as well (love, loneliness, fighting for the right) and great humour, and also wonderful aliens (the weeping angels in “Blink” who only move when you are not looking at them as if they are playing that school playground game ‘statues’, the ones you forget you have seen once they are out of sight, the Cybermen who assimilate human beings, and of course the Daleks (not forgetting the wonderful lipids that lived in everyones fat!). That’s creativity for you!

    Does anyone remember the brilliant spoof sci fi series Red Dwarf?

    1. A lot of the ‘Who’ monsters play on some quite primal fears – I guess it’s part of what gives the show its power.

      I remember ‘Red Dwarf’ well – exceptionally funny and supremely sharp.

  4. There were only 2 docs I liked out of the whole line-up, but the show itself was entertaining. And yes, I believe the inside can be bigger than the outside. I do it all the time when I draw square figures of all the things I want to put in a 14×14 room. My husband shakes his head then walks it out, to show me that it all won’t fit!

    1. My favourite doctor was always Tom Baker… the quintessential “Dr Who”, but I guess that’s the decade I was a kid in… 🙂 Will be interesting to see how the new one pans out.

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