Edited by Marcus K. Harmes and Lindy A. Orthia, Doctor Who and Science is a collection of academic essays on ideas, identities and ideologies in the series. The book will be published next week (30th December 2020) by McFarland, whose catalogue also includes such titles as The Star Wars Phenomenon in Britain by Craig Stevens and Exploring Space:1999 by John Kenneth Muir.
Science has always been part of Doctor Who. The first episode featured scenes in a science laboratory and a science teacher, and the 2020 season’s finale highlighted a scientist’s key role in Time Lord history. Hundreds of scientific characters, settings, inventions, and ethical dilemmas populated the years in between. Behind the scenes, Doctor Who‘s original remit was to teach children about science, and in the 1960s it even had a scientific advisor.
Doctor Who and Science sprang from a Call for Papers back in 2019, noting the re-casting of the title role with a female actor has served to reinvigorate its global popularity and interest, in part because some commentators see the Doctor as a scientist role model.
“At different times Doctor Who’s production personnel have been from science backgrounds (1960s writer Kit Pedler), been avid readers of New Scientist (1970s producer Barry Letts) or wanting to make ‘hard science’ the substance of drama (1980s script editor Christopher H. Bidmead),” the editors noted. “Others have been more cavalier, and science can be either surface dressing or essential to the plot.
“The extent to which the central character has reinforced her or his role and credentials as a scientist has varied across decades. Scientific dialogue can be scrupulously researched or careless nonsense. The science fiction in the show can be derivative from the genre (traction beams, teleporters) or novel.”
Doctor Who and Science explores this scientific landscape from a broad spectrum of research fields: from astronomy, genetics, linguistics, computing, history, sociology and science communication through gender, media and literature studies.
Among the many essays, Lindy A. Orthia and Vanessa de Kauwe ask what sort of scientist is the Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, while Mark Halley and Lynne Bowker ponder the workings of the TARDIS translation circuit.
Natalie Ring asks how regeneration works, and seeks to define a set of rules for Time Lord regeneration, and then explores how Time Lord regeneration could work, drawing from a variety of current biological knowledge. Mike Stack wonders if the Doctor change sex or gender when regenerating into the latest incarnation, while Elizabeth R. Stanway examines Doctor Who‘s depictions of the Moon and other planets compare to the real universe.
Marcus K. Harmes asks why was the programme obsessed with energy in the 1960s and 1970s, and both he, Richard Scully and Catriona Mills take a look at the Victorian scientists seen in early stories and sciences then and now, while Ross Garner analyses stories from both ‘classic’ and ‘new’ Doctor Who which feature representations of denotative and connotative dinosaurs.
Contributor Kristine Larsen also asks if characters like Missy and the Rani make good scientist role models, while Tonguç İbrahim Sezen looks at the use and abuse of scientific writing in Doctor Who’s “epistolary paratexts” (we did tell you this was an academic book!).
Mark Erickson looks at the general subject of Doctor and Science and other books that examined the science in the ongoing SF drama, such as Michael White’s 2005 book A Teaspoon and an Open Mind; the science of Doctor Who, and Paul Parsons The Science of Doctor Who. How do Doctor Who technical manuals and public lectures shape public ideas about science?
It’s not a cheap book – offered on AmazonUK at £41.50, but if you;’re curious, then there is a web site with plenty of details about the project here, which includes more information about the papers, a reading list and more.
Dr Lindy Orthia is a senior lecturer in science communication whose research interests include studies of science in popular fiction. She has published extensively on representations of science in Doctor Who, examining intersections in the program between science and politics, ethics, gender, race and environmental disaster. She is the editor of Doctor Who and Race (2013).
Associate Professor Marcus Harmes is author of Doctor Who and the Art of Adaptation (2013) and Roger Delgado: I am Usually Referred to as the Master (2017) and contributed chapters to Doctor Who and Race and Doctor Who and History and Time and Relative Dimensions in Faith. He is the author of numerous studies on popular culture, science fiction and the history of British television.