Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Science of Doctor Who

LaLast week, Anna and I went to the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh to see a talk on “The Science of Doctor Who” given by Mark Brake and Jon Chase as part of the annual Edinburgh Science Festival.
I thought they would talk about whether cybermen or daleks could be created, or whether a TARDIS was possible, but it was more to get children interested in what science fiction was all about.

The  hour long session was very interactive, with the kids being asked for their ideas on things like who would win in a battle between the cybermen and the Sontarans.

They started by showing the kids the painting “The Garden of Earthly Delights” which was made 500 years ago and depicts the universe as being very small, with God in the top left hand corner. Now, anyone with more than a passing interest in Professor Brian Cox will know that the universe is massive, with literally billions of planets and stars – giving science fiction writers a huge number of different places to go to create stories.
They talked of meeting Doctor Who writer Paul Cornell who said that Doctor Who wasn’t science fiction, but “Galaxy and Chips” meaning that it was just exploring the normal range of experiences human beings going through but in the context of space.

The idiocy that in such a huge universe with huge potential for creativity, most Doctor Who aliens look human was pointed out, and the provenance of some was speculated upon. For example, (and you can tell I didn’t mis-spend my youth enough because this was news to me – the weeping angels are a bit like the ghosts in Pacman.

ReRemember in Charlie Brooker’s recent satiricaltv series, he speculated about how we’d probably invest emotional energy in something as horrid as who would win between various genocidal regimes, leaving him in You Tube immortality cheering for the Nazis? Well, Brake and Chase had come up with Fantasy Death Match, asking the audience for their suggestions. Anna’s contribution to the question of who would win between the Doctor and the Daleks was to use a mirror to bounce back the Dalek beam – and that the Doctor would win because he could regenerate as many times as he liked seeing as they’ve got rid of the old Canon of 12 times. Jon Chase told her to try that the next time she met a Dalek.

ThThe show gave the kids some sense of the history of science fiction, telling them about ground breaking books like HG Wells’ the Time Machine and Lewis Carroll’s Sybil and Bruno which they might then go and read.  There was discussion of 2001: A Space Odyssey which had people evolving into star children.  One thing about Anna having a dad who was born in the 50s is that he can tell her about the science fiction about when he was a child, and how they expected today’s world to look. In fact, his justification for his cherished “grumpy old man” demeanour is disappointment that we’ve got to the 21st century and not cured poverty and disease. He feels let down in some ways.

ThThere were occasional reference to a competition for people to write sci fi in 6 words. Entries such as “Time machine reaches future – nobody there” and “Tick tock tick tock tick tick” were included.

ThThe one thing that really annoyed me about the show was a reference to the Slitheen and then the appearance of a photo of Nick Clegg and David Cameron. That was a low blow which made me wonder if there was anywhere Lib Dems can go to avoid having crap thrown at them these days. It wasn’t the right place to do it.

All All in all, though, I left the event feeling confident in the future of Doctor Who geekery – and particularly in the fact that there were so many girls there. The kids clearly all loved the show and knew loads about it so as we head towards its half century in 2013, it seems like the Doctor ‘s future is assured for the time being.


Mark Brake said...

Hi Caron, glad you liked it. Sorry you got upset about The Slitheen. If it helps, I am bound to say that had this show been a couple of years ago, the pic would have been of Blair and Brown! These drawbacks come with power :D

Mark Brake

Unknown said...

Thanks, Mark. We really did enjoy the show - and thanks for signing Anna's books at the end.

What you say about the Slitheen thing does make me feel a lot better. I just had expected that to be the one hour in my day when I didn't have to face ridicule on the Lib Dem front:-).

Mark Brake said...

You are very welcome. Jon and I are back in Edinburgh on August 24th, with our Really Really Big Questions About Space and Time show! Mark


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