‘The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who’ book review

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Sometimes it’s easier to tag Doctor Who as science-fantasy rather than science-fiction.

After all, there’s not a lot of lab-coat methodology you can apply to ‘remembering’ someone back into the universe, or using lightning to transmit your DNA into hybrid Dalek-People. And we won’t mention the words ‘moon’ and ‘egg’.

But it’s a show that was originally rooted in the old Reithian principles of being ‘Educate, Entertain, Inform’, particularly with regards to history, and one which has often been built on sound scientific principles taken to outrageous and often terrifying conclusions.

At first glance ‘The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who‘ looks like the kind of tenuous peripheral tie-in that your gran might get you for Christmas because she knows you like Doctor Who but doesn’t understand why, or what Doctor Who is.

But open the cover and you realise this is a great book: a bit of science, a bit of fiction, a lot of fun. Just what The Doctor ordered.

The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who

Writing like the cool physics teacher you never had but always hoped existed somewhere in time and space, Public Astronmer at the Royal Observatory Dr. Marek Kukula, and Doctor Who novellist Simon Guerrier explore scientific principles through the prism of the show; everything from TARDIS physics, to regeneration, to Multiversal theory. It is proper science too, diagrams and all, but always rooted in the 52 year old lore of the show. Want to learn about artifical intelligence? You’re guaranteed plenty of references to ‘Robot’, ‘Planet of Fire’ and ‘The War Machines’.

It’s a fantastic way to get kids (and big kids) who love Doctor Who interested in proper science. Brian Cox science; all factual wow and ooh and woosh but without the annoying equations. Cox made uncharacteristically dry work of some of the show’s science in 2013’s The Science of Doctor Who, but Guerrier and Kukula are clear and concise without being condescending.

That’s the science, what about the fiction? There’s 15 new short stories from some of the most recognised Doctor Who novellists (including George Mann and Jenny T Colgan), which act as springboards for the scientific discussions following them.

Highlights include George Mann’s Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane adventure ‘The Lost Generation’, which has shades of ‘The Face of Evil’ and ‘Flesh and Stone’ about it, as well as the worst/best sheep pun in print.

Una McCormack’s Eleventh Doctor story ‘In Search of Lost Time’ is a beautiful bittersweet meta-fictional fairytale, while Mark Morris’ Third Doctor story ‘The Piper’ is an excellent UNIT and Cyberman tale that feels like it was torn from the Brigadier’s memoirs.

A perfect mix of science and fiction; the informative and inventive ‘The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who‘ feels like the kind of book The Doctor would want you to pour into your pudding-brain.


Published on Thursday 4 June 2015 by BBC Books.

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