Doctor Who and science have had a very on-and-off relationship, with uncountable moments of plausibility being erased from existence in favour of dramatic licence. But back in 1963, the show began with a very educational remit – to balance historical stories with future-set stories, so that children and their parents would learn about different historical eras and scientific ideas, while being entertained by the adventures of the Doctor and his companions – and it’s that ideal of educational entertainment that Simon Guerrier and Dr. Marek Kukula are returning the franchise to.
The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who is a sizeable book divided into three sections – ‘Space’, ‘Time’, and ‘Humanity’ – each further divided into five chapters. Each chapter begins with a short Doctor Who story, followed by an explanation of a related scientific concept, drawing links to the Doctor’s adventures past and present in order to assist their explanations.
This is a difficult kind of book to get right – too wordy and you become inaccessible, too simplified and you become patronising. And yet Guerrier and Kukula hit the perfect balance, clearly and dynamically covering a wide range of subjects. It’s perfectly pitched for Who fans who are intrigued to know more about concepts touched on by the show, and though some scientific-minded readers may find themselves familiar with much of the ground covered, there’s something new for everyone.
Importantly, it’s evident the writers really know both their science and their Doctor Who; the quotes and references chosen genuinely do support the science and rarely feel crowbarred in. You’ll learn how we can potentially travel in time, just how plausible Omega’s anti-matter universe is, and all about creatures with regenerative abilities similar to a Time Lord’s.
The short stories, by authors Whovians will know from the novel and audio series, are also of a high quality. Every Doctor gets at least one story (though the Twelfth appears more often than others) and each story deals with the following chapter’s scientific concept without preaching the educational point. Inevitably, some don’t work as well as others – with a couple feeling constrained by their word counts – but they’re more than made up for by the better tales. A particular highlight is Andrew Smith’s The Constant Doctor, a Fifth Doctor tale with an unexpected regeneration-based twist and some good-hearted jokes at the expense of 1970s special effects.
Whether you’ve been a Whovian for decades or Mr. Capaldi’s your first Doctor, if you’ve ever watched an episode of Doctor Who and wondered “could that really happen?”, Guerrier and Kukula probably answer your question – and a whole lot more you never thought of asking. Educational but not inaccessible, entertaining but not patronising – The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who is a book the producers back in 1963 would love.
INFO: THE SCIENTIFIC SECRETS OF DOCTOR WHO / AUTHOR: SIMON GUERRIER & DR. MAREK KUKULA / PUBLISHER: BBC BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 4TH