Tuesday, 23 July 2013

From The Archives: Four More Cases of Bad Who Science

A rather long-winded article that ended up being held back when I originally started writing it. I realised part way through that I was being a bit too anal for words, and I couldn't bring myself to finish it off. I've cleaned it up a bit just to get it out of my hair. Here's my looky at Four More Cases of Bad Who Science.

Written between 18th November 2012 and 22nd April 2013.

I missed some of the biggies last time, and I need to cover them pronto. As I said last time, Doctor Who has never been perfect when it comes to Science, and for the most part I don't expect it to be. This list, and its predecessor, is composed of the times when the science is so bad that it stretched the realms of my credibility and brings me out of the story. I thought I had some crackers last time, people, but I was very, very wrong.

4.) Dragonfire - Ian Briggs (Astronomy)

Not much to say here, really, apart from the fact that the ending makes very little sense. As wonderfully Indiana-Jonesy as the death of Kane is, it is driven by something that on the face of it is very silly indeed. You see, Kane has been keeping himself in suspended animation and so has been hiding away from his planet for a few thousand years. Kane discovers, when he attempts to return home, that his entire solar system has been obliterated by his sun going Supernova; when he opens the window to look at the mess, the blinding light from the nova melts him to death.
      Stars live for a very long time. (This will come as a shock to no-one.) Our sun is considered pretty middle-aged, having been around for something like 5 billion years and expected to continue for a similar time. What this ultimately means is that the changes in stellar evolution aren't gonna come as a surprise to anyone; we can see what our star is gonna do as it evolves. As long as it sounds, a few thousand years is by no means long enough for a normal star to go from perfectly healthy to Nova. And that's the bare bones of it.

3.) The Twin Dilemma  - Anthony Steven (Astronomy)

The Twin Dilemma managed to escape the last list by pure virtue of me being soft on it; the story itself, as I've said in the past, not as bad as many people make it out to be. I really like it simply for Colin Baker's excellent performance, and it's gotten a bit tiring over the years listening to people slag it off for really weak reasons. However, whenever people criticise the episode's core scientific ideas, I am inclined to agree with them. Anthony Steven had some idea, but didn't really get the deep subtlties present in Astronomy and Exo-climatology. Let me explain.
      Slighty creepy but desperate Time-Lord Azmael has kidnapped two kids so that they can come up with the equations needed to move two neighbouring planets of the planet Jaconda into orbit around it. He claims this is because these two planets, both smaller than Jaconda, will then proceed to have similar climates to Jaconda and be capable of supporting life. The Doctor points out that by bringing two massive planets like that into orbit around Jaconda would cause all three to leave orbit and go spiralling into the sun, which would then go Supernova and destroy the entire system. Azmael realises he's been had by Mestor and this turns the tide of the episode.
      A planet's climate is judged by a number of things - its chemical composition, at a base level, and then its size, its distance from its star, the type of star it orbits and whether it has a magnetosphere to stop solar flares from tearing away its atmosphere (as happened to our unfortunate neighbour Mars.) Therefore, considering the outer planets in the Jaconda system are smaller and likely of different composition to that of Jaconda, bringing them into orbit around the main planet won't do a jot to fix their climates. Damn, we only have to look at our Moon to see that - despite orbiting around the only planet in a few light-year radius to contain life, it's completely sterile. Plus, and this sorta links back to Dragonfire, adding extra mass to a star does not automatically make it go Nova. It helps, sure, but the evolution of a star is a long, protracted process and at best all you're doing is taking a few thousand years off of its life.

2.) Creature From The Pit - David Fisher (Biochemistry, Biology, Astronomy)

David Fisher's earler story, The Androids of Tara, is one of my favourites from Season 16. His next one? more difficult to love. Despite having a strong female villain, the story suffers because its concept is so damn scientifically unsound that not even the everyman can take it seriously. The people of the planet Chloris are suffering because the planet contains very little metal but lots of plantlife; their civilisation has been stunted by their inability to make proper tools. An opposing planet, Tythonia, contains a species of planet-like creatures who have tons of metal to go around, but have very few planets to feast off of; they are a species that apparently eats chlorophyll.
     The implication that there's very little metal comes not just as a part of their society, but is implied to be a feature of their planet as a whole, which calls many things into question. A metal, by a very simple definition, is pretty much any element left of Aluminium in the Periodic Table and some in the other direction. There's lots of them, is what I'm saying, and to say that your planet is short of any metal at all is a pretty odd thing to say. Not only is the chance of actually forming a solid planet without much metal very low in the first place, seeing as metals form the heavier parts of rocky cores, but how exactly have you got so much life there? Chlorophyll itself, for example, contains Magnesium. So this is a planet without any metal in its core that somehow simultaneously manages to be covered in a forest essentially built from said metal? Bah. And I won't even get into how much iron and other metals are in our bodies.
     Adding to that, I don't see how an organism that eats chlorophyll (setting aside the fact that cholorophyll is a pretty shitty food source but go on) could have possible evolved on a planet that hasn't got any plantlife. Especially when you see a creature of Erato's size... it just disagrees with everything we know about evolutionary theory - creatures are driven by their adaptations to their environment. It's the equivalent of Pandas evolving in the North Pole, it makes no sense.
      Add to that, then, the idea the sees the final episode. Somehow the Tythonians have managed to harness and aim a neutron star and have fired it at Chloris, with apparently no way of stopping it. The Doctor stops the neutron star by surrounding it with an aluminium mesh, which makes about as much sense as using a plate of jelly as a bullet-proof vest. A neutron star comes at the end of a star's evolution (wow, we're talking about Stellar Evolution a lot in this article) when it's collapsed down to the point at which the bonds inside atoms have broken and all that is left are incredibly, incredibly dense neutrons.Apparently this solution was provided by experts from Cambirdge University, but that's just proof that you can't always trust the experts. Or Cambridge.

1.) Fear Her, Victory of the Daleks, Closing Time and others - Various (General WTFery)

As Huey Lewis and the News once said, you don't need wealth, nor fame, to ride on the rail service. They also sang some gibberish about The Power of Love, and that's exactly what this segment is reserved for. I was going to make this entire article about the Power of Love, but I felt that I wouldn't have enough for a full article. Nevertheless, the effects of the Power of Love are a painful thing felt across much of Doctor Who's modern series, especially in the more recent times of Moffatian emotion.
      My three examples are ones in which the sheer power of a character's love is enough to accomplish many feats. In Fear Her, a miniture spaceship requires love as fuel. In Victory of the Daleks, teaching a robot/bomb to feel love is what disarms him. And, in Closing Time, love for a child has the power to fucking weld steel. I'm all for sending a message of hope and love to the peoples of the world, but when you get to this level, it just doesn't make any sense. I think that for me, Closing Time really was the last straw in this department - the Cybermen have an actual right to be weak to emotions, as abstract of a concept as that is, but welding metal with the power of a father's love is not just beyond all realm of possibility, but it's a crap story resolution as well.


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