Doctor Who first aired on British television November 23, 1963, and was popular with viewers from the very beginning. In true science fiction style, the show introduced bizarre concepts, such as time travel, different dimensions and regeneration, and scary alien monsters like the Cybermen and Daleks. For upcoming term papers, good research paper topics can include an examination of the science fact versus science fiction. Consult a reputable science journal or science article for information for your paper.
The Doctor travels in space and time in his spaceship, the Tardis. But is time travel possible? Into the future, yes; into the past, no, according to British physicist Professor Brian Cox, who hosted the special The Science of Doctor Who as part of the BBC’s 50th anniversary celebration. In the special, Cox and Professor Jim Al-Khalili demonstrated how time moves slower for you the faster you travel.
Cox explained in “Doctor Who: science fact or science fiction,” posted by Jonathan Holmes in Radio Times, November 14, 2013: “Let’s say we catapulted Jim off at 99.4 per cent the speed of light for five years, according to his watch. Then we tell Jim to turn round and come back – it takes another five years to get back to the Earth – so for him the journey would take ten years. But for us, with our watches ticking faster than Jim’s, 29 years would have passed. Jim would return in 2042 having gauged only ten years. So he’d be a time traveller.”
Time travel into the past is more difficult and would require harnessing the immense gravitational forces of a black hole, which is just what the Tardis does.
Tardis instant translation
The Tardis uses a telepathic link to translate the languages of aliens instantly. Today we have translation devices for text, such as on Google web pages, which reveal often laughable results. Now Google is launching a mobile phone app that translates speech as a person is speaking. The technology combines voice recognition software with translation. An English speaker could talk over the phone with a Chinese speaker and hear replies in perfect English.
“We think speech-to-speech translation should be possible and work reasonably well in a few years,” said Google’s head of translation, Franz Och, in “The Parlez Phone: Google plans Dr Who-style app to translate calls into any language as you speak,” posted by Adrian Butler, in Sunday Mirror, July 25, 2010, found on Questia.com. Och added, “If you look at the progress in machine translation and corresponding advances in voice recognition, there have been huge changes recently.”
Cybermen and Regeneration
Another good topic for research papers is the advancement in medical devices. Cybermen, a classic Doctor Who villain, are mechanical men who are all machine except for the brain. In real life, over the years modern medicine has made extraordinary strides in replacing missing or defective parts of the human body, from artificial hearts to prosthetic legs and arms to transplanted corneas.
Doctor Who also has regeneration. When ill health forced William Hartnell, the actor playing the first Doctor, to leave the show, the producers devised an ingenious solution. Since the Doctor is an alien, his people are able to regenerate themselves into another body. This allowed other actors to play the same character. (No explanation has been given to how/why James Bond keeps changing!) Today we can’t yet replace or regenerate a whole body.
Where are all the aliens?
The 50th anniversary episode brought back the nasty alien shapeshifters, the Zygons. Today we ask, “Where are all the aliens?” Scientists have recently predicted that 22% of sunlike stars in the Milky Way are orbited by potentially habitable, Earth-sized worlds.
“We’ve found over a thousand planets outside our solar system in just the last 20 years. But in the few years we’ve been listening out for extraterrestrial lifeforms, we haven’t heard a peep,” said Kelly Oakes in “The real science of ‘Doctor Who’,” posted November 21, 2013, in BuzzFeed. “Sadly, without a Tardis, we only have a small slice of space and time to explore. Our nearest star is a few light-years away, and we’re nowhere near having light-speed travel yet.”
The famous 1961 Drake Equation, by astronomer Frank Drake, postulates the possibility of alien life in the Milky Way galaxy, based on the number of planets that can support life, whether that life develops technology and the life span of the civilization. But Enrico Fermi’s Paradox counters by asking why Earth hasn’t been colonized or visited by aliens by now. The reason is the vast distances between space and the fact that no one can travel faster than the speed of light.
Did you watch the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary episode? What science elements do you think will be possible some day?