So, In the Forest of the Night and Kill the Moon recently have both got me thinking about science and realism in Doctor Who, and to what extent something actually has to be ‘correct’ within any given episode of the show.
I mean, Doctor Who is only science fiction in the broadest of terms really – how concerned it is with the science part of science fiction is rather malleable across the fifty years of the show. I think normally people would point to the beginning of the show, or Christopher Bidmead’s episodes as evidence of a time when Doctor Who was more concerned with actual, ‘hard science’, but equally you’ve got the Daleks and Maths Priests saving the universe.
It’s probably fair to say, I think, that Doctor Who is a show that uses the trappings of science fiction to present different forms of drama, and examine aspects of society.
The question is though, of course, to what extent does it matter how accurate the scientific trappings are.
Things like the TARDIS and other original ideas get a pass, I think, because they’re part of the suspension of disbelief. You accept that because no one really has a way to argue against a time machine, or a warp drive – if the narrative says “Aliens can do this” viewers are more willing to go along with this because it’s all fictional, and that’s inbuilt into the show.
But conversely, something like the Moon being an egg isn’t going to have such an easy time of it, because people know a lot about eggs. The problems with an egg increasing in mass, or the Space Dragon laying another egg identical in size to the one it just hatched from, are relatively self-evident to a pretty large amount of the audience.
It kinda comes down to a quote from… I think it’s Community? Anyway, it’s “That sounds wrong, but I don’t know enough about it to dispute it.” In scenarios where you can easily debunk something, or you know that the writer could have solved the issue with a quick google search, it’s far more likely to be a problem. But when there’s nothing more than a sense of “Hmm-I-don’t-know-about-this”, which is where In the Forest of the Night fell for me, I think one is more likely to go along with it, albeit with some reservations.
Equally though, how much does that matter?
For me personally at least, it depends how much I’m enjoying the actual story. I’m far more likely to give errors a pass if the plot itself is engaging – if I’m bored or disconnected from the story, I’m more likely to notice mistakes, and that’s only going to take me out of it more. (Incidentally, I think much the same of plot holes.)
And sometimes there’s moments where the incorrect science is actually better for the story than something which would be more correct – right now I’m thinking of Robot of Sherwood in particular. In a Robin Hood story, it makes sense for the resolution to relate to the firing of an arrow; the fact it doesn’t actually make scientific sense is mostly not the point, because it makes story sense.
Ultimately, of course, it is down to one’s own particular tastes. I think with simple things that can be easily fixed, then yes, the writer probably should amend it.
But to go into Doctor Who expecting rigorous scientific accuracy is probably missing the point a little bit.