This is a rhetorical question and I have to compare, contrast and link
the two. Looking at the cultural context (obsessions of the time) and
the science/technology. Notes from lectures and initial research
The key point is that science fiction is not prophecy. It deals with
what might be not with what will be. What people think might happen in
the future is a result of their situation in the here and now as it is
There are purists who say that Doctor Who isn’t science fiction, but
science fantasy, and they have a point. Genuine science fiction should
describe things that could happen according to present knowledge.
Science fiction is based on improbable possibilities, whereas science
fantasy is based on plausible impossibilities. There is no known
technology or device that enables time travel, except at the rate of
60 seconds a minute (Einsteins speed of light is absolute so if you
travel faster, time dilates).
We can also be sure that the inhabitants of other worlds won’t look
anything like human beings, or speak fluent English. Likewise, it is
difficult to see how some of the aliens could possibly exist. For
example, the Slitheen is based on Calcium.
Yet, we shouldn’t dismiss something simply because it appears
far-fetched: much that once seemed pure fantasy has now become fact
Does Dr Who, a science fiction television need to be backed up with
science anyway? We watch them because they’re fun, because they fire
up the imagination and because they offer something by way of an
escape from life’s routine.
However, there are scientific elements in Dr Who. One of the charms of
the show is that the ideas are just beyond what seems reasonable with
foreseeable science, but not so far that they would never be possible.
They are so often cleverly related to current thinking.
Within a few years of Dr Who launching in 1963, the show’s writers and
editors had bumped into a bit of a problem. They had realised that
writing good science fiction isn’t simply a case of making it all up
as you go along. In particular, the fact that none of them knew very
much about science was starting to show through in their stories. As a
result, Dr Kit Pedler was appointed as a science adviser to keep the
writers up to speed with the latest scientific developments and give
storylines a stronger scientific base.
It wasn’t long before Pedler proved his worth. One of his first
creations was the Cybermen: a race of creatures who were once humanoid
but, having experimented with cybernetic modifications to their bodies
were now almost entirely robotic. But what is the reality of cyborgs?
Some might argue that we are already a planet of cybermen as
mechanical components of the body are already commonplace. Heart
pacemakers, cochlear implants and hip replacements are all examples of
artificial systems used to enhance the body. A few years after the
cybermen were created, the first human heart transplant was carried
out by Dr Christiaan Barnard in South Africa. Since then, advancements
in technology have seen microchips implants which alleviate symptoms
of parkinson’s disease and quadriplegics given brain implants that
allow them to control their computers through thought alone.
In research around the world there are many topics that are close to
the speculations of the Dr Who writers. For example, sonic
screwdrivers are already a part of modern manufacturing technology and
deflector shields for tanks that can stop a projectile just like the
daleks do in the new series. There is also the real K-9 – the wheeled
robot assistant for space travellers that NASA is developing. There is
also a project to record and store human memories for posterity, just
like the Time Lord Matrix on Gallifrey.
The Tardis is also based on mathematical logic (i.e. a 3D
representation of a 4D object)
The longevity of the show may be attributed to the fact that it has
continuously evolved to reflect how society has changed (and the
ability of the Dr to regenerate himself). Dr Who reflects a projection
that characterises the time at which the episodes were written as the
writers were inevitably influenced by contemporary situations. It
often comments on topical issues.
Initially, Dr Who was originally intended to appeal to a family
audience as an educational programme using time travel as a means to
explore scientific ideas and famous moments in history. However, the
intial response was poor and abandoned quite early on.
Although initially they did not want to include an aliens/monsters, a
new story/concept was penned in 1963, entitled ‘the mutants’. It was
an allergy of what might go wrong if a neutron bomb was dropped which
was a concern at the time. There are connections between WW2 and the
introduction of daleks were allegries of the Nazis (a totalitarian
This proved much more popular as the 60’s were preoccupied with
fascination and glorification of space, the search for extra
terrestrials and life beyond our solar system. The WW2 influence is
even stronger in the second Dalek story, 1964’s Dalek Invasion of
Earth, set in the 22nd Century. The story presents a vision of what
things would have been like if Germany had won the war
There are also episodes/stories which tap into the topical debate
about technological progress. The old Doctors were always sceptical of
computers. In The Ice Warriors (1967) the Doctor does all the
calculations himself and doesn’t trust computers. However, in new
Doctor Who he seems much more comfortable with them, which says
something about our age.
In the early 1970s, the stories often reflected topical events such as
the energy crisis (when oil-producing countries stopped exports to
West), ecological concerns, industrial strife and terrorism.
The Curse of Peladon, in 1972, mirrored a major political story at the
time. The Dr arrives on the planet Peladon, whose king wants it to
join the Galactic Federation, but his high priest opposes the union,
claiming it will strip Peladon of its independence. At the time the
story was broadcast, British Prime Minister Edward Heath was in
negotiations for the UK to join the European Economic Community (EEC).
A return visit to the same planet in 1974’s The Monster of Peladon was
influenced by the miners’ strikes of the period. The moderates and
militants among the miners on Peladon allude to the real-life rift
within the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers.
In the 70’s there was also the concept of nuclear war and this was
reflected in a couple of episodes: post apocalyptic planets. In the
80’s there was more of an interest in politics. 1989 the Berlin wall
goes down and then end of the cold war. Also a growth of mass media
and communications. Issues with food, GM and the problems it could
bring – the aliens were replaced with
Since its comeback in 2005, the new series of Dr Who hasn’t shied away
from political references ripped from the headlines. In the episode
World War Three, where aliens The Slitheen have invaded 10 Downing
Street, there is a reference to “massive weapons of destruction” which
can be deployed in 45 seconds. It’s not hard to see that’s a comment
on the Iraq War, referring to the September 2002 dossier.
In addition, the different personalities of the Doctors incarnations
reflect the time they were on television. The Dr seldom travels alone.
His companions provide the audience with a character to identify with
and, as the Dr explains the science and technology to the companion,
so he does to the audience as well. The companion also tells us about
society of the time.
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