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The Science of Doctor Who
Paul Parsons
Johns Hopkins, 296 pages

The Science of Doctor Who
Paul Parsons
Paul Parsons is the editor of monthly science and technology magazine BBC Focus, and has contributed popular science articles to publications ranging from the Daily Telegraph to FHM. He holds a DPhil in cosmology and is a lifelong worshipper of Doctor Who.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Charlene Brusso

There've been "Science of" books about Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate, The X-Files -- heck, even Stephen King's work has spawned a pop-sci book. So it's almost a surprise that someone, finally, has done one for the perennially popular Doctor Who, after all, the show's been running for nearly fifty years!

The brain behind the book is Paul Parsons, a science writer with a PhD in cosmology, years of popular science writing under his belt, and an unabashed love for all things Doctor Who. Parsons begins right off by telling us that he intends his guide to be "a gathering of amazing possibilities" rather than an exercise in scientific pedantry -- all the better to celebrate one of the most unabashedly fun science fiction shows around.

Parsons covers all the bases: from the evolutionary psychology behind the Doctor's determined altruism and bountiful good luck, to how a functional chameleon circuit (unlike the one in the Tardis) might use electromagnetic fields to alter the shape of an object made of deformable polymer through "electrostriction." How does the Tardis move through time and space? We can't know for sure, but it's probably got something to do with quantum entanglement. Consideration of the Doctor's ability to regenerate from fatal injuries leads to a discussion of "morphallaxis," or how animals like hydra can survive getting cut up into little pieces by regenerating a new animal from each piece.

Then there are the innumerable gadgets -- from the omni-purpose sonic screwdriver and the basic laser weapon to psychic paper and even bots like loyal companion K-9. The show also offers extensive opportunities to imagine alien worlds and alien life forms, from the cyborg Cybermen and warmongering Sontarans to the dreaded "pepper shaker brandishing a plunger", a.k.a. the Daleks. Silly as they may seem to the casual observer, each race offers a novel way to approach topics such as artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and suspended animation.

Parsons also makes room for the big picture, giving readers tantalizing introductions to black holes, relativity and quantum mechanics, the Big Bang, and space travel. Each topic is short, pithy, and fun to read. Parsons never gets bogged down in the details -- though one could wish he'd included a bibliography or reading list for those who want to learn more, along with his list of the eleven Doctors, the actors who've played them so far, and the episodes and seasons in which they appeared.

Do you have to be a Doctor Who fan to read this book? No, but it helps. And if you aren't when you begin, you will probably be one by the end.

Copyright © 2010 Charlene Brusso

Charlene's sixth grade teacher told her she would burn her eyes out before she was 30 if she kept reading and writing so much. Fortunately he was wrong. Her work has also appeared in Aboriginal SF, Amazing Stories, Dark Regions, MZB's Fantasy Magazine, and other genre magazines.

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