Secretive Science

Simon Guerrier interviewed by Edward James at the BSFA: 23.09.15

Simon Guerrier is a truly prolific contemporary genre writer. He has written over fifty audio shows for Big Finish, a company that produces quality audio productions of stories based on much loved shows like Doctor Who, Blake’s 7 and Sapphire & Steel. He has also written official Doctor Who novels, most notably the Tennant-era adventure The Pirate Loop featuring pirate space badgers (yep, you read that right) and, with Marek Kukula, has just compiled The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who, a collection of stories about the Time Lord accompanied by essays examining the science behind the fiction.
As well as continuing to explore his love of a show he started watching at four years old, which is far younger than I was able to cope with it, the book sets out to look at Doctor Who differently. This intention cleverly reflects the nature of the show itself. Doctor Who stories have always begun with a fantasy or horror mind-set but turn out to require a form of counter-intuition; what seems to be reality in the worlds the Doctor and his companions arrive on turns out to be entirely inaccurate.
Simon read an example from The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who, in which he explains how we have only really understood planets relatively recently. While the Doctor is able to view the universe from the lofty perspective of the TARDIS, people on Earth simply saw the stars wheel around overhead and concluded, perfectly logically, that it must be the stars on the move. The fact it is the spinning Earth that travels is appropriately Whovian and quite bizarre.
Last night’s discussion with Edward James considered these inversions of reality in more depth, particularly regarding the 1973 story Planet of the Daleks, featuring Jon Pertwee as the Doctor. The show’s writer, Terry Nation, came up with the idea of ice volcanoes, which Simon suggested may have been to avoid the use of stock footage. In the early 70s, it was not known that moons in our Solar System really do have ice volcanoes. The fantasy has therefore turned out to be true. Does that make it better fantasy? Or does it stop being fantasy to become something else?
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Simon explained that his enjoyment of the genre is based on whether the stories are exciting, funny and weird rather than the accuracy of their predictions. It’s a reasonable view because when a story that subsequently turns out to have some prophetic scientific accuracy is first read, the predictive element can only be read as fiction. However, there is a unique thrill in revisiting the past and its stories, as the Doctor does, to find we have more in common with them than we thought.

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