When all of the numerous Doctor Who specials were aired this past week, there was one that really surprised me – The Science of Doctor Who – With Professor Brian Cox. These sorts of specials come out in America all the time, especially on cable channels wanting a ratings boost during a blockbuster film release weekend. I’ve seen history shows that capitalized on 300, The Da Vinci Code, Star Trek, and basically any other genre film that has a large fan base. It seems Doctor Who has entered the fray with it’s own science program starring Brian Cox. American fans may remember Mr. Cox from many shows aired on The Science Channel including Wonders of the Solar System and Wonders of the Universe. He’s also on a few episode’s of Stephen Fry’s Q.I. (shown on Hulu in the U.S.) and one Doctor Who episode, The Power of Three, in a cameo of sorts. Cox can essentially be seen as the successor to David Attenborough and Patrick Moore, both prominent UK based science presenters.
The main attraction for fans of the show, rather than all that pesky learning that could happen, is that there are a handful of “skits” peppered into the show involving Brian Cox having an adventure with The Doctor in the TARDIS. This all occurred because Professor Cox accidentally entered the time traveling police box in his way to his dressing room. The Doctor decided to “show him up” by showing off some real “wonders of science”. Had Brian Cox been a trained actor, these could have been amazing, but without that, they are merely decent. Cox seems sort of wooden throughout.
There were of course celebrity guests involved, a fact that always makes me cringe with these sorts of things. Charles Dance, Richard Bacon, Rufus Hound, John Culshaw, and Christian Jessen lent their talents as scientific assistants to Professor Cox as he explained a handful of topics. These included how the Eye of Harmony could actually be possible, how time travel could potentially work, alien contact, and a handful of other topics related to Doctor Who. I’m not too familiar with any of these guests aside from Charles Dance, so their relevance was lost on me a bit as an American. A few of the sections were pretty cool, including an explanation on how the hourglass shaped space-time universe works. Others were seemingly disjointed, like a section where Brian Cox began explaining time travel via diagrams on a blackboard, only to alter course into an entirely different subject, then return much later on.
While The Science of Doctor Who – With Professor Brian Cox was essentially a sneaky science program piggybacking on the 50th anniversary hysteria, that isn’t to say it’s not a good program. Cox does a fine job of teaching concepts from physics and astronomy in such a way that even kids can understand it and apply it to how they see the universe. Perhaps the only downside was the faux-“chumminess” between Cox and his celebrity guests, most of which seem to be less than enthusiastically involved, Professor Cox included. Brian Cox has done a great job helping “normal people” understand psychics, but I feel someone like Neil Degrasse Tyson or Bill Nye hold more “nerd credibility” and energy than Cox. I like my science guys either fun or “trippy” like Carl Sagan so to me Cox sometimes comes off as smarmy and a bit pretentious, and I would have hoped he would lighten up a bit for what was ostensibly a family program.