The Science of Doctor Who – With Professor Brian Cox (2013)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Doctor Who Live: The Next Doctor (2013) A recap

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When Matt Smith became The Doctor way back in 2009, there really wasn’t a whole lot of fanfare. This was made more abundantly clear on my side of the big pond as the show had yet to hit the current levels of promotion that it achieves over here. As I recall, some promo images were snapped and Matt recorded a short video interview and that was that. This time around, the BBC has gone all out with a live TV program simulcast around the world. With the nature of Doctor Who Live: The Next Doctor pretty much existing to introduce us to the new actor, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot of substance. And that my friends is what we got here: some fluff with a cool interview at the end. I decided to write up a brief synopsis for those unable to watch the show, and despite the fact that everyone suddenly knows who Peter Capaldi is, his relationship to the show may be foggy for some fans.

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Doctor Who Live: The Next Doctor was presented as a sort of late night talk show in a similar vein to either the Graham Norton Show or the old BBC Jonathan Ross Show. The presenter for the evening was Zoe Ball, someone that I’m unfamiliar with. A quick trip to Wikipedia land reveals that she hosts things like dancing shows over in the UK, a fact that means I will immediately forget who she is after typing this. Ball did her best job of hyping the crowd up and keeping everyone relatively excited as she and the audience watched video clips with selected celebrity guests. These guests included Peter Davison, Liza Tarbuck, Bernard Cribbins, Rufus Hound, and Daniel Roche. We also got to see brief glimpses of video recordings of Steven Moffat and Bonnie Langford as well as other cast members from the past, too bad these clips were short and were similar to VH1 “I Love the 80’s” shows.

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The audience was basically silent for this whole thing until the very end, forcing guests to go for cheap pops in order to make the audience cheer. Rufus Hound went as far as to mention England to get a cheap audience reaction, the same thing rock musicians do at a concert to get the crowd going. I’m not saying this was bad or anything, but aside from Bernard Cribbins and peter Davison, I have no idea why some of these guests were chosen. One decent bit from the whole video clips montage was a Matt Smith interview where he talks about his departure from the show, and gives some kind advice to the new guy.

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There was a tense moment where we saw the new actor’s hand as he waited for the cue to go onstage,and then the tension was relieved as Peter Capaldi walked out. Capaldi discussed his love for the show, and trying to win over the audience. They reminded fans that he has been on both Doctor Who and Torchwood at different times, and that he once wrote a letter to a newspaper about the show as a teenager. Look’s like we’re in good hands, folks Capaldi is awesome.
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To be honest this show was sort of unnecessary and seemed sort of thrown together. It is cool seeing a show I love getting this much attention though, as it was a mere 4-5 years ago that I had to defend it’s existence to a co-worker that insisted nobody had heard of it, and there was no way more people watched it than Lost, his contender for “greatest sci-fi show ever”. Last time I checked, Lost didn’t have vapid talk shows discussing casting choices did it? I claim the win!

If you guys want to check this interview out, here it is: