The Science of Doctor Who: s01e07, “The Long Game”

It’s the year 200,000, and the Doctor, Rose, and Adam arrive on an Earth-orbiting space platform that has somehow become inhabited completely by the mid-21st century. Well, that’s not quite the plot, but it’s a sin that current sci-fi TV keeps committing over and over. Fashion, food, and entertainment are all exactly as we might expect them to be a decade or two from now, and while the plotline suggests that Earth’s cultural development’s been held back, this is a bit much.

Can’t I have just a little space fashion, space food, and holographic display tablets? I know it may come off as a bit silly, but silly beats lazy any day on Doctor Who. (Okay, “kronkburgers” are mentioned, and are an in-joke from old Doctor Who comic strips. So maybe the food is a *bit* futuristic, but the burger stand hasn’t changed in 198,000 years.)

Moving on past that, some people on Satellite 5 have dataports for high-speed super-broadband wireless data streaming directly into their brains. Sure, that’s very cyberpunk and an integral plot point; I don’t have any problem with that. However, to add “ew, ick!” factor for the eight-year-olds, they made the dataports into little doors that open up directly to the surface of the brain. Immediately, I started thinking “Well, there’s a fatal infection just aching to happen.”  And why bother, given that there appears to be no hardware installed in the brain itself? You should be able to find an electromagnetic frequency that would pass through skin and bone well enough. While the transmission shows a visible beam, that would have to be a side effect: if the information is carried on visible light pulses, the brain tissue itself would block them. Brains aren’t transparent.

Now we head up to Floor 500, where we discover that the satellite is owned by a giant slug shark, managed by New Scotty, and operated by frozen zombies. Oh, dear, zombies again. Let me quote myself from “The Unquiet Dead”: “centuries of embalming technology has blinded modern humans to one fact: dead bodies decay. Shortly after death, various chemical processes in a body are no longer inhibited or controlled; it doesn’t take long at all before eyes are useless for seeing, internal organs are useless for digesting food, brain tissue cannot carry electrical charges, and muscles will no longer flex and pull.” And let me tell you that freezing the dead tissue doesn’t make it any better at doing any of these things.

Frost-encrusted dead people should have been about as useful to the operations of Satellite 5 as a frozen pack of convenience-store beef jerky, and about the same consistency, but as a culture we just can’t seem to get rid of our zombies, can we? Wouldn’t it have made just as much sense, and in fact be a delicious irony, for the Satellite operators to be alive and mind-controlled though the very dataports they were so eager to have installed?

Oh, and Adam is kind of a weasel, isn’t he? Of course, he was written that way in “Dalek”, so fair enough.

Next: an episode that will have repeated repercussions for Rose Tyler.

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