Science fiction is often made especially remarkable when it is rooted in real science. It is inspiring to listen to Alan Moore, for example, explain how he has read a paragraph or so about String Theory and came up with an idea for a character that can bend the universe by playing a violin a certain way. The scientific theories as well as the inventions of Star Trek have famously inspired a generation if not generations of doctors, engineers and physicist, and with the help of popular science communicators from Carl Sagan to Neil Degrasse Tyson and Brian Cox, recent films like Interstellar, which was followed by the book The Science of Interstellar by Kip Thorne, theoretical physicist and scientific adviser of the film, and The Martian, script adapted from the book by Andy Weir a computer programmer and mathematician, and TV shows like The Big Bang Theory, have brought real science back into science fiction and popular culture and made it sexy.
From its inception Doctor Who was intended as an educational show and have even put educators, science teacher Ian Chesterton and history teacher Barbara Wright at its centre. However, while there was some science thrown in here and there, it often felt as if history was the main interest of Doctor Who creators and science was mostly neglected. With time it seems that the show moved more and more towards magic rather than science, with problems from recent years’ stories solved by storytelling, singing, love and worst of all the power of motherhood. There are even fan schools that would say “never apply logic to Doctor Who”. Writers Simon Guerrier and Dr Marek Kukula say no to that and in their collaboration, The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who they not only show that you can apply scientific logic to Doctor Who, but also show why it is “fantastic!”
Inspired by the four volumes of The Science of Discworld, by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, the book is structured as a collection of short Doctor Who stories, featuring all twelve Doctors, slightly favouring the twelfth Doctor, by noted writers including Jenny T Coogan, Una McCormack, Justin Richards, James Goss and many others, intertwined with articles exploring scientific ideas in Doctor Who. During the 50th anniversary celebration of Doctor Who in 2013, professor Brian Cox has attempted to do something similar with a series of short lectures exploring themes of Doctor Who like time and space travel, alien life and dimensions (ie the TARDIS being bigger on the inside) from a scientific point of view. This was interesting and fun, but quite generic and superficial. Guerrier and Kukula take it to the next level. While Cox discussed wider themes and theories, Kukula and Guerrier take a more in depth look and demonstrate scientific theories and thoughts with Doctor Who TV stories from all eras.
The book is divided into three parts: Space, Time and Humanity. The Space part covers subjects like the possibility of alien life, space travel, multiverse, the power of the TARDIS, explaining pulsars and black holes, and what we have learned about the Earth and its future from space exploration. The Time part of the book discusses the laws of time and the practicalities of time travel, time and memory, an in depth look into the Time War and finally after we look into Earth’s future in the space section, the time section offers a look into the history of Earth. The humanity section of the book looks into evolution, man and machine, artificial intelligence, entropy and death, and the subject of real regeneration.
Not all the stories in the book are great, some are baffling and not always in a good way, others are very meh or boring, but quite a few of them are really good, exceptional even, The Room with all the Doors by James Goss is a second Doctor story that particularly stood out as a very clever story that feels very Doctor Who-y and would make a brilliant visual story as well as an audio, but perhaps it works best as a book. The Hungry Night by Jonathan Morris, a sad and rather lonely ninth Doctor story. In Search for Lost Time by Una McCormack, a story that reminded me of the Star Trek The Next Generation episode Inner and the Girl Who Stole the Stars, a seventh Doctor story though more an Ace and Raine story that managed to make a rather suspenseful virtual reality story. The stories as a whole give excellent picture and a nice transit from one science-y essay to another. Good or bad all the stories seem to paint a surprisingly accurate picture of their chosen Doctors or companions.
If there is a slight problem with the book it is that the fifth Doctor, who is in my opinion the most scientific of Doctors, gets only one story, The Constant Doctor by Andrew Smith, in which he is not but an observer, which is a shame because it is a good story and I think would have been made better with the help of the fifth Doctor's flare for science.
While the book is constructed in such a way that you can skip the science if you are not interested in it, or skip the fiction if the science is your only interest, I think it would make the book redundant. There are enough good popular science books out there and enough Doctor Who fiction to choose from, but The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who works incredibly well combining the two in an engaging and fun way that is broadly accessible as well as educational and fascinating.
 However, it is worth pointing out that after reading a little bit about quantum physics I found Moffat’s Weeping Angels a concept that could have been influenced by the discovery that quantum particles behave differently when observed and when not observed. An incredible incomprehensible revelation that inspired a great Doctor Who monster.