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Sciencey Wiencey: The Time of the Doctor

Guest contributor Caleb Howells investigates more Who science, this time from Smith’s swansong

This episode had some interesting sciencey ideas in it. Teleports and holograms are pretty standard, but holographic clothes isn’t something I’ve ever come across before. It’s an interesting concept, and the Doctor uses some clever-sounding language to explain it. But does it actually make sense?

Holographic Clothes

time-naked-doctor-smithAccording to the Doctor, the image of the clothes is transmitted directly to the person’s visual cortex. This is basically the same thing that I talked about in the previous Sciencey Wiencey article, concerning the image of the Moment. A very advanced, very precise system uses wireless electricity to control your brain. However, it presents the same problem. It might be possible to target specific neurons and not stimulate others if you were precise enough, but I just don’t know. In any case, it would take an extraordinarily advanced, powerful, speedy supercomputer to control. Not that that’s a problem for the TARDIS.

However, being able to transmit the image isn’t the only issue. The TARDIS must also track the Doctor’s body to know where to place the image. Obviously, as the image is from Clara’s perspective, it could essentially use her eyes as a camera to track the Doctor. It would need to receive signals from her brain, as well as send them to her. Is this possible?

Probably. Electric currents produce magnetic fields, and since magnetic fields never actually end – they just become indefinitely weak – a sensitive enough device could conceivably detect them, and possibly use that information to work out what the original electric signals were, and thus what the person was seeing. However, that’s just speculation on my part.

Teleports

time-of-the-doctor-dalek-escapeAnother sciencey element to this episode was the use of teleports. This is a classic in science-fiction. But how does the science behind it work? Well, supposedly, your body is broken down into its individual atoms, during which they are all precisely analyzed and located, and then your body is rebuilt in another location. Generally, it’s not meant to be the exact same atoms that are reconstructed. That would be pointless, since your body is constantly changing the atoms its made out of. So, in reality, the teleporter would be creating an exact replica of you while destroying your previous body.

Let’s consider the first part. How do you scan an entire body so precisely? Well, in the real world, this is kind of done using an MRI scanner. It does scan things on an atomic scale – however, it only scans hydrogen atoms. Admittedly, we are mostly water. But there’s still a lot of other vital components. So is it possible to fully scan the human body on an atomic level? Not as far as I know, but I’d imagine this is one of those things that we can quite confidently trust will eventually be done.

However, it’s worth pointing out that the human brain is the most complex structure in the entire Universe, as far as scientists are aware. To process all that data would require computers that are absolutely inconceivably faster than any we have today. Yes, computers increase in power all the time, but that’s still stretching the bounds of possibility by a very large amount.

Anyway, now that you’ve scanned the person, you have to vaporise their body. How do you go about doing that in a painless and/or instant way? Well, you could do it any way you like, really. Unfortunately, however, there aren’t many ways of killing someone that would allow you to then ask them how painful it was. But incinerating them in less time than it takes the signals from your pain receptors to travel to your brain and then be processed should do the trick. Apparently, it takes about 5 gigajoules (5 billion joules) to completely vaporise a person. I don’t know whether it could be done instantly, but it would undoubtedly be best to target the energy at the head first and foremost, to achieve the least pain (if there would be any at all).

So, now you have to rebuild the body in the desired location. You basically need a super fast 3D printer that can construct things from a distance. Possible? Almost certainly not. Definitely not if you’re intending on beaming the person into a locked room. The only way to do that would be to use wormholes (the other type of teleportation). But as this method doesn’t use wormholes, that’s impossible. And it’s almost certainly impossible even if you did have a clear shot to your destination.

Truth Field

time-of-the-doctor-truth-fieldThe last science-fiction aspect I shall be investigating is the truth field. Now, as far as I can find, there’s no such thing. However, you could conceivably achieve similar results if you released a truth serum, in a gas form, into the air all over the town (or planet).

Sodium thiopental, a commonly used truth serum, is quite effective. It’s not perfect, but according to one news reporter who tried it out, it essentially made him utterly unbothered about lying. He immediately blabbed the truth, not even making an effort to lie. It’s extremely similar to when you’re drunk. Your inhibitions are lowered, sometimes to the degree where someone can ask you anything and you’ll immediately tell them the truth. This is very similar to when the truth field was first introduced in the episode, except presumably you wouldn’t then be shocked and aghast when you realised that you had told the truth, because you wouldn’t be bothered about lying.

However, there are some problems with this explanation. Firstly, sodium thiopental is reasonably effective, but it isn’t a perfect truth serum. Secondly, the way it works is that it slowly sends you to sleep (it fact, it used to be used to help with sleeping). This takes several minutes, and as you’re becoming less and less awake, you become less able to lie (like when you’re drunk). With this being the case, it would make living there really awkward, for obvious reasons.

So, it’s not a particularly good solution, but it’s the only feasible way something like that could work.

Conclusion

There are, admittedly, quite a few more sciencey elements I could mention. But on the whole, it was pretty low on the plausibility scale. However, this is Doctor Who, so who cares?

Step back in time...

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62 comments
Handbot10
Handbot10

So when the doctor and Clara hugged and stuff at the beginning, they were naked? ewwwwwww

RoryTheRoman
RoryTheRoman

The whole truth field was a bit forced. It ended up doing nothing interesting, as the Doctor ended up being able to "fail to answer".

Andrew_Swallow
Andrew_Swallow

Holographic clothes are 'Silence' technology rather than 'Time Lord' technology so the TARDIS does not come into it.  There may be a big computer somewhere in the Papal mainframe controlling this.


lukashcartoon
lukashcartoon

Actually, the doctor being naked served a few futon plot wise. The first- humor , second, to start you thinking.(Moffat does not set up a joke without an explanation) Third, to show you how clever he is..( hiding the key under his wig) But the fourth- is more symbolic. He is going naked to a temple, and eventually sacrificed.

As for the science, the only issue is that the holographic projector wouldn't have to be implanted into anyone visual cortex: it's a light construct- the eye needs to receive normally.

The teleport ears seemed to me mote of the wormhole type. Based on the picture you posted (note the rings) and the effect ( which seems to unwrap or wrap up a person like a curtain)

And the truth field could be an actual wave emitter, that prevents the brain from using the abilities that lets you lie.

Just my view ;)

gunslinger19
gunslinger19

I may be wrong, but I heard that the first doctors regeneration the doctors clothes changed as well? holographic clothing could explain that if its true.

Gallifrey Falls
Gallifrey Falls

The nudity and holographic clothes didn't add anything to this story.

JamesCresswell
JamesCresswell

The Holographic Clothes. - I don't think this idea worked. Seen too many complaints. While it doesn't bother me personally, I am not sure it fits into the style of Doctor Who. Try as I might, I couldn't envision any of the previous actors walking round the TARDIS naked. Couldn't imagine Capaldi doing it either. So I doubt we will be seeing this particular feature again.


The Teleport System. - Obviously it isn't the first time Doctor Who has gone down this road. Yes it worked for Star Trek and countless others, so why not.

The only comment I would make to that, is it seems the TARDIS is working extremely well these days. Up until very recently, she was always portrayed as being a broken down, barely working model. That always needed a smack with a hammer to even make the doors open. I feel making her almost perfect is straying too far from the original concept. Next thing you know, even the chameleon circuit will be working properly again. JNT tried that years ago, winding the fans up. So unless Moffat wants another uproar, he should reign it in a bit and have the TARDIS failing now and again.


The Truth Field. - Now this idea worked nicely. Again, not the first time Doctor Who has portrayed a truth field. Although if memory serves me, it wasn't called that exactly. Anyway, it made a nice change to see The Doctor unable to lie. Plus it was quite humorous to hear what Clara really thought of The Doctor and herself. Obviously it worked well in regards to the plot of Time of The Doctor. So all credit to Moffat for resurrecting the concept. I wouldn't like to see it too often in the future. But on the other hand, I wouldn't mind the Daleks, or in particular Davros getting hold of that technology. 


With a sci-fi stroke fantasy stroke mild horror stroke comedy stroke drama, there are going to be ideas that come up. Some will work, others won't. I applaud the writers for trying different things. The only time it becomes a problem, is when they stray too far from the original concept of Doctor Who.

I look forward to seeing what new ideas crop up in Series Eight. Roll on Autumn. 



minipulator
minipulator

Wouldn't it be more likely a function of the chameleon circuit? Or the perception filter?

Gustaff
Gustaff

We could always open a Portal of Truth and learn the secrets of deconstructing a human being. Although, we'd have to give up a body part in exchange.

Oodkind
Oodkind

I got the feeling that the holographic clothes bit was just to make the fangirls go crazy, and wasn't meant to contribute to the story or be accurate or anything. Moffat generally doesn't care if something works, as long as it entertains the children.


As for Teleports, I think you possibly have the wrong idea. At least in Star Trek, the idea is that you have a transmitter beam that can penetrate anything, that carries your energy to another place. Basically, it is matter-energy conversion, which is theoretically possible, though it would take a lot of power. A person is turned from matter to energy, compressed into a beam, shot down to a planet, and then converted back to matter. I assume it's a similar idea in DW, though I don't remember it ever being explained. 


For the truth field, your idea is possible, though I think it was actually some sort of telepathic technology, which I suppose is possible, though I don't really know. 

Overall, Truth fields and the teleports are no more far-fetched than the TARDIS technology, or the Sonic Screwdriver, The Moment,  or anything else in the show. Sometimes in Sci-fi, you just have to accept certain technologies as possible, even if in the real world it isn't necessarily. That's the way science fiction is.

Shadestryke
Shadestryke

While I agree with you on many of these points, there is another option for the truth field that you have neglected to consider in your article, which is that of telepathic technology. We know that the Time Lords possess this since the TARDIS has telepathic circuits which form the basis of the Translation Matrix. Since this technology can be used to make people speak in a language they do not understand (which would be much easier than making an unknown number of listeners hear in a language that they understand), it is not inconceivable to believe that this technology could be used to force a person to speak the truth.


Americanwhovian
Americanwhovian

I love humans. Always seeing patterns in things that aren't there

Judge Claude Frollo
Judge Claude Frollo

This was a great article!

*waits for someone to add facts to the Doctor Who Fridge Logic page*

Polyphase
Polyphase

Didn't like the idea of the Holographic clothes as I can't think of any plausable reason why it would even exist. I suppose it was titilating for the children and that's what seems to make Moff happy.

Zakk Williams
Zakk Williams

This is really interesting, I love these articles!

MaraBackman
MaraBackman

A nice read again, Caleb. :) 





With the isue of teleportation I'm reminded of a philosophical question that I read about recently, regarding the whole procedure from an ontological standpoint. If you take a person apart and then rearrange their atoms at a different location, is that still the same person as before or an entirely new individual who just happens to have the same atoms? The idea is that if we for simplicity assume that there would be no soul or metaphysical form of conscience outside of the brain, then each time someone is teleported to another location they die and are then replaced by another person, who is a perfect copy of the former. 




Wibbly-Wobbly is John Reese
Wibbly-Wobbly is John Reese

Did anyone think about the HIMYM episode a few weeks ago (Unpause) where Barney was so drunk he couldn't lie? :')

Daleks
Daleks

@Handbot10 how can you eww? Jenna-louise coleman(Clara) is hot, im sure Matt Smith wouldn't mind it. :)

The Finn
The Finn

@gunslinger19  It's pretty hard to be sure as Troughton's first story is missing bar a few murky scenes, but the story (as I've heard it) goes that the Doctor's  shoes changed.

Judge Claude Frollo
Judge Claude Frollo

@Seaborn W Deadman Oh, dear. If a truth field did exist in real life...

Me:*accidentally walks into truth field*

Me:I-I read the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy when I was 11!

Me:I think Star Wars is overrated!

Me:*sweats*I like Tegan as a companion!

Me:*sweating tears*I LIKE CLASSIC WHO BETTER THAN NEW WHO!

Person Who Invented Truth Field:Nah, this isn't working. *turns off truth field*

Gustaff
Gustaff

@MaraBackman I believe a person's memories are what the soul is meant to be. If you take away someone's memories, then they are someone else, someone who isn't the person from before. So it is possible for two people to exist with the same memories as the Gangers proved. Memories and experience is what makes you you.

DrWhoGoesThere
DrWhoGoesThere

@MaraBackman You know, I came up with exactly that thought once: it has always been what bothered me about the concept.  Glad to know someone else has been thinking along the same lines! 

Americanwhovian
Americanwhovian

hate using that one though. its the only one people seem to know. there are so many others

MaraBackman
MaraBackman

@Gustaff @MaraBackmanThe gangers never evoked much sympathy from me. A clone is still just a copy, even if it has the memories of the original.

Wibbly-Wobbly is John Reese
Wibbly-Wobbly is John Reese

@Calebxy Yeah, it's a really nice show! It's a sitcom but with "a lot of heart" as described by many. I've cried multiple times for that show!

Wibbly-Wobbly is John Reese
Wibbly-Wobbly is John Reese

@Doctor von Wer @CalebxyWhoa... really? Humour dissonance then. I think Season 6 is the best and, while Season 8 was very mediocre, Season 9 has some of the most heartbreaking and hilarious moments of the entire series.