I’ve been asked to blog about a recent television episode, one that led to more than one heated rant in my house. A whole group of us were celebrating our after-show party of a play wot I wrote. We saw two programmes that day: The Cancellation and Re-imagining of Captain Tartan, a show known for its stickler attitude to scientific accuracy, and Doctor Who: Kill the Moon, which… oh.
Now, I liked Kill the Moon, when it started. The Doctor mentioned that the gravity was different. Finally, I thought, it’s not just Tartan that notes that the lunar gravity is a little less than ours. It’s always struck me as odd, particularly after watched Murder on the Moon (1989), which I caught again recently when I spotted in on channel N (where N is a number between 000 and 999). It has people in bulky spacesuits bounce across the surface of the moon, get into an airlock, take off said bulky spacesuits and then walk about in the corridors as normal. On Moonbase Alpha, Moonbase Three and Moonbase Mexico, there would be padding on the ceilings, because, as Tartan’s stage directions put it, you’d “jump up and down like possessed lemurs on speed”. When I walk, my foot comes about two inches off the ground, on the moon that’s foot up every step. Spot a spider on the floor and jump away from it, and you have a head injury from the ceiling.
Captain Tartan, and people may well have laughed at this, is as far as I know the only visual representation of the moon that’s ever got it right. I’m proud of that, but it does feel lonely being the only one on a realistic moon.
So, the moon is not an egg as depicted in Doctor Who. We know that, because we’ve measured it, taken seismic readings of moonquakes, crashed spaceships in it to see how the shockwave attenuates and we’ve even sent people there to bounce around on it in bulky spacesuits. It’s a rock, not an egg, and science can tell those two apart.
The frustrating part is that the episode (and other episodes in an increasingly growing list) is easy to fix. You want scary corridor stuff like Alien, no problem; you want creepy spider creatures, yes please; you want a difficult moral decision as to whether to kill one to save billions, have an alien discovered in a cryogenic chamber in a crashed spaceship that’s leaking Artificial Gravity, so you can walk about normally without the need for flying rigs or special effects, job done. Need something impressive to view from a beach on Earth, just watch the spaceship power up and leave now its AG systems are operational. Easy.
Get the science right! Suspension of disbelief follows. It avoids raised voices and pointed fingers when I’m trying to get a word in edgeways with a witticism.
I really don’t like to criticise other writers, particularly ones who are more successful than I am, because it makes me look bitter and twisted. Stephen Moffat, Doctor Who’s show-runner who wrote the magnificent Blink and created the extraordinary example of the writing craft that is the series Coupling, comes up with some astounding ideas. He said in an interview that in science fiction you can do anything. To which I fall to my knees and shout “Noooooo…!!!” He needs to hire a scientific advisor and a script editor or both. I’m available.
Doctor Who of all programmes should, because it was founded on an educational foundation by Sidney Newman with a History Teacher and a Science Teacher. The Doctor and Susan did not fly off with a Homeopathic Creationist. It’s SF, so get it right. Leave big flying dragon type things that disobey all the laws of aerodynamics to fantasy, you can’t have something generating thrust by flapping in a vacuum or celestial bodies gaining mass for no reason. Come on, this isn’t complex quantum mechanics at post-doc level, it’s GCSE stuff before it splits into physics and chemistry.
Climate deniers get away with it because the public is being bombarded with nonsense. Science Fiction writers have a responsibility.
To give an example of a programme that gets it right, Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Day Out. They go to the moon, but it’s not green cheese, it’s grey cheese.