“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead — his eyes are closed.”
Not the words of Professor Brian Cox, who just gave his charming and brilliant TV lecture at the Royal Society on The Science of Dr Who, but the words of the scientist at the heart of his physics, and the Dr’s too, Albert Einstein. Cox’s programme, including inserts of his mistaken entrance into The Tardis, in confusion over BBC make-up and his witty interaction with Matt Smith’s Dr, was both beautiful and filled with rapt awe, that sings out of Cox’s endlessly clear and accessible voice. A hugely popular voice, much enjoying the show too, not unreasonable for a former small-time rock musician, but never a populist or dumbed down either.
Beginning with Michael Faraday’s nineteenth century lecture at the Royal Society on the chemistry of candle light, he asked the question of whether Time Travel is possible. With the use of celebrity entrances, doing experiments explaining the point and wave movements of light, the spectrometry of elements, with Charles Dance squirting colourful, flaring things into flame, and the relationship between Space and Time, viewer and viewed, he effortlessly opened the box on Relativity. So proving future time travel possible, in fact always happening, in small ways, depending how fast you are travelling, since we move in relative space and time to one another. But clearly mapping the issue of travelling into the past, since the Cone of the Future is defined by the Universe’s ultimate speed limit, the big no-no, travelling faster than the speed of light itself.
He also ventured towards the Dr’s great opponents, Aliens, discussing the paradox that in an infinite Universe we should be being visited by Aliens all the time. They might have brought in a Sontaran or a Cyber Man, but on the other hand it would have been creaky, and Cox went back to wonder instead, to the journey of imagination, when he described how far the radio waves have travelled into the Universe, since the first broadcast of Dr Who in 1963; beyond the reaches of the Milky Way.
Of course we all travel back in time in our heads, through the physical notes that Faraday left of that lecture, through memory too and the accumulation of knowledge, the discarding of what is proved false. What we leave behind too, when we are gone. But Cox always has his eyes clearly set on the future, and the future of teaching science too. So, grasping that ultimate ‘speed limit’, he explained what happens when you touch the edge of the Future Cone. You only can if space-time-bending matter implodes, a Red Dwarf, creating a Black Hole. Of course a Black Hole, in the very smart and very modern reality behind the poetry of Dr Who, is what powers The Tardis, The Eye Of Harmony.
Cox’s words were beginning to sing, filled with harmonies, as he described both the reality and beauty of the Eye of Harmony, a point in time always frozen for the viewer, where you get very strung out indeed, if you are passing beyond that Event Horizon yourself, until you are crushed to a point of Infinite Mass. But as to traveling back in time, he also explained how no one knows if it is possible, because it might theoretically be possible to bend that entire and limited Future Cone around on itself and change the current map of physics, so effectively coming up behind yourself, and everything else, though never in this case up your own backside.
It left open the continuous possibility of wonder and discovery, worthy of all that poetry and imagination in Dr Who. So to a quiet nod to that Universe engine inside the Tardis, something bigger on the inside than outside, like the Human mind itself, with an eye on the limits of reality and discovery, but still in Einstein’s world of open-eyed awe. It was brilliant from start to finish, and unites what the BBC does best, passion and invention, with the time travel of creativity. Another thing it did was stress what is behind the Dr’s character itself, the freedom and courage of imaginative creativity and extraordinary adventure. We need more of this, but perhaps the excellence of Dr Who leads the way.
PHOENIX ARK PRESS