The Maths of Doctor Who

Overview

The Maths of Doctor Who is a series of blogs that aims to highlight the show’s connections with the wide-ranging field of mathematics. By doing this, I hope to illuminate more subtle and overlooked connection with the themes and ideas of various Doctor Who stories. From Flatline‘s portrayal of two-dimensional beings to the symbolism of cubes in The Power of Three to even the endlessly recursive nature of Castrovalva, there’s more maths in Doctor Who than you might realise. These blogs were inspired by fans who continue to provide original and exciting takes on the show and I hope this series of blogs helps to provide new observations and insights as well as inspire new readings of the various Doctor Who episodes it looks at.

I am also indebted to Beth Graham’s excellent piece for The Tides of Time entitled ‘A Maths Man With A Box’ (you can read it here) which I consider as something of a touchstone for the range, as well as the general style of The Black Archive series of books (you can buy them here) which provide critical examinations of individual Doctor Who stories – I also review them from time to time.

I think this has become my flagship range of blogs now!

The Series So Far…

#1 “I don’t mean edible pie, I mean circular pi.”

My first blog looks at the 2015 episode Flatline and its relationship with the number pi. As a mathematician, I have always loved the episode’s premise of two-dimensional monsters. But I’ve also been somewhat bemused by the Doctor’s choice of using pi to try and communicate with the Boneless; it’s not a particularly friendly number! So here I argue that this lends a new reading of the Doctor having a dubious morality here which ties in with the Series 8 arc.

#2 – “Don’t they teach recreational mathematics any more?”

To coincide with the return of Series 12 on 1st January 2020, I argue that Chris Chibnall is Doctor Who’s most mathematical writer, reviewing all the maths in his episodes to-date. It looks at pentagonal numbers in The Tsuranga Conundrum (2018), cubes and cube numbers in The Power of Three (2012), and happy prime numbers in 42 (2007). There is also a brief excursion into Meglos (1980) which I hope to return to one day in the future!

#3 “We would have to consult our top scientists”

I thought I should jump into some Classic Who by this point so I head back to the Sixties to see how writer and co-creator of the Cybermen Kit Pedler shaped STEM representation in Doctor Who. Whilst I do at least touch upon all of his serials, the main focuses here are The War Machines (1966), which I think is pretty good for STEM rep, and The Tomb of the Cybermen (1967), which I think is not so good for STEM rep.

#4.2 – “There’s an awful lot of one, but there’s an infinity of the other.”

Inspired by Will Shaw’s superlative Black Archive (which is #42 in the range and you can totally buy it here), I wrote about the concept of infinity, the symbolism of rings and what this has to do with faith, feminism and belief in The Rings of Akhaten (2013), a Top episode of Doctor Who that is terribly overlooked. I hope this blog inspires new thoughts on the episode in much the same way that Will’s book did for me.

#5 “It’s like it’s some kind of game, and only you know the rules.”

This blog looks at game theory in The Curse of Fenric (1989), one of my personal favourite Doctor Who stories of all time! Ever since I saw it again on the Big Screen at the BFI I had wanted to write something about it. I felt the serial’s cursory references to zero-sum games and the Prisoners’ Dilemma wanted further discussion to see how it fit in with the story’s broader themes and ideas as well as the show’s political outlook in the late 1980s. I hope to return to Fenric in future posts discussing cryptography and Alan Turing!