Doctor Who and The March for Science

by Robin Ince

It appears that there is a condition of “Doctor Who fanboy by proxy”. Arriving at the Science museum to take part in the London Science March, there was Peter Capaldi.

It was the beat that my heart skipped.

Not for me, for my son.

He was at home.

He had done his march for the year.

Halfway around on the Women’s March, he had been told to try to be less bored.

‘I am 9 years old, you’d have been bored on a march when you were 9,” he told my wife.

You couldn’t fault his logic.

My son didn’t spot any noticeable or notable Timelords on the Women’s March (though some were there I am told), just a Gandalf, and he hasn’t got into Middle Earth as yet.

I was embarrassed, but there was no choice.

I felt I had to get a photo and an autograph for my son.

I have been fortunate to work on shows with many icons, including a James Bond and USS Starship captain. I have not asked for their signature.

The last autograph I felt I had to get was Peter Andre for my niece in 1998. By the time I got her the signed piece of paper, she’d moved on to other popstars.

Vanessa Furey, one of the organisers of the march, kindly guided me over, and brokered the signature on a T shirt and photo deal.

Clearly, I am still not in showbiz.

Peter Capaldi took part in the march, happily mixing in a crowd that was trying to come up with chants that were both scientifically accurate and catchy.  Freethinking scientists are not used to this sort of thing, which might explain why there was a sad lack of well-known scientists and science broadcasters in attendance.

Some were apparently fearful of appearing “political”.  Isn’t it too late for science to shy away from the Westminster fray?  Sadly, vaccination, climate change and research budgets are political issues.

Andrew Steele, of Science is Vital, Brenna Hassett of Trowelblazers, and me of some kind of Monkey Cage, set about composing chants.

“What do we want?”

“Cats in a superposition”

“When do we want them?”

“Until observed”

Didn’t catch on.

“Science – good at asking questions.  Not so Good at slogans” made it as far as Trafalgar Square.

“Science not silence” and “What do we want? Evidence based policy. When do we want it? After peer review”, made it to Westminster. (I missed this one – “What do we want?” “Climate change!” “When do we want it?” “Over geological timescales!”)

There were 12000 people there.

12000 people concerned by the rebuilding of walls around curiosity and national boundaries stymying the scientific adventure.

12000 people eager to encourage everyone around them to be scientifically curious.

12000 people worried that the charlatans I trying to drown out scientific endeavour.

12000 people who savour looking through telescopes on a clear night and lying on grass looking at the night sky as a multitude of stars increasingly come into focus.

12000 people who want the lives of human beings to continue to improve.

I thought about how science fiction had educated me. I thought about how Doctor Who’s stories have so often incorporated ideas of tolerance and understanding those that may seem odd.

Francisco Diego’s speech reminded us all of the shared heritage of all humans on earth. How slight is the difference in our codes, how hastily we leap on these minor surface differences and declare them reasons for animosity. Tolerance and curiosity are achievements, we need to find as many ways and times to celebrate this and to work out the most effective way of fighting for it.

There are many vindictive “contrarian” creeps who delight in increasing unhappiness, who are tottering lickspittles for money interests that have little human interest, they are not keen on curiosity and delight, it makes them nauseous and uneasy. Sadly, their ugly, unmannerly thoughts and gestures are rating bonanzas and revenue enhancing clickbait. There is a clammy cluster of scientific naysayers who are so busy sneering they haven’t noticed that they’re not dead from smallpox or cholera.

We need to find new and more effective ways of showing that fascination and delight are more potent and rewarding.

Talking to someone born in 1939 who was critically ill, they express their concern that they may have lived in the best time to be a European human, a time when they didn’t have to fight in a war, where medicine made enormous leaps, hot and clean water was readily available, and technology was creating all manner of machines of wonder. I don’t want to be in the first retrograde generation.

I want my son’s life to be better than mine just as mine has been better than my grandparents and I don’t want to have to use a TARDIS to make that possible.

The Cosmic Shambles Network is the official legacy partner of the March for Science so keep your eye on the site over the next few weeks for lots of exclusive content from the march including a chat with Peter Capaldi and many of the scientists at the march.

Robin Ince is a multi-award winning comedian, writer and broadcaster.  As well as spending decades as one the UK’s most respected stand-ups, Robin is perhaps best known for co-hosting The Infinite Monkey Cage radio show with Brian Cox.  For his work on projects like Cosmic Shambles he was made an Honorary Doctor of Science by Royal Holloway, University of London.  He is on tour in the Autumn, has two news shows at this year’s Ed Fringe (Pragmatic Insanity and Rorschach Test) and has a new book out in September.