Monday, 25 November 2013

Dr Who meets the Antikythera Mechanism?

Did anyone else who saw the 50th anniversary edition of Dr Who on Saturday at 19.50 on BBC One notice that the ultimate Gallifreyan super weapon looked a bit like the Antikythera Mechanism (AM), but in a shinier box? I wrote a blog post back in March mentioning this 1st century BC astrolabe/cosmic movement monitor, which was found among the debris of a shipwreck off the island of Antikythera in southern Greece. 

Antikythera Mechanism from Wikipedia

I don't often watch Dr Who (though perhaps I shall in future), so I have probably got hold of the wrong ends of various sticks. But if I understood correctly, in this Dr Who episode (and in a previously unrecorded incarnation played by John Hurt) the Doctor 'watches Gallifrey [his home planet] falling to a Dalek invasion and decides to trigger an ancient Time Lord weapon of mass destruction called "The Moment", which is described as a "galaxy eater" and will destroy both races completely'* including something over 200 billion innocent children (forgive me, numbers with more than three digits go over my head). "The Moment" has a conscience/interface which manifests in the shape of Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), making actually setting it off even more difficult, as she asks "Are you sure?"

Antikythera model front panel 
Mogi Vicentini 2007
I can't find a picture of "The Moment", but it is a very neat cube of wood and brass about 40cm square. It has intricate wheels and cogs on at least one of its sides and reminded me irresistibly of the Antikythera Mechanism. It looks sturdier than this AM reconstruction and has no handles (so Rose/The Interface can sit on it comfortably), but "The Moment" is definitely visually reminiscent of the Mechanism. 

Of course, there's a big difference between the ultimate weapon and a machine that predicts eclipses and other cosmic occurrences - or is there? Were Steven Moffat and the Dr Who script researchers suggesting that it would be a similar mechanism that in fact would change the movements of the planets and stars (not just predict them) and therefore eclipse parts of our universe altogether? 

No wonder children (and others) are fascinated by such questions as "If our galaxy was sucked into a black hole, where would it come out?" or "If time were cyclical, would I meet myself coming the other way?" 

Even I enjoy examining the consequences of personal time slips ...


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