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Why I like the Doctor's chalk

Posted by goldenplum on May 8, 2015 at 3:55 AM Comments comments (0)

From Why I like Doctor Who  Project - Chalk has always been an item you can reasonably expect to find in the Doctor’s pockets, but never so prominently or significantly as in his most recent incarnation. Chalk and chalkboard deduction is a major background (and occasionally foreground) schtick of the Twelfth Doctor and I love it.


First off, I just find chalk itself extremely compelling. It’s a rock that’s soft enough to write with - magnesium carbonate, MgCO3. It’s got an old-fashioned and comfortable feel to it. There are a lot of advantages to whiteboards (no chalk dust for one) but that just made chalk-based classrooms always seem like more of a treat. There was a guy who substitute taught my vector calculus class once who carried around giant multicolored sidewalk chalk and could hold two in each hand and draw amazing three dimensional graphs on the board with him. And he had black chalk. Black chalk. We were in awe of him. Chalk is simple, nostalgic almost. It is the least produced of the common writing implements (contrast, say, pencils, which are also based on crumbly mineral deposits) but it produces. The sophistication comes from you. I mean, that’s true of everything, but it’s particularly obvious with chalk. People who are good with chalk are frickin impressive. And people who aren’t that good at chalk can still use it to suit their needs. And it can write on pretty much anything, which is super useful. Write and erase. And if you break a piece of chalk, you know what you have? TWO PIECES OF CHALK, exactly as useful as they were before. I always thought it was super cool that the Three Investigators carried around individualized pieces of chalk in case of emergency. And so does the Doctor.

Chalk is extremely low tech, but it produces the highly technical. Chalk is a primary medium for both art and science. It is the outpouring of the human mind - and in the case of Doctor Who, the nonhuman mind as well. I love that juxtaposition. The TARDIS, advanced technology, dimensionally transcendental, capable of pretty much everything, with a computer powered by a twelve-dimensional self-aware intelligent matrix - and full of chalkboards - and those chalkboards full of equations. I love the idea of the Doctor working things out by hand, because a mere computer can’t keep up with him. This was a big theme in the Second and Third Doctor eras - the straight up superiority of the living mind - and it’s really nice to see a return to that. It’s akin to the Doctor’s newfound reliance on conventional screwdrivers, which is similarly great. It’s steampunky without the punk, as it were. And it gets back to what I think of as one of the core themes of Doctor Who - the idea of knowledge as the greatest weapon of all. And this is not an indictment of gadgets and gizmos and magical technology. Take the example of the 2D-is, the little dimensional manipulator the Doctor builds in “Flatline.” And that’s important - he doesn’t just have it lying around. He designs it with chalk and chalkboard, assembles it with a conventional screwdriver, and then uses it to defeat the baddie. It’s very clearly and extension and application of the Doctor’s own intellect and genius, rather than an alternative to it.

I also really love the very Socratic approach the chalk seems to be a large part of. There’s been a lot of discussion about what the new Doctor’s catch phrase is and I maintain he doesn’t have one. But what I would nominate in its place as sort of a …signature formula, as it were, is this formal logic structure. “Question: [blah]”, “Pro- the logical variant of Calling Your Attacks. It’s very professorial (although not pedagogical, since he’s almost always talking to himself) and goes along with the chalk-and-chalkboard aesthetic. He’s not just working out formulae and such, he’s working out logic. And sometimes it backfires, like when he creates a monster from first principles and spends the rest of the episode freaking himself out about it. But it’s a fascinating change up. We’re used to the Doctor, especially the past couple of incarnations, getting by on glibness and fast talking, and all kinds of lies. It’s really nice to see him working things out in black and white, straightforward and unambiguous. It’s very stark, and therefore very striking. --More here

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