Tardis Translation Error, a little reason why I love Doctor Who

(Originally posted this on Google+, you can join me here, however I thought I’d flesh it out and post it on the blog. I suspect this will happen quite a bit).

There was one thing I liked about the first part of the current series (series 6) of Doctor Who. It was a really little thing but it featured in about three of the episodes that I noted.

(I don’t think there is anything spoilertastic here, but in case, be warned if you haven’t watched it yet)

In the episode “The Curse of the Black Spot”, the Doctor uses the word “Sensors” which the pirates don’t understand. The implication from the scene is that the concept can’t be translated by the Tardis to a concept the pirates understand.

Captain Avery: We made no signal.
The Doctor: Our sensors picked you up. “Ship in distress”.
Captain Avery: Sensors?
The Doctor: Yes. Okay! Problem word, seventeenth century. My ship automatically… noticed-ish that your ship was having some bother.
Captain Avery: That big blue crate?
Boatswain: That is more magic, Captain Avery. They’re spirits. How else would they have found their way below decks.
The Doctor: Well… I want to say multi-dimensional engineering, but since you had a problem with sensors I won’t go there. Look. I’m the Doctor. This is Amy. Rory. We’re sailors! Same as you. Rawrgh! Except for the gun thing. And the beardiness.

Then in the excellent episode “The Doctors Wife”, we hear a translation error from the Tardis. The Doctor explains to Rory and Amy that the place they find themselves in is sort of a “bubble outside of the universe” and Rory and Amy repeat it back to the Doctor who’s replies with something like “No, not really but if that helps”. Like using software-based translation tool to translate one language to another and then translating it back to the original language, the concept gets garbled and doesn’t make sense. Like the pirates who didn’t understand “sensor”, Rory and Amy (and thusly humans in general) couldn’t understand the concept the Doctor was trying to explain.

Rory: What is this place? The Scrapyard at the End of the Universe?
The Doctor: Not end of. Outside of.
Rory: How can we be outside the Universe? The Universe is everything.
The Doctor: Imagine a great big soap bubble with one of those tiny little bubbles on the outside.
Rory: Okay.
The Doctor: Well it’s nothing like that.


The Doctor: Completely drained. Look at her!
Amy: Wait, so we’re in a tiny bubble universe sticking to the side of the bigger bubble universe?
The Doctor: Yeah. No! But if it help, yes.

(So it’s not exactly how I remembered it but close…)

And then in the mid-season finale, “A Good Man Goes to War”, the Doctor pulls out his original baby crib with Gallifreyan text on it. Apparently the Tardis has some difficulty translating Gallifreyan to human and it takes a moment. I’m sure it was done for dramatic effect, but if not it implies that Gallifreyan written language is of a complexity many orders higher than human language, for the Tardis to actually take time to translate it “down” to human.

River: It’s okay, Rory. She’s fine. She’s good. It’s the TARDIS translation matrix. It takes awhile to kick in with the written word. You have to concentrate.
Amy: I still can’t read it.
River: It’s because it’s Gallifreyan. It doesn’t translate. {she hands her the leaf} But this will. It’s your daughter’s name in the language of the Forest.

(Cutting full quote in case of spoilers…)

According to the BBC website, 27th August marks the return of the Doctor. Can’t wait. :)

(I pulled copies of the quotes from Planet Claire)

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