Tag Archives: doctor who

563. The Collins Words of the Year (Part 3)

More vocabulary explanations & discussion of big issues, including how social media affects our worldview, the pros and cons of fidget spinners and debates about gender identity, including thoughts on the new female Doctor in Doctor Who. Transcript available.


Part 3 – Transcript (99% complete)

Welcome back to part 3 of this series I’m doing about the Collins Dictionary Words of the Year. I’m going through the list of words from 2017 and then the plan is to move onto the words for 2018 and talk about them with Amber. She’s coming round here tomorrow morning actually.

So the Words of the Year – Collins select these lists of words every year, based on which words they’ve noticed being used a lot in this 12 month period. They’re not necessarily new words, and they might be phrases made from existing words. The main thing is that these words have risen in use significantly during the period and as a result they tap into issues, events and feelings that are very current.

Talking about the words of the year on the podcast is both a way for me to explore some vocabulary and also just talk about some issues of the moment.

Check the page on the website for this episode in order to see a lot of the things I’m saying written there, as transcripts and for other information.

Talking about these words, and discussing them also involves using various other useful bits of vocabulary that you can learn from me. Listening to episodes of this podcast can help you raise your level of English, starting with your listening skills – but the benefits to your English can be many, including developing your awareness of pronunciation, expanding your vocabulary, noticing aspects of grammar and all of this helps you with your speaking skills too. That’s the plan. Certainly, listening regularly, listening for longer periods and listening to something that I hope holds your attention – this is all really healthy for your English, so let’s keep going.

I have 6 words/phrases to deal with in this episode, so let’s not hang about.

In part 1 of the series I talked about how Collins uses data to make its dictionaries and other language reference books and I talked for quite a long time about the phrase fake news which topped their Words of the Year list for 2017.

Then in part 2 I talked about other words in the list for 2017, including antifa, corbynmania, and cuffing season. 

I’ve got 6 words left. Let’s see if I can deal with them all in part 3 here. Let’s go.

Echo chamber

noun: an environment, especially on a social media site, in which any statement of opinion is likely to be greeted with approval because it will only be read or heard by people who hold similar views .

The concept is, that if you live in an echo chamber, you only ever hear your own opinions coming back to you.

Echo (a verb and a noun) is when you make a sound and it travels away from you and then bounces off a surface and comes back to you. It’s like if you’re in a huge hallway and you go “hello!” and you then hear your own voice coming back to you, saying “hello!”

Hello hello hello ? ? ?

Echo echo echo ! ! !

So the echo chamber idea – when you live in a world in which you only ever hear or read your own ideas.

Nowadays there is so much media content out there, including news and just different opinions and comments about the world, and we have the ability to filter out certain things.

Eventually, if you only choose to see or hear things that you like, you’ll never hear about any conflicting opinions, you’ll never face disagreement, contradiction, challenge or other points of view. This can be quite dangerous. It makes you soft and unprepared for your ideas to be challenged. It can make you small minded because you only get a blinkered view of the world – you don’t get exposed to different opinions and it makes you unaware of what’s really going on in the world. It’s like living in a bubble. When something big happens, it can seem totally shocking and unbelievable.

Weirdly, in this super connected world, we are less and less connected and more and more divided, as we put ourselves into these more carefully defined personal categories and only receive information that fits with that category, we become more separated from the experiences of other groups of people.

That’s the theory behind the expression, echo chamber. Generally, this expression is a buzz word for this whole phenomenon.

Filtering out opposing viewpoints and living in a bubble.

These circumstances can push us away from each other, and make it harder to understand different opinions.

The results of the Brexit referendum and US presidential election in 2016 were both greeted with disbelief and shock by some people. The people on the losing side could not understand how their opponents refused to have their opinions changed by apparently reasonable arguments, while the winners remained convinced of the rightness of their own cause.

Basically, we were surprised and shocked by the existence of other points of view. Experts said that this situation was due to many people living in an ‘echo chamber’, where they only hear the views of people who share and reinforce their own opinions. This is increasingly possible when people form online communities that exclude any voices that challenge or threaten them.

For example, a lot of people no longer read newspapers or get their news from the TV. Instead they perhaps just look at Twitter to see what’s going on, but on Twitter you choose each and every account that you follow so you cherry pick the content, rather than just receiving the same information as everyone else.

Also it’s quite common to block people who disagree with you or argue with you. The result is an echo-chamber. And it’s not just for people who didn’t vote for Trump or Brexit. There are right-wing echo chambers too, including social media sites that welcome the types of opinions that are not really accepted by more conventional social media. So everyone is capable of living in an echo chamber.

The term ‘echo chamber’ originally referred to a room that scientists constructed to create echoes for use in sound recording or experiments.

Echo chambers are used to create real echoes which can be used for music or sound recording, instead of relying on digital echo (delay) effects.

Often the best echo chambers for music are bathrooms because they have those shiny ceramic tiles that let the sound bounce around nicely. That’s one of the reasons it’s nice to sing in the shower. Your voice echoes off the tiles and it sounds pretty good!

The idea of an environment where you can hear your own voice repeated back to you made this a perfect metaphor for the world of social media, where many people only talk with those who agree with them, thus creating a rather distorted picture of what the world is really like.

Do you live in an echo chamber?

A real echo chamber in a music studio. Actual echo chambers are used to create genuine echo and reverb effects. Check it out! What a cool studio!

Fidget spinner

noun: a small toy comprising of two or three prongs arranged around a central bearing, designed to be spun by the fingers as means of improving concentration or relieving stress.

This is so 2016/2017. I don’t know if people still use them or talk about them. Perhaps kids these days have moved on and talking about fidget spinners is not cool at all.

They look a bit like little wheels and you hold them between your fingers, flick them and they spin around and around quite satisfyingly. They’re fun to just fidget with, and fidgeting with them is quite addictive.

So, it’s just a fun toy that spins in your hand, right? No arguments and politics here, right? Nope – even fidget spinners divide people too!

Let’s look at the for & against.

It’s fun!
People say they’re good for kids with ADHD and autism.

From iheisthmus.com http://www.theisthmus.com.au/2017/06/fidget-spinners-the-for-the-against-the-important/

The biggest argument from the pro-spinners side is that they are a useful tool for kids with ADHD, autism, anxiety, and other similar conditions. Occupational therapist Sandra Mortimer said “It can help with emotional regulation for children feeling anxious, worried and nervous.”

While there is no academic research about fidget spinners in particular, fidget tools (such as putty and stress balls) have long been known to help with this. The lack of specific academic research is to be expected though– fidget spinners are only a few months old, and research takes literally forever (well, a really long time at least).

There are some pretty cool creative uses for it (although as far as I can see this just means letting them spin in different places). E.g. balance a spinner on your fingers, make them spin on a table and see how long it spins, throw them between your hands while they spin, spin them and switch them onto different fingers, spin it and put it onto your nose, etc…

As a fidget tool – it’s not a very good one. It’s big, it requires hand eye coordination so kids have to look at it – so it’s actually very distracting. It’s hard to just spin it in your hand and not look at it. So you can’t use it while working for example, or just have it in your pocket. It tends to use all your concentration.

It’s just an annoying trend and they’ll probably be forgotten in a few years until they come back as the latest nostalgia toy.

Have you ever used one?

Do your kids have them?


adjective: not identifying exclusively with one gender rather than another

So, it means when people don’t feel they have a fixed gender. They might feel male sometimes and female at other times and perhaps even feel like they belong to some other gendered category that we don’t even really have the language to describe.

Oh no, we’re back on difficult territory again! This is another minefield of a topic.

Now I remember why I kept putting off doing this episode! Too many trigger warnings, potential problems and complexity! But it’s a big subject at the moment, so let’s have a look…

This word relates to people who don’t identify as having a fixed gender.

Noun: gender fluidity

Some quick examples from a Google News search for “gender fluid”.

Pearl Mackie: It’s 2017- the Doctor is gender fluid
PinkNews-Dec 15, 2017
Outgoing Doctor Who star Pearl Mackie has responded to the backlash against a female Doctor, saying that the Doctor is gender fluid and the gender of the actor doesn’t matter.

Loki will be pansexual and gender-fluid in new Marvel novel
Washington Blade Dec 13, 2017
Marvel is releasing a series of three novels focusing on anti-heroes in 2019. One novel will focus on Loki, Thor’s adopted brother and nemesis. Author Mackenzi Lee took to Twitter to answer questions about the project and informed fans that Loki is “canonically a pansexual and genderfluid character.”

Men in skirts: gender-fluid fashion is no longer a novelty
Times LIVE-Dec 14, 2017
The ancient Egyptians, Romans, Zulus, Scots and countless others didn’t wear trousers and no one thought of them as effeminate. [Luke: I challenge anyone to find a bunch of Scottish men in kilts and to tell them they are effeminate! Ha! Good luck with that pal.] The same could be said of jewellery and many other fashion items. We spoke to a couple of experts to find out why gender-fluid fashion is trending.

Some people see this as progress, others see it and just get really angry. They get ‘triggered’ by it, using that expression again from part 1 of this series.

I’m just not going to get into it at great length because I exhausted myself with “fake news” and “antifa” and I’m going to take a pass on this one.

Do you have an opinion on this?

It’s complex. It’s not just – do you mind that people define their identity outside the traditional binary gender roles. It’s not just that. It’s also things like how this affects various changes in society. Some people think it’s all progress, others are really losing their minds about it, other people are just putting their foot down and saying “wait, I don’t mind how you identify – you’re free to be whoever you want, but don’t force me to change my world” – that type of thing.

Gender-fluid people or transgender people are saying “Hey, it would be really nice and respectful if you could just acknowledge my identity and perhaps make a few changes to make me feel like I belong in this world – like maybe you can use different language to make me feel accepted – in fact, we’re working on making it illegal to refuse to do so”, and those who disagree are saying “you can’t force me to do things like use certain language by law”  – and then other people are far less respectful and reasonable in their dialogue, and there’s just a lot of abuse and hate speech flying around too. And then there are people like me who are going “what? Sorry, what? Who said… wait? Who’s right? What’s going on? What year is it???”

Oh, it’s probably worth mentioning Doctor Who again.

The 13th Doctor, played by Jodie Whittaker

So, as you may know, Doctor Who is a British science fiction TV show that’s been on television longer than a lot of people have been alive. I think it has the record as the longest running TV series ever, having started in 1963 and still going strong today.

In a nutshell, Doctor Who is about a time-travelling alien (who looks human and speaks English and everything) who travels around in a blue police box, generally saving the earth. It’s a lot of fun and is very inventive, creative and funny and many generations of people in the UK grew up as children watching the show. My parents grew up with it, my brother and I grew up with it, our nieces and nephews are growing up with it.

The character, called The Doctor, has actually died lots of times, but every time the Doctor dies – usually when he comes to the end of his current life-span, he regenerates in a new form.

Basically, at the end of a season the Doctor dies and then is reborn but with a new actor in the next season (or series as we usually say in British English actually!)

It’s a really cool way of keeping a TV series going. Each new incarnation of the Doctor is different in that they have a certain look, they have certain characteristics – brought by the different actor in the role each time, but also the Doctor always maintains certain core characteristics like charisma, leadership, strength, courage, eccentricity, humour, love for the humans and a desire to protect us, certain human companions and the blue spaceship or TARDIS (actually a craft that travels through both space and time).

There have been loads of actors playing the doctor over the years, and millions of us are very affectionate towards this character and the actors who have played him (or her).

Then this year, the producers of the show decided that the new Doctor would be played by a woman. Jodie Whittaker was chosen – a good British actress. So now, The Doctor is a woman. It turns out, the Doctor is a gender-fluid character. She doesn’t always regenerate as a man, she can regenerate as a woman too. Naturally, a lot of people were really pissed off, saying things like “The Doctor is not a woman! You’ve ruined this character and my memories of childhood! Stop this PC nonsense from infecting everything! This is just the loony left at the BBC trying to infect everything with poisonous feminism! Leave our TV characters alone!”

I read some comments saying things like, “It’s The Doctor, not The Nurse – he should be a man!” A lot of it is just sexism. I understand that people don’t like change, and this character is very close to people’s hearts, but there’s actually no reason why The Doctor can only be male. It’s a fictional time travelling alien from another planet, that changes shape when it dies. I think it can turn into a woman, that’s fine!

I haven’t actually seen any of the episodes in their entirety. I must admit that these days whenever I watch Doctor Who, I’m just completely confused! It’s great and there’s something very comforting about the fact that the show still going after all these years, but the storylines always confuse me completely. I have seen clips of the new Doctor Who with Jodie Whittaker and it looks good. She’s funny and a bit weird and charismatic and that’s the spirit of the character. I personally don’t mind that the doctor is a woman at the moment. I think the writers can do whatever they like with the character.

As long as the writing is still good, the acting is good, the general hallmarks of Doctor Who are still the same, I think it’s ok.

I’d be more upset if the writers of Doctor Who changed something more important about the character – like deciding she now shouldn’t have a sense of humour, or that she should stop caring about people, or that she loses the Tardis or something like that. That would be worse. The Doctor becoming a woman – doesn’t really change the spirit of the character that much and if anything it brings something fresh to the role, and it looks like Jodie Whittaker is great and loads of fun, like the Doctor should be.

So, female Doctor Who – why not?

But I don’t think this really counts as proper gender fluidity actually, because it’s a fictional alien character. I think gender fluidity is more likely to impact our lives in more real ways than this. Like for example how it is affecting language and conversations about language.

For example, what pronouns do we use to refer to people who have different gender identities, like people who identify as neither a woman nor a man, or some other gender which is a combination of both somehow. People might say “I feel that I am neither a man nor a woman” “I’m both and the language doesn’t have the words to reflect that, so we need to introduce some new words to include us, because if we’re not included in the language, then the culture is extremely prejudiced against us.” Also, trans-gender or gender-fluid people can feel very rejected or unrepresented or offended when their identity isn’t recognised by people, specifically when the wrong pronouns are used.

Pronouns – words like he, she, her, his and so on.

So some people want to introduce new pronouns to reflect the diversity of gender identities out there and they want to introduce new laws which say it’s technically a hate crime to use the wrong pronouns. 

I don’t know if this kind of thing has ever happened before and there are several debates combined in this. There’s the “Do people have the right to change their gender if they feel that way?” and in my opinion I kind of think, well, why not I think people should be allowed to do what they want. But a second debate is, “Do they get to legislate what language we can and can’t use?”

Forcing people to use certain forms of language by law – I just don’t know what to think about that. That does seem a bit like controlling people’s freedom to use language, but this whole thing exists in a very fuzzy and grey area involving freedom of speech and also the problem of hate speech and so on… It’s a moral maze.

And so, that’s where we’ll leave this subject. I’d like to think it’s ok for me not to have an opinion on some things. That’s my “I have rights” card here – I claim the right to just not have an opinion, thanks very much. I’m not ready to decide what I think about it all yet, and that’s ok. I’m allowed to do that, and so are you.

I know, you’re not even asking for my opinion, right? And I have no duty to give you my opinion.

Anyway, it’s interesting and you’re hearing all the words I’m using to talk about it, right?

This is the end of part 3! This series is longer than I expected. Part 4 coming soon…

Dictionary definitions – Collins English Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers

169. A Cup of Tea with Daniel Burt (Part 1)

[1/2] Daniel Burt is a journalist, comedy writer and performer from Melbourne, Australia. He writes for two big newspapers in Australia, he worked as an intern at Late Night with David Letterman, he has his own page on Wikipedia and in his work he has interviewed Matt Smith, David Tennant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, which means he has met 2 Doctor Whos Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson and The Hobbit! Wow.  In this episode you can listen to us talking about diverse topics such as Australia’s relationship to The Queen & The Commonwealth, his work as an entertainment journalist, his time living in New York, the David Letterman show, Will Smith, show business, and zombies…

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I’m very pleased to have Daniel on the podcast for a number of reasons:
a) He is a bright, witty guy with lots of things to say, and he can talk the hind legs off a donkey (not literally, that’s just an idiom which means he can talk and talk!)
b) He is from Australia, so you can listen to his genuine Aussie accent and hear some authentic Australian English.
c) He has met Sherlock Holmes, Bilbo Baggins, Doctor Who and others.

Daniel is noteworthy enough to have his own page on Wikipedia. Click here to read it.

Daniel is a writer so naturally uses a lot of colourful language, descriptive vocabulary and idiomatic expressions. He also speaks pretty quickly in an accent that you might not be familiar with so listen closely. A transcript should arrive before too long but if you have any questions about words or phrases from this episode, please leave them in the comments section, with a time-code. ;)

This is a two part podcast. In part 1, this one, Daniel and I talk about these things:
The Zombie Apocalype
– Is my apartment safe?
– Would Daniel survive a zombie attack? Is he too complacent?
– Are people who like zombies all loners?
– Is Luke a loner?

Daniel’s Coin-dropping Habits
– Why can’t Daniel hold onto coins when shop assistants give him change?
– Why does he always drop coins onto the floor?
– Is it because Australian notes are so shiny and slippery, that the coins just slide off?

– Or is it just because he is socially awkward or nervous for some reason?
The Queen on Australian money
– How does Daniel feel about it?
– What’s the role of The Queen in Australian life?
– Will Australia leave the commonwealth and become fully independent?
Daniel’s work as an entertainment journalist
– Does he really have a Wikipedia page about him?
– What was it like living in New York?
– What was it like working for David Letterman?

Seeing Will Smith in the audience at a Parisian cabaret show
– Did he enjoy the show?
– What was the audience’s reaction to seeing Will Smith in the crowd?
– Did it affect the performance?
– What are the secrets of show business?
-And what does “getting jiggy with it” actually mean?

I’ve divided this into two episodes. So, stay tuned for details about his meeting with Sherlock Holmes, The Hobbit and Doctor Who in part 2.

Our conversation begins pretty quickly after we’d already been talking for about half an hour before turning on the microphone. Let me give you some context so you can hit the ground running.

Before turning on the microphone, we were talking about some of our favourite TV shows. I mentioned that I watch The Walking Dead, which is a show about zombies. I like zombies and that kind of thing, I’m sick and twisted in that way. Daniel doesn’t watch the show, and he isn’t a big zombie fan. He said he thought you’d need to be a bit of an idiot to get bitten by a zombie, because they’re so slow. Surely you’d see the zombie coming, and you’d just get out of the way, quite casually. I disagreed, and explained that getting bitten by a walker is easier than you might expect. Zombies might seem slow, but if you get complacent – over confident and too relaxed, that’s when you might be caught by surprise. If a zombie is walking towards you, he’s pretty slow so you might think you’re safe, but they’re unpredictable. What might happen is that the zombie gets about 3 metres away, and gets excited because he can smell your brains, and he trips slightly and starts to fall forwards. This means that his falling increases his speed and the momentum carries him to you faster than you expected. The next thing you know, you’ve got a zombie on top of you, and while you’re trying to deal with him, another one might have arrived behind you quietly, without you realising, and then you’re bitten, double bitten by two members of the undead. Then, later on, you’re a zombie too. Uhhh brains! Daniel didn’t realise this could happen. I reassured him, by explaining that up in my flat we would be quite safe from zombies because I’m up on the 6th floor, and my door is very strong. But that you still shouldn’t get complacent, even then. You can never be too safe from zombies, because, well, anything can happen. For example, let’s say, on the other side of the city, some guys have managed to escape from a zombie infested building by flying off the roof in a helicopter. “Ooh, that was close – good thing we had this helicopter!” But one of the guys in the chopper has been bitten, and he didn’t tell the others! He was too ashamed, too embarrassed. He kept it secret. Big mistake! Within minutes, he’s turned into a zombie, and he starts attacking the pilot. Trying to eat his brains. Horrible! The pilot gets bitten and he turns into a zombie too. Now you’ve got a zombie flying a helicopter. In the confusion the helicopter crashes onto the roof of my building – the pilot and passengers are all zombies, and they crawl from the wreckage and climb through a hole in the wall, into my living room, and Daniel gets bitten. Not me of course, I’d be ready with a cricket bat or a hammer or something. Maybe a crossbow. It would be tough, but I’d deal with them. Daniel though – he’d be beyond dead at that point, the poor guy. And why? Because he got complacent. Or zombies could manage to get to the 6th floor in a lift, by accident. Or just thousands and thousands of zombies could surround my building, and eventually break in by smashing all the windows and doors. Don’t worry though, it’s very unlikely to happen… or is it?…
So, that’s some context to the conversation I was having with Daniel before starting the recording. Now you can enjoy some chat with my Aussie mate Daniel. Enjoy!

Daniel’s Video Showreel

In part 2:
Daniel’s move to London
Cliches about Australian people
Typical Australian English phrases
Australian pronunciation
The Australian character and national identity
Australian politicians
The future of Australia & Australia’s image of itself
Sport & competition
Interviewing Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock), Martin Freeman (The Hobbit), Matt Smith & David Tennant (Doctor Who)

32. Doctor Who (with Lee Arnott)

This episode is all about Doctor Who. There are some announcements at the beginning of the episode, then an interview with an expert on Dr Who.

The interview begins at approximately 10.00 minutes into the episode.

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Transcript available below. Luke’s English Podcast is a free service for people who are learning English as a foreign language. Luke is a well qualified teacher of English with over 12 years’ experience in Japan, the UK and France. He speaks British English, and teaches at a language school in London, and now at a university in Paris. You can use this podcast to get exposure to native speakers using natural English. Learn phrasal verbs, idioms, useful expressions, linkers, etc. Find Luke on Facebook (search for Luke’s English Podcast) or Twitter (@EnglishPodcast). Cheers!

Some good advice for iPhone users (courtesy of a helpful listener from Russia, called Nikita Kolganov): Copy and paste the tapescript from a podcast into the ‘lyrics’ section of each podcast on your iPhone. To do this, first copy the text from this webpage. Then go into iTunes and ‘right click’ the podcast episode there. Then choose ‘Get Info’, then select ‘Lyrics’. You can add the transcript into the text box there, and then read while you listen to the podcast. Thanks Nick!

Here’s the tapescript for the interview with Lee, about Dr Who:

Luke: Right, if you imagine somebody who’s never heard of Dr Who before, right, how can you explain who he really is. So, so, if, what are the most important things that you should know about Dr Who if you’ve never heard of him before, basically.

Lee: Well, Dr Who is, err, a TV show that it’s main character, a character called The Doctor, who is in fact an alien, has a machine that can travel through time and space, which means that he is able to go anywhere in any planet, any point in the future, the past, whenever.

Luke: Erm, what’s the name of that machine?

Lee: It’s called The Tardis.

Luke : And can you just describe The Tardis? That’s like his spaceship, yeah? Can you describe The Tardis for us? Because in Britain here, everybody knows The Tardis, like, almost everybody knows it. It’s very familiar to us. It’s almost like an icon of British culture. But what is The Tardis? What does it look like?

Lee: Well, The Tardis looks like a 1960s police box, and in the days before mobile telephones and actually people having telephones in their houses, these blue police boxes were like an old phone box, and they also had a double function in that if a criminal caught a policeman [if a policeman caught a criminal] they would be locked up inside this police box, and they also had a phone, so they were a very common object in 1960s Britain, early 1960s Britain when Dr Who started.

Luke: So, it looks a bit like a red telephone box, but it’s blue, and it’s something the police use to make telephone calls. And they could use it to keep criminals in. They could lock a criminal in there if they needed to.

Lee: Exactly. It was a very everyday object which everybody would have known.

Luke: Ok, so everybody knows about what a police box is so…

Lee: But of course it’s not really just a police box because it’s actually bigger on the inside than on the outside.

Luke: Ok, so Dr Who’s spaceship is in the shape of a police box. It’s called The Tardis but it’s actually bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Ok, right, fine. Um, actually, people these days often use the word Tardis to mean something that’s bigger on the inside than on the outside. Can you give me an example of how we might use the word Tardis to mean something else?

Lee: Well actually there’s quite a famous example when Tony Blair was Prime Minister, in one of the last interviews he did before he left the post, I think it was with The Guardian, the interviewer asked him what was 10 Downing Street like…

Luke: That’s the Prime Minister’s house.

Lee: And he said, oh it’s like The Tardis, and he didn’t need to say anything else but everybody would know that he means it looks smaller on the outside but it’s much bigger on the inside.

Luke: Right, ok. I’ve heard people say that, like, a woman’s handbag is like The Tardis, sometimes, because it looks like a small handbag, but you can actually keep lots and lots of things inside it…

Lee: And such is the power of the programme that even if you’ve never seen Dr Who in this country, you will know if somebody says “It’s like a Tardis”, you will know that it’s bigger on the inside than the outside.

Luke: Right, ok, so that’s what Tardis means to everybody now. OK, what are the other important things that we need to know about Dr Who?

Lee: Erm, well, we need to know the fact that the programme started in 1963, and that means that you get a very good representation of how British society evolved in a kind of televisual way. A record of the times, our changing attitudes to race, to women’s lib, to even things like joining of the common market in the early 70s…

Luke: What do you mean by women’s lib?

Lee: Well The Doctor, traditionally is always accompanied by a female companion, and this was specifically because the programme’s original remit was to entertain a family audience on Saturday afternoon.

Luke: It’s a family show

Lee: Yeah, it’s very much a family show. One that was designed to catch the fathers who’d been watching an afternoon of sport on a saturday, with family who watched, like a pop music programme… it was designed to keep everybody watching, and of course it was hugely successful when it started so it achieved its aim.

Luke: Ok. So, ok, so basically err, he always has a female companion. I think that Dr Who has also had, like, a robot companion as well, right?

Lee: He has, he has, and err, he had a robot companion in the late 70s but he actually… people have thought that it was because Star Wars came out, and C3PO and R2-D2 but actually Dr Who was a year before Star Wars, so…

Luke: Really? So before… everybody knows about Star Wars, they know about R2-D2 and C3P0, but Dr Who before Star Wars had K9. K9 was like a robot dog! (laughs)

Lee: Of course the most important thing to remember is that when the show first started in 1963, the guy who was playing The Doctor was a very old guy, and after 3 years playing the role, it became very obvious that he was ill and he couldn’t do it, and they were like “what are we going to do?”. So, they devised… because we didn’t know who this character was, or where he came from, in 1966 they changed the actor, but made it a part of his personality, and that allows… has allowed the programme to continue to this day nearly 50 years later.

Luke: OK, so this is another important thing about Dr Who, is that you have to know that… How many actors have played him now, actually?

Lee: Erm, well we’re now on number 10 and number 11 starts filming next month.

Luke: OK, erm, the interesting thing about Dr Who is that when Dr Who dies, he doesn’t die. He doesn’t die, instead he changes into a new form, so he becomes a new person, but it’s still Dr Who but he becomes a new person, and it’s like a really important event when Dr Who. It’s… to be honest it’s a way for them to change the actor, right? But in the show, Dr Who… one Dr Who dies and he changes into a new Dr Who, and it’s always like a really big event for the show, right? Erm, so it’s really just a way for them to continue the show. It’s a bit like James Bond in that sense.

Lee: Hmm, but I think it’s more believable than James Bond because its not supposed to be exactly the same character. So each Doctor, well each actor has been allowed to have his own, his own way of playing the part.

Luke: So, his own personality. So every time it’s like a new, different kind of Doctor with a different personality.

Lee: Even though it’s the same, we know it’s the same character behind it, but it’s like a new person to get used to and that keeps the show fresh and it’s kept it going all this time.

Luke: OK, so there have been 10 Doctors, and the 11th Doctor is coming very soon. Who do you think is the nation’s favourite Dr Who so far?

Lee: Well, for many years, everybody would have said immediately, Tom Baker, an actor who played the part from 1974 to 1981.

Luke: Tom Baker actually, err, the Tom Baker Dr Who is probably the most famous one until the most recent one. And he’s famous for having a long scarf, and he was in The Simpsons. He was in the American comedy show The Simpsons.

Lee: He was also in Family Guy …

Luke: He’s in Family Guy as well

Lee: Until Dr Who, because Dr Who was off the air, it stopped being made in 1989 until 2005 when it came back. And until 2005, everybody would have said Tom Baker was the Doctor, but as you’ve said in 2006 the current Doctor David Tenant has taken the programme to new heights of success that it never ever had in it’s original format.

Luke: So Dr Who, even before, erm, the latest Doctor, Dr Who was really really big and really successful, but it’s become even more successful with this new Doctor played by David Tenant, who’s like a great actor, Shakespearian actor

Lee; Yeah, he’s just done Hamlet, and they’re going to be filming Hamlet for television

Luke: It’s a great thing. Because David Tenant is so popular as Dr Who, now he’s playing Hamlet, it’s going to be shown on TV, millions of people in the UK are going to watch Hamlet, which is written by Shakespeare, so it’s a really good way of

Lee: And that kind of fits in with the original, the kind of format of Dr Who in that, because he’s able to go back in the past and meet people like Shakespeare and Agatha Christie, it inspires people to go out and learn more about… you know… the original brief of the show was that it had to go to the future and then the past. So not only would it educate the viewers in a very 1960s BBC way, but it would also entertain, and it would inspire people to go and learn about things

Luke: That’s what the BBC was all about. It was to educate, to entertain and to inform, right? Ok, actually I think I need to clarify just a little bit more about Dr Who just to make sure everybody understands who he is. Dr Who is a Timelord, and that means he’s a kind of alien. He’s not a human, he’s from another planet, but he came to Earth because he, he loves humans, right?

Lee: Yeah, but he doesn’t live on earth, he’s always… just Earth happens to be convenient because that’s where they can film on the cheap

Luke: So, he doesn’t live on earth, but he comes to earth quite a lot

Lee: but he can go anywhere, in time or space. But we have to remember that The Doctor, ok he’s the main character, but what really really made the programme successful and which we cannot not talk about are The Daleks.

Luke: Right, ok, so we’ve talked about, err, Dr Who’s spaceship, his companions, err K9, but another very important thing is to know the enemies that Dr Who has, and you just mentioned The Daleks, right? So who are Dr Who’s enemies? There’s probably, like, three maybe four most popular, most famous enemies

Lee: Well, The Daleks are, if you, again it’s like the word Tardis, if you say to somebody who’s never seen Dr Who in their life, they’ll know, if you say Dalek, they will know what you mean and may even do an impression of one by talking like this

Luke: Exterminate! Exterminate!

Lee: Exactly! Exterminate. So, I mean, Dr Who’s first story in 1963 was a bit of a dull… and it was set in caveman times. It’s very much introducing the characters. It was four weeks later, the introduction of these things called The Daleks, which just literally took the public imagination by storm. You can’t work out why. If you see them they look like a pepper-pot walking around. Maybe it’s the voice. There’s been lots of theories of why people just, why they’re so important to people, but whether they’re reseblent [reminiscent] of Nazis, because you remember the war had finished just 20 years before, you know. There’s just something about a Dalek, and again it’s just a proper cultural icon. So much so that in 1996 there was a survey to find out icons of British culture the public wanted put on stamps, and the first class stamp was The Dalek.

Luke: So there was a survey, and the British public voted The Dalek as the number 1 icon to put on a stamp! That’s even before the Queen, so they didn’t want the Queen’s head, they wanted a Dalek on there. So, just again to clarify a Dalek is like a robot…

Lee: It’s a robot but it’s got a creature inside it controlling it that hates anything … (laughter) …if you see them, it’s like “What is it?”, but there’s something about them. It’s a creature inside that controls them, and this creature wants to kill anything that is not like yourself [itself]. Now, I have to stress, the programme, although it sounds violent again is for a family audience, so y’know, the kids were watching, with their parents and although they were scary, it was a safe kind of fear because you could hide in Mum and Dad’s arms, you know, or hide behind the sofa, which is very much again the tradition of the…

Luke: These are other important things about Dr Who, is that it’s a family show, so so, erm, most people in the UK grew up as children watching Dr Who on a Saturday night. I watched it with my family…

Lee: I watched it with my Mum, my Mum watched it with her Mum, you know…

Luke: Everybody knows it, it’s like something really important about British culture. Erm, one of the things that everybody says about Dr Who is that because it’s quite scary, erm, you end up watching it from behind the sofa. So you can’t just sit in front of the TV and watch it. You have to hide behind the sofa, and sort of like, y’know, look over the top of the sofa to watch it because it’s so scary.

Lee: Now, you see, you’re lucky because when I was a child, our sofa was pushed against the wall. So I had to hide behind a cushion.

Luke: So you couldn’t hide behind the sofa.

Lee: Which is very very scary…

Luke: But that’s another expression, it’s another bit of erm, vocabulary that everybody knows now ‘to hide behind the sofa’, because of Dr Who. OK, so we’ve talked about The Daleks… now another thing about Dr Who is that it’s kind of funny, isn’t it?

Lee: Mmmm, it’s got a very British dry sense of humour, and partly because the programme has never had much money spent on it, so… rather than have lots of special effects you have to have a very good script that’s sharp, that’s funny. The Doctor is a character who never carries a weapon. He uses words, he uses his brains, he uses his intellect to get out of situations, so… and it has an, it it has a kind of humour that’s very British, but also, as you say very funny, you know, so…

Luke: I…

Lee: It doesn’t take itself too seriously

Luke: It’s not a serious show. It’s very much a kind of camp, funny kind of show. And also, one of the…

Lee: …and scary and exciting

Luke: That’s right, it manages to mix, like, comedy and erm, like, satire and fashion or something, and serious science fiction as well. It’s just great. Erm, what was I going to say? Oh yeah, err, one of the funny things about Dr Who is, like, the special effects.

Lee: Mmm, they were. In the old series, which as I said started in 1963, ended in 1989… famously, Dr Who never had any money, which means that there was no money for special effects, but you have to remember, the news series is different. It’s got amazing spe… award winning special effects. But you have to remember that the BBC as an institution in the 1960s and the 1970s was at the cutting edge, was at the front of this new technology, and all the stuff you see with green screen now is because of the stuff the BBC were doing with Dr Who in 1969 when colour television had just been invented, and you see that early experiments in yellow screen it was then, but you know this is why we have these special effects now.

Luke: So Dr Who innovated a lot of special effects.

Lee: Exactly. People like Ridley Scott was one of the designers…

Luke: Ridley Scott is now a famous director who’s directed films like Gladiator, but, and Ridley Scott worked on Doctor Who in the 60s. But I remember when I was younger when I watched Doctor Who on TV in the 80s, the special effects were quite funny because usually the monster was, a kind of man in a suit. It was basically a man in a suit. You know? In a bit… in a similar way to, in Japan, the way Godzilla was so popular. Godzilla when you watch the original movie, it’s obviously a man in a rubber suit.

Lee: Well I think the thing about 80s Doctor Who is, it’s very 80s. You know, 70s Doctor Who, 60s Doctor Who is, and to a certain extent it’s all very scary but there’s something about 80s Doctor Who which just looks over lit, the colours are really garish, and it’s just very 80s. Very much a product of its time. And maybe in a way that 60s and 70s Doctor Who was very much ahead of its time.

Luke: Ok, so Now though, Dr Who is very popular, more popular than it was before.

Lee: More popular than it’s ever been before. It’s the top rated drama on the BBC, it gets the highest ratings for a drama. The audience appreciation figures, which are a rating of how much the audience actually enjoys it are always in the lower 90% which for a drama which is very popular which is unheard of, umm. It’s always in the press because remember the newspapers have a 50 year history to draw back on and public interest in Dr Who at the moment has never ever been higher and now with David Tenant, the most, arguably the most popular Doctor ever, about to change at Christmas and New Year, then the future once again looks…

Luke: Great. So basically, umm, the important thing about Dr Who, if you’re a learner of English right, is it important to know about Dr Who? Why is it important for learners of English to know about something like Dr Who?

Lee: I wouldn’t say it was important but I would say it offers a very good insight into British culture, the British view of things, the British sense of humour, and also it’s just a great way to pass 50 minutes just lapping up British culture.

Luke: It’s just a great show, it’s very fun, very entertaining.

Lee: It’s very easy to watch. You don’t have to know everything about it. Each week there’s somewhere new, you know, so

Luke: It’s one of those things I guess, that … if a learner of English listens to two English people, often they don’t understand it because often the English people will talk about things that the learner of English doesn’t understand, and one of those things might be Dr Who. It’s kind of something that everybody knows about, something that people talk about quite a lot. For example, like, mentioning the Tardis or The Daleks

Lee: I think there was a great interview with, erm, when the Queen’s golden jubilee about 5 years ago, 6 years ??. there’s an interview with Prince Andrew and he said he had really happy memories of watching Dr Who with his Mum and Dad in the early 70s.

Luke: So even the royal family watch Dr Who

Lee: David Beckham gets the box sets for Christmas, delivered to his house. Everybody watches it.

Luke: OK, so there you go. Everybody is a fan of Dr Who. Is it possible to watch Dr Who in other countries?

Lee: Yes, it’s the BBC’s biggest export in terms of where it’s sold to, and it’s currently available in 42 different countries, you know. It has a regular audience of 165,000,000 viewers, so… everywhere from Saudi Arabia… it’s the number 1 export show in South Korea, so…

Luke: Really? So, a lot of South Korean people…

Lee: It even beats CSI

Luke: Even more popular than CSI? …in South Korea. So if you’re from South Korea and you’re listening to this, then send me a message if you’ve seen Dr Who, tell me what you think of it. Now, I think that they did show Dr Who in Japan, but I heard that nobody understood it at all. They didn’t get it, and erm, I think…

Lee: But they did, to be fair, they did show this back in the 1980s when they showed the last 3 years of the show and, quite frankly, unless you were a fan of Dr Who it probably would have been the weirdest thing that definitely may even have got a cult audience, but not a…

Luke: I think the late 80s Dr Who was probably the worst Dr Who. It’s terrible, right?

Lee: That’s a bone of argument I have to say

Luke: For me, after Peter Davidson, it wasn’t very interesting. I didn’t like it myself. I stopped watching it at that point.

Lee: Anyway, shall we end on a positive note?

Luke: Yeah. Umm, ahh, just a thing about in Japan. They even changed the name of Dr Who, they put it into katakana, that’s Japanese characters. And in Japan everybody knows Dr Who as Do-ku-ta-fhooo. Dokuta-fhuuu, which is kind of funny. Ok, so, right, are you looking forward to the new Doctor?

Lee: Yes, again, you know, the, having been a fan of Dr Who since I was 5 years old, errm… I’m still very young… ermm, I errr,… I love it when he changes. It’s so exciting, you never know what’s going to happen

Luke: Do you think this new guy is going to be a good Doctor?

Lee: I’m sure… because, they guy who’s now in charge of the show is one of the best writers of the last couple of years, so I’m sure it’s in very safe hands, and you know, I think it’s going to be great.

Luke: OK, great, so, erm… If you’re interested in Dr Who you can buy the box set, the DVDs on Amazon. You could probably watch some Dr Who clips on YouTube

Lee: Yeah, for real…

Luke: Erm, if you’re interested, you can watch it. But otherwise, just umm, errr I don’t know what I’m going to say now! I hope you enjoyed that conversation anyway. Thank you very much Lee.

Lee: Bye, thank you

Luke: Oh oh, one more thing. Why do you know so much about Dr Who?
Lee: As I said, because I’ve loved it since I was 5 years old, and erm, for me it’s just, I don’t know, I have a really strong emotional attachment to Dr Who, you know, he was always there… because he was such a constant character in my childhood and even in my adulthood.
Luke: You’re also an expert, aren’t you, on Dr Who
Lee: Yeah, but I have my limits… My house is not full of toy daleks of every description
Luke: Just a few… because you’re not a total geek or anything
Lee: No, I’m not. I haven’t got Dalek pajamas or… which are available!
Luke: If you’re wondering what to buy Lee for his birthday or Christmas
Lee: Dalek underpants or pajamas please
Luke: Dalek underpants or pajamas. I think they’re available on the internet
Lee: Marks and Spencer!
Luke: or Marks and Spencer, do they do them? Right, well I think on that note, err, I’ll end the conversation. Thanks very much Lee.
Lee: Thank you very much
Luke: OK

An interview with Matt Smith, the 11th Doctor:


Language Analysis

The following language analysis was written by Richard Gallen, a fellow teacher at The London School of English. Richard has written analysis of part of the interview between me and Lee. Use this in order to get a detailed understanding of some of the useful language used in the interview. If you a teacher, you may be interested in using this language analysis as a way of adapting the podcast for teaching in the classroom. Thanks to Richard Gallen.

Lee and Luke explain Doctor Who – language for explaining and describing

Luke: Right, if you imagine somebody who’s never heard of Dr Who before, right, how can you explain who he really is. So, so, if, what are the most important things that you should know about Dr Who if you’ve never heard of him before, basically.

Lee: Well, Dr Who is, err, a TV show that it’s main character, a character called The Doctor, who is in fact an alien, has a machine that can travel through time and space, which means that he is able to go anywhere in any planet, any point in the future, the past, whenever.

Luke: Erm, what’s the name of that machine?

Lee: It’s called The Tardis.

Luke : And can you just describe The Tardis? That’s like his spaceship, yeah? Can you describe The Tardis for us? Because in Britain here, everybody knows The Tardis, like, almost everybody knows it. It’s very familiar to us. It’s almost like an icon of British culture. But what is The Tardis? What does it look like?

Lee: Well, The Tardis looks like a 1960s police box, and in the days before mobile telephones and actually people having telephones in their houses, these blue police boxes were like an old phone box, and they also had a double function in that if a criminal caught a policeman [if a policeman caught a criminal] they would be locked up inside this police box, and they also had a phone, so they were a very common object in 1960s Britain, early 1960s Britain when Dr Who started.

Extra information clauses

Describing a film or book can be a little difficult. It’s quite hard to keep people interested. That’s why when we introduce a character we sometimes say something interesting or exciting about them

a character called The Doctor, who is in fact an alien

..then there’s Princess Leia who is fact Luke’s sister

In 1988 she met this man called Greenlee, who was in fact the top CIA agent in Bolivia at the time.

In the examples above ‘who’ refers to the noun before it (The Doctor/Princess Leia/ this man called Greenlee). In the example below ‘which means that’ doen’t only refer to the noun before, it refers to the whole clause before:

It’s a machine that can travel through time and space, which means that he is able to go anywhere in any planet, any point in the future, the past, whenever

The most common verb after ‘which’ in extra information clauses is ‘means’ .It often says something about the result of an event

I slept through my alarm clock which meant that I had to run like crazy for the train

Gilardino scored a goal very late in the match which meant that Italy qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

In that..

When Lee was describing police boxes in England he said:

they had a double function in that if a policeman caught a criminal they would be locked up inside this police box

we use ‘in that’ when we think we could be more precise about something we’ve just said :  ‘in that’+example

He was quite reserved in many ways but he was also very sociable in that he liked entertaining,

It’s already old news (in that it was announced 6 hours ago…) but President Obama has been awarded the Nobel peace prize

The most common adjectives that come just before ‘in that’ are:

unique / unlucky / unusual/ fortunate

UNICEF is unique in that they are in countries, before, during and after emergency situations and humanitarian crises

Gordon Brown was unlucky, in that he became PM when we were on the edge of a disaster

She was fortunate, in that she had so much money she didn’t need to work


‘Like’ is very common when we describe:

And can you just describe The TARDIS? That’s like his spaceship, yeah?

Luke is trying to explain what the TARDIS is…. But he can’t find exactly the right words. This is very common in conversation and when we describe things because it’s difficult to be precise all the time

As the examples below show, sometimes we are imprecise because we want to exaggerate. ‘Like’ is very common to introduce an exaggeration:

It’s [almost] like….. an icon of British culture

Because in Britain here, everybody knows The TARDIS, like, almost everybody knows it

Some other examples:

..and it was so good, it was like, one the best meals I ever had.

..and for a few months he was like, crazy about me, he was calling me and sending me flowers

Notice how we pause just after ‘like’ when we use it in this way

Other uses of  ‘like’

We use ‘like’ in questions to ask for a description:

But what is The TARDIS? What does it look like?

‘Like’ also means similar to:

These blue police boxes were like an old phone box

When ‘like’ means ‘similar to’ we use adverbs to make the comparison softer or stronger

a bit like /rather like /  (to soften)

just like /exactly / a lot like (to strengthen)

Horse surfing is a lot like surfing, just with horses

The currents in the sea were really strong and, for a minute, it is was almost like a huge monster was sucking me under

The following ‘sense’ verbs are common before ‘like’ when we use it in this way.

feel/ taste/ sound/ look/ smell

It felt like I had been waiting for hours but it was in fact only 20 minutes

He smelt like he hadn’t had a shower for weeks

She looks like she’s been crying