Pesticides, language and ‘Doctor Who’. What are pyrethroids?

Doctor becomes her (images©: BBC)

I’m currently writing my PhD thesis in Catalan —and some percentage in English to get the international mention— when they reveal that the actor who will take the lead role in Doctor Who will be, in fact, an actress. Weirdly enough, both facts are closely related.

If you saw the teaser of my first scientific musical two years ago, you know that pyrethroids are pesticides, that they are less toxic than DDT, organophosphorates and carbamates and that they are used in aquaculture —and that I’m not a professional singer. However, as you never saw the whole show, this video has a Shakespearean feel, much ado about nothing. So today I’m introducing these pesticides that you have been eating all your life and have probably applied to your hair unknowingly.

About a century ago pyrethrins, which were extracted from a plant of the chrysanthemum family, were modified to study how their chemical activity changed. Pyrethroids were created. In the seventies, pyrethroids went from household products to agricultural pesticides and started substituting other pesticides. Pyrethroids were more effective, stable but biodegradable and selectively more toxic to insects than mammals.

But pyrethroids are not only used on the crops. They are used to fight parasites in farms and fish farms, to treat lice or scabies and to control malaria, which is transmitted by mosquitoes. Now go check your home insecticide; it’s bound to have pyrethroids in it.

So why are language and Doctor Who in this article’s title? As I’m writing my thesis in Catalan, I’ve realised my mother tongue does something weird, unusual and against terminology’s best practices. In Catalan pyrethroids are transgender —not to be confused with transgenic. So the English permethrin in an agricultural context will be a male word (permetrín), while in a farmaceutical context it will be female (permetrina). English has feet that smell and noses that run; we’re entitled to our own excentricities. However, only pyrethroids that in English end in -in are transgender, others, e.g. fenvalerate, don’t change.

It bugs me [bugs and pesticides; see what I did there?] that when I talk about the compounds as molecules or when I discuss different applications in my thesis there will be no or both contexts involved. And you can’t go changing pesticides’ gender every other paragraph. It bugs me square that, maybe influenced by Spanish, which makes them always female, in my laboratory we’ve always used them in female form in Catalan. I might have to go back and amend some texts.

Depending on the context, pyrethroids can change gender in Catalan

Which brings us to Doctor Who and the recent announcement of the new Doctor. After 54 years and 13* male incarnations, Doctor becomes her. Sadly enough, myriads of haters (both men and women) find it outrageous that a 2000-year-old alien who changes his body periodically is going to include his genitals in the next change. On the other hand, we’ve never been told what’s down there so, who knows?

Long story short, I write a blog to look modern and fashionable and there’s nothing more modern and fashionable than respecting the gender change of any person, character or pesticide.



* Disclaimer for trolls die-hard fans: I am obviously counting the War Doctor, but not the Metacrisis Doctor as that is a deviation that doesn’t lead to the current incarnation.

‘Dreams of Empire’

RICHARDS, Justin. Dreams of Empire. 1998.

‘On a barren asteroid, the once-mighty Haddron Empire is on the brink of collapse, torn apart by civil war. The one man who might have saved it languishes in prison, his enemies planning his death and his friends plotting his escape.’

BBC Books – The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Collection (2013)

BBC Books – The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Collection (2013)

With the long wait for the new season of Doctor Who one has to find ways to get input from the Whoniverse other than the Christmas special and the —too short— spin-off Class [By the way: Matteusz, the gay Polish character. What’s not to love? Well, probably the wrong spelling of the name, as it should be Mateusz.]

Back to the book, Justin Richards succeeded in capturing the essence of the second Doctor era. Those who have watched the black and white episodes will see the characters move in their minds and hear their voices as if it were one of the lost episodes.

However, this is not one of those stories only for fans of the show. Anyone who’s never even heard of Doctor Who can enjoy it, since there’s neither complex time travelling nor references to the Whoniverse apart from the —mandatory— presence of the Doctor and his two companions.

Dreams of Empire is the story of a political conflict that could easily become a military one. The game of chess is present throughout the book both explicitly and implicitly as metaphors. It is not by chance, for strategy is key to the plot. Moreover, the Doctor is not the saviour he’s nowadays, but just a moderate aid to the characters who actually own the story, which is more entertaining and believable.

To sum up, read it, it’s a good one.

‘Ten Little Aliens’

COLE, Stephen. Ten Little Aliens. 2002.

‘Deep in the heart of a hollowed-out moon the First Doctor finds a chilling secret: ten alien corpses, frozen in time at the moment of their death. […] But is the same force that killed them still lurking in the dark? And what are its plans for the people of Earth?’

BBC Books – The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Collection (2013)

BBC Books – The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Collection (2013)

It’s been a year since I last reviewed a Doctor Who novel. But after reading some new Doctors, I’ve gone back to the beginning, to the first regeneration of the time lord (again, it’s just a species; I’m not using capital letters).

Although the original TV show was a bit slow and had a low budget–if any–, the book format allows the mind to give it the right pace and imagine unlimited details. It’s also nice to enjoy new stories with classic characters.

Satisfied as I may sound, there were two bits I didn’t enjoy that much. Firstly, the author decided to add some pages with the background of the ten characters in this story. I’m sure it was a great document for him while writing, but the reader can’t absorb that amount of information in chapter one.

Also, there’s this part close to the end that resembles a Choose Your Own Adventure. It is an effective way to convey the confusion the characters are experiencing. However, at that point of the story I don’t want to be confused and have to check all pages several times to make sure I’m not missing anything.

What struck me as a surprise was the very graphic details about some deaths. I wouldn’t expect explicit violence in Doctor Who, a family show. But again, this is a different format, one that kids won’t explore yet.

The book as whole–in spite of the two annoying bits–is ok. On the other side, it lacks interest if you’re not into Doctor Who.

‘Touched by an Angel’

MORRIS, Jonathan. Touched by an Angel. 2011.

‘In 2003, Rebecca Whitaker died in a road accident. Her husband Mark is still grieving. […] As Mark is given the chance to save Rebecca, it’s up to the Doctor, Amy and Rory to save the whole world. Because this time the Weeping Angels are using history itself as a weapon.’

BBC Books – The Monster Collection (2014)

BBC Books – The Monster Collection (2014)

I was very disappointed after my first Doctor Who novel because of the context in which the story was set. Then I gave Doctor Who books another chance with selected characters for extra positive points. That was better and, although I decided to pick the same incarnation of the Doctor for my next read, in the end I tried the next one.

Touched by an Angel is a mix between Back to the Future and Blink, the episode where we met the weeping angels1. The plot revolves around Mark being sent to his own past by the angels, which makes the Doctor worry about alterations in his own timeline. Also, some scenes of the angels remind a lot of those from their first appearance.

Non-Whovians could read the book as a tragic love story if they don’t mind the irruptions of the Doctor and his companions. Lots of details on Mark and his wife’s lives are given, making the monsters an irrelevant yet necessary item.

For lovers of the reboot series with new monsters and younger Doctors, this is a great novel to enter the expanded Whoniverse.


1Notice that, unlike the BBC, I prefer using small caps for the monster species (e. g. daleks, cybermen, sontarans) as anyone would do with common species (e. g. humans, elephants, dogs).

Big Finish Productions – ‘We love stories’

Little did I know when I heard about Big Finish that audio dramas were so addictive.

Big Finish Productions is a British company that publishes CDs, downloads and some books. They produce high quality audios which are also suitable for practising your listening if you’re not a native speaker.

They love stories and make them extremely addictive

They love stories and make them extremely addictive

It was not a coincidence that I discovered Big Finish since it’s strongly connected to Doctor Who. In the seven-minute pre-anniversary episode The Night of the Doctor starring Paul McGann, the Doctor mentioned some companions that were unknown to me. I found out that the eighth Doctor had his own story and it was still going on.

Most Big Finish ranges are Doctor Who related. There’s the main range which releases a classic Doctor story every month starring the original Doctors and companions. There are also specific ranges for the fourth and eighth Doctors and even a range called The Lost Stories that adapts stories or scripts that were considered for the classic series but never produced.

Apart from these and other many Doctor Who ranges and spin-offs, you can find that other TV series and well-known characters have their own range, e. g. Blake’s 7, Sherlock Holmes, or Dorian Gray.

Bundles and subscriptions make titles available at cheaper prices and special offers are constantly announced in the news section and on Big Finish’s Facebook page. Therefore it’s extremely easy to pay an average of 3 £ or less for each hour of audio, which is very cheap and there’s no monthly fee—unlike with Audible from Amazon—so you decide when to spend your money.

To top it off, you can download your purchases as an audiobook or as mp3 files to any device as many times as you want, making it easy and comfortable to listen to them whenever and wherever you please—unlike with Audible from Amazon.

‘Beautiful Chaos’

RUSSELL, Gary. Beautiful Chaos. London: BBC Books, 2008.

‘Dona Noble is back home in London […]. Her grandfather is especially overjoyed—he’s discovered a new star and had it named after him. […] But the Doctor is suspicious about some other changes he can see in Earth’s heavens.’

Whoever chose the cover image didn't read the part where it's stated that the Doctor's wearing his blue suit in this adventure

Whoever chose the cover image didn’t read the part where it’s stated that the Doctor’s wearing his blue suit in this adventure

My first experience with a Doctor Who novel wasn’t all that encouraging so as to make me scream for more. However, the second Doctor classical TV series haven’t proved to be less dull than the previous seasons. Being a book lover it was a matter of time that I gave the prose Doctor another chance.

On the other side, it wasn’t Ninth but Tenth. Let’s face it, Christopher Eccleston was a great Doctor, but David Tennant’s was far more entertaining; playful, not grumpy. And who could have been a better choice as a companion from the reboot series than—no, not Rose—Dona? I love their dynamic interaction. And so should you.

This book was indeed better than Only human; partly because of the characters, but also because it doesn’t meddle with important facts of human history. Beautiful Chaos’s story could take place at any point of humanity’s timeline and doesn’t set any huge historical milestone in a distant future. Perfectly both continuity- and canonproofed.

I may try another tenth Doctor novel and see where I go from there.