The Girl Who Died was a bit confusing, wasn’t it? No, not the baby talk, or the holographic Viking Gods, or the telegraphic dragon puppet. Those all make perfect sense, or at least are explained in the show with the requisite technobabble.
We’re talking about something Earth-bound, and much more slippery…
To recap, the Doctor has one day to prepare a small town for an attack by interstellar warlords. (It’s the Magnificent Seven crossed with an episode of the A-Team.) His big idea: to separate the Mire from their weapons and helmets by electrocuting them…
…and turning iron anvils into electromagnets.
A great plan, with just one problem: electrocution and electromagnets need electricity. With the Tardis inaccessible, where do you get a spark in a Viking village?
Yes, turns out the town has a constant supply of electric eels – the “fire in the water” that gloomy baby kept talking about. With a quick boost from the “silver stuff in Clara’s spacesuit” to “magnify the electrical charge”, it was all systems go.
So what’s the problem? Well, the nearest electric eel should have been thousands of miles away…
“A shocking error!” naturalist and Autumnwatch presenter Chris Packham told RadioTimes.com. “He’d need more than time travel, the old Tardis would have to head to the muddy waters of South America to get that kind of buzz.”
Chris is quite right. As we’re sure you’re aware, electric eels spend their days relaxing in the silt of the Amazon and Orinoco rivers, far from the fjords of Scandinavia.
And, actually, they’re not eels at all.
“Despite their snake like appearance, electric eels (Electrophorus electricus) are not actually eels,” a spokesperson for Sea Life London Aquarium told us, in another of several conversations we had about eels this week.
“Their scientific classification is closer to carp and catfish. They’re freshwater fish found around the waters of northeastern portions of South America and the middle and lower Amazon Basin. The eels that are found in the northern hemisphere are generally found to be the European eel (Anguilla anguilla).”
To put it simply – European eels would make a delicious dinner in the East End of London, but couldn’t even charge your phone. A major plot hole, even for Doctor Who, right?
But hold your snotty tweets, there could be a solution, and it’s down to those well travelled Vikings.
We might remember them as violent, hard drinking historical Klingons, but as the episode points out, Vikings were also canny traders, poets, explorers and merchants. They landed in the Americas centuries before Columbus, and their trade routes touched every area of the world. It is just possible that electric eels made their way from the Amazon to Scandinavia, possibly as part of a king’s menagerie of exotic animals.
(The great and the good used to collect animals to show off their influence. Ever wondered why there are so many peacocks wandering around stately homes?)
James Robson is curator of the National Sea Life Centre in Birmingham, where among the many underwater creatures on show you’ll find Ernie the Electric Eel.
“The first electric eels we know were transported to Europe were in the early 19th Century, but the Vikings didn’t really keep records we would know of,” Robson explains. “It’s stretching credulity a little bit, but conceivably a pair of electric eels could have been gifted as a prize or to assist trade negotiations.”
Once in the country, could the eels have survived outside of Horik’s palace?
“If it’s seawater it’s not possible, but if it’s in a lake or a stream…there’s potential they could have survived. The thing is European water tends to be a little bit harder, with more things dissolved in it, and it’s obviously significantly colder, so it would be very unlikely that electric eels would survive in the climate. “
What would increase their chances of living long enough to be the Doctor’s battery?
“They would have to be kept as pets, or they could be put out in the summer then brought inside and warmed up during the winter.”
“In a warm hut, yeah, feasibly you could keep them alive.”
A warm hut you say? Now, where did we see those eels?
Well played Doctor Who, well played. A royally appointed Viking exotic aquarium. It’s an absurd solution, but it’s not impossible – and that’s all the Doctor has ever needed.