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As a new-only Dr Who fan (only watched the 2005 reboot), I'm wondering a bit how fast can the doctor read, but to be a bit wider, how fast is he in general ?

For the main question's point, in most of the episodes, he seems to be reading very fast (especially at the very beginning, when getting to Rose's house), but in some episodes, he reads very slowly (last one would be 7x05 and one with the 10th I can't remember of. Maybe the first apparition of river). Is there any kind of reason? I'm asking this question because this actually made me realize something else. The Doctor sometimes has these "flash" where he's superhuman, for example when he meets "young river" and he sees everything she plans.

It seems to be fluctuating a lot. Sometimes, he just can see it all (when Amy's pregnant but she's actually Flesh, for example) and sometimes, he just seems to be surprised by everything you'd have seen coming.

(that does seem to me to be specific to 11th)

Thanks

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"As the author (and director) sees fit." - At least that's been what I've kept telling me.

This is not just related to reading, though.

Just look at the general promise of the Doctor being present somewhere - why?

  • Sometimes he's somewhere just because he wanted to be there (visit something with a companion or whatever).
  • Sometimes he's somewhere because he screwed up again or the TARDIS wanted to be there. There are some episodes where he says something along the lines of "that's why the TARDIS brought us here".
  • Sometimes he seems to know in advance why he has to go somewhere (like in the 2005 pilot episode; although I'd consider this up to debate, because he might have learnt of the invasion by accident before the start of the actual episode).

Or how about reading and interpreting something?

  • We know the TARDIS translates voice as well as text for those being around.
  • Yet there are instances where the doctor or the companion(s) read something and don't get the actual meaning due to interpreting something wrong. Considering that you can't translate most real world languages without proper knowledge of the context, this sounds rather odd as well. If you think about it, it would happen more often than just a few times that they'd babble or read random stuff without it making sense, similar to Donna trying to speak Latin when visiting Pompeji.

But back to the actual question: Why would it be determined by the author or director? It's rather simple.

Seeing the Doctor (or companion(s)) read something can have different effects on the viewer (and in the end it's all about that; The last episode with the Ponds in season 7 is a perfect example for this):

  • It can build tension (takes a while to read or something is read slowly).
  • It can just explain knowledge about something or be used as a plot device.
  • It can be used just to distract the character so something may happen in background.
  • It can be straight up boring.

Especially the last point is important: Imagine the first episode of the 2005 reboot and seeing the Doctor looking through the book for something like 5 or 10 minutes without anything else happening. That wouldn't be interesting or anything. So instead they let him dig through the book(s) a bit, similar to how you might have a look at a book you see in a book store. Still this doesn't mean he's read the whole book that exact moment. He might even have read it before and just refreshed his knowledge looking through it.

And one more note:

[...] he just seems to be surprised by everything you'd have seen coming.

This is actually a rather common TV/movie trope, unfortunately, especially in horror movies, mystery stuff and sometimes thrillers as well. It's that bad old "no, don't go in there, you're going to die" thing, where the characters still do it, sometimes even ignoring common sense and the like. That's not really Doctor Who specific.

  • "Still this doesn't mean he's read the whole book that exact moment. He might even have read it before and just refreshed his knowledge looking through it." No, definitely not. Considering all the remarks he's made during this moment are here to make us realize he's "kinda godly". For the second part, I agree that's in all TV shows, but I kinda regret it varies so much (sometimes he has foreknowledge of every event happening/to happen, sometimes he doesn't know where's his foot at) for the doctor. Maybe I just see him too much as a "bad ass" – Ven Jul 27 '13 at 14:27
  • It's been a while and thinking about that scene, you might be right. Didn't he actually mention that edition being worse than another one or something? And "bad ass": I'd say no. The Doctor seems often to know a lot more, especially throughout the first seasons of the reboot and being able to cite all kind of stuff in an instant (like when playing his "Shadow Proclamation card"). Later on he more often appears clueless or having to think for a long time (e.g. during Amy's pregnancy plot as well as the whole Clara Oswin stuff). But then again there are those other moments, like Demon's Run. – Mario Jul 27 '13 at 22:20
  • EDIT : just re-watched the scene. He grabs a magazine and says "this won't last, she's gay and he's an alien" then picks the book, flicks it and says "mmh, sad ending". – Ven Jul 27 '13 at 22:33
  • Ah, now I remember. Probably indeed a very quick reading session (the book; you usually don't have to read a lot in magazines). – Mario Jul 27 '13 at 22:42
  • Well, we can deduce he quick-read the book because he was able to guess she was gay and he was alias just by looking at the magazine. "He can do these stuff, look at him" that's how I see it – Ven Jul 27 '13 at 22:50
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I can think of a possible in-universe explanation: it varies from regeneration to regeneration.

Haven't found much canon evidence to back that up though. (That is, not for this specific ability "reading speed". Of course there are many other documented differences in abilities between regenerations.)

  • It's still inconsistent, even for single regenerations of the Doctor. A great example would be season finales with the typical "What?" scene. As for the latest doctor, he's planned a lot ahead/knew what's happening in one moment but can still be tricked and has to think a lot at times (like in Demon's Run). – Mario Jul 27 '13 at 22:23
  • True, and I must say, it's worse with this one than with Ten. Sometimes he knows everything, sometimes he forgets the most basic stuff. Ten was much more stable in his level of capabilities. – Mr Lister Jul 28 '13 at 7:23

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