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0000017a-15d9-d736-a57f-17ff8cd30001A blog featuring the work and work life of NHPR's interns and fellows.

Poison: Doctor Who, Zombie Ants, And The Princess Bride

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Reptiles are not the only source of poison in the real and imagined universe.  Fascination with administering deadly serums, gases, and even fungi has infected pop culture, from episodes of science fiction drama to comedy classics and beyond. It affects alien and human alike in Doctor Who, awaits unleashing from a vial in The Princess Bride, and its natural effects on ants are documented by BBC's Planet Earth. Whether your poison is light-hearted, clever, or downright deadly, there's something for you here. Just don't bother with the antidote; this post is abound with enough poison to keep you captivated.

The Poisonous Episodes of Doctor Who

Doctor Who! OK, so a bit of fangirling may be at play here, but poison really is ubiquitous in the science fiction TV show that has run for more than half a century. If you're not familiar with Doctor Who, check it out on Netflix. (Just keep in mind you'll have to catch up on fifty years of episodes, so a long weekend or maybe a month without responsibilities is advisable prior to starting). Several episodes (and iterations of The Doctor) have dealt directly with poison and how to prevent or reverse its damage. For the sake of brevity, we'll look at the Tenth and Eleventh Doctor's dealings with poison.

  • In "The Poison Sky", The Tenth Doctor must tackle a poisonous gas set upon earth by the alien Sontaran race. 
  • In "The Unicorn and the Wasp"Ten is again is tasked with finding and vanquishing the otherworldly source of a lethal poison with the help of Agatha Christie.
  • On theAsylum of the Daleks, The Eleventh Doctor encounters an airborne poison with nearly irreversible effects: nanogenes with the power to transform humans to single-minded Daleks. One of the first indications that a human has been affected by the nanogenes is the sprouting of a Dalek eyestalk from their forehead. Ouch. This video chronicles the sad realization that Oswin is no longer human but has been fully transformed into a Dalek:

Zombie Ants

The bullet ants in this video from BBC's Planet Earth documentary are creepy and crawly, but they are not the killer or poisonous source. After being infected by fungal spores, these ants lost brain and body control, a real world zombification. Similar to the way the humans of Doctor Who are affected by the nanogenes in "Asylum of the Daleks", the invasive fungus sprouts a stalk from the heads of the ants and becomes the source for future infections in the colony. It's no wonder fellow ants carry the infected to a secluded (AKA quarantined, if we're talking zombies) area.

The Inconceivable Poison of The Princess Bride

Oh, Vizzini, if only you were as clever as you are erroneous in using the world inconceivable. In this scene of the classic (and hilarious) movie, The Princess Bride, the villain is bested by Westley/the man in black/The Dread Pirate Roberts/Cary Elwes. Vizzini and Westley engage in a battle of wits, but the victor, Westley, does not disclose his immunity to the lethal but undetectable iocane powder. Both ingest the poison, but only Westley remains. Inconceivable.

For more about poison and the deadly actors of the natural and mythological world, listen to Virginia Prescott's interview with Mark Siddall, curator of "The Power of Poison" at the American Museum of Natural History.

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