The reason I'm writin' is how to say "chitin"

Dear Johnny Fanboy,

Jon Pertwee famously mispronounced the word "chitinous" in Doctor Who: The Green Death. A fan wrote in to the producer, Barry Letts, telling him: "The reason I'm writin' is how to say 'chitin'."

Pertwee pronounced the "chi-" part of the word as you would say it in "chip". He should have pronounced the word to sound like "kite-in-us". How can a scientist as brilliant as the Doctor make such an embarrassing mistake?

Geoff Cunningham

Johnny Fanboy replies:

Bear in mind that in most of the Doctor's adventures, even though we hear him speaking in English, he is probably speaking in Gallifreyan. The TARDIS's telepathic circuits translate alien languages for the benefit of its passengers and those with whom they interact.

In several Pertwee stories, including The Green Death, we see the Doctor travelling many miles from where the TARDIS is located. This could lead to one of two effects:

1. The Doctor's distance from his craft could cause difficulties for the telepathic circuits, leading to errors creeping into the translations that people hear as the Time Lord speaks.

2. If the Doctor were to move completely out of the TARDIS's range, the translation facility might cut out altogether. Hearing those around him speaking in English, rather than having the words translated into his own native tongue, the Doctor would quickly realise what had happened, and so would switch from speaking in Gallifreyan to speaking in English. We know from stories in which the TARDIS is apparently destroyed or its translation facility rendered inoperative (such as The Mind Robber, Frontios and The Christmas Invasion) that the Doctor can speak very good English. However, his language skills might not extend to the correct pronunciation of specialised terms such as "chitinous".

Either of these eventualities would explain the slip-up in The Green Death.

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