Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

December Books 4) Time And Relative Dissertations In Space

4) Time And Relative Dissertations In Space: Critical Perspectives on Doctor Who, edited by David Butler

This is a brilliant collection of seventeen scholarly essays on Doctor Who. It is based on contributions to a conference held in Manchester in July 2004, some of which have been updated to reflect the 2005 revival of the programme, but mostly concentrating on the initial run of the classic series from 1963 to 1989. It amply fulfills what I look for in books like this: it gives me a new appreciation of the factors which shaped the series, embedded in a deeper structure of analysis which fills out my own frame of reference for thinking about the stuff I enjoy.

The book starts at the beginning, with an analysis by the editor, David Butler, of the way in which the very first episode of Doctor Who in 1963 was constructed in order to draw in and establish an audience, and how it succeeded in comparison with the 1996 TV movie, backed up with some very interesting audience reaction research.

Jonathan Bignell looks at the early Dalek stories as children's TV, explaining how Susan, the Daleks themselves, and other characters and races were created with a young audience in mind.

Daniel O'Mahoney provocatively (and for me convincingly) argues that the traditional fan distinction between "historical" and "pseudo-historical" stories is misleading, and takes the argument through to the Big Finish audios and the Virgin/BBC spinoff novels; it is easy enough to apply his analysis also to "The Unquiet Dead", "Tooth and Claw" and "The Shakespeare Code".

Matthew Kilburn focusses in a bit on this general topic, comparing the common roots and approach of "The Highlanders" (and other historical stories) and a BBC drama-documentary about the Battle of Culloden broadcast two years earlier in late 1964.

Tat Wood, one of the authors of the excellent About Time series, takes a typically engaging and thorough look at the way in which Doctor Who tells stories, asking who the narrator is and describing the way in which the viewer is brought into the telling.

Alec Charles looks at the historical backdrop to Doctor Who, in particular its treatment of the British Empire, and questions the programme's liberal pretensions in the context of its habitual anachronism. (The essay is better than I make it sound.)

David Rafer looks at Doctor Who as/and myth, but I didn't feel he said much.

Fiona Moore and Alan Stevens, as I expected, supply one of the best essays in the book, looking at the plot of the Dalek stories and the emerging role of the Faust-like 'Evil Human' (Mavic Chen / Lesterson and colleagues / Waterfield and Maxtible / the Controller) which culminates in Davros.

Ian Potter looks at the way in which Doctor Who was filmed, pointing out among other fascinating details that the narrative device of the flashback is used surprisingly rarely, and that the average length of camera shots changed very little in the first 25 years of its run.

Dave Rolinson asks who was actually creating Doctor Who during the John Nathan-Turner era, looking at the roles of producer, script editor, director and the writer whose name actually appears on the story.

Kevin Donnelly has a fascinating essay on the sounds of Doctor Who, both the incidental music and the effects, and points out that the boundary between was often blurred.

Louis Niebur looks even more closely at that boundary, and achieves the nigh-impossible task of making me want to watch The Dominators again (he looks especially at the musical sound effects for that story and The Wheel in Space).

Andy Murray provides one of the most interesting pieces, examining the legacy of Robert Holmes, whose stories as he points out introduced the Third Doctor, the Master (both Delgado and post-Delgado), Liz Shaw, Jo Grant, Sarah Jane Smith, Romana, the Black and White Guardians, the Autons and the Sontarans, quite apart from his role as script editor in the great years of Philip Hinchcliffe's time as producer. I shall never look at Chancellor Goth in quite the same way again.

Alan McKee asks provocatively, "Why is 'City of Death' the best Doctor Who story?" and makes a good case, based on the excellence of Douglas Adams plus Tom Baker plus everything else.

Lance Parkin has a detailed examination of canonicity which will have few surprises for those who follow the on-line debates (including Paul Cornell's recent piece), but covers the ground thoroughly.

Dale Smith describes the origins of the Timewyrm series of New Adventures and singles out Paul Cornell as a crucial figure in the story. (I would have liked more analysis in this piece but the historical account was interesting.)

The final analytical piece in the book is an examination of the Big Finish audios and their relationship to the television series and to continuing fandom, by Matt Hills.

But the book ends with an entertaining meditation on fandom, fannishness, and growing up by Paul Magrs.

Although some of these essays are not as good as the others, none of them is dull and none is incomprehensible, and it's perhaps the first multi-authored collection of scholarly pieces on science fiction which I have read of which I can say that. Some will be disappointed that there is a relative emphasis on the Sixties and correspondingly little on the Eighties, but I will take what I can get. Any serious Who fan (for values of "serious" meaning "treating Who as more than mere entertainment") needs to have this on their shelves, and I think it will be a good read for anyone with a general interest in sf media as literature.
Tags: bookblog 2007, doctor who, doctor who: reference

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