01/12/2008. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Palgrave Macmillan. 138 page small illustrated indexed softcover. £12.00 (UK). ISBN: 1-84457-090-8.
check out websites: www.palgrave.com and www.bfi.org.uk
A couple months back, when I was reviewing the Palgrave/BFI book on 'Star Trek', I wondered when they going to do a 'Doctor Who' book in their 'TV Classics'. The nice lady publicist said they had and duly sent me a copy of Kim Newman's book. I should also point out that it was originally released in 2005 so if you're seeking anything beyond that point, which is essentially all of David Tennant's tenure, other than a photo at the end you won't find it here.
What this book does cover and analyses is the history of 'Doctor Who' from 1963 to 2005 with so much cross-referencing that it does help to go into it as someone who has seen all the episodes than as a novice who knows little of what's gone on. It also pays to have some knowledge of other TV series from around the same period, especially as comparisons are also noted as well.
Newman's book is clearly in-depth and covers immense ground considering the number of pages here and I had to keep my fingers in the back pages notes for the additional detail. I had a wry moment where he purchased a Mechanoid plastic figure cos, as coming from the same town, I know where he got it and why I opted for the little plastic Dalek instead which I still own and is actually worth some money these days. In the early days of merchandise, manufacturers could only guess as to what might sell let alone take a licence to do so.
'Doctor Who's biggest virtue originally was being on a Saturday night tea-time with a captive audience and so little else on the box in the UK at the time. Being the first major home-grown TV SF series for the 60s generation meant it was a turning point for imaginative viewing. People watched it originally cos it was there after 'Grandstand' (the BBC sports afternoon show) and where most people stayed rather than watched channels to also watch the news.
Although the travel into the caveman past was a bit slow, the switch to the future and a distance planet called Skaro bringing on the Daleks made it instantly iconic to see what happened next. There was no competition and as assured future. In fact that it somewhat parodied itself over the years, in my opinion, was more a problem of the BBC resting too much on its laurels and not doing enough to bring in new talent and ideas. Then again, the suits at the Beeb were never that SF savvy seeing it more as a diversion from the more serious stuff they produced.
Today's generation were brought up on 'Doctor Who' so although they might not all like it, were more willing to give the go-ahead for its current resurrection providing they had the right man at the helm. It'll be interesting to see if this book gets an update to cover the past four years because I suspect the mistakes made in the past are less likely to happen again.
These small books are the kind that you can happily slip into your bag and have a delightful trip down memory lane wherever you might be. Newman successfully hits on most of the topics you are familiar with, draws comparisons to similar situations which were either imitated from theme to where it moved on. I didn't find myself disagreeing with much of what was said although did feel occasionally comparisons to later times (sic) and series could be viewed as being a little unfair after-thought but that might just be me.
Although, as I commented, this might not be a book for the complete novice, it might be handy for newer folk who've got a little research under their belt and wanting a suitable handy top-up.
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