August Books 9) Inside the Tardis 10) Doctor Who

9) Inside the Tardis: The Worlds of Doctor Who, by James Chapman
10) Doctor Who, by Kim Newman

Two books which both claim to go beyond the usual cataloguing of stories and look at the cultural and literary context of Doctor Who. Both take us up to the end of 2005 (Chapman includes “The Christmas Invasion”, Newman does not) but start very vigorously from the very beginning in 1963. Both authors declare early on that they are fans and tell us which is the first story they remember watching (“The Dalek Invasion of Earth” for Newman, “The Time Warrior” for Chapman who must obviously therefore be nearer my age).

Newman’s book is more gossipy and opinionated (, for instance, gets an entire footnote to himself, in a comment about a completely different programme) and has lots and lots of illustrations, no doubt contributing to the £12.99 price tag for a paperback with lots of white space on its 118 pages. Newman holds that the series entered terminal decline with the arrival of K9 and so devotes much more time to the first half of the original run. He does succeed rather better than Chapman in linking what was going on in Doctor Who to what else was going on in televised sf at the time, but basically this is a rather thin effort.

Chapman’s book is the same price, for 200 dense pages of text and numerous appendices and other apparatus. I thought it was much the better of the two. He goes through each Doctor and each season in chronological order, with reference to the BBC’s archives of internal correspondence (where they are available), pointing out the show’s connections with other TV drama and with the written sf of the day. He has evoked in me more enthusiasm for the middle Pertwee seasons than I thought possible (though I must finish watching “Inferno” first), and also makes me want to try both “The Celestial Toymaker” and “The Mind Robber”.

However I would have liked more. In the front matter, Chapman asks, “The Doctor may have conquered Daleks, Cybermen and Ice Warriors, but would he survive an encounter with Foucault, Derrida or Deleuze?” We don’t really find out the answer to that very interesting question. I was also disappointed that there is no decent review of the existing literature on Doctor Who; there’s a bibliography, but this is just a listing with no guidance as to what is worth reading (Chapman makes more effort to describe the much more ephemeral websites). Perhaps there is nothing else at all, other than Tulloch and Alvarado’s The Unfolding Text? But I find that difficult to believe. Also there were some irritating proofing errors – “reign” instead of “rein” a couple of times, references to “Ursula Le Guinn” and the surprising news that Alan Moore wrote The Dark Night Returns.

Anyway, I’l look out for more along these lines; recommendations very welcome.

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