This has been my insomnia book since September, far more successful than my previous efforts at choosing insomnia books (note for self and other insomniacs – mystery stories actually not such a great way of getting to sleep; thoughtful books about material which you are already very familiar with are a much better idea).
That's not at all to say that it's boring – just that the 28 chapters, and the 28 accompanying essays, are actually meaty and self-contained enough that you can shut the book at the end of each and every one of them and drift off happily. Indeed, now that I have finished it, I wonder what I can turn to next? (Furtive glance at two volumes of the Big Finish Companion on the shelves…)
Anyway. As I had hoped, this is an in depth and critical look at the first two years of New Who, the time of Rose Tyler as a regular companion. It's the seventh volume of the superlative About Time series, and it's difficult to imagine anyone producing a better survey of the period. (Phil Sandifer's book on this, when it comes out, will also be on the must-have shelf, but he is pursuing a different intellectual project and anyway his chapters are usually shorter.)
For each episode, as before, there are substantial sections on continuity (fitting in what we are told into what we know from other Who stories and 'real' history), analysis and the production process. This last is the biggest improvement from previous volumes; About Time 7 has practically a day-by-day breakdown of production (Eccleston's first scene, filmed on 18 July 2004, was chasing the pig down the corridor in Aliens of LondonThe Parting of the Ways). The sections on guest stars are consistently more informative than in previous volumes as well, probably because there are a lot more of them. The sections on popular culture sources for the stories remain as interesting as ever.
Wood is consistently upbeat about the lead actors, particularly about Billie Piper, who of course was known mainly as a teen pop singer before 2005. His snark, however, is fully unleashed for the plotting and sometimes the directing of individual episodes – the "Things That Don't Make Sense" section, which has always been an attractive feature of the AboutTime series, reaches new lengths and depths here. As he points out, although Series Two was a huge hit at the time, there's an awful lot of plot nonsense in it, and the real difference is that the series had a bigger budget than it had ever had or would ever have again.
This volume doesn't have the strongest accompanying essays of the series (for those, you want the second edition of Volume 3), but they are still satisfactory enough. Probably the two most interesting are "Was Series Two Meant To Be Like This?", which speculates about original plans for the 2006 episodes, including Stephen Fry's unmade story, and "Did He Fall Or Was He Pushed?", looking at the various accounts given of Eccleston's departure and tryng to find the overall picture – the evidence pointing to his not having firmly signed on for more than a year in the first place, and then a series of circumstances and incidents which all pushed against renewal of his contract.
Though this is Volume 7 of the ongoing About Time series of books about Doctor Who, those who started with New Who can jump in here. It is strongly hinted that Volume 8, which will cover the rest of the Tennant era, as well as Torchwood and Sarah Jane, is already written – at the rate this volume goes, about 16 pages for each episode, I suspect that may appear in two pieces – and that a projected Volume 9 will cover the Matt Smith era. Anyway, it's well worth getting, not just for Who fans but generally for fans of 21st century sf television.
Standard formatting gripe – 90 endnotes? Seriously? Why can't we have footnotes, which actually put the interesting nuggets next to the text they illuminate?