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The Life and Scandalous Times of John…
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The Life and Scandalous Times of John Nathan-Turner

by Richard Marson

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201515,329 (3.92)None

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Hmm. This is a book, realistically, I have to say I did not enjoy. I respect it, however, just because of the sheer depth of research Richard Marson has done, finding dozens of friends and colleagues to interview, and because I did finish the book with the sense of an improved understanding of John Turner the man, which is what I went in wanting.

While I can't say anything I learned is overly surprising - more than 20 years in fandom has left me with a general sense of Turner that appears accurate - Marson's book goes some way to changing him from a series of personality quirks and into a human being. I say "some way" because the job isn't really complete. With few frank letters or interviews from Turner himself, nor his life-long partner Gary Downie, there's a certain arm's-distance-ness that still applies even with so many participants. So I'm left to wonder: is this rather sad book accurately depicting a somewhat sad, unfulfilled life, or is some of that simply down to the way it is portrayed?

A major problem, I think, is to be found in Marson's writing style. Roughly the first half of the book - Turner's youth, early career, and ascendancy as the producer of "Doctor Who" - is written in a very awkward manner, with Marson layering quotes on top of each other, one after another, sometimes for page after page. Having been trained in both journalistic and scholarly writing, I can only say this violates most of the fundamental rules I was taught: you don't leave quotes out there to flail on their own. You comment on them and even paraphrase or summarize them to bring cohesion to your writing. Marson seems to have a problem doing that, and some of the points his quotes make seem labored or even unnecessary as a result. For the first 150 pages, I found myself wishing desperately for a trained editor.

Then, with the sudden arrival of the infamous "Hanky Panky" chapter, the style changes. Suddenly, perhaps because he actually has a goal he's writing toward, Marson's biographical abilities take a huge step up. That becomes a trend for the rest of the book: when there's a specific event or process to discuss (the 1985 cancellation and revivification, the stress behind Trial season, the final cancellation in 1989, JN-T's last year in Spain), Marson the biographer simply assumes a greater command of his text. However, it can't be denied that most of the relevant material is pretty depressing. I can't decide, then, whether Turner's life itself is one of sadness or whether the biographer can really only pull out and emphasize those events beyond the others. One way or another, it feels a little skewed. (And yes, Marson's casual interjections about his own career are infrequent enough to seem out of place *whenever* they occur in the book.)

Was it worth the read? Yes, although my opinion of JN-T hasn't changed much. I am a little blown away by the extent to which the BBC overlooked sexual misconduct, though in these post-Jimmy Savile days, even that's less shocking than it would have been five years ago. This isn't a book that leaves one with a very pleasant frame of mind, but it does help to bring some humanity to an oft-parodied figure in a notoriously catty cult fandom. For that alone, perhaps, the book is worthwhile. ( )
1 vote saroz | Dec 22, 2015 |
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