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About Time 2: The Unauthorized Guide to…

About Time 2: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who: Seasons 4 to 6

by Tat Wood, Lawrence Miles (Author)

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Wood and Miles continue their exhaustive guide to Doctor Who by covering the last two William Hartnell serials and all of the Patrick Troughton ones. This was a rough time for the show, and they cover it with their usual level of detail and nitpickery, breaking their guide into sections for firsts and lasts, "Things to Notice", continuity (subsections for plot, characters, the TARDIS, non-humans, planets, and history), "Where Does This Come From?", "Things That Don't Make Sense", a critique, and general production background. There are also a variety of essays peppered throughout.

Generally, the most successful sections are the "Things to Notice" (always interesting and offbeat selections), "Where Does This Come From?", and "Things That Don't Make Sense" (quickly revealing that Doctor Who never exactly had cohesive plots). "Where Does This Come From?" tries to decipher the root of each story in the culture and ethos of the time, and it succeeds more than it doesn't, pointing out fun facts like Gatwick Airport would have been more alien to viewers of The Faceless Ones than the actual aliens. I kind of have to take their word for this sort of thing, though, as I was not around in the UK of the 1960s. The continuity section is also quite nice, summing up what we know and don't know after any given adventure. They just don't produce a guide to the show; they manage to represent it as a story, and it all comes together fairly well, even if they don't go through a lot of effort to keep the production staff clear in the mind of the reader. You get to not only see experimental stories and historical ones finally end, base-under-siege stories emerge and fade, and UNIT come into being, you get to see why and how.

The essays are supposedly the high point of these books, but they're more of a mixed bag. The best ones are those that try to dissect and analyze aspects of the series continuity: "Whatever Happened to Planet 14?", which convincing argues that Telos (the second homeworld of the Cybermen) is actually a planet in our solar system, is probably my favorite. "What are the Dodgiest Accents in the Series?", "What Do Daleks Eat?", "Does the TARDIS Fly?", and "Oh, Very Well... Was There Any Hanky-Panky in the TARDIS?" are also all quite good and well-argued. The ones that are less successful are the ones that try too hard to place the show in some kind of broader context, or that go off into weird discussions of the Beatles, David Whitaker, and camp. The problem with these isn't so much that they go there, as that they never come back: the essays pose interesting questions, but just fizzle out at the end without even attempting an answer.

Two hundred and eighty-seven pages to cover one hundred and twenty-seven half-hour episodes probably makes this one of the most ridiculously exhaustive guides to a TV show ever, but it's time well spent. There are some good jokes, if nothing else, which I kept on foisting on my poor fiancée. And now I want to rewatch Patrick Troughton's serials.
  Stevil2001 | Apr 19, 2010 |
More Doctor Who geekiness, this time focussing on the tenure of the Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton. What's really amazing about these books is not just the depth of their intelligence, but the breadth. In addition to the enjoyable fan-wankery typical of such guides - obsessive continuity, objective critiques, behind-the-scenes lore, etc. - nearly every story has an accompanying essay, sometimes only tangentially related. A selection of titles include "Did Sergeant Pepper Know the Doctor?", "How Buddhist is this Series?", "Does Plot Matter?" "Did Doctor Who End in 1969?" and "Cultural Primer: Why the Radio Times?" Look, sounding smart about one thing is easy, and sounding smart about a TV show isn't much of a stretch. But it's typical for these essays to reference or touch on such a vast array of seemingly unrelated subjects while answering their proposed question; the essay "What Planet Was David Whitaker On?" references the four elements and the quintessence, Roman gods and their metallic & planetary counterparts, cinnabar & the secret of immortality, the four humours, "the mercury tumbler-switches of wartime bombs" ... And that's just various elements of one essay among many. (The essays that focus more on the sociological and cultural developments of the 1960s are even more fascinating.) Eric & William have been borrowing these books after I finish them and likewise enjoying them immensely - and, since they (unlike me) have not been watching all the episodes that the guide talks about, that's pretty noteworthy. ( )
  duck2ducks | Sep 4, 2008 |
Another brilliant installment in the "About Time" series. Does it maintain the high level of quality? If anything, this and About Time 1 (Seasons 1 to 3) are the best of the bunch, not because they are especially revelatory in reevaluating lost, 1960s stories - I actually have a bit of trouble accepting some of Wood's and Miles' assertions on the quality of stories I've only heard, once, on ropey cassette tape - but because they allow these earliest of Doctor Who stories, a valuable portal to another, lost version of the world, to be seen or heard in something of their original social context. Even an American can grasp the influence of the "Quatermass" serials on the early 1970s, or the video generation on the mid-80s, but general knowledge of events and culture that influence the '60s in Britain sort of begins and ends with the Beatles and World War Two. Not to say those aren't important, mind - but there's a lot more to it than that.

As usual, sometimes I find myself agreeing heartily with the authors ("The Evil of the Daleks," "The Mind Robber") and sometimes I couldn't think they are more wrong ("The Abominable Snowmen"), but I always come out understanding the position they're coming from and what evidence they're using to back up their claims. Which is more than just about any other 'episode guide' available for any other series.

Volume 3 was good, Volume 4 was better, Volume 5 was fantastic and Volume 1 and Volume 2 are tied for best yet. How can Volume 6 possibly let me down? ( )
1 vote saroz | Feb 13, 2008 |
The About Time series are reference works providing a story-by-story guide to Dr Who. Where these differ from the half dozen or so other story-by-story guides I have on my bookshelves, is that they seek explicitly to analyse the Dr Who stories in the wider context of the culture, specifically the media culture, of the time. They started out with the later Doctors (3, 4 and 5, IIRC) and then skipped back. This is the first of the "sixties" books I have read and the first which I have found more irritating than enjoyable.

I was interested to learn that both parrot_knight and daniel_saunders keep notes of the inaccuracies that appear in the About Time books. For once I was grateful that my mind does not retain facts in the same way since I have enjoyed these books but, given their nature, inaccuracies would be extremely galling. However, possibly because of this, I became increasingly aware, as I read About Time 2 of the way in which Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood make unsupported assertions. For instance, "What nobody who wasn't there in 1969 can really grasp is the degree to which waiting was part of the space experience in the Apollo years.". Now Lawrence Miles is, I believe, younger than I am, so he certainly doesn't remember anything about the space experience in 1969. I've no idea how old Tat Wood is. Does this sentence mean "Tat remembers 1969 and Lawrence doesn't and Lawrence can't grasp the degree to which...."? I have a vague memory that Tat Wood is an academic of some description specialising in popular culture. So its possible he has a paper "Differing generational expectations about the rapidity of events in space as depicted in visual media" sitting in his filing cabinet somewhere. While I can see it would have been inappropriate to mention this as an inline citation - would a bibliography really have hurt the book?

Lawrence Miles has a bit of a reputation for quitting projects. I have a feeling that he has an extremely good instinct for when a project is getting stale and beginning to recycle ideas and insufficient cynicism to stay with it anyway either for the money for out of any sense of duty to the readers. On the whole I admire this. Interestingly Tat Wood is going it alone for About Time 6 and I do wonder if part of my dissatisfaction with this book was a feeling that on the larger scale Miles and Wood had said what they wanted to about the classic series and were beginning to recycle their argument. Certainly some of the formula seemed to wearing a bit thin. The "What nobody who wasn't there can appreciate..." line quoted above appears as a recurring motif thoughout.

As well as the story by story breakdowns Miles and Wood accompany each section with an essay. Usually these essays are entertaining continuity games of the "how to we fit all the dalek stories together" variety. This sort of thing is obviously a rather specialised sport but Miles and Wood probably have their market pretty well pegged here. At any rate I personally quite like reading this kind of speculation. However early in this volume we have "Why was a McCrimmon Fighting for the Pretender?" which verges on the incoherent. I think they were really writing about what happened to Jamie McCrimmon after he was returned to his own time zone though it was difficult to tell. The next one, "How Many Atlantises Are There?" wasn't much better although it did at least make sense, but suffered from too many asides which were not, in my opinion, interesting enough to justify their inclusion. I was amused by the final essay "Did Doctor Who end in 1969?" which reminded me powerfully of a spoof article I wrote during the "JNT MUST DIE" days of 1980s Who fandom in which I suggested that Doctor had essentially been on a downhill spiral since the second episode which introduced the Daleks and forever changed the direction of the show from Sydney Newman's "educational science and history" vision to the "monster of the week" style which Miles and Wood so complain of in this volume. In fact you can't help get the feeling from this that they don't really much like the Doctor Who of the Troughtan era and perhaps it is this dissatisfaction that rather sours it. The best essay in the volume is "Was Yeti-in-a-Loo the Worst Idea Ever?" in which they more or less argue that the entire premise of the Pertwee years was misguided. I'm not entirely sure I agreed with it but it was argued with eloquent passion.

An alternative explanation for my dissatisfaction lies outside of the book itself. When I read the books about later Dr Who I remembered watching the episodes at the time, and I remember the surrounding Basil Brush, Star Wars, Buck Rogers milieu. I wasn't watching between 1966 and 1969 and I read this book without nostalgia tinged glasses. ( )
  louisedennis | Nov 7, 2007 |

This series is a wonderful cornucopia of facts and analysis of the early years of everyone's favourite Time Lord. I think the second volume, dealing with the last two William Hartnell stories and the Patrick Troughton era, actually exceeds the high standard set by the first volume. Again, we have the exhaustive picking apart of each story looking for its sources of inspiration, broken up by substantive essays on more-or-less relevant topics - the one near the end, "Does Plot Matter", has considerable analytical depth and genre-wide interest - I hope someone (like perhaps Strange Horizons?) might consider approaching the authors to put it on-line for general information.

Lots of things I loved about this book. The vicious wit with which the authors savage any aspects of their favourite series that they disapprove of. (The chapter on every single story has a section devoted to Things That Don't Make Sense. Sometimes these sections are long, and sometimes they are longer.) Wood and Miles seem to particularly enjoy being able to argue at forty years' distance with Innes Lloyd, who was producer of the programme for much of this time, on the grounds that he betrayed the original Verity Lambert concept. Lloyd has been dead since 1991 and so can't argue back. But the tone is witty rather than polemical and myself I think a more balanced view of Lloyd's achievements emerges from these pages despite the authors' efforts.

Two minor mysteries that had troubled me in the last few months are explained: i) Colin Baker's narration of The Macra Terror is terrible not because Colin Baker is reading it but because John Nathan Turner wrote it; ii) Ian Marter's novelisation of The Enemy of the World is incomprehensible because the publisher slashed large chunks out of it to bring it down to the right page count. There is learned discussion of i) whose accent is the worst in the entire history of Doctor Who, ii) whether or not anyone in the TARDIS (Doctor excepted) ever had sex, and iii) the possible alchemical significance of mercury in the works of David Whitaker. There is constant mockery of Victoria. And there is a very thoughtful piece on why The Power of the Daleks is such a good story. I read it all except the chapter on The Mind Robber, because the authors insist very strongly that you should see it in all its glory first.

(One small nit-pick - The Third Man is set in Vienna, not Berlin, which was divided into four parts, not three. But this is tangential to its likely influence on The Invasion.)

I cannot imagine that future volumes in this series can possibly be as good as this one - but I shall buy them anyway. ( )
  nwhyte | Feb 10, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0975944614, Paperback)

"About Time" serves as the definitive (albeit unofficial) guide to "Doctor Who" Seasons 7 to 11-the whole of the Jon Pertwee era. Written by Lawrence Miles (Faction Paradox) and Tat Wood (SFX, TV Zone), About Time not only examines the usual continuity concerns (alien races, etc.) in bursting detail, but looks at how the political / social issues of the 1970s affected the show's production. Essays in this volume include: "When are the UNIT Stories Set?", "Just How Chauvinistic is Doctor Who?" and "When was Regeneration Invented?"

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:56:00 -0400)

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