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TARDIS Eruditorum - An Unofficial Critical…

TARDIS Eruditorum - An Unofficial Critical History of Doctor Who Volume 3:… (edition 2013)

by Philip Sandifer

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212751,847 (4)None
In this third volume of essays adapted from the acclaimed blog TARDIS Eruditorum you'll find a critical history of the Jon Pertwee years of Doctor Who. TARDIS Eruditorum tells the ongoing story of Doctor Who from its beginnings in the 1960s to the present day, pushing beyond received wisdom and fan dogma to understand that story not just as the story of a geeky sci-fi show but as the story of an entire line of mystical, avant-garde, and radical British culture. It treats Doctor Who as a show that really is about everything that has ever happened, and everything that ever will.This volume focuses on the first years of Doctor Who in colour: the five glam-rock tinged years of Jon Pertwee, looking at its connections with environmentalism, J.G. Ballard, neopaganism, and Monty Python. Every essay on the Pertwee era has been revised and expanded from its original form, along with seven brand new essays exclusive to this collected edition, including a look at whether Torchwood makes any sense with the history of Doctor Who, how the TARDIS works, and just what happens when Jo Grant, as played by Katy Manning, meets the eccentric Time Lady Iris Wildthyme, as played by Katy Manning. On top of that, you'll learn:Whether The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is the greatest Doctor Who story of the early 1970s.How Doctor Who is related to the prophetic works of William Blake.Why this entire series has secretly been about a very ugly yellow sofa.… (more)
Title:TARDIS Eruditorum - An Unofficial Critical History of Doctor Who Volume 3: Jon Pertwee
Authors:Philip Sandifer
Info:CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2013), Paperback, 390 pages
Collections:Your library

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TARDIS Eruditorum - An Unofficial Critical History of Doctor Who Volume 3: Jon Pertwee by Elizabeth Sandifer



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This is the third in the series of collected articles from Philip Sandifer's excellent blog, this time looking at the Pertwee era, of which Sandifer and I share the majority view among fandom - though it is not a crushing majority - that this is not Old Who's finest period. But rather than whining about the stories, like I have done, Sandifer unpacks with some care why it is that the Third Doctor sometimes doesn't quite work, often rather sympathetically, particularly to Pertwee himself, and also Katy Manning and Nicholas Courtney on whom the success of the stories often depends. I had previously read his essay on Moonbase 3 after watching the episodes; but in the context of the other essays showing what Dicks and Letts were trying to achieve, and why it barely worked in Who and didn't work on the Moon in 2003, it makes a lot more sense. Basically his thesis is that the show was flitting uneasily between action and glam, though Dicks and Letts may not have been fully aware of this themselves.

There is also some brilliant additional coloration in the side essays on Monty Python and David Bowie, and the piece on The Three Doctors is an extended riff on William Blake which also quotes another William, my brother. As before, Sandifer explains better to me what I have seen on screen and makes me want to expand my reading / viewing (though in fact none of the non-TV Who referenced here, five books and two audios, were new to me).

Which is not to say that I completely agree with him. On a broad point, I find Sandifer's overall tracking of the show's history deterministic and almost Whiggish. To pull another quote, this time from the Planet of the Spiders essay:

"Pertwee doesn’t regenerate because his time is past. He regenerates because he’s finally accomplished what his era set out to do in the first place."

It's a nice peroration, but it is very much projecting the future onto the past as if it were inevitable (which is what I mean by Whiggish). Pertwee regenerated, fundamentally, because the actor decided / was persuaded to leave the show. The artistic judgements about where to take the story flowed partly from that fact and largely from other factors affecting the show's creators, some of which we know about and some of which we don't. And while it's good and satisfying that towards the end of Planet of the Spiders, Pertwee's Doctor has a moment of repentance and redemption before he dies, I think it's a strong reading (which is to say, factually incorrect) to say that he regenerates because he has accomplished his mission - indeed, I wish that it were otherwise; I'd have preferred if this thought had been better integrated into the story as a whole, better yet the season as a whole, rather than just dragged in at the end.

And on a much more specific point, I agreed with almost all of Sandifer's judgements of individual stories with the extraordinary exception of The Mutants, which most fans would put pretty far down the list of Pertwee stories and I would put firmly at the bottom. Sandifer praises it, though not terribly coherently, for its use of "spectacle". I will allow it good use of location filming, but really not much more than that; in terms of spectacle, the transmogrification of Ky at the end is surely a botch? Its political messages are certainly botched, and so, rather more often than one can forgive, is the acting and directing.

Anyway, despite my occasional disagreements, another good addition to the thinking fan's bookshelf. ( )
2 vote nwhyte | Jul 7, 2013 |
Brilliant analysis of the Pertwee-era by one series most perceptive and imaginative critics. The only reason I couldn't give 5 stars was the ill-advised, tedious recitation of the contemporary music charts in nearly every essay. I understand why he's doing it, and for this era especially, where seventies glam is crucial to his interpretation it is occasionally a useful device, but, I dreaded the beginning of each essay for that first paragraph or two being reminded of the Osmonds, or some other schlock, as if it mattered. (The top of the pops is always 90% shit to 10% interesting over a given span of weeks. Whatever the formula of any era's pop tunesmiths is for mass appeal, we can rely on it being derivative, cynical, and annoying to all but the immature. One sentence should be enough to identify what buttons the producers are pushing to sell their product and explain what, if anything, it does to give us insight into the topic at hand.)

Unlike Sandifer, I rate Pertwee as one of my favorite Doctors, but he makes a strong and compelling case for why the show was fatally flawed and so uneven during the Pertwee years. His action hero/glam dichotomy analysis is an effective key to understanding what worked and what didn't, and why.

Highly recommended for Doctor Who fans, but also for fans of literate science fiction and critical theory. ( )
1 vote cdogzilla | May 14, 2013 |
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