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Time and Relative Dissertations in Space: Critical Perspectives on Doctor Who

by David Butler (Editor)

Other authors: Jonathan Bignell (Contributor), Alec Charles (Contributor), Kevin J. Donnelly (Contributor), Matt Hills (Contributor), Matthew Kilburn (Contributor)13 more, Paul Magrs (Afterword), Alan McKee (Contributor), Fiona Moore (Contributor), Andrew Murray (Contributor), Louis Niebur (Contributor), Daniel O'Mahony (Contributor), Lance Parkin (Contributor), Ian Potter (Contributor), David Rafer (Contributor), Dave Rollinson (Contributor), Dale Smith (Contributor), Alan Stevens (Contributor), Tat Wood (Contributor)

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444566,628 (4.56)3
Time and relative dissertations in space takes the reader on a rich and varied study of one of the greatest television programmes of all time: Doctor Who. This book is the first study of Doctor Who to explore the Doctor's adventures in all their manifestations: on television, audio, in print and beyond. Although focusing on the original series (1963-89), the collection recognises that Doctor Who is a cultural phenomenon that has been 'told' in many ways through a myriad of texts. Combining essays from academics as well as practitioners who have contributed to the ongoing narrative of Doctor Who, the collection encourages debate with contrasting opinions on the strengths (and weaknesses) of the programme, offering a multi-perspective view of Doctor Who and the reasons for its endurance.… (more)
  1. 00
    The Greatest Show in the Galaxy: The Discerning Fan's Guide to Doctor Who by Marc Schuster (bragan)
    bragan: A book-length analysis of the show's themes by two academic fans. I disagreed with a lot of their points but did find them thought-provoking, and the imaginary arguments I had with the authors as I was reading were a lot of fun.

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Showing 4 of 4
Excellent collection of essays about the history of the show, the music used and the books too! ( )
  fuzzipueo | Apr 24, 2022 |
As the title suggests, this is a collection of essays on various aspects of Doctor Who, from recurring themes to production details to audience reception. They range in style from dryly academic to somewhat more casual and fan-oriented, but despite one or two unfortunate lapses into obscure lit-crit pretentiousness, they're mostly pretty accessible to anyone with a good knowledge of the show. I found them to be something of a mixed bag, though. Several of them seem to talk quite a lot without saying anything particularly insightful, and a few -- notably the two essays on music and sound design -- may appeal primarily to those with fairly specialized interests. But I did find it worth reading for such offerings as Fiona Moore and Alan Stevens' interesting examination of humans who collaborate with the Daleks or Dale Smith's discussion of the genesis of the New Adventures books. And Paul Magrs' wonderful, personal afterword, in which he talks about living and writing Doctor Who in a sort of love letter to fannish creativity, might almost be worth the cover price by itself.

I should probably note that this collection was published in 2007, but was apparently in the works for several years before that, so while there are a few brief mentions of the new series, it's almost entirely focused on the classic episodes. In fact, there's a very strong emphasis, specifically, on the early days of the show in the 1960s. ( )
  bragan | Aug 3, 2010 |
A book of academic essays on Doctor Who? This combines two of my favorite pastimes, so how could I not buy it? Of course, it came out in Britain back in November and only just made its way to me, but that's the game you play when you're an American Doctor Who fan. At least Amazon stocked it, which is more than I can say for most Telos books! The essays are mostly written by British academics in the fields of film or television studies, but there are a few by professional authors as well. And one by Tat Wood. They are almost entirely about the classic series (which makes sense, as the book was commissioned back in 2004 or so), but some of the new series occasionally leaks in, plus there's a little bit of material about the New Adventures and the Big Finish audio dramas.

"How to pilot a TARDIS: audiences, science fiction and the fantastic in Doctor Who" by David Butler. This essay was thoroughly fascinating: the author, a lecturer in screen studies, played the two "pilot" episodes of Doctor Who to his class-- "An Unearthly Child" (1963) and the Doctor Who TV movie (1996)-- and collected data on their responses. Now, I enjoy the TV movie, mostly for Paul McGann, but it's pretty obvious which of these two is superior. But what Butler does is lay out why the first episode of the classic series is so much better at drawing a new viewer into the world of Doctor Who, from the way it juxtaposes the normal and the fantastic (as opposed to the movie, which just launches straight into what Butler calls "the marvellous") to the way it plays the regulars' reactions to discovering the world of the TARDIS (the movie turns it into a casual joke). What's especially interesting to note is how many things that the movie did wrong that "Rose" (2005) went on to get right, which is presumably why the TV movie never spawned a followup while the new series is in the middle of a highly successful fourth season. And good. Also of interest are a footnote where Butler recounts how a group of people who'd never seen Doctor Who described the TARDIS dematerialization sound effect and the fellow who described the TV movie as "probably the worst ninety minutes of TV I've ever seen. Like standing on a rake. And then being set on fire. And then being eaten by a bear. On Christmas Day" (36).

"The child as addressee, viewer and consumer in mid-1960s Doctor Who" by Jonathan Bignell. This essay, on the other hand, spends about eleven pages saying, "Children like Doctor Who. It's got Daleks in it." Unfortunately, it never really comes up with anything interesting or insightful.

"'Now how is that wolf able to impersonate a grandmother?' History, pseudo-history and genre in Doctor Who" by Daniel O'Mahony. Here, O'Mahony discusses the genre of the Doctor Who historical story, and its two subtypes, the "pure historical" (i.e., a story set in Earth's past without any science fiction trappings beyond the TARDIS and its crew) and the "pseudo-historical" (i.e., a story set in Earth's past where the Master attempts to avert the signing of Magna Carta with a shapechanging robot). This one was especially relevant, given some of the fan wrangling over "The Fires of Pompeii" and whether or not it was necessary to have some monsters in it and couldn't we just have a pure historical for once? O'Mahony argues that the classic series basically never had what he calls a "classical historical" beyond Marco Polo and The Aztecs. The later "pure historicals" generally owed more to popular fiction (such as The Smugglers) or purposefully had very little relation to actual history (such as The Romans and both Donald Cotton serials). He also points out that The Aztecs is entirely a science fiction story, as it is about whether or not history can be changed-- obviously not an "historical" topic! There's also rather a lot of interesting material about how pseudo-historicals play with genres, many of them using popular fiction as their basis, much as the later "pure" historicals did, which brings to mind the interesting thought the The Smugglers is really not all that different from "The Unquiet Dead"!

"Bargains of necessity? Doctor Who, Culloden and fictionalising history at the BBC in the 1960s" by Matthew Kilburn. This is more on the genre of the historical, comparing the BBC's approach to them in Doctor Who to a film from around the same time about the Battle of Culloden that was ostensibly done as close to the actual history as possible. More good thought-provoking stuff, though I don't have anything substantial to say about it at the moment.

"The empire of the senses: narrative form and point-of-view in Doctor Who" by Tat Wood. Anyone who's read a volume of About Time will recognize what's going on here. In fact, I think a shorter version of this is an essay in About Time somewhere. Unfortunately, this is one of those essays that you read and think, "What on Earth is that man on about?" Because you really have no idea.

"The ideology of anachronism: television, history and the nature of time" by Alec Charles. I hate to complain about academic writing, because in general I like both reading it and writing it*, but this is the sort of academic writing that really needs to stop. These sentences really tell you all you need to know about the whole thing: "By this point, the programme's -- and its protagonist's -- senescent peregrinations had long since lost both their point and their edge. This invisibly sutured conceptual montage bereft of counterpoint, this theme park of flashbacks to better days, this halcyon fantasy, came to recall what you get when you take the dialectical disruption out of the work of Sergei Eisenstein: all that remains are, in Robert Stam's words, 'the commodified ideograms of advertising'" (111). I mean, seriously.

"Mythic identity in Doctor Who" by David Rafer. A decent article about the use of myth in Doctor Who. Nothing terrible, but nothing stupendous, either.

"The human factor: Daleks, the 'Evil Human' and Faustian legend in Doctor Who" by Fiona Moore and Alan Stevens. This article provides an interesting analysis of the various human (or near-human, if your name is Davros) characters who pop up in Doctor Who as the helpers of the Daleks, from Mavic Chen in The Daleks' Master Plan to that wannabe-Nazi fellow in Remembrance of the Daleks. One wonders at their immediate denial that similar figures can appear in stories with other monsters, given that the Cybermen use the same idea in a number of their stories. It's also interesting to note that though this character has been a feature of Dalek stories since 1965, the new series doesn't really use such figures in "Dalek" or "Doomsday", and the one can I think of in "Bad Wolf" feels like a stretch.

"The Filipino army's advance on Reykjavik: world-building in Studio D and its legacy" by Ian Potter. This essay says something pretty much obvious: the makers of Doctor Who had to be imaginative in how they presented alien worlds because they had no money and no time. That said, it's still an interesting article because it lays out exactly how the makers of Doctor Who had no money and no time. I find a lot of that early TV history stuff, such as how the expense of videotape made reshoots and editing impossible, quite fascinating.

"'Who done it': discourses of authorship during the John Nathan-Turner era" by Dave Rollinson. A very interesting discussion of how much "influence" John Nathan-Turner had over the episodes produced during his tenure as producer, but also others, such as Christopher H. Bidmead and Andrew Cartmel in their roles as script-editors. Bidmead tended to do a lot of rewriting, which probably accounts for why Season 18 holds together so well thematically and why it has a such a disproportionate number of strong stories. Directors are addressed, too, of course, from Lovett Bickford's strong sense of style to Peter Moffatt's total lack of it.

"Between prosaic functionalism and sublime experimentation: Doctor Who and musical sound design" by Kevin J. Donnelly and "The music of machines: 'special sound' as music in Doctor Who" by Louis Niebur. I like sound design. So, naturally, I like reading about sound design. As a result, I found these looks into sound design and music in early Doctor Who particularly interesting. The latter essay almost makes me want to watch The Dominators again... almost!

"The talons of Robert Holmes" by Andy Murray. This one was a bit of a mixed bag. I don't hold Robert Holmes in the high esteem that some of fandom does, but Murray does an effective job of showing why Holmes is basically the perfect writer of Doctor Who. It was quite astonishing to realize that the reasons Murray gives for the typical Holmesian "double act" are basically the same ones for why I always end up using them in Exploring the Universe. Though saying that Holmes's repeated use of the "loveable rouge" archetype (Sabalom Glitz, Henry Gordon Jago, &c.) "lifts Holmes' work above that of his contemporaries. It adds sophistication and human vulnerability" (223) and suggesting they're actually case studies in a serious exploration of the concept of evil seems to be overstating it a bit! Maybe Holmes included them because they're just fun to write? (They are.) The section exploring the idea that Chancellor Goth in The Deadly Assassin is an author insertion is also a bit hard to swallow. And who would call the galactic co-ordinates a Gallifrey a key part of the Doctor Who mythos? But these are admittedly mostly niggles in an otherwise solid effort.

"Why is 'City of Death' the best Doctor Who story?" by Alan McKee. This one's a bit strange, as it's not really the sort of thing academic essays are meant to argue, is it? I don't really know what to say about it, other than that it's astoundingly bizarre to cite sources to back up a subjective opinion!

"Canonicity matters: defining the Doctor Who canon" by Lance Parkin. Lance Parkin of Ahistory fame expounding his theories on the canon of Doctor Who? This was basically the reason I bought this book! Though Lance's Star Trek facts might not always be right, his Doctor Who ones are of course spot on. What I find most fascinating is his notion that the reason canon matters is as a justification for investment. Collecting any sort of media tie-in can represent a high financial outlay, but if it's "canon", then the purchaser can justify it to himself-- his purchase has external validation! Similarly, someone who does not purchase a book range or somesuch can point out that it's not worth the money because it's "not canon". (This is related to how some Doctor Who fans consider the new series noncanonical!) I think you'd be hard-pressed to find someone in a fandom who considers a book range or audio drama or whatever canonical yet doesn't purchase it. The inverse is probably true as well, though not quite as often (but I wonder if there's any fandom other than Star Trek where defenders of a tie-in range ardently argue that it isn't canonical). Despite whether or not it should, canonicity does matter-- I have a friend who started buying Buffy and Angel comics at exactly the moment Joss Whedon decided they were canonical; as a fan of both shows, he felt compelled to. (And the fact that "Season 8" of Buffy is selling so well seems to indicate that he's not the only person who thinks this way.) Similarly, the Star Wars Tales comics were criticized for years by some fans for their "Infinites" status (despite the fact that they were really good), and when sales began to drop off, an attempt to revitalize the series by incorporating canonical stories was made. Even in Star Trek, where canonicity is nowt to be found in the tie-ins, many fans consider the series they buy part of a "personal canon"-- thoroughly a contradiction in terms, of course, but a form of validation nonetheless.

"Broader and deeper: the lineage and impact of the Timewyrm series" by Dale Smith. This would more accurately be called "the impact of Timewyrm: Revelation by Paul Cornell" because that's mostly what Smith talks about in terms of the Timewyrm miniseries' effects on the New Adventures. Still, it's an interesting look at the book line as a whole through the microcosm of these four volumes.

"Televisuality without television? The Big Finish audios and discourses of 'tele-centric' Doctor Who" by Matt Hills. I really think Hills is on to something here, in how Big Finish primarily aspires to be like the parent show. (It's interesting that the eighth Doctor audios were relaunched to be like the new series once it got underway-- thought predominantly in terms of superficial format elements and not in areas that actually matter, such as characterization, acting, or plotting.) But though I sort of grasp what Hills is trying to say with the term "televisuality", it's never explained adequately, and I don't intend to look up a book by John Thornton Caldwell to get it.

"My adventures" by Paul Magrs. This isn't an academic essay, it's just Paul Magrs rambling about liking Doctor Who as child, but that doesn't stop it from being brilliant. His ruminations on writing Doctor Who alongside his "serious" literary writing are particularly interesting.

Overall, it's a strong collection of essays, with more thought-provoking than not, with more good than bad. Well worth a look for anyone who likes to overthink their television.

The cover depicted here doesn't quite match mine. My purples and blues are less vivid, but more to the point, mine says "Edited by David Butler (ed.)", which has to rank pretty highly in the redundancy stakes.

* "In the literary text we have the strange situation that the reader cannot know what his participation actually entails. We know that we share in certain experiences, but we do not know what happens to us in the course of this process. This is why, when we have been particularly impressed by a book, we feel the need to talk about it... We have undergone an experience, and now we want to know consciously what we have experienced. Perhaps this is the prime usefulness of literary criticism--it helps to make conscious those aspects of the text which would otherwise remain concealed in the subconscious; it satisfies (or helps to satisfy) our desire to talk about what we have read." ("The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach" by Wolfgang Iser)
3 vote Stevil2001 | Apr 17, 2008 |

This is a brilliant collection of seventeen scholarly essays on Doctor Who. It is based on contributions to a conference held in Manchester in July 2004, some of which have been updated to reflect the 2005 revival of the programme, but mostly concentrating on the initial run of the classic series from 1963 to 1989. It amply fulfills what I look for in books like this: it gives me a new appreciation of the factors which shaped the series, embedded in a deeper structure of analysis which fills out my own frame of reference for thinking about the stuff I enjoy.

The book starts at the beginning, with an analysis by the editor, David Butler, of the way in which the very first episode of Doctor Who in 1963 was constructed in order to draw in and establish an audience, and how it succeeded in comparison with the 1996 TV movie, backed up with some very interesting audience reaction research.

Jonathan Bignell looks at the early Dalek stories as children's TV, explaining how Susan, the Daleks themselves, and other characters and races were created with a young audience in mind.

Daniel O'Mahoney provocatively (and for me convincingly) argues that the traditional fan distinction between 'historical' and 'pseudo-historical' stories is misleading, and takes the argument through to the Big Finish audios and the Virgin/BBC spinoff novels; it is easy enough to apply his analysis also to 'The Unquiet Dead', 'Tooth and Claw' and 'The Shakespeare Code'.

Matthew Kilburn focusses in a bit on this general topic, comparing the common roots and approach of 'The Highlanders' (and other historical stories) and a BBC drama-documentary about the Battle of Culloden broadcast two years earlier in late 1964.

Tat Wood, one of the authors of the excellent About Time series, takes a typically engaging and thorough look at the way in which Doctor Who tells stories, asking who the narrator is and describing the way in which the viewer is brought into the telling.

Alec Charles looks at the historical backdrop to Doctor Who, in particular its treatment of the British Empire, and questions the programme's liberal pretensions in the context of its habitual anachronism. (The essay is better than I make it sound.)

David Rafer looks at Doctor Who as/and myth, but I didn't feel he said much.

Fiona Moore and Alan Stevens, as I expected, supply one of the best essays in the book, looking at the plot of the Dalek stories and the emerging role of the Faust-like 'Evil Human' (Mavic Chen / Lesterson and colleagues / Waterfield and Maxtible / the Controller) which culminates in Davros.

Ian Potter looks at the way in which Doctor Who was filmed, pointing out among other fascinating details that the narrative device of the flashback is used surprisingly rarely, and that the average length of camera shots changed very little in the first 25 years of its run.

Dave Rolinson asks who was actually creating Doctor Who during the John Nathan-Turner era, looking at the roles of producer, script editor, director and the writer whose name actually appears on the story.

Kevin Donnelly has a fascinating essay on the sounds of Doctor Who, both the incidental music and the effects, and points out that the boundary between was often blurred.

Louis Niebur looks even more closely at that boundary, and achieves the nigh-impossible task of making me want to watch The Dominators again (he looks especially at the musical sound effects for that story and The Wheel in Space).

Andy Murray provides one of the most interesting pieces, examining the legacy of Robert Holmes, whose stories as he points out introduced the Third Doctor, the Master (both Delgado and post-Delgado), Liz Shaw, Jo Grant, Sarah Jane Smith, Romana, the Black and White Guardians, the Autons and the Sontarans, quite apart from his role as script editor in the great years of Philip Hinchcliffe's time as producer. I shall never look at Chancellor Goth in quite the same way again.

Alan McKee asks provocatively, 'Why is 'City of Death' the best Doctor Who story?' and makes a good case, based on the excellence of Douglas Adams plus Tom Baker plus everything else.

Lance Parkin has a detailed examination of canonicity which will have few surprises for those who follow the on-line debates (including Paul Cornell's recent piece), but covers the ground thoroughly.

Dale Smith describes the origins of the Timewyrm series of New Adventures and singles out Paul Cornell as a crucial figure in the story. (I would have liked more analysis in this piece but the historical account was interesting.)

The final analytical piece in the book is an examination of the Big Finish audios and their relationship to the television series and to continuing fandom, by Matt Hills.

But the book ends with an entertaining meditation on fandom, fannishness, and growing up by Paul Magrs.

Although some of these essays are not as good as the others, none of them is dull and none is incomprehensible, and it's perhaps the first multi-authored collection of scholarly pieces on science fiction which I have read of which I can say that. Some will be disappointed that there is a relative emphasis on the Sixties and correspondingly little on the Eighties, but I will take what I can get. Any serious Who fan (for values of 'serious' meaning 'treating Who as more than mere entertainment') needs to have this on their shelves, and I think it will be a good read for anyone with a general interest in sf media as literature. ( )
1 vote nwhyte | Jan 18, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Butler, DavidEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bignell, JonathanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Charles, AlecContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Donnelly, Kevin J.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hills, MattContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kilburn, MatthewContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Magrs, PaulAfterwordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
McKee, AlanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Moore, FionaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Murray, AndrewContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Niebur, LouisContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
O'Mahony, DanielContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Parkin, LanceContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Potter, IanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rafer, DavidContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rollinson, DaveContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Smith, DaleContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Stevens, AlanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wood, TatContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Time and relative dissertations in space takes the reader on a rich and varied study of one of the greatest television programmes of all time: Doctor Who. This book is the first study of Doctor Who to explore the Doctor's adventures in all their manifestations: on television, audio, in print and beyond. Although focusing on the original series (1963-89), the collection recognises that Doctor Who is a cultural phenomenon that has been 'told' in many ways through a myriad of texts. Combining essays from academics as well as practitioners who have contributed to the ongoing narrative of Doctor Who, the collection encourages debate with contrasting opinions on the strengths (and weaknesses) of the programme, offering a multi-perspective view of Doctor Who and the reasons for its endurance.

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