Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

Fifty-year journey in time

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A CULTURAL HISTORY. By James Chapman. Tauris. 372pp. $34.


Edited by Steve Berry. Gollancz. 226pp. $22.99.

DOCTOR WHO. THE VAULT. TREASURES FROM THE FIRST 50 YEARS. By Marcus Hearn. BBC Books. 320pp. $59.95.


By James Goss and Steve Tribe. BBC Books. 256pp. $49.95.

NEW DIMENSIONS OF DOCTOR WHO. Edited by Matt Hills. Tauris. 240pp. $29.95.

WHO IS WHO? THE PHILOSOPHY OF DR WHO. By Kevin S. Decker. Tauris. 243pp. $34.95.

Reviewer: COLIN STEELE POP CULTURE A dalek, above; Tom Baker, left, as the fourth Doctor.

'I'm the Doctor. I'm a Time Lord. I'm from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I'm 903 years old and I'm the man who's gonna save your lives, and all six billion people on the planet below. You got a problem with that?" These words, spoken by David Tennant in the 2007 episode Voyage of the Damned, constitute almost a duty statement for Doctor Who.

The show has been called the world's longest-running television science fiction series. November 23 marks 50 years since the BBC aired the first episode, An Unearthly Child, written by Australian author Anthony Coburn. It was Coburn's idea for the Tardis to resemble a police box after seeing one on Wimbledon Common.

November 23, 1963, was, however, the day after President Kennedy's assassination. Initial audience reaction was thus muted and the first episode had to be repeated. One critic called the new program a mix of H. G. Wells' The Time Machine and a space-age Old Curiosity Shop.

Certainly the first Doctor Who, William Hartnell, resembled a Dickensian figure. The arrival of the daleks in February 1964 led to viewing figures rising over 10 million per episode.

Terry Pratchett, in his introduction to Behind the Sofa. Celebrity Memories of Doctor Who, says; "I was there at the beginning", that is, watching the first episode. As indeed was this reviewer, viewing it at Liverpool University's Derby Hall. Behind The Sofa brings together more than 150 memories of Doctor Who, from actors, directors and celebrity fans of the show. Contributors include Bernard Cribbins, Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Ross, Rick Wakeman and Hugh Bonneville.

Pratchett calls Doctor Who, "a part of the dna of Great Britain". The history of the series, up to the end of 2012, is well documented by Professor James Chapman in an update of his 2006 history, Inside the Tardis.

Chapman's analysis, based on extensive access to the BBC archives, includes coverage of each Doctor and their series and the differing viewpoints of the writers and directors, now called "showrunners". Chapman, who also covers the Doctor Who spinoffs, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, deliberately adopts an anti-theoretical approach, in contrast to some of the essays in Matt Hills' collection New Dimensions of Doctor Who.

Chapman believes the success of Doctor Who is due, in large measure, to its ability to renew and refresh its format, particularly in the regeneration of the lead character, which stretches from William Hartnell to Peter Capaldi. All Doctor Who fans have their favourite doctor. This reviewer would put David Tennant first with Tom Baker second. The first incarnations of the Doctor, Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee, all assumed, according to Chapman, the "manner of a harassed, well-educated district officer". This mould was well and truly broken with the arrival of Tom Baker, the longest-ever serving Doctor, with his ever-growing long scarf and love of jelly babies. Baker says "having been brought up a Catholic, the idea of disappearing and reappearing, of miraculous events, strange voices and all the other mad things about Doctor Who seemed totally natural to me".

The show had mixed fortunes in the 1980s before it was cancelled in December, 1989. Michael Grade, the former Controller of BBC1, a long-time critic of the show comments, in his contribution to Behind the Sofa, "I killed the bastard! because the show was ghastly, it was pathetic ... it lost its way. It was waiting for Russell T. Davies".

Davies, of course, revived the series with great success in 2005. His first doctor, Christopher Eccleston's blunt "Have a go if yer 'ard enough" approach was succeeded by a warmer and more emotional Doctor Who in David Tennant. Matt Smith's Doctor was more zany, perhaps reflecting the changed creative settings of Davies' successor, Steven Moffat, and his seemingly never ending narrative arcs.

A lavish coffee table book from the BBC, Marcus Hearn's The Vault, provides a cornucopia of Doctor Who history and memorabilia, including unpublished material from the BBC archive and private collectors. Hearn takes the reader on a well-informed textual journey from 1963 to 2013, supplemented by numerous colour and black-and-white illustrations of costumes, set designs, letters and scripts, as well as characters and scenes from the series James Goss and Steve Tribe have extensive Doctor Who lineage in writing and fandom, which they put to good use in The Doctor - His Lives and Times. Goss and Tribe assiduously follow the Doctor Who trail, but it is their behind-the-scenes coverage, through numerous short interviews, termed "brief encounters", with writers, actors and support crew, that gives it a fresh appeal. Look out for world wide web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee on the 1966 episodes of The War Machines, Neil Gaiman on The Tomb of the Cybermen and Bernard Cribbins on the daleks.

James Chapman says since the 2006 edition of Inside the Tardis, "the field of Doctor Who scholarship has expanded almost as fast as the universe itself". Hills' New Dimensions of Doctor Who and Kevin S. Decker's Who is Who? The Philosophy of Doctor Who attest to that scholarship, although some of the essays included in New Dimensions wander into some arcane corridors of academic scholarship. Hills, professor of Film and TV Studies at Aberystwyth University, brings together 11 contributors most of whom are academics at British universities, teaching cultural and media studies.

One of the problems is that the authors fall between writing for an academic reward system, with consequent disciplinary insularity, and a popular readership. Thus, Ross Garner, In Remembering Sarah Jane, produces a piece replete with phrases, such as, "the world of a television program can be considered as an intradiegetic allusion that opens up space for nostalgia to enter into reading positions" and that "the embodied presence" of Elisabeth Sladen, as Sarah Jane, gave the fans, "ontological security".

Melissa Beattie follows the Doctor Who experience through the Commodification of Cardiff Bay, while David Butler covers Multiculturalism, Monsters and Music in New Doctor Who.

Kevin S. Decker, director of the Philosophy Department at Eastern Washington University, argues Who is Who is the first in-depth philosophical investigation of the Doctor in popular culture.

He examines truth and knowledge, science and religion, space and time, and good and evil with appropriate references to philosophers, such as Hegel, Kant and Heidegger. He also dips into novels, comic strips and audio recordings, as he discusses regeneration and how quantum theory affects our understanding of time travel. One thing is certain, time will never stand still for Doctor Who.

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  • APA 6th ed.: (2013-11-23). Fifty-year journey in time. The Canberra Times p. F25.
  • MLA 7th ed.: "Fifty-year journey in time." The Canberra Times [add city] 2013-11-23, F25. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: "Fifty-year journey in time." The Canberra Times, edition, sec., 2013-11-23
  • Turabian: "Fifty-year journey in time." The Canberra Times, 2013-11-23, section, F25 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Fifty-year journey in time | url= | work=The Canberra Times | pages=F25 | date=2013-11-23 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=22 July 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Fifty-year journey in time | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=22 July 2024}}</ref>