I became a fan of Doctor Who around the time I started high school. My brother somehow started watching the shows, which was aired on our local PBS Station, Channels 45/49 in Akron, Ohio. He videotaped the Tom Baker shown episodes, and we would watch it constantly (my mother even made us Tom Baker style scarves, which many of my classmates wondered why I was wearing a scarf that was almost 7 feet long).
A Critical History of Doctor Who on Television, by John Kenneth Muir ( 1999, Mcfarland), is a nice historical walk through of the first seven Doctors, along with summaries of all of the episodes up to the cancellation of the show.
Muir takes the reader through a description of what the original show entailed (including the original concept of the show, which changed once it got on air), the character of the Doctor, and some of the impact the show had on other science fiction movies and television shows, such as the Alien movies, and shows like Star Trek, The Voyagers, and Space 1999 in the Introduction section. Muir also dives into why the show was big in the United Kingdom, but was still not as well-known in the United States until the Tom Baker years.
The book then walks the reader through each episode with a plot summary, cast listing, and then a commentary on the author’s take on the episodes. The book covers the episodes that have been lost, using other texts to explain the plot lines (many of the early episodes were recorded over by the BBC in order to save costs, similar to some of The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson episodes by NBC).
The author has his favorite actor who played the Doctor (it may surprise some who he chooses), but Muir finds good and bad in each of the actor’s time playing the time traveler. Some of my favorite episodes he does not share my love for, but I just recently gotten to see more of the episodes of the first three Doctors via a marathon from Twitch TV, so I was not as informed with the early ones, with only seeing a few of the shows.
The book also covers some of the impact the shows had on the audiences, which I was unaware of, including the Dalek-Mania, where toys, comics, and even musical songs, were released when the villains were first shown on television in the 1960s. The Doctor Who books, role playing games (which my brother and I had), spin offs, and radio shows are mentioned. The end of the book even goes through some of the years where Doctor Who movies were discussed and some of the actors, including a pre-James Bond Pierce Bronson, Alan Rickman, John Cleese (who was also in an early episode), and Dudley Moore were discussed to play the lead role. Another interesting topic in the book was how there were rumors to make the Doctor a womanizer alcoholic (Not sure how that would ever turn out). Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy was rumored wanting to direct a featured film of the Doctor. The Peter Cushing films, where he played the Doctor are covered in this section, along with a rumor that Vincent Price was going to play a villain in a film. The Fox TV film is covered at the end as well, along with the author’s hope that maybe a film would be made (we now know that the BBC brought back the TV show in 2004).
Muir’s book contains great research, along with a nice summaries of the shows, which Doctor Who fans will like. The book is a great guide to look up with episodes. It is nice seeing the author’s take on each actor (The end of the book made me wonder what the writer’s take of the current shows would be like, especially a female Doctor), almost like a TV Guide for all things Doctor Who. I also like how the Peter Davidson’s Doctor was not dismissed as just a replacement for Baker (I liked Davidson’s role, but Baker is still my favorite of the original seven). The part where the author discusses how the BBC basically did not support the show, bashing it at times, which hurt the international appeal of the show, was baffling to me.
Muir’s writing shows that he not only researched the topics, but shows a love for the show as a fan, and not one that dismisses the show’s impact on even today’s science fiction productions.
This review copy was sent courtesy of McFarland.
Geared For: All Ages
For Fans of: Science Fiction fans, British Television, Doctor Who, Television History.
A Critical History of Doctor Who on Television by John Kenneth Muir (1999, McFarland) ISBN-13: 978-0-7864-3716-0 can be found at McFarland’s website http://www.mcfarlandpub.com , or ordered at 800-253-2187.
Check our the author’s webpage at http://www.johnkennethmuir.com and https://reflectionsonfilmandtelevision.blogspot.com/