About Time 8: The Unauthorized Guide To Doctor Who (Series 3) by Tat Wood and Dorothy Ail (book review)

November 22, 2017 | By | Reply More

The only downside to Tat Wood and Dorothy Ail’s guides to ‘Doctor Who’, along with authors from previous volumes by Lawrence Miles and Lars Pearson, is the time it takes for each volume to arrive. It was a great delight to discover that ‘About Time 8’ was going to be published this year. As with previous volumes, it doesn’t disappoint.

‘About Time 8: The Unauthorized Guide To Doctor Who (Series 3’ covers ‘Doctor Who’ across 2007, beginning with Christmas 2006’s ‘The Runaway Bride’ and culminating with Christmas 2007’s ‘Voyage Of The Damned’. In between, we have series 3, which has to live up to the continued expectation of an audience who had fallen back in love with ‘Doctor Who’ during the last two years, but also having to cope with the exit of Billie Piper’s Rose. David Tennant had a remarkably successful year and in series three was teamed-up with Freema Agyeman as medical doctor Martha Jones.

Structurally, the series mirrored what had been seen in the previous two series: a journey to a far-future version of humanity (‘Gridlock’), a historical story with a famous figure (‘The Shakespeare Code’), a monster-driven two-parter (‘Daleks In Manhattan’ and ‘Evolution Of The Daleks’) another two-parter (‘Human Nature’ and ‘The Family Of Blood’), a Doctor-lite episode that allowed for some experimentation (‘Blink’) and finally a two-part finale (‘The Sound Of Drums’ and ‘The Last Of The Time Lords’).

Given that ten years have now passed since its original transmission, viewers and critics alike have had a chance to reflect on what this series, the middle of Russell T Davies’ tenure as showrunner meant. Wood and Ail present the view of a programme that is established, yet in many ways still trying to find its feet. The demand for ‘Doctor Who’ meant that the pressure on Davies and his production team didn’t let-up, there was a need to out-do what had happened before and, as the authors state, it needed to be ‘bigger’. We’ve gone from the Daleks and Cybermen invading London to the Master bringing back humanity’s final form as the Toclafane, enslaving the Earth and killing 10% of the population and, as I’m sure you’ll recall, turning the Doctor into a withered old goblin-man.

In fact, the entry on ‘The Last Of The Time Lords’ is a good indicator of how this book works. Wood and Ail praise the tension and excitement built-up by the previous two stories ‘Utopia’ and ‘The Sound Of Drums’ that is then spoiled by the unsatisfactory ending to the finale. As the authors point out, it’s the ultimate example of Davies’ use of deus ex machina to end a story. Wood and Ail aren’t afraid to make these points and the book as a whole doesn’t pull any punches. However, it also needs to be said that this book and the other volumes are always quick to indicate that ‘Doctor Who’ is a show like no other and often produces thought-provoking situations and visuals that other shows simply don’t.

As ever, there’s a great selection of accompanying essays to the episode guides covering off-topics such as the connections between modern television comedy and ‘Doctor Who’, what on-line extras were worth engaging with, an examination of specialised Daleks and if animation should be considered as the way forward for the show. There are also entries for the ‘Children In Need: Special Time Crash’ and the animated adventure ‘The Infinite Quest’.

The ‘About Time’ series is a great way to re-encounter old ‘Doctor Who’ and will send you back to your DVDs to think about how an episode might be different to how you remembered and challenge some received wisdom. Is ‘Blink’ still as good as everyone claims? I’ll leave you to decide, plus I agree with Wood on the favourite episode of series 3 (obviously ‘Gridlock’). ‘About Time’ remains the best guide to ‘Doctor Who’ available in print today. It is unflinchingly critical, but also witty, informative and highly enjoyable and never doubt that it loves ‘Doctor Who’.

John Rivers

November 2017

(pub: Mad Norwegian Press. 350 page paperback. Price: £16.43 (UK), $24.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-93523-416-6)

check out website: www.madnorwegian.com/

Category: Books, Doctor Who

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