Then & Now: Doctor Who In Review: 1 by David J Howe (book review)

March 22, 2016 | By | Reply More

The topic of David J Howe’s book ‘Then & Now: Doctor Who In Review: 1’ is to reprint his diary of thoughts he had on-line from watching the new ‘Doctor Who’ shows with a more up-to-date comment at the end of each episode or two-part episodes covering Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant’s eras. Except for the end bits, pretty much like how I’ve been doing it here on SFC over the years. As such, this is a four year long time capsule and if you want to stir up your memory of when was the last time you’ve seen these stories, this isn’t a bad way to do it.


In many respects, though, where Howe disagrees with his younger self about what he enjoyed then and on repeated, I found myself thinking back to what I wrote which tended to be more in-line with his latter comments. It’ll be interesting to see if any of you think likewise or have a preference to his earlier comments. History has a great tendency to put things into perspective or, in at least as far as ‘Doctor Who’ is concerned, able to distinguish the good from the bad. We both share a similar dislike for the over-play of domestic stuff from Eccleston’s season although he doesn’t place any of this at Russell T Davies door in insuring that this was regularly used.

Don’t expect these reflections to be a synopsis matched with comments, at least not in the early half of the book. As much as anything, they sum up various details that struck Howe at the time. In that respect, they are as different from mine as they might be from yours. I suspect something he might have in common with you is checking out the phone number given in an episode (didn’t/doesn’t exist) or the UNIT website (still does, although doesn’t need a password and still giving a warning about a past British summer time changing) given in ‘Aliens Of London’.

A couple interesting observations that Howe gives is how Davies didn’t always connect all the dots of the plot together and with a speedy plot tended to gloss over things. Something that is common with a lot of writers who don’t have a science background and rather not put their foot in it or hire a scientific advisor (it’s not as a though that there aren’t enough scientists out there who can advise and keep quite about it). Likewise, the emotional content of the story tends to be too high and unlike the original run of ‘Doctor Who’ which can be watched endlessly, with Davies tenure, you wouldn’t want to be put through the emotional wringer more than twice in too short an interval. That might explain why I haven’t done them more than once so far.

We also agree that the stories are far too much about the Doctor and his various companions than about the people they help. Logistically, as the two leads are getting the most pay, any producer will insist that they need to put the money on the screen but when you consider on the original ‘Who’, that the orientation was towards them being thrown into an existing situation to be resolved, one could argue that it could be thrown back in that way. I know that current ‘modern’ story ethic is to jam everything into 50 minutes or double that in two-parters but I can also see an argument to put it back to multi-part 25 minute episodes as well. It would spread the series over a longer period and it could always be combined into one big story later. Like good wine, ‘Doctor Who’ needs a little more space to let the plots breath.

Something Howe raises about the two-part story ‘The Impossible Planet’/’The Satan Pit’ is why didn’t the scientist accompany the Doctor into the pit. This falls under the same reason why didn’t Ash go with members of the Nostromo crew to the alien spacecraft in ‘Alien’ on their first trip. The information coming back might be second-hand but if anything went wrong, you wouldn’t have any scientist left to advise solutions.

With ‘The Runaway Bride’, I think Howe is forgetting that in the original run, the TARDIS has had its doors open in space a few times although it was only in Tom Baker’s run where it was explained that there is an air supply around the TARDIS and in the recently, for me, watched ‘The Horns Of Nimon’, it can actually be projected as a passageway to another spaceship.

A lot of the time, I’ve found myself hitting on things that I don’t necessarily agree with. Take ‘Gridlock’, for instance. Cats have been giving birth to kittens without the need for midwifes so why would it be any different with cat hybrids? ‘The Daleks In Manhattan’ is a little more awkward but maybe the choice of intellectual hosts for the Dalek hybrids has something to do with brain capacity and neurone usage. After all, you’re going to need something of that nature to quickly merge the two. Saying that, you would have to wonder at the choice of humans as there must be better choices in the universe for better brain capacity.

As I recall, the accuracy of Jack Harkness’ time transporter watch was enhanced by the fact that the Doctor was controlling it as stated in the dialogue and I didn’t have to rewatch the episode to remember that as it was Tennant’s look that said he was a Time Lord and Jack wasn’t in his class.

In many respects, Howe’s comments are like a time capsule into the past. I sense a touch of world-weariness about them as the episodes mount up and he switched more into synopsis with comment. This might have been the result of fan meets critic objectivity and a need to fill his blog weekly on the subject. After all, people like us have to look at things from various perspectives all the time. If anything, Howe’s frustrations come through far more than mine when I did my own weekly SFC examinations or at least they didn’t mount up on me quite as much. It isn’t until the fourth season that he recognises the pattern of stories each season. I think I caught onto that in the third season of my reviews. It’s more apparent when he’s putting in more detail about the synopsises to nit-pick.

Although, like Howe, I’m not a great lover of Catherine Tate’s comedy shows, I have at least watched and distinguished between them and her part in ‘Doctor Who’ and tend to think she did a good performance. Anyone can fall into the trap of that with all kinds of recognised actors if you didn’t rely on performance first or we’d have been all caught out when actors reappear for a second time in different roles. When Tate had her tenure in ‘Doctor Who’ it was the right time to have a companion who wasn’t quite so lovey-dovey.

With ‘The Sontaran Stratagem’, Howe does question why the automated car device ATMOS can be incorporated into all cars so quickly but forgets that most modern cars already have got a lot of computer software in them. Putting another CPU on top of this to control them would actually be a lot simpler than it looks. The same also applies to the glass on car windows. TV shows make it look very easy to smash a side window open with an elbow made of sugar glass but most of the time you’re far more likely to bounce off the glass in a painful manner. It’s designed to withstand certain kinds of impact and shatter in tiny bits than shrapnel that can potentially kill after all. Considering that Donna’s Mum does this with an axe tends to support the real reality of the situation.

With ‘The Daughter’s Daughter’, Howe points out that a couple of the Hath are named after Hollywood actors but doesn’t spot General Cobb is named after Lee J. Cobb – him of ‘Twelve Angry Men’ and the ‘Derek Flint’ films amongst others. Oddly, he doesn’t account for Martha being dropped off back on Earth between this story and ‘The Unicorn And The Wasp’.

With the latter quarter of the book, it felt like I was in the throes of Howe wanting to get the book over with although this may have been the cause of his earlier blogs reflecting this. One thing he didn’t emphasis although mentioned from ‘Planet Of The Dead’ was that the ‘Pizza Geronimo’ was where Matt Smith got the word he used most consistently in his tenure, but then, we do have a second volume of this book in the future.

This is a rather odd book in some respects. I’m sure those of you Who fans who originally read David Howe’s blogs on-line and want a physical copy to go over his comments will appreciate this book. For those of us who didn’t, then there is plenty of information to give you food for contemplative thought. Despite my comments on Howe’s world-weariness, which he also comments on in the book, he does make some interesting observations and it’ll make me be careful when I’ve caught up on the classic DVDs and move onto the modern versions on DVD, especially when watching them in close order with the audio commentaries. Howe makes no mention of these, so do wonder what he thought of these extras. If anything, it does tend to make me think I was more astute when I wrote my original comments on SFC in those years directly after each story.

GF Willmetts

March 2016

(pub: David J Howe. 257 page enlarged paperback. Price: £15.99 (UK), ISBN: 978-1-51877-600-7)

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Category: Books, Doctor Who, TV

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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