?

Log in

No account? Create an account
parrot_knight [userpic]

About Time 6: 1985 to 1989 and 1996

December 9th, 2007 (09:23 pm)

I've been critical of the About Time series over the years which Mad Norwegian have been publishing the books; mainly because several of the asides throughout, usually those apparently intended to familiarize non-British people with points of British culture and history relevant to Doctor Who's development or features of particular stories which might seem odd out of context, have been misleading or simply inaccurate. I'm pleased to report that About Time 6 offers far fewer opportunities for me to complain. It wasn't until page 322 that I saw the assertion that if Ace came from 1987 she would have done GCSEs, not O-Levels, which (as someone who took his O-Levels in 1987) I know is not the case. (I was the last year to take O-Levels, though my English Language and Literature grades resulted from a combined pilot project for GCSE, then called the '16+ exam'.) Otherwise I am for the most part admiring of author Tat Wood's erudition, gathered widely across the arts and sciences, as I have been ever since I first borrowed a copy of Spectrox from gervase_fen. (This was never returned to him, being instead lost by Royal Mail, and was probably mistaken for another kind of publication entirely.) Just don't treat endnote 34, on page 404, as a reliable short account of the reasons for and the end of the political proscription of Roman Catholics in England between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries, nor indeed of the confessional allegiance of the majority of the Scottish population during this time.

Tat Wood is the sole author of this book, the project having been conceived by Lawrence Miles and then published, until now, under the names of both Miles and Wood. There's a credit for Mad Norwegian publisher Lars Pearson as the author of additional material on the back cover; and Rob Shearman is thanked for providing the defence for The Two Doctors. (From an interview Wood gave the Tachyon TV podcast, it may have been Miles's interpretation of this story which led to the break between the two contributors.) This volume displays a greater consistency in tone and in argument than its predecessors, in addition to a lower number of obvious (to me) cultural errors, and this is welcome.

When Wood writes (page 8) that in 1985 a videotape of The Tomb of the Cybermen "was believed [to] be able to cure warts with a single touch and convert water to butterscotch-flavoured Angel Delight (the special treat you had while watching Doctor Who in 1967)" this reviewer immediately feels at home; though he doubts that he ever ate butterscotch Angel Delight in front of Doctor Who, and he wasn't born in 1967. More than any other book in the About Time series, this volume emerges as a letter from 'old' fandom to 'new' fandom, intimating (though not explicitly explaining) why some people who were fans in the 1980s and early 1990s appear hostile to some elements in the post-2005 series - or 'the Welsh series' as Wood comes to call it - and parsing the cultural differences between 'old' fandom and the fan culture one can find on the internet today. Particularly relevant are the essays 'What's All This Stuff About Anoraks?'

"Michael Grade made jokes about how the Doctor Who fans probably didn't have girlfriends and we laughed along - because the joke was on him, really"
and 'The Semiotic Thickness of What?' from which endnote 30 waves a red flag at latterday fandom in a fashion I find disappointingly non-inclusive:
"Slash is assuredly a minority hobby, and British fans just don't do it... well, we should clarify that. Fans of the pre-2005 stuff generally don't. Fans of the Welsh series sometimes do, but they're usually part of the British Public, and not what we commonly regard as Doctor Who fandom. Most of us hadn't heard the term "slash" until the Jenkins/Tulloch Tag-Team of Terror casually informed us that this was what we spent our waking hours doing.")

Wood's probably right to have more sympathy with those who find parallels between traditional Doctor Who fandom and football fandom or the early punk scene - though I'd disagree that the latter was the only begetter of Doctor Who fanzine culture as Wood seems to think. There's a very true description of early 1990s fanzinedom:
"Fan A would be sat in a university library, nonchalantly reading Mikhail Bakthin's Problems of Dostoievski's Poetics, when suddenly s/he would see the handy spotter's guide to the Menippean Satires in Chapter 4 and think "So that's why I prefer Season Six to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"


There were lots of moments (in the early hours of this morning, mainly) where I found myself laughing in agreement at Wood's assessments, and I'm in agreement with most of them. There are occasional moments of unnecessary cruelty, such as the attack on John Gummer who seemed to me one of the more human Conservative ministers of the 1980s and 1990s, and a few slightly-too idealistic views of the 1984 miners' strike. There are a couple of mentions of Biggles (at least one in the context of James Saxon's appearance in The Two Doctors and in the Biggles film of the mid-80s) which seem to underestimate the character's longevity. The reasons the Doctor Who of the time doesn't quite work are explored in detail. Timelash comes from "the Ninth Circle, obviously", but there are repeated references to the misconceptions this story has about H.G. Wells, and why it's easier to assume that 'Herbert' isn't the author of The Time Machine and lover of Rebecca West (among many others), and how the story reflects ambiguity in 1985 about the rise of the surveillance society in Britain. More problematic is the book's view on the start of the second Colin Baker season, the post-'Suspension' (as it is termed here) season 23. Wood thinks that The Trial of a Time Lord: The Mysterious Planet suffers from too much creative ambiguity, deriving from "playing it safe" when this was no longer possible; though there doesn't seem to be a suggestion as to what risks could have been taken. Wood hails the McCoy era as a "creative renaissance" but, rightly, doesn't let this preclude him listing and analysing the many flaws in the plotting of and thinking behind many of the stories he nonetheless thinks the most successful, like The Greatest Show in the Galaxy or The Curse of Fenric. Survival probably comes off best of the McCoy stories.

"Does Paul McGann count?" asks the essay accompanying the chapter on the 1996 TV Movie, and the answer seems to be a yes, though this doesn't mean that one necessarily has to accept what one sees on screen in the film as Doctor Who, in Wood's book. One of the best questions asked by the essays is "Who Narrates this Programme?" My answer would have been 'lots of narrators', because I've come to use the idea of different voices, or interpreters of the 'events' in the Doctor's 'life', as being the most practical way of dealing with inconsistencies in the ongoing narrative. Tat Wood goes with something similar, suggesting that a new narrator takes over with Rose, though unlike him I view the 2005+ series as essentially the same thing as that broadcast between 1963 and 1989 and in 1996.

The only obvious chapter missing from the volume is a conclusion; if everything from 1963 to 1989, and the 1996 TV Movie, is to be considered as a single entity, then I'd like to know what Wood thinks Doctor Who is beyond the assertions throughout this book that we, the reader, must know by now; it could have taken the form of an extended afterword explaining why the 'Welsh series' is, in Wood's view, different. He indicates throughout that explaining its cultural context will be someone else's job, several years from now. Given that one of the assumptions seemingly present in the first book to be published, About Time 3, was that Doctor Who was a product of a particular cultural moment in Britain that had passed, the success of the last three series could have been addressed in an afterword too. Perhaps the revised About Time 3, due out next year and expanded by Wood without Miles's input to take account of the impact of the new series on perceptions of the Pertwee era, will give some hints.

Comments

Posted by: wrong but wromantic (sally_maria)
Posted at: December 9th, 2007 11:45 pm (UTC)
Hiro dream

That sounds very interesting - I really must look into more writing about Doctor Who.

I've very much been nibbling at the edges, but DW is a fandom more like Tolkien for me, where I am interested in reading scholarly/thoughtful writing about it, unlike most TV fandoms where I mainly go for the fanfiction.

I do wonder why a female fanfiction fandom never took off for Doctor Who in the UK, until the new series. After all, Star Trek and Star Wars have what are effectively male and female fandoms running side by side. (I know it's not as simple as that, but there is a definite divide.) Is it simply that there wasn't a big enough audience in the UK, or that the fan writers were absorbed by Blake's Seven?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 10th, 2007 02:38 am (UTC)
QueenBat4

I suspect that there was more female fan fiction for Doctor Who than was apparent from the main fanzines. There are occasional hints of private, free fiction-zines circulating - there was an article by viala_qilarre's big-name-fan friend, whom I'll call no.58, years ago mentioning these, with more sexual content. However, until the TVM (and the launch of overt projects such as Warm Gallifreyan Nights) and internet fandom, fan fiction for Doctor Who, mainly written by women and categorisable into gen, slash etc. in a way that old-style Doctor Who fanfic generally couldn't be, arose. This being said, there was always a crossover, principally in fanzines like Queen Bat (pictured), which tended to be where the women fanzine writers participating in the 'male' fanzine culture gathered in the 1980s.

Part of the reason for the low take-up of the series by women fanfic writers might have been the timeslot and audience and the emphasis on a single lead. There is no Kirk/Spock, Bodie/Doyle, possible. Eras which may have attracted women writers are the fourth Doctor/Sarah period, where Sarah is frequently the only woman in the cast, making her way in a macho world of soldiers, scientists and scholars (there are exceptions, most obviously The Brain of Morbius); and the Davison era, with its more emotionally fragile Doctor and ensemble TARDIS crew.



Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: December 10th, 2007 12:49 am (UTC)
Cold Tea

I didn’t realise About Time 6 was due out yet. I think I shall have to delay purchasing it for a while; I’m still finishing off Time and Relative Dissertations in Space (extremely long review to follow very shortly, I hope), not to mention various other things – and as for my poor over-worked, under-fed bank balance...

several of the asides throughout… have been misleading or simply inaccurate.

You’ve only had problems with asides? I considered doing a whole blog post just tearing the section on The Massacre to pieces, before deciding life is too short.

don't treat endnote 34, on page 404, as a reliable short account of the reasons for and the end of the political proscription of Roman Catholics in England between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries

I shudder to think. They got the date of Catholic emancipation wrong back in Volume 1 (that section on The Massacre again).

From an interview Wood gave the Tachyon TV podcast, it may have been Miles's interpretation of this story which led to the break between the two contributors

They fell out over a single story?! Can you elaborate, or point me in the direction of the podcast, please?

I suspect there may be more to it than that, judging by the bitterness on Miles’ blog. He recently referred to “my unbearable co-writer Tat Wood” which is positively polite considering his earlier statement that “Tat could never bring himself to write good things about Eccleston, possibly because he hates northerners and people with working-class accents, and believes the Doctor to be the exclusive property of university-educated types who spend their time arseing around on punts. I know I'm digressing, but I'm still very bitter.”

Slash is assuredly a minority hobby

Does he not have access to the internet?! It is true that while I had heard of slash years and years ago, I have only encountered slashers or even shippers in Doctor Who fandom in recent years (a few 4/Romana and 5/various shippers in the late nineties, a huge explosion of any Doctor/anyone else shippers post-2005). Still, this does sound like “you can’t be in our gang” stuff. I’ve drifted out of organised fandom (not that I was ever particularly involved) because it bores me and no longer speaks the same language I do, but I wouldn’t say that such people are not commonly regarded as fans.

I'd disagree that the latter was the only begetter of Doctor Who fanzine culture as Wood seems to think

There seems to be a certain subset of fans who try to link the programme inextricably with their favourite music cf Cornell’s No Future. Again, playground stuff.

the revised About Time 3, due out next year and expanded by Wood without Miles's input to take account of the impact of the new series on perceptions of the Pertwee era

Oh no, I had a horrible feeling they were going to do something like that. I do get irritated that that volume feels so lightweight compared to the others, but I find it hard to believe that Wood has really got enough to say to justify my buying the same book all over again.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: December 10th, 2007 12:53 am (UTC)
Outsider

Whoops. This wasn't all supposed to come in italics. And as I'm cheap and have a free account, it will have to stay italicised too. I wonder if the 'edit comment' facility is just an attempt to embarrass people like me into getting a paid account?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 10th, 2007 02:39 am (UTC)

Worry not - it's all still followable.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 10th, 2007 02:58 am (UTC)
Sylvester

I shudder to think. They got the date of Catholic emancipation wrong back in Volume 1 (that section on The Massacre again).

I suspect I've blacked that section out...

They fell out over a single story?! Can you elaborate, or point me in the direction of the podcast, please?

Tachyon TV Podcasts - click on Podcast 1.2

I suspect there may be more to it than that, judging by the bitterness on Miles’ blog.

Interesting. All this leads me to wonder whether there is someone else going in and adding references to the new series after Wood has written his essays - it would certainly explain why sometimes he seems to want to exclude the new series from continuity with the old altogether, and then starts citing the new series as evidence for theories relating to 1980s stories.

There seems to be a certain subset of fans who try to link the programme inextricably with their favourite music cf Cornell’s No Future. Again, playground stuff.

True; the reasons, back in the early 1990s, were both a wish to be accepted by the wider in-crowd, I think, and show that liking Doctor Who didn't meant that you weren't versed in contemporary trends; and also an awareness that Doctor Who had to be shown to be connected to the present day at a time when it was perceived as lacking credibility. One of the things Wood could have drawn out more was how Ace often sounds like she comes from 1983 might relate to wider problems that the attempt to contemporise Doctor Who during Andrew Cartmel's script editorship, and I'd often thought how most of the politics of the Cartmel period seems to have a lot more to do with the early 1980s than the end of the decade.

I find it hard to believe that Wood has really got enough to say to justify my buying the same book all over again.

I suspect that I will end up buying it; but perhaps I'll wait until I have a copy in my hands in a shop rather than ordering in advance. I might yet crack, though.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: December 10th, 2007 03:26 am (UTC)
Outsider

All this leads me to wonder whether there is someone else going in and adding references to the new series after Wood has written his essays

It might explain the credit for Lars Pearson for additional material.

I'd often thought how most of the politics of the Cartmel period seems to have a lot more to do with the early 1980s than the end of the decade.

I've always found the politics of the Cartmel era to be too vaguely sketched to attempt such analysis.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 10th, 2007 10:58 am (UTC)

It might explain the credit for Lars Pearson for additional material.

And also that Robert Smith? and Michael Thomas are associate editors for AT6 in the credits, while Joshua Wilson is editor for the publisher, suggesting that the first two had more to do with the content.

I've always found the politics of the Cartmel era to be too vaguely sketched to attempt such analysis.

If you had lived through the 1980s like I did, then the analysis would attempt you!

Edited at 2007-12-10 11:05 am (UTC)

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: December 10th, 2007 03:56 am (UTC)
Outsider

I've heard the podcast now. Ouch. I suspect About Time - The Unedited Email Correspondence would be a best-seller.