11 June 2014

Review: Doctor Who in Time and Space edited by Gillian I. Leitch

Acquired July 2013
Read May 2014
Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy, 39: Doctor Who in Time and Space: Essays on Themes, Characters, History and Fandom, 1963-2012
edited by Gillian I. Leitch

Back in the day, I read and reviewed Time And Relative Dissertations In Space, which was (I think) the first critical anthology on Doctor Who. Seven years later, you can't move for the glut of them. TARDIS's weak point was, in retrospect, its lack of focus: topics covered all twenty-six years of the old show, plus some of the tie-ins. The full title of Doctor Who in Time and Space should make its biggest weakness very apparent: there's absolutely no cohesion or throughline to the sixteen essays in this volume, beyond Doctor Who itself. Around half of the essays are about the 2005+ revival, which means the ones on 1963-89 are particularly scattershot.

1. "Event TV: Fan Consumption of Televised Doctor Who in Britain (1963-Present)" by Andrew O'Day
This article covers the way Doctor Who has been watched as an "event"-- the most interesting aspect of this for me was the big viewings of Doctor Who stories at conventions, back in the days when there were no home video productions for folks to watch. I wish O'Day had more to say about these events, though; this didn't have the level of argument I'd expect from an academic piece.

2. "Social Spaces: British Fandom to the Present" by Andrew O'Day
Rather capaciously, this essay attempts to provide a history of all aspects of Doctor Who fandom in fifteen pages. As you might imagine, there's just not the space to do the job. It uses its offered space weirdly-- there's page upon page about post-2005 fanzines, surely far past the point at which fanzines ceased to be relevant, while I don't think Tumblr and/or Pinterest even rate a mention. Also, for some reason O'Day feels compelled to inform the reader that social media is having a huge impact, "even though there are harmful uses of such sites such as the presence of pedophiles" (30). Huh the what now?

3. "Don't Call It a Comeback" by Aaron Gulyas
Guylas tries to characterize fan reaction both to the 1996 telemovie and the 2005 revival, largely based on Internet forum postings. One thing I found amusing: the day before I read this chapter, I was reading about the proper use of sic and how it's usually needless pedantry. So I enjoyed it when after using "[sic]" repeatedly to indicate misspellings in forum postings, Guylas's interpolated brackets introduced their own errors, such as that venerable Doctor Who writer, Terrence Dicks (52). Maybe he should take care of the splinter in his own eye first?

4. "Whose Doctor?" by J. M. Frey
This essay attempts to claim that Doctor Who is prejudiced against Canadians, despite the key role that Canadians played in its creation. (Sydney Newman was Canadian, for example, and the early seasons of the 2005 revival were co-funded by the CBC.) It's hard to take seriously, with poorly applied postcolonial theory (I don't know of any that would count the white settlers of Canada as the colonized) and comments such as that "Owen Harper metaphorically rapes a pair of subalterns" (73) in the pilot episode of Torchwood (such a broadening of the term "subaltern" as to render it meaningless).

5. "In and Out of Time" by Kieran Tranter
Confusing essay that tries to link Doctor Who to some philosophical conceptions of time. Bafflingly implies that Scotland is not part of the British Isles: "while the Doctor was allowed to leave BBC enunciation behind with McCoy, subsequent Doctors [...] have kept the accent located within the British Isles" (87).

6. "Effecting the Cause: Time Travel Narratives" by Paul Booth
I think this essay is trying to argue that the more fragmented use of time in the 2005 revival is indicative of our more fragment postmodern condition?

7. "Narrative Conflict and the Portrayal of the Media, Public Relations and Marketing in the New Doctor Who" by Racheline Maltese
I enjoyed this essay-- it's a nice look at the way the media, especially the news media, has been depicted since the 2005 revival, where it's played a pretty big role in a number of stories.

8. "Nostalgia for Empire, 1963-1974" by Maura Grady and Cassie Hemstrom
A decent rendering of the role of imperialism in the early classic series, though one feels the argument could have been drawn out a little better.

9. "A Needle Through the Heart: Violence and Tragedy as a Narrative Device" by Lindsay Coleman
I feel like this one is arguing that violent things happen in Doctor Who a lot. Surely it's saying something more than that?

10. "Everything Dies: The Message of Mortality in the Eccleston and Tennant Years" by Kristine Larsen
This one irritated me right from the title. I get why a fan might say "Tennant years," but an academic has no excuse or reason. Fan discourse often ignores or downplays the creators of stories, but an academic should be diligent in this kind of thing. (One of the things I like about Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood's About Time books is the way they group by production, so the last Tom Baker season is in the same book as the Peter Davison ones.) It's the Russell T Davies years-- he's the one who wrote most of the scripts and edited all the others; if there's a common theme, it's because of him, not the actors in the role of the Doctor! Like many essays, the writers and directors of the episodes are never mentioned. This is even more annoying when novels are cited-- do you know what David Tennant had to do with SnowGlobe 7? Well, his picture was on the cover.

Also at one point she refers to the Master's plan in The End of Time as "a rather ingenious yet obviously immoral way [...] to in effect commit mass genocide" (164). Are there moral ways?

11. "'Ready to outsit eternity': Human Responses to the Apocalypse" by Andrew Crome
I wanted to like this more than I did, but Crome spends too little time theorizing what this all means; he doesn't really make anything of it.

12. "A Country Made from Metal? The 'Britishness' of Human-Machine Marriage in Series 31" by Kate Flynn
First off, "series 31" is one of the worst kinds of useless pedantry, second only to insisting the third Doctor Who story was called Inside the Spaceship. But this is a weird essay aside from that, trying to set up a dichotomy between Amy's Scottishness and Rory's Britishness without ever really defining them, and then trying to connect in Rory's "cyborg" nature. Yeah, I don't know.

13. "'Whatever you do, don't blink!': Gothic Horror and the Weeping Angels Trilogy" by David Whitt
In the crowded competition for worst essay, this is the foremost contender: it spends two pages explaining what Gothic horror is and then over six synopsizing "Blink," "The Time of Angels," and "Flesh and Stone before just four on "discussion," which basically concludes, "Well, these stories sure are Gothic!" No implications at all, just observation. Identifying motifs does not an argument make!

14. "Doctor Who's Women and His Little Blue Box: Time Travel as a Heroic Journey of Self-Discovery for Rose Tyler, Martha Jones and Donna Noble" by Antoinette F. Winstead
Decent explication of the "heroine's journey" of our female protagonists, but again, too much time matching up tropes and motifs.

15. "Spoiled for Another Life: Sarah Jane Smith's Adventures With and Without Doctor Who" by Sherry Ginn
Just explains how Sarah Jane is a great example of an idea from developmental psychology. C'mon, so what!?

16. "Chasing Amy: The Evolution of the Doctor's Female Companion in the New Who" by Lynette Porter
Could be an okay essay, I think, but it suffers from the fact that it was clearly written in 2010, before the character of Amy was even halfway through her time on the show.

I found, too, that many of the essays were riddled with typos and misprints, especially in the names of production personnel and stories. There were also some baffling citation practices-- the text will mention something happened in "Nightmare of Eden," there'll be an endnote, you'll flip to and read just "Nightmare of Eden." Such helpful information! Another essay, for some reason, puts the three-digit story number after each title (i.e., "The Aztecs" (006)). But only that one.

There's just no sense of argument to this book, either in its individual essays or in its holistic self. What does Gillian Leitch want you to take away about Doctor Who? With no consistency of topic or approach, I have no way to tell you. Seven years after Time And Relative Dimensions In Space, not to mention books like Triumph of a Time Lord, we can do better than this.

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