|Trade paperback, 365 pages|
Published 2010 (contents: 1978-2010)
Acquired August 2012
Read August 2016
edited by Graeme Burk and Robert Smith?
First off, I want to discuss some weird editorial choices, not all of which are necessarily the fault of this book and its editors. The first is the awful subtitle, Writings on the Classic Series. The book was announced under the title Classic Series Cornucopia (which is perhaps worse), while the running head thinks it's called Writings About the Classic Series (which is miscapitalized) and the foreword calls it Backwards In Time. The second is that the foreword promises at least four more volumes of Time, Unincorporated: one on the new series, one on "the universe of Doctor Who (including non-televised versions of Doctor Who)," one culled exclusively from the fanzine Time-Space Visualizer, and one from Matrix. Only the first of these actually appeared, curtailing Time, Unincorporated at three volumes. The problem this causes is that no essays from TSV or Matrix appear in this volume-- but, for some reason, there are around a dozen essays original to this volume, which hardly feels like a "best of." It's a shame these were included instead of TSV/Matrix essays, given that volumes four and onwards are MIA.*
Now: the book itself. It was pretty good. It wasn't great, but I can't think of any essays that were outright bad (with one exception), and many were great. I think it's kind of borderline to call the website The Doctor Who Ratings Guide a "fanzine," but I appreciated that the book had many contributions from Mike Morris, probably my favorite contributor to the DWRG back in the days when I pored over it nonstop. My favorite was probably "10 Official Writer's Guidelines for the Pertwee Era," which gently mocks the Barry Letts/Terrance Dicks era of the show. (I was sad they didn't have Morris's essay on Season 21, though, or very many contributions from Rob Matthews, another DWRG regular. The season reviews both did were usually excellent.)
Other highlights include Dave Rolinson's "Is Who Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", a surprisingly literate and theory-informed feminist take on the show; Gian-Luca Di Rocco's "Is the Doctor a Pacifist?" (no, of course not); Matthew Kilburn's examination of authorship in television in "Was There a Hinchcliffe era?" (not to mention Dave Rolinson's in "Authorship in the John Nathan-Turner Era"); Graeme Burk's "Miss Wright," which explains of why Barbara Wright is the best companion and inspired me to rewatch The Edge of Destruction; Colin and Anthony Wilson's "Occam's Daleks," a surprisingly compelling take on Dalek history (we didn't need another one but I liked it anyway!); and the essay in four parts, "Ghost Light: Four Views" by Kate Orman, Steven Caldwell, Nathan Bottomley, and Dallas Jones, is an excellent dissection of an excellent story, especially its biological, literary, and historical allusions.
As someone for whom the 1980s are largely a peak period of Doctor Who (minus Seasons 22 and 24), I was glad to see that the essays throughout the volume were largely celebratory. I mean, I think Season 17 is largely bunk, but many folks think the same about Season 19, so why not celebrate everything instead of slagging it? But the early John Nathan-Turner stories, in particular, come in for some due appreciation, not to mention that there's an essay celebrating The Trial of a Time Lord, though I wish Emily Monagahn's "Greater Than the Sum of its Parts" could just come out and say Mindwarp is excellent because it is. On the other hand, it's hard for me to disagree with Mike Morris's slagging of Season 22 in "Untrue Grit"! It really is a nadir of the program.
I don't know if Scott Clarke's six-part "The Key to a Time Lord" is the worst essay in the book, but it's definitely weak, and because it stretches out across the whole book (it's arranged as interludes between the different sections), you have to keep reading it again and again. Did you know that characterization is a key element of Doctor Who? By gum. It comes from Enlightenment, a 'zine edited by one of this book's co-editors that is probably over-represented in its pages; the other co-editor edits the DWRG, explaining that site's high representation here. Indeed, one last editorial complaint would be that in addition to overrepresenting their pet projects, the editors overrepresent themselves. It seems to me to involve a little chutzpah to pick your own work for a "best of" volume, but both Burk and Smith? have multiple pieces in here.
That said, there's probably no better tribute that halfway through reading this book, like I said, I rewatched The Edge of Destruction, and that upon finishing it, I decided I needed to own more classic Who on DVD-- there are so many gaps in my collection, and this book shows just how good the show is. I want to own it all, but for now, I'm glad I've finally got The Ambassadors of Death on DVD.
* Not that any of the new essays are bad; some of them are among the better essays in the book! But with so much fanzine material I'll never be able to access, I'm sad to miss the opportunity to read more of it.