25 September 2017

Review: Doctor Who: Talkback, Volume Three: The Eighties edited by Stephen James Walker

Speaking of Doctor Who (though not the 1980s), I have a review up of a Short Trip, "How to Win Planets and Influence People" by James Goss, starring Rufus Hound as the Meddling Monk.

Trade paperback, 201 pages
Published 2007 (contents: 1979-2007)

Acquired November 2016
Read December 2016
Talkback: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Doctor Who Interview Book, Volume Three: The Eighties
edited by Stephen James Walker

Like in volume two, the strength of volume three is probably in its in-depth conversations with Doctor Who's script editors. Though there's no interview with Christopher Hamilton Bidmead (responsible for my favorite season of classic Doctor Who) or Eric Saward (probably the show's most controversial script editor, who quit mid-season in 1986, taking the script for the finale to The Trial of a Time Lord with him), the book does does cover Antony Root (1982) and Andrew Cartmel (1987-89). Root is a figure I can't recall ever reading a single word about before; he was an interim script editor who only did part of a season. He's one of the few 1970s-80s Doctor Who script editors to not actually write for the programme, and here he says he views it as a script editor's job to edit, not write, providing a nice little window in Season Nineteen. The interview with Andrew Cartmel is excellent: it's almost thirty pages long, and it covers every story Cartmel edited, from Time and the Rani to Survival, in exhaustive detail. Cartmel shows the intelligence and insight that made the period he presided over one of Doctor Who's best, as he recruited new writers and pushed them to their limits, giving us classics like Remembrance of the Daleks and The Curse of Fenric. (I was amused by the number of things Cartmel said made his era strong that he totally disregarded when recreating it for the Big Finish "Lost Stories" two decades later.)

Other highlights include a baffling Tom Baker interview, a long interview with director and writer Terence Dudley, an interview with Peter Davison from early in his time in the role, an interview with Nicola Bryant that focuses on her pre-Who life in detail I'd never seen before (she got into drama school by turning even her self into a performance, figuring out what kind of women the school tended to admit!), and a number of features about the special effects of the late 1980s stories. Often, the best pieces are the ones right from the time of production or shortly thereafter, before years of retrospective fandom and memory solidify these times into postdetermined fact: 1983's Peter Davison is a different person from 2016's, but of course Doctor Who Magazine these days can only talk to the latter.

Lowlights include some of the fans writing up these interviews, inexperienced writers who mistake banal detail for interesting scene-setting, or their personal neuroses and/or social insights for  something I care about; the Tom Baker interview was particularly bad in this regard. Just give me what the man said-- your triumph at scoring imaginary points against the Australian Broadcasting Company rep is not worth noting!

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