TIME AND RELATIVE DISSERTATIONS IN SPACE - Edited by David Butler


Back in July 2004, I had the great pleasure of listening to a number of critical papers delivered at Manchester University's one day event 'Time And Relative Dissertations In Space: Critical Perspectives on Doctor Who'. Many of those have now been collected by organiser and editor Dr.David Butler into this volume from Manchester University Press.

Academic perspectives on 'Doctor Who' have been sporadic, with Manuel Alvarado and John Tulloch's 'The Unfolding Text' in 1983 the first major attempt to contextualise and analyse the programme. Over the years, papers, essays and books by Henry Jenkins, John Tulloch, Jonathon Bignell, Lawrence Miles, Tat Wood and James Chapman have continued to delve into how the programme is produced and received and its cultural relevance and significance. This latest book is another milestone on that road and collects a wide range of papers that look at various aspects of the original series but, perhaps more importantly, also discuss non-televised 'Doctor Who' in the form of the Big Finish audio CDs and Virgin Publishing's New Adventures fiction and that oft debated subject: the Doctor Who 'canon' in an amusing analysis by Lance Parkin.

Both Big Finish and Virgin produced Doctor Who in what are now regarded as 'the wilderness years' , when the original series ceased production in 1989 and the period up to the 2005 revival was only punctuated, on television at least, by the Fox/Universal/BBC television movie. Discussing the forms of non-televised Doctor Who has long been overdue and the book contains two very rewarding papers on both subjects. It is to be hoped that this will inspire further examination of other cultural production such as cinema films, comic strips, fan fiction. Of the two, the paper on Big Finish's output, by Matt Hills, is the more interesting as it argues that even their audio output could be considered 'televisual' by extension, in their use of episode structure, cliffhangers and peripheral materials such as faux Radio Times listings. I found this interesting as I would probably class myself as a non-fan of the Big Finish audios simply down to the fact that I'm quite resistant to untelevised forms of Doctor Who. It may have changed my mind about the 'canonicity' of the audios.

In Dale Smith's essay on Virgin's New Adventures, whilst I have no issue with the amount of praise lavished on Paul Cornell's cornerstone novel Timewyrm, the discussion is limited, probably by space available. As a first chapter to perhaps a much larger piece of work this is fine but I was left wanting. A broader discussion of the range of books is needed, not just a focus on a singular author, and even better a contextualisation of the range's influence on the new series, which it clearly has, and a better indication of how these texts are received by fans and non-fans alike. This is a good start, though.

Andy Murray's 'The talons of Robert Holmes' is an affectionate nod to one of the original series best writers and whilst it does get to the essential core of Holmes' contribution to the series it also suggests a complete book on Holmes' work is now sorely needed, particularly looking at his contribution to television drama as a whole. Dave Rolinson's 'Who Done It' is also a fascinating look at authorship in the John Nathan-Turner era of the series and how writers, directors and script-editors impact upon the creation of specific stories. It is by no means a definitive account of the era and authorship is a major problem in the later years of the era, particularly where the roles of producer and script-editor are in contention, that Rolinson does not delve into significantly here. The dichotomy between Nathan-Turner as an 'entertainment' producer and Saward as a 'serious' dramatist had a major influence on the decline of the series and requires further investigation.

The two essays on sound design and music are the highlights of the book as these are areas in which very little dissection has been done. The work of Brian Hodgson, Delia Derbyshire, Dick Mills, Dudley Simpson et al again requires further appraisal and Kevin Donnelly and Louis Niebur should be applauded for taking a serious look at the unearthly sound of Doctor Who.

Where it gets complex, at least for a non-academic like myself and potentially for other ley readers, is in the Alec Charles' essay 'The ideology of anachronism' and in Tat Wood's 'Empire of the senses'. Charles argument is that however 'liberal' we believe a text like Doctor Who is, there is still a whiff of the post-colonial, the imperialist, about the series and that this forms part of its own ideology. 'It's tragically, British' he concludes. Wood's is a complex analysis of the 'spectacle' of the series and it dizzyingly examines the narrative of the series in relation to the viewer and to the fictional individuals within it. It is about the very act of looking, reacting to 'worlds' in our living rooms. I'm still trying to get my head round that one.

There are many other subjects the book presents; from the series use of 'history' and mythic identity, its relationship to the child viewer, and to the role of 'evil' humans in various Dalek stories. All fascinating to dip into. The collection is bookended by an introduction by Butler (his opening paper on audiences is great too) and an afterword by writer Paul Magrs. Magrs is capable of articulating the strange and bizarre pull of the series, why we become so bound up in its unique form of hyper-nostalgia. His conclusion is that the ongoing narrative of Doctor Who should never have any kind of conclusion and that non-professional and professional writers and fans of his and future generations should actively muck about in the sandpit. It's a very personal end note, heartfelt and will, I'm sure, chime with fans, like myself, who do remember those specific Saturday tea-times in the 1960s and 1970s as very formative experiences in the process of never growing up.

Manchester University Press
University Of Manchester - Centre For Screen Studies

Time And Relative Dissertations In Space - Edited by David Butler (Manchester University Press ISBN 978-0719076824)

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