Wednesday, July 15, 2009

About Time 3

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded. This time, a review of About Time 3 (2nd edition, Mad Norwegian Press, 2009)

Let me start by saying this: if you like Doctor Who at all, then you need to be reading the About Time series. These are incredibly dense books which look in amazing, critical detail about the production and the history of the TV series, with a firm eye on the culture in which it made.

When Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood came up with the idea for the series, I think there might have been some question as to how they'd be received. The first edition covered the Jon Pertwee years and was successful enough for subsequent volumes to be granted a considerably larger page count. With the original series completed in six volumes, Wood, now working alone, was able to return to that first Pertwee book and massively revise it to more than match the page count of the others in the series. Now a stunning three times as thick as the first edition, About Time 3 is a jawdropping doorstop of a book. If you bought the earlier one, you will want to upgrade.

The well-written essays cover everything from Welsh stereotyping in the "Green Death" serial to the controversy about when the UNIT stories were set to Torchwood's apparent inept series of failures through the 1970s. You'll learn more about the development of fictional concepts that fans take for granted, such as regeneration, as well as backstory about how the low-budget series afforded a prop as expensive as the space capsule in "The Ambassadors of Death." (Answer: they split the cost with the contemporary BBC drama Doomwatch.)

Working knowledge of the TV series is probably required before this text can be transformed from arcane academia to fascinating backstory, but if you know who Jo Grant and Sea Devils are, you're going to want to read this book. You probably won't agree with all of Wood's critiques, but it is so refreshing to read informed opinions from a writer who is willing to buck the party line and both praise overlooked moments and offer serious bludgeoning to fandom's sacred cows. It really gives me hope for the forthcoming seventh volume, looking at the current series. Since the shelves that are full of authorized commentary on the present production are all-a-smiling, and Wood routinely gives the impression that he doesn't like the BBC Wales series at all, his contrary viewpoint will make for really fascinating reading. Can we have that book next week, Mr. Wood?

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