Friday, November 13, 2009

Nothing at the End of the Lane

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Nothing at the End of the Lane (Lulu, 2009).

There's just something about the production of Doctor Who that inspires so much more curiosity than any other television series. Anything else, we just take it for granted that it was being filmed in some dingy studio or backlot somewhere, and its cleanup for DVD is a matter of boring technical necessity. Nothing about removing grains from old 35mm prints of, say, The Saint strikes me as being essential reading. But give me 15,000 words about finding some new frames that were once cut from a 1967 Nigerian repeat of episode three of "The Faceless Ones" and I am totally hooked.

Nothing at the End of the Lane is a very sporadically-published fanzine devoted to the specialist minutiae about the restoration of black and white Doctor Who. It's not a read for fans who think they have an iron in the fire about whether Martha or Rose was more in love with our hero; it's for people who want to know about the 108 missing episodes and their "telesnap" reconstructions. The two lengthy issues of the zine are long out of print, but the editors have put together a very nice reprint in a single omnibus bookshelf edition, and it is just fascinating reading.

This could have ended up being pretty dry reading, and certainly some of the articles veer towards the eye-punchingly introspective. Worst among them is a questionnaire-styled interview with several of the fans who recreate lost episodes via filmstrip-like slideshows and a capture of the audio. I concede that I just don't have the patience to sit through these, no matter how laudable and praiseworthy the work put into them is, and I certainly don't care about their adherence to the original camera script of the televised episode. Thankfully, for every moment of too-deep-for-the-small-screen navel-gazing, there's something much lighter and equally loving, like David J. Howe's nostalgic memories of a Cyberman serial called "The Invasion," or a bizarre comic strip in which the TV Comic Dr. Who and his two grandchildren help Big Name Fan Ian Levine rescue lost episodes from the Wicked Witch of the West!

With contributions from notable fandom names like Richard Bignell, Richard Molesworth, Andrew Pixley and Stephen James Walker, the book is packed with interesting stories, and bizarre, trivial items coming to light after days spent researching copyright clearances and payments to actors' agents to try and source a print of some 1965 serial. It's probably not for everybody, but if the facts of Doctor Who are just as interesting to you as the fiction, then this is certainly a book for your own library.

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