Thursday, January 30, 2014

About Time 7

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of About Time 7 (Mad Norwegian, 2013).

I'm very surprised to say this, but I didn't enjoy this book nearly as much as I thought that I would. I really enjoyed all of the previous volumes in this series - it is a dense, academic episode guide to Doctor Who that strongly considers the reality of television production and the take-em-for-granted influences of society and culture on the creation of the show - but while those volumes felt like labors of love, this one feels like the Twelve Labors of Hercules.

It covers the first two series of the revived show - the Rose Tyler years - and it does so with occasional, winking bits of humor*, but the overall feeling is one of resignation. It doesn't appear that the show really appeals to author Tat Wood anymore, and he's covering it begrudgingly. He judges each episode fairly in a well-reasoned commentary critique, and occasionally appears to appreciate what's been done, but he never seems to embrace the episodes. There's no passion in his arguments, no sense that he is writing these hundreds of thousands of words because he is actually inspired by the series anymore, but because the earlier books were so darn good and it would be a shame to not continue the series to cover the revival.

(Please note that this is not a complaint that Wood is too negative. Far from it. When he is critical, as he has always been, he has been fair and reasonable. It's just that this time out, even his praise is tempered by what feels like boredom.)

Worst of all, the majority of the supporting essays commit the cardinal sin of being incredibly boring. Now, there have been jokers in every one of these books, but previously, the essays were almost always among the high points, with just one or two which were a little head-scratching either in original intent or execution. The one in volume six about who narrates the program was the worst, taking an obscure question that only a bored and pretentious media studies undergraduate would even pose in the first place and then answering it in cod-academic gobbledygook that goes on for fourteen pages. This time out, I was only entertained by about six of the twenty-six essays. Most of them take that nonsense about narration as inspiration. The worst might be the essay for "The Idiot's Lantern," which rambles on about "theme park history" for eighteen turgid pages (I gave up, lost, after six), but similarly endless essays about what constitutes a story or who counts as a companion are also criminally boring. The book is thick enough to make spine wear a genuine worry already; I resent the probability that it will soon show visible damage because the page count was beefed up with unreadable wannabe academic tosh.

Even the best of the essays suffers from Wood's deathless prose. The accompaniment to "Love & Monsters" is actually one of the best that he's ever written. By far the book's high point (although another five or six of the 26 essays are also very entertaining and enlightening), it's a fantastic look at the development of fandom. Yet, despite its brilliance, this essay still contains an unlovable sentence like "Since 2005, phylogeny has recapitulated ontogeny and the development of these online groups has been a small-scale replay of this original developmental process."

The whole book suffers from unnecessary bloat at the expense of its usefulness. I can understand a price point of $35 for a deeply-researched book from a specialist viewpoint from a very small publisher. But the majority of the essays could have been expunged and the page count lessened by 30%, resulting in a book that would have not only been less expensive, but more likely to stand up to repeated reading.

Put another way, despite some really excellent moments - the fandom essay, a long look at actor Christopher Eccleston's departure, the unmissable one about how everything was timed just right for the show's return, some incredibly interesting considerations about writer Mark Gatiss's many influences, and many others - the overall tone is so dreary and dull that I'm actually not looking forward to the eighth volume. Something which should have been unmissable - series four, the Donna Noble run, is my favorite of the revival and will be covered in book eight - now seems like a chore that I don't want to read. Recommended for completists only. Sadly, I'm one.

*Best of all is an argument that starts in one section and makes its way to the endnotes about how certain the author is about a particular point of ephemera from a series of movies featuring the ageless pop star Cliff Richard in the late '50s, sort of the Adam Faith-Cliff Richard "he never said that" version of "Elementary, my dear Watson." I laughed aloud at this for several minutes, despite knowing Richard only from TV's Young Ones and the first Thunderbirds film, and Faith not at all.

No comments: