Through Time - An Unauthorizsed And Unofficial History Of Doctor Who

Book Review by Willard Manus

Doctor Who, as Andrew Cartmel observes in THROUGH TIME, his behind-the-scenes book about the famed BBC sci-fi series, "comes from a tradition of British fantasy that flows from the general direction of Alice in Wonderland."

Cartmel, who served as a Doctor Who script editor in the late 80s, also pays tribute to the other inspirations for the show whose timeless power has kept it alive for nearly five decades--Sherlock Holmes, H.G. Wells, Nigel Kneale and Dennis Potter. "While none of these luminaries ever wrote for Doctor Who, they influenced the show--and quite possibly vice versa."

Doctor Who has been a popular series with a devoted fan base; as a result hundreds of books have been written about it. "Many are scholarly and highly accurate works," Cartmel acknowledges, adding that he is aiming at something different, in that he "won't be considering every story ever made," just taking a tour "through what I regard as the best or most interesting or most characteristic ones."

Written from the point of view of a script editor, THROUGH TIME pays tribute to the man who created the show, a Canadian producer named Sydney Newman who launched the first BBC episode in 1963, aided by writer Anthony Coburn. William Hartnell starred as the first Doctor Who.

"Looking at it today, even with all its technical crudities, this first effort remains a rather compelling and atmospheric piece of work...It's an engrossing scienee-fiction serial, complete with cliff-hanger endings, about a mysterious stranger in the shape of an ill-tempered old man who turns out to be a voyager through space and time," comments the author.

Cartmel dissects a dozen-odd golden age Doctor Whos, plus the TV movie made by Spielberg's company in 1994 and the newly-revived BBC series starring Christopher Eccleston and Billie Pipes. Cartmel may be a fan of the show, but he doesn't gush over it (and that includes the episodes he worked on). He calls the Spielberg effort, for example, confusing, uncertain and "ruinously comic," and treats the stories he edited equally coolly and dispassionately (The Curse of Fenric is "a flawed masterpiece...that shows signs of being severely cut in postproduction").

Cartmel also discusses in no-holds-barred fashion the various actors who have played Doctor Who over the years, and he has some sharp, bitter things to say about the BBC, which systematically and stupidly destroyed most of the shows from the late 60s. Simply erasing the tapes wasn't good enough for the company, it ended up burning them.

This is a book everyone can enjoy--not just Who fans, but all those curious about how and why science fiction does--and does not--work on television. (Continuum Books)