The Television Companion: The Unofficial And Unauthorised Guide To Doctor Who Volume 2 by David J Howe and Stephen James Walker (book review).
There’s a fun game to participate in if you read ‘The Television Companion: The Unofficial And Unauthorised Guide To Doctor Who Volume 2’ by David J Howe and Stephen James Walker. You have to be a seasoned ‘Who’ fan and the rules run like this: Can you spot which stories the authors will pick fan quotes about in a deliberate attempt to wrong-foot the reader when it comes to how a particular writer, character or actor performs later? It’s not the snappiest title for a game, but once you’ve learned the rules, it does make for great fun. This is the final line of the end of the critique of ‘The Keeper Of Traken’ using a quote from Peter G Lovelady writing in the fanzine ‘Oracle’ back in 1981: ‘However, we now have Anthony Ainley, who with more than a passing resemblance to Roger Delgado, looks very promising indeed.’ Poor Peter, he couldn’t have foreseen ‘Time-Flight’ which fan-received wisdom tells us is rubbish (oh no, hang on, I’ve SEEN ‘Time-Flight’ it IS rubbish). You can play this game all over late 70s and 80s ‘Doctor Who’. After all, Matthew Waterhouse is quite good in ‘Full Circle’, Kamelion could be an interesting addition to the TARDIS, etc.
That’s really the best thing about ‘The Television Companion’. Yes, this volume has more up-to-date information on each story from Tom Baker through to Paul McGann’s runs (alas not including ‘Night Of The Doctor’, but the volume does reference the restored material in ‘Terror Of The Zygons’, so that is recent), but it gets to grips with what the fans thought. The critique sections show how moods and attitudes change between fans of the old school and fans of the more modern material. It throws into sharp relief the same discussions held by people who believe Russell T Davies’ version of ‘Doctor Who’ is lots better than Steven Moffat’s version. Nothing in fandom ever really changes.
You could argue, though, that the Internet makes a book like this rather redundant, with various sites compiling ‘Doctor Who’ synopses and production details. This why the critiques are so important. It’s probably tricky to go out and track down all the fanzines and letters that the authors have collected so this volume represents a brilliant snapshot of fan thinking. It’s not just what the fan criticism is, but rather the fan criticism ‘at the time’. The context in which you view the story will colour your appreciation.
The question is now: ‘Will there be a volume 3?’ Howe and Walker may not have the inclination, after all Walker has written his own ‘Unauthorised Guides’ to the new series. I think, however, that they should. The guides provide a great overview of all the important information you need combined with a good appreciation of the stories involved. Once again, Howe and Walker’s own opinions sometimes colour the analysis (was ‘The Trial Of A Time Lord’ a ‘monumental wasted opportunity’?) but these are infrequent and they largely let other fans’ voices do the talking.
As with the first volume ‘The Television Companion’, it should be found on your DVD shelf next to your collection of ‘Doctor Who’ stories. Watch a story, pull out the ‘Companion’ and see if you agree with your peers from thirty years ago. There’s a good chance you might, but equally your own tastes might have moved on. Maybe I should watch ‘Time-Flight’ tonight…
(pub: Telos. 578 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £15.99 (UK), $25.95 (US), $27.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-84583-077-9)
check out website: www.telos.co.uk