Book Review

Love and Monsters: The Doctor Who Experience, 1979 to the Present by Miles Booy

Love and Monsters: The Doctor Who Experience, 1979 to the Present by Miles Booy

The main title is that of an episode in the Tennant/Piper regime, in which Booy avers that script-writer Russell Davies “dramatised his views on the bulldozer attitude of obnoxious fans.”

This is a book for fanatics, obnoxious or otherwise. Booy (a veritable “snapper-up of unconsidered trifles”) aims to “trace the development of discourse surrounding DW from 1979” – genesis of the Doctor Who Weekly, which (I am glad to say, as one of its columnists) mined Fortean Times for the Fantastic Facts section. An appropriate source, FT’s eponymous founding father Charles Fort being credited with coining that key Sci-Fi word ‘Teleportation’.

Despite this, he reaches back to the 1963 starting point. Happily: I prefer old to new, though still watch in the hope of understanding a Russell Davies plot. Never joined my local fan club, though – the self-styled ‘Ice Lords of Calgary’ – whom I mention to augment Booy’s round-up of North American sects. No detail of DW fandom is too small for Booys to pinpoint. One reels under the avalanche whilst admiring his industry. But, for someone like me, too much information. As William Shatner famously rebuked the Trekkies: “Get a Life!”

Occasionally Homer nods. Tomb of the Cybermen was (p.83) rediscovered in Hong Kong (1991), subsequently twice released on DVD. Missing episodes deserve more attention. For comic instance, one turned up (1996) in the Australian censor’s archives. Other topics meriting deeper treatment include Malcolm Hulke’s ‘Marxist screenplays’ (p.17), and links with other TV programmes: the Autons were surely influenced by The Avengers’ Cybernauts, whilst The Gunfighters prefigures Star Trek’s Spectre of the Gun, both allegedly derided.

Booys is, though, excellent on how ‘novelisations’ add to and subtract from the original scripts, for both personal and ideological reasons. His style has brio and wit, but is also infected by the hyper-academic absurdities of Fiske and Tulloch. For goodness sake, it’s only a television programme, one originally for children at which their parents peeked, now the reverse.

Readers may regret/wonder at the lack of illustrations for so richly pictorial a subject. The Index is haphazard, with major actors and characters omitted and chance items included; also, some false page references.

Fan ‘feedback’ about most/least liked doctors, companions, and episodes is a recurrent theme, so I shall wade in. I was for long handicapped by taking off to strange worlds (Australia) before the Tardis did, hence saw nothing of Hartnell and Troughton. When our local American Public Broadcasting Service caught on, they would never screen the black-and-white episodes, pleading viewer resistance. Now, thanks to DVDs, I’ve seen enough of Hartnell to award him the palm. One thing that strikes me is that there is no great sense of him being a Time Lord. More like an intergalactic Steptoe – a view reinforced by the Tardis’ inaugural materialisation in a junkyard at 76 Totter’s Lane. I still puzzle over Susan, though. How did the bachelor-celibate Doctor come to have a grand-daughter? To what Gallifreyan lass did he lose his two hearts?

It took me a while to warm to Patrick Troughton, but warm I did, thanks above all to Tomb of the Cybermen and The Five Doctors. Sartorially and tonsorially challenged he may have been, but his mixture of bumbling bravery and pedantic diction resulted in a quite captivating fey charm. Jon Pertwee gave a new twist to Hartnell’s authoritarianism, his manner effectively counterpointed by the Brigadier, basically his earthly alter ego. Oddly (too many jelly babies, perhaps?), I used to adore Tom Baker, as did my children, but in re-viewings his appeal has worn off, though (by chance, his final appearance) Logopolis remains my Desert Island choice. Still fancy both Romanas, though: Mary Tam and his real-life missus, the Hon Lalla Ward – both absent from Booy’s index.

Talking of female companions (the Docs have had their share of male ones as well), it’s a bit of a myth that the early ones were basically there to flash their fleshly charms and scream “Help, Doctor!” Katie Manning (Jo Grant) was a bit that way and so, too, was Bonnie Langford (Mel), whom Vox Populi seems to put at the bottom of the Tardis, but I didn’t mind her half so much as Leela – those animal skins... The steely schoolmarm Barbara was no wilting violet, nor Liz Shaw, whilst Sara Jane Smith (the late lamented Elizabeth Sladen) was surely in the running for first female Doctor.

I’ve always thought Peter Davison sadly underrated. Perhaps I’m seduced by his cricketing clobber. His mild manner (albeit broken by occasional volcanic verbals), partly harking back to All Creatures Great and Small, partly looking forward to Campion and Dangerous Davies, provided ideal balance to the Antipodean virago Tegan (actress Janet Fielding described her as “a mouth on legs” – did she treat her Qantas passengers that way?), the sultry Nyssa (according to Booy, pin-ups of Sarah Sutton were much in demand), and intense schoolboy swot Turlow. Thank goodness they killed off the insufferable Adric who should never have been let out of E-Space. As for K-9, he/it can be defended as a reminder that the show was supposed to be for the kiddies; Buck Rogers’ Twiki had the same function.

Colin Baker easily wins the Most Irritating Award, nor was I much charmed by Nicola Bryant’s/Peri’s frightening breastworks. But, then came Sylvester McCoy, close runner-up to Hartnell for the Baldwin Trophy, despite a totally different manner and wardrobe, ably abetted by Sophie Aldred whose Ace not only had Street Cred but Avenue Cred. It was a sad day when McCoy was killed off in that appalling Americanised movie version and regenerated into the utterly charmless Paul McGann. Speaking of big screen Doctors, spare a thought for the now often-overlooked 1960s series of Peter Cushing adequately combatting the Daleks.

As to those malevolent pepperpots, I doubt they frighten many children these days, and suppose Cybermen and company have also lost their scariness. I’ve read that in the new series’ The Empty Child genuine terror was induced in many young viewers by the gas-masked figure wandering around asking “Are you my Mummy?” As one who remembers bomb-sites and gas masks, I can go along with that. For my money, though, two of the most effectively eerie episodes, both McCoys, were Paradise Towers (a resounding send-off for Mel) and The Happiness Patrol – I shall never forget the robot executioner Kandy Man, apparently constructed entirely of Bassetts Liquorice Allsorts.

As to the new series, apart from Russell Davies’ impossible-to-fathom plots, its worst crime has been to reduce The Master from his original role as superbly sinister and dark-humoured rival to a ridiculously manic caricature. Eccleston and Tennant I approve, but Matt Smith (except for the clothes, Colin Baker reborn) needs a regeneration fast. Of the female companions (here again, there are male ones), Billy Piper’s Rose seems top choice and has certainly had the most publicity, but with her the programme too often drifted into The Doctor and Rose Show. Freema Agyeman’s Martha broke the galactic colour bar, but too tedious in her arid political correctness. I may or may not be the only man in all the universes who gives first prize to Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble, a shrewdly conceived mixture of ladette aggression and sexuality. Plaudits here, too, for Bernard Cribbins as her grand-dad Wilfred Mott, a nifty combination of both old and new series style - in my head, I can hear his old novelty hit songs Hole in the Ground and Right, Said Fred.

At the moment, far as I can gather, the Tardis is in no danger of being re-mothballed, so in due course there should be opportunity for an updated Booy. What (I wonder) odds are Ladbrokes giving that by that time we shall have had the first female/gay/non-white Doctor? As they used to say, Answers On A Postcard, Please...

-- Reviewed by Barry Baldwin on 29/06/2012

Further Information
ISBN-10: 184885479X
ISBN-13: 9781848854796
Publisher: I.B. Tauris
Publication Date: 28/02/2012
Binding: Paperback
Number of pages: 256

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