Log in

No account? Create an account
15 July 2007 @ 09:00 pm
About Time 2  
The About Time series are reference works providing a story-by-story guide to Dr Who. Where these differ from the half dozen or so other story-by-story guides I have on my bookshelves, is that they seek explicitly to analyse the Dr Who stories in the wider context of the culture, specifically the media culture, of the time. They started out with the later Doctors (3, 4 and 5, IIRC) and then skipped back. This is the first of the "sixties" books I have read and the first which I have found more irritating than enjoyable.

I was interested to learn that both parrot_knight and daniel_saunders keep notes of the inaccuracies that appear in the About Time books. For once I was grateful that my mind does not retain facts in the same way since I have enjoyed these books but, given their nature, inaccuracies would be extremely galling. However, possibly because of this, I became increasingly aware, as I read About Time 2 of the way in which Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood make unsupported assertions. For instance, "What nobody who wasn't there in 1969 can really grasp is the degree to which waiting was part of the space experience in the Apollo years.". Now Lawrence Miles is, I believe, younger than I am, so he certainly doesn't remember anything about the space experience in 1969. I've no idea how old Tat Wood is. Does this sentence mean "Tat remembers 1969 and Lawrence doesn't and Lawrence can't grasp the degree to which...."? I have a vague memory that Tat Wood is an academic of some description specialising in popular culture. So its possible he has a paper "Differing generational expectations about the rapidity of events in space as depicted in visual media" sitting in his filing cabinet somewhere. While I can see it would have been inappropriate to mention this as an inline citation - would a bibliography really have hurt the book?

Lawrence Miles has a bit of a reputation for quitting projects. I have a feeling that he has an extremely good instinct for when a project is getting stale and beginning to recycle ideas and insufficient cynicism to stay with it anyway either for the money for out of any sense of duty to the readers. On the whole I admire this. Interestingly Tat Wood is going it alone for About Time 6 and I do wonder if part of my dissatisfaction with this book was a feeling that on the larger scale Miles and Wood had said what they wanted to about the classic series and were beginning to recycle their argument. Certainly some of the formula seemed to wearing a bit thin. The "What nobody who wasn't there can appreciate..." line quoted above appears as a recurring motif thoughout.

As well as the story by story breakdowns Miles and Wood accompany each section with an essay. Usually these essays are entertaining continuity games of the "how to we fit all the dalek stories together" variety. This sort of thing is obviously a rather specialised sport but Miles and Wood probably have their market pretty well pegged here. At any rate I personally quite like reading this kind of speculation. However early in this volume we have "Why was a McCrimmon Fighting for the Pretender?" which verges on the incoherent. I think they were really writing about what happened to Jamie McCrimmon after he was returned to his own time zone though it was difficult to tell. The next one, "How Many Atlantises Are There?" wasn't much better although it did at least make sense, but suffered from too many asides which were not, in my opinion, interesting enough to justify their inclusion. I was amused by the final essay "Did Doctor Who end in 1969?" which reminded me powerfully of a spoof article I wrote during the "JNT MUST DIE" days of 1980s Who fandom in which I suggested that Doctor had essentially been on a downhill spiral since the second episode which introduced the Daleks and forever changed the direction of the show from Sydney Newman's "educational science and history" vision to the "monster of the week" style which Miles and Wood so complain of in this volume. In fact you can't help get the feeling from this that they don't really much like the Doctor Who of the Troughtan era and perhaps it is this dissatisfaction that rather sours it. The best essay in the volume is "Was Yeti-in-a-Loo the Worst Idea Ever?" in which they more or less argue that the entire premise of the Pertwee years was misguided. I'm not entirely sure I agreed with it but it was argued with eloquent passion.

An alternative explanation for my dissatisfaction lies outside of the book itself. When I read the books about later Dr Who I remembered watching the episodes at the time, and I remember the surrounding Basil Brush, Star Wars, Buck Rogers milieu. I wasn't watching between 1966 and 1969 and I read this book without nostalgia tinged glasses.
parrot_knight: Argue mainlyparrot_knight on July 15th, 2007 10:01 pm (UTC)
Interesting point about Lawrence Miles being someone who drops out of projects. I don't think the project was getting stale, really. I think that Lawrence's and Tat's views simply diverged too greatly; the nature of their co-operation had often been nominal, I think, and one person had to leave just to make About Time 6 (for which I am patiently waiting) coherent.

As I've said before, these books are a great missed opportunity. Read as a conversation between two fans in the pub they are very entertaining and informative; "ambitiously definitive", they are not, though they could serve as the framework for one after extensive factchecking.
louisedennis: doctor wholouisedennis on July 16th, 2007 08:36 am (UTC)
These days I have conflicting views about the sixth Doctor. At the time he was my favourite Doctor and I liked a brash and funny Doctor. Rewatching the episodes the flaws are all too apparent: The Doctor's humour is frequently cruel, there is an unpleasant emphasis on pointless death and graphic mutilation in many stories, the direction is frequently lack-lustre, guest stars' propensity to ham it up is not restrained, the lighting is frequently abysmal and the Doctor/Companion dynamic is summed up by your icon. These days I find I prefer the more restrained and thoughtful performances we got from Davison and McCoy's later stories.

It would have been nice to see About Time 6 actually discuss these stories bringing the same sense of opposing perspectives to the tale.
daniel_saunders: Outsiderdaniel_saunders on July 15th, 2007 10:50 pm (UTC)
Interesting, I think volume 2 is the best so far, my reservations about the project as a whole notwithstanding. I agree about the "Why was a McCrimmon fighting..." essay being incoherent, though. I never got around to recording the errors I've spotted - and I'm not entirely sure what I've done with the list of those from earlier volumes.

I agree about the "anyone who wasn't there" business. Tat Wood, according to something he wrote in one of his fanzines, turned 18 during Logopolis, which would have made him six in 1969. It isn't impossible for him to remember coverage of the Apollo landings, but a six year old's definition of 'a long time to wait' is rather different to that of an adult.

As for Miles' absence from the next volume, other theories are:
he's too ill (he's a manic depressive and agoraphobic, according to his on-line "diary");
he hates late eighties Who too much to say anything Mad Norwegian's lawyers will allow to go into print;
he's fallen out with Tat Wood (I have no idea if that's true, but he was very rude about him here).

In fact you can't help get the feeling from this that they don't really much like the Doctor Who of the Troughtan era

I'm not quite sure what Doctor Who they do like. Not Troughton, Colin or Pertwee, and they're split on the Williams era and early eighties. Only Hinchcliffe and parts of Hartnell have got an easy ride from them so far.
louisedennis: doctor wholouisedennis on July 16th, 2007 08:49 am (UTC)
As for Miles' absence from the next volume, other theories are:
he's too ill (he's a manic depressive and agoraphobic, according to his on-line "diary");

Indeed Miles' diary makes his illness sound extremely unpleasant. Certainly if its as bad as it sounds it seems unlikely he'd be capable of the kind of sustained effort required to produce About Time 6. I've not been reading the diary long enough to know if its an ongoing problem though or one which has become significantly worse in recent months.

he hates late eighties Who too much to say anything Mad Norwegian's lawyers will allow to go into print;
he's fallen out with Tat Wood (I have no idea if that's true, but he was very rude about him here).

In the past Lawrence has generally cited "artistic differences" usually with a deeply (and frequently unprofessionally) personal thrust to the criticism as his reason for leaving projects but I've often felt that in reality it has boiled down to "this is getting stale, I'm not doing it any more" with the unfortunate addition of "you are an idiot (and possibly morally bankrupt) if you can't appreciate the fact" as a parting shot which obscures the real reason. This is just speculation though...
smallprophet on January 7th, 2011 05:10 am (UTC)
Fascinating reading
Hi, I'm very glad to have stumbled across your comments here! I'm a newbie to Doctor Who (although in my defense, by the time I was born, McCoy was on the verge of cancellation), but in the last couple of years I've raced through seasons one to fourteen as well as the all the new nonsense, and it has been an absorbing and eye-opening discovery to process the different approaches to television, and just how many different factors explain the various ups-and-downs of the series in its forty-eight years.

Anyway (gasp) my point is, you raise a really interesting point. For me, I'd only enjoyed the About Time books (having read the 1st, 2nd and 3rd volumes and about to begin the 4th) because - combined with Wikipedia and more in-universe style guides - they seemed to offer such an all-encompassing view of the context of the show. But you've certainly made me scratch that opinion a little bit - I must admit, I just re-read those final essays about the Yeti-in-a-Loo business, and they don't really seem to mesh with the vibe I got from the 3rd volume, namely that Miles and Wood REALLY understand and 'get' the Pertwee era. Once I figure out how to browse these journals, I'll have to check out the blogs of those esteemed gentlemen you mention, and further understand the holes in the authors' seemingly impenetrable armour.

Thanks again!
louisedennis: bookslouisedennis on January 7th, 2011 09:38 am (UTC)
Re: Fascinating reading
I'm glad you found this interesting! I wonder if the differing approaches to the Pertwee era stem from Miles and Wood's very different opinions about some aspects of Doctor Who. In some places in the About Time series they are quite explicit that they disagree, but in other places what comes across as a unified editorial voice turns out actually to be one or other of them saying individual. Certainly they seem to have fallen out in the course of writing these reference works and Miles, at least, occasionally says quite biting things about Tat Wood on his own blog (in posts he has a habit of subsequently deleting). It's possible the problems I had in some places with About Time 2 were a result of the cracks beginning to show.

parrot_knight is far more of a media and specifically Doctor Who historian than I would ever claim to be. I don't think I ever spotted errors in the About Time books, but they don't fall into my field of expertise at all, except as a hobby and I've certainly heard them criticized in several places for not being as accurate as they make themselves out to be.

EDIT: In fact I note both parrot_knight and daniel_saunders have discussed the inaccuracies in the books and the uneven editorial voice in previous comments to this entry...

Edited at 2011-01-07 09:43 am (UTC)