WHO IS THE DOCTOR
by Graeme Burk & Robert Smith?
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
When McFarland Press re-released John Kenneth Muir’s A Critical History of Doctor Who On Television in 2007, they had the perfect chance to update the volume to reflect the first several series of the revised Doctor Who, an opportunity which they passed up. The ball, however, has since been picked up by Graeme Burk and Robert Smith, who have provided a guide to the first six series of the revamped Doctor Who in their book Who Is the Doctor.
Following a brief introduction and a synopsis of the original series, which ran for 26 seasons, the authors get into the meat of their work, an episode-by-episode look at the show. These are not synopses of the episodes. If you haven’t watched them, Burk and Smith won’t tell you what the plot is. Instead, they provide a high-level look at the idea behind each episode and a look at the episode’s antecedents in other popular culture (although they tend to look at media, rather than literary, science fiction). The entries are further divided to allow the reader to compare aspects of the episodes…what logical inconsistencies exist, are their ties to earlier (or later) episodes, trivia, relationships, and so forth. These serve as reminders of the episodes and have an almost water-cooler discussion feel to them.
This sense of a discussion taking place is heightened by the end of each entry when Burk and Smith both offer their own opinions and insights into the episode, frequently disagreeing on points major and minor. This is a pleasant reminder that individual’s have different points of view and almost a validation that just because all of your friends like a particular episode, that doesn’t mean you also have to like it (or vice versa). The two perspectives also offer alternative suggested methods of watching the episodes. If it doesn’t work as a drama, try watching it as a satire.
Interspersed throughout the book are short sidebars which offer backgrounds on everything from the actors who have been cast in the various roles to the creatures featured in the Doctor’s adventures. These also allow the authors to provide historical perspective of the series. Instead of dropping information about the Daleks directly into the guide for the episode in which they make their first reappearance, all of the background can be fit into a sidebar, where it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the episode dissection.
Who is the Doctor overall offers a light look at the series, but also tracks the heavier thematic lines that play out over each series, and even throughout Doctor Who history. This is the kind of book to keep with you when watching (or re-watching) the series and dipping into when you have an idle moment. Reading the book straight through is a somewhat exhausting experience. Who is the Doctor offers additional depth to the series, partly by picking out the important (and the trivial) things that are done in each episode. The authors don’t faun over everything, but view them with a discerning eye.
Purchase this book from