Review: A Short History Of Doctor Who

20:07, Nov 24 2013
Dr Who
Fifty Years In time And Space: A Short History Of Doctor Who

Fifty Years In time And Space: A Short History Of Doctor Who
By Frank Danes
(St Mark's Press)

If there was such thing as a time traveller's check list, Frank Danes would tick every box with his short History of Doctor Who.

The book travels back more than 50 years to the genesis of the family show, examining the people who lead the first episode to be aired at 5.15pm on November 23, 1963, between Grandstand and Juke Box Jury.

It logically follows the progress of the show, whose creators had never conceived that it would continue beyond a short run with William Hartnell so never thought of Time Lords and regenerations. 

"At the end of The Tenth Planet (1966), Hartnell announces that his old body is getting a bit thin and collapses on the floor of the TARDIS," Danes writes.

"Before the astonished gaze of (companions) Ben and Polly, his face is suffused with a blazing light, which subsides to reveal the features of the second Doctor, Patrick Toughton."

In fact Time Lords were never mentioned until Troughton's last story, The War Games, in which his people force a "regeneration" on him for his interfering with the events of time and exile him to Earth as part of his punishment.

Danes, head of English at King's Ely in the UK, has been watching the show since the beginning so feels quite qualified to act as a guide. 

Like the Doctor with the viewer, Danes takes the reader on an adventure through time designed to help understand what came before the 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor.

Danes tours through Who's highs, when whole families would huddle around the television set to watch a Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker story and discuss it afterwards, and its lows, when only the fans were still watching Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy because the BBC had stopped investing in the show.

But Danes is not so concerned with the minutia that he doesn't have a bit of fun along the way, peaking behind the scenes with interviews from producers, directors and writers where it is deemed appropriate.

He has been watching the show since the beginning and he knows what is good, what is bad and what is ugly and he's not afraid to talk about those things.

There's lots of good, otherwise the show wouldn't have endured, and a little bad and ugly, leading it to go off the air in 1985 and again in 1989.

A joint venture between the BBC and Universal Pictures failed to regenerate it in 1996 when a pilot starring Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor failed to be picked up.

The show's been on the up since 2005 when Christopher Eccleston stepped into the role, followed by David Tennant and Matt Smith.

At 282 pages Danes' book is not meant to be an exhaustive reference delivering chapter and verse for those who know the Doctor's shoe size.

It is meant to be a once over lightly for anyone who wants to understand its history whether they have been with the show since Hartnell or joined it at any point in its half century.

It is written by someone who is informed about all facets of the show who wants to share it with those who are not. It does lack pictures.