on 24 October 2013
Like his previous 2 volumes, Dr Sandifer's book of critical essays on the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who is a must-read for all fans of the show. His essays are insightful, interesting and thought-provoking. Long-time fans who may think they have read everything there is to read about the Jon Pertwee era will enjoy Sandifer's original perspective. Probably not the best starting point for the non-fan as the book assumes the reader already has a good knowledge of the show. Thoroughly recommended.
I did have two problems with the book. The first is a relatively minor niggle - the essay on The Three Doctors was rather self-indulgent and both uninteresting and somewhat impenetrable to someone who does not have Sandifer's knowldge of Blake's poetry.
The other problem is the "flawed politics" of the book. "Flawed politics" is actually a term used by Sandifer himself in his essay on The Monster of Peladon and it summed up the major problem I had with the book. There seem to be two Philip Sandifers - one writes extremely interesting critical essays on Doctor Who and contributed 85-90% of the book, while the other Philip Sandifer writes polemical essays attacking the politics of any television programme he disagrees with and contributed the other 10-15% of the book.
The polemical Sandifer seems to consider that the creative forces behind Doctor Who are under an obligation to produce stories whose political content is entirely in accordance with his own particular brand of leftist views. If they fail to do so the politics are then said to be "flawed". Why are the politics of Monster of Peladon said to be "flawed"? As far as I can tell, it is only because the story appears to Sandifer to putting forward political ideas with which he disagrees. That does not make them "flawed", it just means that he and the creative team behind Monster need to agree to disagree, whilst still respecting each others' opinions.
Sandifer's own brand of leftist politics is so narrow and extreme that Barry Lett's more moderate brand of centre-left politics is portayed as being rather right-wing. Sticking with the Monster of Peladon as an example, Sandifer goes on to conclude that it is in fact a "proto-Thatcherite" story, a case of Sandifer putting 2 and 2 together and getting 22 instead of 4. I want to read a critical analysis of the politics of Monster of Peladon, not a polemical condemnation of them. If the creative team behind Monster of Peladon wanted to make a "proto-thatcherite" Dcotor Who story then they are entirely at libery to do so. Critics like Sandifer are in turn at liberty to agree or disagree with the politics of the story, but not to condemn the creative team for having made the story the way they did. Sandifer seems incapable of politely disagreeing with the politics of a story, he either agrees with the politics or else condemns them in very strong terms as a moral outrage.
Not only is the polemical Sandifer very narrow in his conception of what the sort of politics are good and what sort are flawed, but when he gets going he tends to get rather worked up and carried away in his condemnation of anything he disagrees with. In his essay on Moonbase 3 he spends most of it condemning a scene in the last episode where the Base Commander treats attempted rape as something requiring a minor slap on the wrist rather than a more appropriate punishment for such a serious offence. I have never watched Moonbase 3 so I am assuming Sandifer's description of what goes on the in scenes in question is accurate (although given that he concluded Monster of Peladon was proto-Thatcherite that may not be a safe assumption) in which case I whole-heartedly agree with his condemnation of what is criminal behaviour. However his condemnation goes on and on and on and on. It reads more like the transcript of a rabble-rousing speech at a political rally than something I would expect to find in a book purporting to be an academic critical analysis.
The book has its origins in a blog and is, I believe, self-published and therein lies the problem. What Sandifer needs more than anything is a good editor to rein is his polemical tendencies and tell him to rewrite his essay on the Three Doctors.
This review may come across as rather harsh and at odds with the 5 star rating I have given. The book deserves its rating and I am looking eagerly forward to future volumes. Sandifer is an excellent writer and critic but he does need to mature a little when it comes to his politics. I am not condemning his political views, or any other views, but he needs to become more accepting of the validity and legitimacy of different political views and rein in his polemical tendencies.
on 27 May 2013
A hugely impressive contribution to a fascinating series. I have to admit to being rather possessive about the Pertwee era, as my earliest Who memory is the Sea Devils emerging with their lifeless eyes and ungainly heads! Traumatic when you're 4 years old.
This is a stimulating and well argued engagement with the nature of the Pertwee period, but sometimes misses but really lands a great deal of critical hits. As an old guard fan not terribly versed in the ins and outs of Who fandom, I found much here of great interest, and plenty more to read and stimulate the discussion further. I'm glad the author has a soft spot for Day of the Daleks, and despite happy childhood memories of watching Invasion of the Dinosaurs, I think he's basically right about the 11th season. The insights into British culture at the time of pretty well sound, but this plenty to get your teeth into here politically as well, and you might read the politics of the Pertwee period very differently to the author. He does make a powerful case however, and the high point of the volume, the chapter on William Blake read through The 3 Doctors, is a mad, colourful, highly energised piece of writing pushes the book to the limit! Recommended.
on 20 May 2013
If you can overcome the author's deeply tedious politics (he appears incredibly outraged and angst-ridden that Pertwee might just be a Tory, but seems to consider the 45,000,000 civilian deaths in the Chinese cultural revolution to amount to a bit of an "oops") then you will enjoy this book enormously.
It is a quite excellent - albeit idiosyncratic - overview of early 1970s Dr Who, with much food for thought.
A major improvement on the previous two volumes (which were both very, very readable too), this is perhaps the most engaging book ever written about the era of the 3rd Doctor.
It is just unfortunate that predictable, jarring and juvenile leftist politics infest many chapters - and the work suffers badly as a consequence.
But Sandifer has much to offer in analysing this fascinating era of television - for he doesn't limit himself to Dr Who but pens wonderful essays about the cultural context in which these programmes were made and broadcast, and slips them majestically into the margins.
It might actually be due to - rather than despite - this being far from his favourite Doctor or era of the show, that he provides an insightful and genuinely intriguing review of the Pertwee stories.
Unafraid, daring and unabashed, this is a superbly constructed tome and may go on to redefine fandom's view of the 3rd Doctor's tenure.
Although painfully adolescent in parts, it is never dull or unimaginative. Indeed, it is so brilliantly and lovingly written and so cleverly framed, that you simply MUST own and devour this book if you really love Doctor Who.
And if you have read this far into my review, then immediate purchase is strongly advised!
on 29 May 2013
Books about Doctor Who tend to be either superficial and fluffy, or packed to the gills with so much trivia information that only the most hardcore fan (or RTD) could read them all.
This though, is different. A book that takes Doctor Who seriously, both as a television program and as a cultural phenomena.
Sandifer, who developed this book from his blog, takes the Third Doctor era apart and examines it's split personality; both 'glam; space opera and gritty action thriller. He also tries to put some sort of historical perspective on an incarnation of the Doctor that pretty much straddles the era of Edward Heath's tenure n Downing Street, the time of the Three Day Week, a miner strike, Britain's entry into the EEC and growing ecological awareness- all of which are reflected in Doctor Who plots.
As Sandifer admits, this is not his favorite era of Who, but it is when the program upped its game and became serious telly, paving the way for the great days of Tom baker, after which the show would effectively become immortal.
on 20 July 2013
Once again we review the most recent volume of Phil Sandifer's fascinating psychochronography of Doctor Who. As ever we ask, why buy it when you can read the blog for free? Firstly, the quality of the writing is so much better in the book than on the blog. Secondly, we get bonus essays on Torchwood, the mechanics of the TARDIS and a guest essay from Anna Wiggins.
From the outset, Sandifer admits that the Pertwee era is his least favorite period of Doctor Who. This is something I have in common with him, though my reasons for liking the Pertwee stuff are less political than his. This critical stance toward these episodes enables him to write on them with a very evident creative and reflective tension. His concluding essay on Jon Pertwee's tenure is delightfully nuanced, yet for all that he is able to celebrate those things about the character, the actor and the era that are enjoyable.
The book begins with a very interesting essay on Monty Python's Flying Circus. Phil points out that Monty Python had a sketch entitled Science Fiction Sketch, which comes across very much as an absurd parody of the Third Doctor and UNIT. However, remarkably this was broadcast before Spearhead from Space! Thus, the Pertwee era had been effectively lampooned before it had even begun. This observation sets the theme for much of the book, with Sadifer viewing Pertwee-Who as a sort of unintentional parody of itself.
Phil's leftist politics come out in his strong criticism of the Doctor's involvement with UNIT. He makes two criticisms, firstly that the Doctor so quickly becomes involved with a military organisation. Secondly, that the Doctor remains involved with UNIT after the Brigadier's actions at the end of Dr Who and the Silurians. He feels the Doctor's relationship with UNIT ought to have ended then and any criticism in that story is muted by this failure to disengage. He is also uncomfortable with the patrician demeanor adopted by Pertwee.
The essay on The Ambassadors of Death is primarily about David Whitaker, being his last story. It is an affectionate tribute to one of the most fundamental creators of the show. Phil is much more critical of Inferno, a story that gets a lot of undeserved praise from fans. I very much agree with Phil's preference for the former story.
Sandifer does not view Season 7 as a distinct era of Doctor Who, as some fans do. He does, however, make a distinction between 'Action Pertwee' and 'Glam Rock Pertwee.' The former is basically a straightforward action thriller styled science fiction story. The Mind of Evil is perhaps the best example of this. Phil is very critical of this kind of story and seems to feel it is too great a departure from the ethos of Doctor Who, as well as tending towards a dangerous moral simplicity. 'Glam Rock Pertwee' is a rather more complex beast. It is a kind of colourful composition of action and exotica that is absolutely serious, yet somehow feels like a pastiche. Sandifer views The Claws of Axos as the defining example of this genre, with each character playing a clearly defined role that on the surface appears absurd.
I was glad to see that Phil finds things to like about The Time Monster. It's a terrible story, yet he recognises that it has a fascinating combination of Platonism and Buddhism. His essay on the mechanics of the TARDIS also explores the alchemical properties of the Doctor's ship. I found the essay on David Bowie's music and it's thematic similarities to Pertwee-Who very enlightening, particularly as I have never been a Bowie fan.
Phil's essay on The Three Doctors is a marvel. He refers to Doctor Who characters by names taken from William Blake's mythological works. It's beautifully written, but I'm not sure I understand it. I do wish Phil would write a more straightforward essay about Blakean themes in Doctor Who for the benefit of more matter of fact people like me. Anna Wiggins, adds a little clarity to what Phil is trying to do, but her piece is not aided by her unfamiliarity with Blake. I would love to have a better understanding of what Phil is trying to say in his comparison of Blake and Doctor Who.
Unsurprisingly, Carnival of Monsters gets a lot of praise from Phil. It is definitely his favorite story of the period. It is of course, completely different anything else in its era. I would suggest that it feels more like a Season 24 story. Phil seems impressed with Frontier in Space, despite the problem of the Doctor spending much of the story in various jail cells. He comes up with an interesting redemptive reading of the underwhelming and rather tedious Planet of the Daleks. He points out that Terry Nation does not really capture the Third Doctor's usual persona:
"So Pertwee does not get to run around and be ostentatiously imperious as he prefers. Nor does he get to be ignored and occasionally tortured, as he's best at. Instead he stands around and gives speeches about the meaning of courage. Pertwee certainly isn't bad at this, but it's neither in his wheelhouse nor something he visibly enjoys."
Sandifer suggests that Planet of the Daleks is the kind of old fashioned space adventure that the Doctor has outgrown. Now that he is capable of dealing with more complex stories, he can take a back seat and just make speeches about courage and leave the heroism to others.
I was glad to see that The Green Death came in for some criticism. This story tends to get let off easily by fans, despite its shortcomings. While praising The Time Warrior, Phil savages it for its sexism. He finds little to praise and much to criticize in the (in my opinion barely watchable) Season 11.
I am a bit puzzled by Sandifer's handling of Jo Grant. He attacks the sexism of Terrance Dicks which led to her creation. However, he seems to offer some sort of redemptive reading, describing her as 'alchemical' and claiming that she subverts the narrative structure of the stories. I'm not quite sure what he is talking about. This seems to be an example of our author getting lost in his nether-world of radical literary theory and losing the rest of us. That said, this volume is yet another interesting read from Phil and I must say I can't wait for the Tom Baker volume.
on 7 January 2016
This is an excellent look at the Pertwee era, and fascinating for the fact that this is an era I particularly enjoy, and the author from the outset admits it's one of his least favourite. I was surprised how much we were in agreement, but from opposite perspectives. Love or hate the Pertwee years, this book is a wonderful companion when actually watching the serials in order, giving context on the times they were broadcast, and a fresh perspective on choices taken in look, style and content of stories.
on 18 April 2013
This is the latest in a massive project attempting to analyse Doctor Who in an unusual way. As the introduction warns, this is not a place for facts and trivia (which are anyway easily found all over the internet); instead it uses critical techniques to discuss different aspects of one of the most divisive eras of the show.
It is always interesting and the author experiments with different methods; there is a particularly interesting mash-up of The Three Doctors and William Blake! And frankly any book that features discussions on Ballard's Atrocity Exhibition and The Time Monster and deals with both with an equal degree seriousness is always going to be worth a look... It's not a dry theoretical textbook but a fun way of interpreting the show in a new way.
I also highly recommend the previous volumes!
on 8 May 2013
This book is a good read, and certainly does a good job of being a critical guide to the series. However, it does get bogged down in certain hypotheses and there are a couple of chapters (essays) that probably would have been jettisoned by a decent subeditor.
That said, I am looking forward to the next book.
on 9 April 2013
A great read, Phil looks at things very differently to your usual Doctor who books with more emphasis on the social connections to the series, Highly recommended
on 10 June 2013
I tend not to review books as opinions can differ so much, but a lot of the entries in here were self indulgent and pretentious, sorry to be scathing, but the author pulls no punches either.
Infuriating though I find the author I will buy the next one in the series, but seriously the entry on The Three Doctors was about the most ludicrous piece of indirect self-aggrandisement I have ever read,
And I've read some rubbish in my time....