Top positive review
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Wonderful book, shame about the "flawed politics"
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.