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Intriguing, but achingly pretentious, analysis of Doctor Who
on 1 January 2013
A very intense and fascinating read for the Doctor Who afficionado. Absolutely not for the beginner or casual fan, this will only interest those who already know every Who story in reasonable detail. If you don't know the basic plot outlines for the Hartnell era, then get familiar with them before purchasing this book.
Sandifer's adoration of the programme and appreciation of the surrounding culture leaps from every page. It is no exaggeration to say that you will look afresh at the whole of the Hartnell era after consuming this collection of essays.
There are substantial downsides though. Firstly, the author is prone to the unnecessary, obscure and cringe-making prose style that one might associate with a stereotypical, self-satisfied and smug media studies lecturer. This means that some fundamentally interesting analysis is often presented as a mess of words and sub-clauses apparently intended to show how clever the author is rather than to enlighten the reader.
Secondly, Sandifer's politics are of the tediously one dimensional, oh-so-predictable, left-wing undergraduate type. He can barely disguise his glee at uncovering any type of perceived racism, sexism or neo-colonialism in a Doctor Who story, however tenuous. The validity of some of the points he makes is obscured by the over-the-top, immature, right-on outrage that you'd expect to find at a meeting of ill-informed angry, barely-post-pubescent student radicals.
The Ark is, we are told, "a sickening, vile piece of racism". The Celestial Toymaker is also disgustingly racist because...wait for it...the Toymaker is Chinese. Not only that, but the Gerry Davis novelisation makes it plain that the lead villain possesses some Chinese furniture and dresses in Chinese clothing. Heaven forfend.
If you - like Sandifer - consider this to be conclusive proof of vile Sinophobia by the show's writers, you'll nod sagely at this point. If you have a rather more mature and rounded view of the human race, you'll decide - as I did - that the author is just rather silly. Either way, most readers will conclude that Sandifer's assertion that neither The Ark nor The Celestial Toymaker should be considered canonical - simply because they offend his rather tedious and juvenile moral sensibilities - is utterly ridiculous.
A further annoyance is the omission of the essay covering The Massacre. By this stage in the book, I'd become so frustrated with Sandifer's temperament that I'd assumed all would be explained and there'd be some arty farty, too-clever-by-half, utterly pompous reason for the exclusion of the essay relating to this story. But no, it is (thankfully, I suppose) just a terrible error in editing (the essay is included at the back of Volume 2 if you're tempted to purchase that too).
Sandifer admits to holding a bright, burning torch for Miles and Wood's acclaimed, but also widely criticised, About Time series. This leads him to fall into the same sort of traps that made that series of books ball-achingly annoying at numerous points.
Nevertheless, if you're the forgiving type and can overlook some of these horrific flaws, Sandifer's work is a worthy and challenging addition to any serious Doctor Who fan's bookshef.