By John Kenneth Muir



504pp/$29.95/June 1999

A Critical History of Doctor Who on Television

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Originally published in 1999, A Critical History of Doctor Who on Television covers the quintessential BBC television series from before its debut on November 23, 1963 through its final airing on December 6, 1989. In addition to examining the individual story lines that the seven incarnations of the Doctor and his companions lived through, the author John Kenneth Muir provides a context for the television series.

Rather than simply give synopses of the episodes, Muir begins the book with a pair of essays about the series. The first provides a look at the history of Doctor Who throughout the twenty-six year history of its original run. The second essay looks at the show's antecedents, from H.G. Wells's The Time Machine to Quatermass and the Pit, as well as later series which felt the show's influence, like The Time Tunnel and Battlestar Galactica.

The essays are followed by brief synopses of all 159 television serials made by the BBC, from William Hartnell's "An Unearthly Child" through Sylvester McCoy's "Survival." Each episode synopsis includes a list of the guest cast and Muir's commentary on the episode, sometimes tying the episode to recurring themes in Doctor Who, other times linking the episodes to science fiction as a whole.

The episode listings also give an indication that Muir should have been given the opportunity to update portions of the book in light of events since its original publication. At the end of many of the listings, Muir notes that the episode is available on videocassette. Given the emergence of DVD and the number of episodes now available in that format (along with special features), either removing the references to videocassettes entirely or supplementing them with DVD information would have been useful. Similarly, Muir's discussion of Doctor Who-related web sites is very dated, although his lack of inclusion of URLs means that readers would have to do a web search to find the sites he mentions and may easily turn up other, more useful or current sites.

Following the episode guide, Muir provides a look at spin-offs, such as books, television series and films (including the 1996 Paul McGann television film), and other products tied to the series. Again, so much has been released in the time since the book was published, this section of the book feels very dated, with the Big Finish audio plays, the first of which was released in July 1999, not mentioned.

A Critical History of Doctor Who on Television is a good guide to the original series, but with a re-release set to take advantage of the series' popularity in light of the success of the new episodes of Doctor Who beginning in 2005, a revision of the book would have changed it from an historical artifact into a more useful and welcome volume, even if Muir did not examine the 40 episodes from the first three seasons of the new series, Torchwood, or The Sarah Jane Adventures.

For the Doctor Who fan who wants a quick reference to the individual episodes of the original series, A Critical History of Doctor Who on Television provides a good reference, although it tends to fall down in some of the auxiliary areas simply because they are now out of date. Those parts which haven't dated, however, provide an interested and thorough look at the series.

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