With nearly 50 years of adventures recorded across several media, the BBC’s international smash hit Doctor Who is one of the most deeply explored fictional “universes” in TV or literary history – partly because it intersects with our own in so many places. VWORP!1 is just the beginning of your complete guide to the travels of the TARDIS, pointing out noteworthy original series adventures to fans of the new series, and finding hints of the show’s larger narrative in some of the oddest places. (VWORP!2, due in late 2013, will track the Time Lord through his audio-only adventures, as well as examining the show’s latest episodes and its various TV spinoffs.)
"VWORP!1 is just the beginning of your complete guide to the travels of the TARDIS, pointing out noteworthy original series adventures to fans of the new series, and finding hints of the show's larger narrative in some of the oddest places."–The Retroist
I was introduced to the Doctor (in the form of, naturally, Tom Baker), the TARDIS and Sarah Jane Smith at a very young age - I'm pretty sure I was no more than eight years old. Star Wars had been flowing through my veins since I was four, and I had become aware of Star Trek at the age of six or seven via the first movie and the resulting re-re-re-revival of the original episodes in syndication. But Doctor Who was special.
Though it would probably get her hauled off in handcuffs in this day and age, for whatever reason, my mother introduced me to Doctor Who, Benny Hill and Monty Python, all around the same time. It was magical. Python and Benny Hill were - and still are, despite what any highbrow media pundits might have decided in retrospect - hysterically funny, like cartoons with real people in them. (Whether or not it was a great idea to be exposing an eight-year-old kid to this stuff, on the other hand, I leave for you to debate, though I’d argue strongly that there are far worse media-spawned catchphrases for a child to be parroting – or is that ex-parroting? – than “and now for something completely different.”) Doctor Who, however, was even cooler. To my young mind, it had the outer space stuff, complete with monsters and creatures, that Star Wars had, Elisabeth Sladen was way hotter than Carrie Fisher (there, I said it!), and nobody around me in Arkansas talked like these people did. Sure, Grand Moff Tarkin spoke with a British accent, but he was a bad guy.
If you thought my mother was just asking for trouble by introducing me to Doctor Who (and, well, mainly the other stuff) at the impressionable age of eight, consider this: at only a few months old, my son was drawn – almost hypnotically – to the sight of my official BBC Doctor Who “time vortex” screensaver. If Daddy deactivated that screensaver by doing boring stuff like doing more work on this book, to cite just one example, quite a vocal complaint would be made.
Perhaps humblingly, he seemed incapable of caring about the body of the show itself. He just liked the time vortex.
But when the time comes, if he’s even remotely interested, I will have absolutely no qualms about introducing my son to the Doctor. Because the Doctor is a hero who isn’t in love with the power he bears for its own sake. He doesn’t advocate violence as a solution to every problem. And he’s a friend to the downtrodden, the different, and the unpopular. Even if you think you’re on your own against overwhelming forces, the Doctor will try to help you. More than any caped or cowled crusader, more than any graduate of Starfleet Academy, it’s that rooting-for-the-underdog thing that practically makes the Doctor the patron saint of nerdy kids (of all ages) like me. If it looks like the Doctor isn’t being particularly helpful, it’s probably because he’s trying to force you to learn how to help yourself.
I can’t think of a better imaginary friend or hero for a child to have.
Now for the big question...why should I write this book? And why should you read it? Why should you put money on the table for yet another book chronicling the Doctor's adventures, when there are already so many of them crowding your shelf, both BBC-sanctioned and otherwise? That's a good question. I hope that what I'm about to come up with is a good answer.
Fair warning: this book is written from a distinctly American perspective, because I’m an American approaching it from that perspective. I won't insult your intelligence by trying to adopt British spellings or lingo (though a few may sneak in because, as an Anglophile, I tend to use them in my own everyday conversation and writing, much to the chagrin of those listening and/or reading). But I won't be talking
about how “this programme got the colour of Dalek armour wrong,” because that isn't how I write in real life, and basically, I think you'd know better. I'm not a Brit, nor am I trying to pass myself off as one. I didn't grow up watching Doctor Who on BBC1 or BSB; I grew up watching it on usually stormy Sunday mornings on the Arkansas PBS channel, where they'd show it as 90-minute "movies" (though my first exposure to Doctor Who came through a late '70s run on KTVT in Dallas, which ran it in its original episodic form, so I already knew that the movie edits weren’t how the show was intended to be seen). I also didn't grow up watching Doctor Who alongside Fireball XL-1 or Space: 1999; I grew up watching it alongside Buck Rogers In The 25th Century and Battlestar Galactica (the original series, that is) and the glorious, can't-take-your-eyes-off-of-it train wreck that was The Star Wars Holiday Special. Even as I entered my cynical teenage years and early 20s, and stuff like Star Trek: The Next Generation and Babylon 5 entered the picture, Doctor Who always retained its special magic for me. I'm not sure anyone was more delighted than I to see it return again and again and again, as novels, as audio plays, and finally back to television.
VWORP!, over what I’m hoping won’t be more than three volumes, will chronicle all of these media – television, audio, prose and comics - and try to treat them as a whole entity with a reconcilable timeline. (Given that "reconcilable timeline" is always a relative term with Doctor Who, which has presented multiple incompatible scenarios for the birth and death of the human race, the fall of the continent of Atlantis, and so many "final ends" of the Daleks that I’ve lost count, be prepared to take all this with a dose of retcon that would leave any retired Torchwood employee reeling.)
As such, this book is written with a basic assumption: that the author likes Doctor Who, and tries to find something to like in any given stop that the TARDIS makes, and that you, as the reader, either like Doctor Who, or like it enough that you want to learn more. This book is predisposed toward being friendly to the show and its personnel. I'm not afraid to call a spade a spade, but even then there's almost always some value to be gleaned from even those installments that seem the least noteworthy. I've also taken the opportunity, with the realization that many of you reading this have only been exposed to the new series, to tell you why certain adventures from the "classic" series are relevant to what you're seeing now. In some cases, like The War Games, Genesis Of The Daleks and so on, they're hugely, no-brainer relevant; in others, I'm just letting you know if some relatively obscure Hartnell story has become an even more obscure verbal reference in a David Tennant episode.
As much as I love Doctor Who, even I will be the first to admit that it will be a rare and brave soul who should even remotely consider trying to track down and watch (or listen to) every single one of the Doctor's televised adventures. While I did state above that every story has its own rewarding point, even if that good point is a dose of pure Mystery Science Theater 3000-worthy goofiness, there are two things to consider: "classic" Doctor Who stories take much longer to play out (there are vast oceans of difference in the pacing of a television story of any kind between the 1960s and '70s and television produced now), and there are an awful lot of them to wade through. Beyond that, many stories are either partially or completely missing, and must be watched either via fan-made audiovisual reconstructions (which currently fall into a bit of a legal grey area, so I can't point you in the direction of how to find or acquire them) or the BBC's excellent range of narrated audio transcriptions of those missing adventures. Or, to give you another example, the material in this book originated from my web site, and covers nearly 20 years' worth of writing and viewing and listening. It takes a long time to experience Doctor Who from start to finish, and those who have been weaned on the breakneck pace of the new series may not have the stomach for that particular marathon (though if you set out to prove me wrong, good luck to you, enjoy the show, and let me know if this book has been of any help whatsoever). Also, for those wishing to embark on that journey, every story's synopsis includes a note about whether that particular adventure is available on DVD, videotape, audio CD, or what have you.
In the same spirit, I’m going to refer to those Hartnell-era stories – whose individual episodes each have their own titles – by the collective titles to which they are most frequently referred. I respect the fan researchers who have found compelling archival evidence to refer to An Unearthly Child as 100,000 B.C., or Edge Of Destruction as Inside The Spaceship, and so forth; but however accurate those titles may be from that perspective, they’re not what’s found on the DVD, CD and book covers. These alternate titles have almost become an in-joke among fandom, a way to tell the old-school cognoscenti from casual fans and/or the new-series-only crowd – however, as this book is intended to be of help to casual fans and new series fans, I’m using the titles by which they’ll be able to find these classic stories in various officially released media.
My synopses and summaries of the stories themselves usually leave out one important thing: the ending. This is a long-standing, unspoken rule of theLogBook.com’s style guide: don’t spoil the ending, let people watch stuff for themselves because it’s usually more fun that way. I intentionally leave most of the summaries open-ended so you can explore and experience the Doctor’s travels for yourself. I sincerely feel I would be doing you a disservice otherwise.
Finally, there’s one more regard in which I'm not going out of my way to please die-hard fandom here. There's a lot of what I call "received wisdom" in fandom, a fickle thing which decides that, for example, the 1996 TV movie starring Paul McGann was great for a short while after its premiere, and then at some point after its initial broadcast, despite not having been edited or changed since then, suddenly became crap. Actors, writers, and producers have come into fashion and fallen out of favor so many times in my years of reading fanzines, forums and newsgroups that I've given up on trying to keep track of who's "in" or "out.” Indeed, I've really ceased to care about which direction fandom's prevailing winds are blowing. I'll make a note of it now and again, usually when I'm frustrated with a perfectly good storyline, actor or episode that has been collectively tossed into the trash, but I feel no great need to try to bend my own opinion to meet that of the majority (whether in terms of Doctor Who or real life, for that matter). So be prepared: this is a book written by a fan who still thinks that the Paul McGann movie is a great slice of Who, liked the Sylvester McCoy era just fine, thinks the existing Hartnell and Troughton stories should be required viewing, and thinks that Underworld and Love & Monsters aren't as bad as a great many people seem to insist that they are.
All of that being said, there's so much time (and space) to cover in so little space (and time). Let's get this show on the road.