Editor of one of the best Doctor Who fanzines of the ‘80s, Tat Wood is one of the series’ most erudite critics; steeped in both high and low culture, he’s equally knowledgeable about, say, Madame de Pompadour and Rod Hull and Emu. Now that the passage of eight years has provided some historical distance he’s finally turned his attention to the revived show’s first two series.
Does he like them? Oh yes (although numerous snarky digs at Steven Moffat's pet tropes suggest there’s a storm coming). That doesn't prevent some pretty ruthless nitpicking, though. Sometimes this seems churlish, but more often it’s incisive. Crucially, Wood appreciates that criticism is more than holding a rule against a pile of plotholes, and is still willing to pronounce a flawed story a success if it possesses the right spirit or ambition.
A particular strength of earlier volumes was the way they placed decades-old episodes within their historical context. In 2013, however, few people need to be told about, say, ‘90s children's television, or Jamie Oliver's school dinners crusade; overseas fans may well benefit, though. They'll certainly be the ones to benefit from the glossaries which helpfully explain words like "chav".
For all his prodigious knowledge, Wood can come across as a little unworldly; at one point he suggests that a baseball bat owned by Mickey must be a souvenir from a US trip (er, no... that's not why British people own baseball bats). He's also overly keen of the formulation "as every school child knows…” Discussions of historical dating are offputtingly dry, and while many of the 28 essays dotted throughout go off on fascinating oddball tangents (choice titles include “Gay Agenda? What Gay Agenda?” and “Is Arthur The Horse A Companion?”), a few others get tediously bogged down in trying to rationalise contradictory continuity points.
Still, even if you skip all that, and the incredibly detailed breakdowns of production, the quality of the sections providing nitpicking, context and critique make this, like its six predecessors, essential reading for the thinking Who fan.
Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman
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