Doctor Who: 25 Glorious Years
Story: British pop culture journalist Peter Haining – he who has managed to wrangle the compilation of other people’s writings into a career, if not necessarily an art form – interviews the star and producer of Doctor Who during its 1988 silver anniversary year. Profiles of other actors who have played the Doctor (and his companions) are included, as well as brief bios of actors who have played the Doctor in other venues. Haining also glances over the history of science fiction on British television and assesses the Time Lord’s place in the pantheon of SF literary heroes.
Review: After the death of controversial Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner, I reacquainted myself with this book since I recalled it had one of the better interviews with him. And 25 Glorious Years is an interesting volume in other ways as well.
Being Peter Haining’s fifth book on Doctor Who, this is probably the best since 1985’s “The Key To Time”, which was a chronological history of the show’s production, broadcast, and public relations splashes. Ever since “Doctor Who: A Celebration” in 1983, Haining had been coasting along on the same material, reorganizing the same essays and articles into different formats; for “25 Glorious Years”, he finally freshens the interviews, adding in-depth profiles of Sylvester McCoy and John Nathan-Turner.
If you’re looking for behind-the-scenes dirt on the show and its makers, forget it – more than any other book Haining’s written/compiled on this subject, “25 Glorious Years” is a fawning valentine to the series. Little can be found here which is negative, with only passing references to the then-recent ousting of Colin Baker from the show’s starring role. The words By arrangement with BBC Books, a division of BBC Enterprises on the inside front cover may go a long way toward explaining this.
The most frank discussion of the show you’ll find is in the insightful interview with JN-T, who discusses with candor the show’s high and low points, not the least of which was his own personal bugbear during his tenure as producer, a radical faction of fandom that was screaming for his job. Nathan-Turner dismisses that vocal minority pleasantly enough here, but also makes it clear where he draws the line where that criticism is concerned.
It’s nice to see a little focus on “alternate Doctors” here too, something which not every history of the show takes into account or even likes to acknowledge. Everything from Peter Cushing’s two excursions in the role on the big screen in the 60s to Trevor Martin’s 1974 stage play Doctor is discussed, along with the late Richard Hurndall, who stepped in for the first Doctor in 1983’s The Five Doctors. Guest stars are also discussed at some length here; for those of us who are Yanks and have no context for these guest stars’ fame overseas, it’s quite an interesting section, even if most of them are given no more than a cursory mention.
Both amusing and saddening are the signs of the times: much is made of an upcoming Doctor Who feature film starring model Caroline Munro as the Doctor’s companion (this movie bid, pitched by the makers of Max Headroom, never got off the ground), as well as Nathan-Turner’s wish to exit the producer’s chair at the end of the then-upcoming 25th season (the BBC forced him to stay put for the series’ 26th and final year on the air, using the threat of total cancellation of the show as its leverage).
Overall, this wouldn’t have been a bad finish to Haining’s mini-career of writing histories of Doctor Who. (Sadly it wasn’t, and he recycled these bios and much of his earlier material into one final book, “The Nine Lives Of Doctor Who”, not long after the 1996 TV movie aired.) There’s quite a bit of new material here, which is something to which readers of Haining’s previous output had grown rather unaccustomed, and it’s well-organized.
Author: David J. Howe