Story: In the first major published retrospective work on the BBC’s science fiction series Doctor Who, writer and editor Peter Haining assembles a history of the show and a variety of essays from its stars and makers, past and (as of the 20th anniversary of the show’s 1963 premiere) present. Fan archivist Jeremy Bentham turns in a large portion of the book almost uncredited, giving a critical and historical rundown of every adventure to date.
Review: The first of Peter Haining’s many books about Doctor Who, “A Celebration” has the benefit, even in hindsight, of being the first such tome, and to someone who had, in 1983, just a working knowledge of the show, this book was a revelation, unearthing a vast wealth of knowledge and photographic material to my young eyes. I grumble about how Haining made a career out of these books, reorganizing the same information over and over again until the later books became a case study of diminishing returns, but “A Celebration” is a fine piece of work on its own.
As a writer myself, I do find myself grumbling about how little of the book is actually written by the person whose name is on the dust jacket. The whole latter half of “A Celebration” basically consists of Jeremy Bentham’s episode guides and critiques, while essays by John Nathan-Turner, Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks, Verity Lambert, Terry Nation and each of the first five Doctors make up much of the first half. I’m in admiration of Haining’s skill as an editor and compiler, but to this day I still find his sole credit as author to be questionable. Questionable also is the “essay” under William Hartnell’s byline, which consists of a loose assemblage of various press quotes covering many years, whose sources go unattributed. These don’t affect the book’s enjoyment factor, but as someone who majored in journalism in college, I find these elements a little suspect.
In retrospect, one of my favorite parts of “A Celebration”, some 24 years after its original publication, is the small group of essays toward the very end of the book, each written by the organizers of some region’s official Doctor Who fan club. These brief histories of the various fan clubs are a precious time capsule, seeming incredibly innocent and naive in the shadow of the age of the internet. I find myself wondering what happened to the organizer of the first official American fan club, whose essay sees him boasting of spending his entire personal savings to sponsor the first Stateside Doctor Who convention complete with guests from the show in the early ’80s. My early Doctor Who fandom memories came rushing back to me after renewing my acquaintance with these essays – fanzines, wishing more of the books were available in this country, ordering grey-market audio cassettes of just-aired episodes from a mail-order outfit called Star Tech – and, yes, this book as the Holy Bible of Who.
Now, years later, I realize that there are books that have covered this subject matter far more accurately, but going back to “Doctor Who: A Celebration” is like going back to some of the episodes from that era: maybe not the best ever, but definitely mental comfort food for the memories that it stirs up.
Author: Peter Haining
Publisher: W.H. Allen