The reader comments on the Amazon site lead me to expect this book to be a serious academic study of "Doctor Who," exploring the themes and stories both as elements of the popular culture and as literary forms. Muir demonstrates an encyclopedic knowledge of science fiction television from "Captain Video" to "Red Dwarf." Sadly, he doesn't appear to have read many books, thus the scholarly critique I had anticipated was not to be found. He is not interested in sociological or psychological deconstruction, nor with any rigorous application of literary theory. You won't find any arcane academic language, references to Derrida or Freud, or other intellectual posturing. But neither will you find it to be a satisfying analysis of the cultural and literary interaction between the show and it's audience.
Instead, Muir mostly concerns himself with "Doctor Who" in relationship to other television shows which aired before, during and after it. Much energy is focused on the question of which show was first to address a topic or use a plot device, and how the same formulas have been recycled repeatedly.
He begins with a cogent analysis of the origins of "Doctor Who," identifying H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (specifically, the 1960 George Pal film with Rod Taylor) and Nigel Kneale's marvelous "Quatermass" stories (produced by BBC TV in late 1950's) as the two templates around which the vast majority of "Doctor Who" stories are built. However, he ignores any literary antecedents that must have had at least as much if not more influence on the original series writers. You will not find the names Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein or Madeleine L'Engle in his copious (and excellently thorough) index. For Muir, other than tangential references to the cinema, television is largely a self-contained universe.
Not surprisingly, his analysis is starkly without context. Although he has clearly read enough to understand the historical development of the series in England, he shows no real understanding of the culture which created and interacted with the show.
This lack of context is highlighted by the near complete absence of fan material - a shocking exclusion considering the massive amount of critical commentary produced over 30 by dedicated and intelligent fans, much of it not only well written, but literate and insightful. Indeed, Muir's few nods to a body of critical writing outside his own amounts to a few isolated pages of quotes, presented without comment on the remark or it's author (so if you don't already know who Harlan Ellison is, he's not going to help you). It is not until well past his review of the show's history that he mentions, almost in passing, that "Doctor Who" ceased being a kiddie show by 1975. In fact, it's that very change - how and when "Doctor Who" grew into an adult entertainment - that is the most important element in the show's history, not to say it's impact on popular culture. His failure to grasp this essential point as the appropriate focus of a critical history -preferring instead to draw out lengthy parallels between "Doctor Who" and the many science fiction TV shows of the sixties and seventies - reduces the book to a catalogue of plots and themes rather than a critical history.
Which is not to say that his observations are without merit. In fact, he has insightful and interesting things to say about a wide variety of issues, ranging from racism to jelly baby jokes. His discussion about gender and sexism, especially as it relates to the Doctor's female companions over the years, is extremely intelligent and well written. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the issues he raises are left largely unexplored, as though, merely by having brought them up at all, he has successfully addressed them. His preoccupation with other contemporary science fiction television does him ill service here, as many passages hinge not on the intrinsic merit of a "Doctor Who" story, but on how the same themes are treated in the "Star Trek" universe.
Muir is badly served, ultimately, by the structure he has chosen. The program guide format compels him to reiterate his previous ideas regularly, rarely adding any additional information or development to the original premise. This quickly become tiresome, unless the reader is absolutely fascinated by the number of time the name "Travers" has been used or which actors and directors also appeared on "Blake's 7" and "Space:1999." (The vast majority of this material is, of course, already abundantly available, in more complete and less expensive guides.)
Ultimately it's hard to figure out precisely who the intended audience for this book might be. The title is somewhat of a misnomer, as there is no attempt to survey the existing body of historical or critical writing on the topic. It is, therefore, insufficient as a serious scholarly study... it's a bit pricey for a highly subjective program guide. It offers nothing new in it's treatment of the show's history, and is neither particularly complete (ignoring the contributions of many writers, directors and actors who deserve greater prominence) nor scrupulously accurate (e.g. failing to identify uncredited writers and story origins, referring to the 1920's as "Victorian," misusing the word "empirical"). What it mostly amounts to is a book-length, library bound fanzine with a mild case of delusions of grandeur. The book is not really suitable to the neophyte fan, who would probably find it too expensive, but neither will it satisfy the most demanding aficionado, who will be irritated either by it's format or content.
Still, I would encourage people who fall between those two extremes to read it; if for no other reason than to promote greater discussion of the ideas Muir begins to address. This is not the serious scholarly analysis that "Doctor Who" deserves, but it's an excellent starting point.