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A Critical History of Doctor Who on Television [Paperback]

John Kenneth Muir
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Oct. 1 2007 0786437162 978-0786437160
Since its inception in November 1963, the British science fiction television series Doctor Who has exerted an enormous impact on the world of science fiction (over 1,500 books have been written about the show). The series follows the adventures of a mysterious "Time Lord" from the distant planet Gallifrey who travels through time and space to fight evil and injustice. Along the way, he has visited Rome under the rule of Nero, played backgammon with Kublai Khan, and participated in the mythic gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Predating the Star Trek phenomenon by three years, Doctor Who seriously dealt with continuing characters, adult genre principles and futuristic philosophies. Critical and historical examinations of the ideas, philosophies, conceits and morals put forth in the Doctor Who series, which ran for 26 seasons and 159 episodes, are provided here. Also analyzed are thematic concepts, genre antecedents, the overall cinematography and the special effects of the long-running cult favorite. The various incarnations of Doctor Who, including television, stage, film, radio, and spin-offs are discussed. In addition, the book provides an extensive listing of print, Internet, and fan club resources for Doctor Who.
--This text refers to the Library Binding edition.

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About the Author

Amateur filmmaker John Kenneth Muir is also the author of Exploring "Space: 1999" (1997), An Analytical Guide to Television's "Battlestar Galactica" (1999), A History and Critical Analysis of "Blake's 7" (1999) and Wes Craven: The Art of Horror (1998). --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Library Binding
.......along comes John Kenneth Muir with a refreshingly objective analysis of the long-running science-fiction favorite. This book is a thesis, not a celebration, with well-thought out views on topics such as the series creation, its context, its characters, and its stories. The writing is excellent, with each topic being fully explored and easily flowing into the next. The various episode reviews will send you scrambling for your Who tapes and DVDs to watch a story with a new perspective. It is an honest and sensitive exploration of the positive and negative aspects of the show without all the mindless hype. If you are a fan of Doctor Who, you will have a great time with this book.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Nice Start, But Far from Definitive May 19 2000
By Robert Seulowitz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Library Binding
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.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought And Reading Done In Style (TARDIS) March 2 2000
By Nick Seidler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Library Binding
John Kenneth Muir has given researchers of Doctor Who and culttelevision perhaps the definitive work on the Doctor Who phenomenonwith his book "A Critical History of Doctor Who on Television." The book, currently available as a hardbound edition, covers almost every element of Doctor Who from the program's origins to fandom, to the show's various spin-offs in novel and comic book form. Muir has given researchers a book which is an excellent jumping off point for more detailed investigations. Written in a scholarly style, the book opens with an inquiry into the show's origins and into its developments as it changed during the tenure of the various actors to play the Doctor. The book's first few chapters also devote time to an investigation of morality and meaning in the serial's programs, as well as cinematography and special effects. The series itself is investigated by a section that presents the show's critical reception, which was perhaps one of the most interesting reads in the tome. It was thrilling to read both the positive and the negative opinions of reviewers and critics. The book continues with a look at each and every story, giving technical information, a synopsis, a listing of the guest cast, and a short commentary on each of the series' stories. While the commentary section might be seen as built strictly on the author's opinion, Muir uses this section to provide valuable information and connections between Doctor Who's own programs. Connections are also made between these stories and other science fiction series or films. This look at each of the stories fills over 300 pages in this book and provides excellent information on the series. Further chapters in the book include a look at the various spin-off films, television shows, videos, story novelizations, and original novels. A look at non-fiction books, role-playing games, and comics is also included. Muir, takes the Doctor Who phenomenon full circle and actually investigates Doctor Who fandom. He covers Internet sites and standard fan clubs, and makes the point that Doctor Who's fandom has evolved over the years. To conclude the book we are given appendixes that cover a listing of BBC production codes, a list of episodes of recommended stories for viewing to include possible connections to other sci-fi, and even a debatable listing of the top 20 best stories. This book features an American perspective of Doctor Who as a series, as Muir admittedly points out in the book. This, however, is quite refreshing, as hopefully English researchers or fans who take a serious read of this work may notice that some American fans approach Doctor Who quite differently from them. The book solidly points out that in America the preferred titles of Doctor Who stories (from the early shows when each episode was individually titled) are the original names presented in Jean-Marc Lofficier's "The Doctor Who Programme Guide, Vol. 1." This can be seen by evidence of Muir's use of these titles during his investigation of each story. Muir's listing of the American Fox Network Television Movie staring Paul McGann, also reveals that most Americans consider this story not part of Doctor Who canon, unlike many UK fans.[p.410-412, 437] In my opinion, it is this objective American perspective that makes the book seem quite more scholarly than the current crop of works that English authors, most of whom are dedicated fans of the program, have released in recent years. Muir presents the scholarly reader with many of the views from each side of the Atlantic and though writing from an American viewpoint definitely takes a neutral stance on all that has happened in the 'Whoniverse.' The book however is not without a few small mistakes. But in John Kenneth Muir's defense, as one looks at the almost 500 page offering, these mistakes are quite minor and forgivable in the huge scale of this undertaking and any serious and informed researcher will catch these minor oversights and continue on with their research. Besides the book's broad look at Doctor Who, there are a number of other strengths. Muir compares Doctor Who with many other sci-fi works and draws parallels between these various contributions. Most refreshing of all is Muir's use of scholarly investigation as the backbone of the text. This book succeeds in giving legitimacy to the task of researching Doctor Who as an important cultural phenomenon. This edition has a strong bibliography and an outstanding index that will be of great use to other researchers. While the book contains footnotes they are a bit sparse, and while more liberal use of notation might have been nice the book itself remains a strong document. In my opinion, this work has superseded "Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text" as the strongest of critical works on the program. While the expensive price tag may scare off some buyers, let me assure you it is worth every cent and more. John Kenneth Muir has given television researchers and Doctor Who fans alike, up to this time, the definitive work on the program, one that will be used for years to come as the jumping off point for more detailed, specific and perhaps controversial investigations. It is highly suggested that if one intends to research the field of Doctor Who that one owns this work. This book is a must for the serious researcher's library.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required Reading for Analytical Doctor Who Fans March 23 2000
By Mitchell S. Easter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Library Binding
If you are an avid Doctor Who collector like I am, you probably have several of the many programme reference guides available to the fans already. Also, like me, you may wonder what makes a new reference work valuable; why should one buy THIS book; what does it offer that others I already own do not already say?
These were the questions I was asking when I discovered the publication of Mr. John Kenneth Muir's library-bound book, A Critical History of Doctor Who on Television. Like many other works, this book catalogues the 159 television serials extensively, and makes mention of the many other formats of the myth (the two 60s movies, the countless novels published both concurrently with and after the series' end, the 1996 television movie, the merchandise, the fan clubs and the internet resources, to name a few). The book also lists technical details of each episode, something exhaustive detail-seeking fans will appreciate.
But the thing that makes this book unique is its tracking of the themes of Doctor Who. We all are aware of at least some such themes in our treasured show : the alien invasions, the oppression and ultimate redemption of the weak, the evil imperialistic corporations, the evil threats from mythological origins, time paradoxes, environmental crises, or the question of interfering with known history. We are probably also aware of many of the show's antecedents, whether it be movies or programs we have only heard the names of (The Quatermass Experiment), or early USA science fiction that lent its own ideas - despite being launched later than Doctor Who (like the original Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica). This book makes a serious effort at tracking the various themes and their impact on not only the show's narrative style and tone, but also on the ultimate morality put forth in each decade, and traces how the show's morality changes with every distinct era.
The book also tracks the underlying thematic underpinnings of the show through the decades. One such example is the tracing of the development of the Time Lords - how they progressed from an almost supernatural and all-powerful force when we first meet (and fear) them in Troughton's era, to their almost self-parody existence through Pertwee's era, through their great demystification in Tom Baker's and Davison's shows, to the statement of their ultimate philosophies in Colin Baker's "The Trial of a Time Lord." It shows how our views of the Doctor's race have changed as we see them go from being almost Gods, to being stagnant, to being a bureaucratic mess, to ultimately being revealed as morally degenerate as many of the races the Doctor has fought in all his years. It links how seeing such things as this "See the Heroes Fall" motif might be a reflection of the times of that particular set of shows. Thematic strands such as this make for interesting reading throughout Muir's book. It also tracks antecedents to story plots from the obvious Frankenstein/Morbius references to not so obvious ones that give serious food for thought.
Something else that fascinates me about Muir's book is the tracking of seeming "offspring" of Doctor Who - where ideas original (or semi-original) to the series seem to have been lifted or borrowed to incorporate into other art forms on other series - Where was this idea explored in the movie Stargate? What exactly ARE the parallels between the Cybermen and the Borg in Star Trek : the Next Generation? Have you ever compared the Axons and the Borg? How is a scene from City of Death almost followed exactly in All Good Things from Star Trek : the Next Generation with "Q" playing the role of the Doctor? Nowhere in the book does Muir suggest that any of these ideas were blatantly "stolen" either for the series, or stolen from it for other series... but the parallels are amazing to behold as he delineates them (not to mention often humorously tongue-in-cheek; did I expect a "fully functional" Data reference when discussing Artificial Intelligence?). It makes for fascinating reading.
Finally, Muir uses the book to show the series in light of serious critical approaches, whether from literary or film-related schools of thought, making this a truly academic sort of study. His insights point out obvious plot flaws, "cop-outs" in resolutions, breaks in narrative flow, where obvious filler was used, and of course, the moments of sheer inventive brilliance that make us love the series so much - where it takes something stale and expected and transcends what we expect to make a unique, almost magical experience for the watcher. Muir injects doses of his own opinion, but backs these opinions up with a solid critical eye. Even though I personally disagree with some of his conclusions (e.g., the narrative value of "Ghost Light" and surrounding serials, the relative innovation of the stories of the Davison era), I can always respect what he has to say, because it is said so well. His discussions have made me rethink and reinvent my views of the Troughton era, and have re-affirmed my beliefs about Colin Baker's era. I have used this book many times already to start discussions with my friends over some of the more controversial aspects of the show's 26-year run, and I think that this has to be a good thing for a show that has not aired new regular episodes for 11 years.
Any venue that can stir debate and get people thinking about Doctor Who again must be essential for its fan base to continue. As Muir says, "It is only by debate and constant reinterpretation that these works of 20th century art will survive into the next millennium and be remembered." If keeping Doctor Who alive was indeed Mr. Muir's goal, I think that he has succeeded greatly. To incorporate SO MUCH information into one book and still have it be so readable and enjoyable is quite a feat indeed. So don't let the higher price tag than usual stop you from owning this book; it is absolutely essential reading for the Doctor Who reader, and you'll be glad it's in hardback when you find yourself going back to it time and time again.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just when you thought you knew everything about Who....... Dec 7 2003
By R. M. Rogers - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Library Binding
.......along comes John Kenneth Muir with a refreshingly objective analysis of the long-running science-fiction favorite. This book is a thesis, not a celebration, with well-thought out views on topics such as the series creation, its context, its characters, and its stories. The writing is excellent, with each topic being fully explored and easily flowing into the next. The various episode reviews will send you scrambling for your Who tapes and DVDs to watch a story with a new perspective. It is an honest and sensitive exploration of the positive and negative aspects of the show without all the mindless hype. If you are a fan of Doctor Who, you will have a great time with this book.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An essential history and reference for all Dr. Who fans! Aug. 4 2000
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Library Binding
Fans of the cult science fiction British film will find A Critical History Of Dr. Who On Television an essential reference which provides critical and historical examinations of the ideas, morals and philosophies contained in the hit television series. This provides anecdotes and fine insights, including series synopsis, guest lists and commentary for each episode, and an overview of critical reception. Essential for avid Dr. Who fans.
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