The Doctor Who Ratings Guide: By Fans, For Fans

Doctor Who: From A to Z

Author IBSN #
Gary Gillatt 0 563 40589 9

Summary: A collection of 26 essays covering the concept, execution and development of Doctor Who


A Review by Robert Smith? 14/6/99

I think this book should come with a warning. This is no tedious collection of factoids about who served the tea on The Invasion or who provided the voice of the third God of Ragnorok. Nor is this a shallow and derivative work trying to make up for lack of substance by glossy photos, large white borders and clever design. By reading the contents contained within this book, you should know in advance that you might be required to think, debate and question long-held beliefs.

In short this is unlike any hardcover Doctor Who reference book ever seen.

The 26 essays contained herein are thoughtful and clever, insightful and controversial, brutal and painfully honest. The author suggests dipping in randomly to each chapter, but I have to disagree. Reading it in order gives a fascinating insight into Doctor Who as it changed and evolved over the years. Many subjects are up for analysis here and I found myself noddingly in agreement at many points as they were made and also sitting back and pondering many others long after I'd closed the pages.

As I mentioned above, this book doesn't rely on design or photos to carry itself. This is perhaps fortunate, because I don't think the design is particularly good. It doesn't offend, but some of the layout is a bit odd (and whoever was responsible for the missing text on page 99 deserves to be shot). The photos aren't too bad, but they're sensibly relegated to the sidelines in favour of the text. And the text really does make it worthwhile

There are a few sacred cows that are attacked here, but not the traditional ones. I expected to violently disagree with some of the conclusions (such as the chapter on Chris Bidmead's approach) and instead found myself nodding in agreement by the end of the chapter. This book isn't afraid to take a shot or two at the series and in some cases this is so well done that I was almost embarrassed to be a fan (especially Chapter E). However, things move along so smoothly that I barely had time to consider this when more ideas came and I was off on other tangents.

There's also a lot of very useful (and sometimes brand new, to me at least) information here. There's a lot of interesting stuff about the British culture of the various ages of Doctor Who and the politics and behind-the-scenes decision making processes. Fascinating stuff.

I expected to thoroughly hate the two chapters on the comic strips (Two! Okay, so one of them is dealing with the annuals, but still...) or at least to have no interest in them, but it's a testament to Gillatt's skill that these were actually quite interesting (especially the stuff about the surreal annual). Only part of this, I'm sure, is due to the fact that the material discussed was totally new to me.

On that note, the book has tried to make itself accessible to casual readers, although I must confess that I'm at a bit of a loss as to why. I can't really see too many casual readers buying an expensive hardcover book (no matter how well written). At least, I can't see myself doing this for any show I might be casually interested in. That said, given that the book has been written from this point of view (as the introduction outlines), it's an unqualified success for a hardcore fan like myself. I never once felt that I was being talked down to or treated as though I were ignorant (unlike, say, The Book of Lists). Yes, some of the information was repeated from chapter to chapter, but I felt this worked just as well to unify and strengthen the book's position.

I can't speak for the casual readers, but if the effect is as unnoticable to them as it was to me, I'd like to think that something like this might actually hook them if they ever got the chance.

The only real problem that I had with the book was the chapter on the New Adventures. In short, the fact that there wasn't one; everything about the later chapters seemed to be absolutely crying out for an analysis of the most intellectual approach to Doctor Who yet and I can't help but wish that this book had tacked that subject as well. I'd love to see Gillatt's take on the NAs. Never mind, perhaps this will turn up in volume two of the further 26 essays that Gary hints at in the afterword.

In short, I can only dream of an alternate universe where DWM is like this every month. I hope we don't have to wait another 35 years to see the likes of this again, because I for one am desperately hoping that volume two is on its way. I suspect that reference books as a whole are going to change; with The Television Companion we pretty much have the definitive work of its type out, so I think the age of the Programme Guide may finally be at an end and this book may herald the dawn of a brand new age. And it couldn't have gotten off to a better start.

A Review by Tammy Potash 12/9/00

In his foreword, Gillatt says if he succeds in making me angry, he's done his job. Well, he's succeeded all right. I'm so angry after having read his book twice I'm seriously thinking about returning it to get my money back. That way I can either spend it on the Perfect Timing books, or on something really worthwhile, like a haircut and a new backpack.

It's his attitude that seems to get me more than anything. He seems to treat both the show and its fans with a kind of not so gentle contempt. Anything outside of UK fandom or broadcast of the program is of course ignored. It's all your fault the show was cancelled, he argues. (Chapter W) Burn with shame over casting decisions over which you could have had no input whatsoever. (Chapter E) If you don't like the show anymore, it's not because the show changed, it's you. If you're a woman you have no reason to like Dr. Who. (Chapter Y) The New Adventures are beneath my notice, but I'll devote a whole chapter to the comic strips and say that one of them is better than every Who serial ever produced. Because you the fan like lists of things, the show became obssessed with continuity. It's all your fault.

The photos are nice, though, particularly of the 8th Doctor. His chapter on Robert Holmes is probably the best one in the book. He positively slobbers over Tom Baker. But if you're looking for essays, I'd go with Licence Denied over this book. It's cheaper and you'll have a lot more fun. If you want rants similar to, yet of an improved quality, than what Mr. Gillatt delivers, try Harlan Ellison. Who, incidentally, is a Dr. Who fan.

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 5/12/01

Gary Gillatt was the editor of DWM. He is arguably the best editor that graced DWM too. The magazine, during his tenure, became excellent. The articles that he commissioned are amongst the best to be written about Doctor Who. He also continues to provide Who related articles, notably the musings of the Time Team in DWM – one of the high points of the magazine each month.

He was not only an Editor though. His name adorned many an article, his Editors’ notes at the start of each DWM were insightful. Here we have then a writer with great talent, and one that has a great affection for the programme. All these things being in the books favour. What was not in A-Z's favour was style of the book. A4 size, Hardback, with lots of glossy pictures. That could mean only one thing – this was going to be in the higher teens in price range. It retailed for 17.99 I think when I bought it.

Onto what the book actually is. Gillatt has written 26 essays on Doctor Who. The essays do not cover each of the 26 seasons, neither do they attempt to be a definitive History of the programme. As the Writer states in his Intro, there are plenty more books that do that. What we do have though are 26 five page essays on various aspects of Who. The essays are in chronological order, as that particular aspect of the show rears its head.

So to start we have A – Adventures in Time and Space. All about the origins of Who, and the input specifically of a certain CE Webber (I hadn’t heard of him either). This essay sets the tone of what follows. It is an interesting and well-written piece, about an aspect of the show that had bypassed me somehow. Other essays tread more familiar ground, but there is enough that is new, for it always to be interesting. As the author states on the back “Take a new look at Doctor Who”.

The author expounds his views on a wide variety of subjects. Historical Who, Comedy Who, Fashion in Who, The Annuals, Morality, Camp Who, Far Out Who, Love in Who, the impact of Robert Holmes, the impact of Tom Baker, Science Fact, Media coverage, Ratings, Comic Strips, Fandom, Continuity etc etc - the standards are here, but there are some side steps along the way – some new insights that really do make us “take a new look”. The views are very much his own. And that’s great, cos it’s his name on the cover. He does not plagiarize others in any way – and that is refreshing.

The book is bound to promote discussion too, and we all love to talk about our favourite show. There are many times I found myself nodding my head in approval. But also others where something is given emphasis that I believed misplaced. But everyone has their own opinion – Gillatt's is more high profile – but with prose and presentation of this standard it should be.

As a voyage through the years of Who it stands up very well. It really shows how the show dipped and rose in the public’s eye. It really shows the myriad of subjects and styles the show adopted. As a discussion of the show I have rarely seen it bettered, especially under 1 cover.

What many fans will object to, probably, is the cost of the book – which relates to why the book is in the style it is. Many of these pictures we have seen before, even though some were interesting. And they do take up a lot of the space. 26 essays, all with tiny writing, make up for this though. It really is well worth the money.

It’s a book that deserves to be on every fan’s shelf, because there is much in here for everyone to enjoy. 9/10