The Television Companion
|David J. Howe and
Stephen James Walker
|0 563 40588 0
|Synopsis: The complete guide to every Doctor Who story ever screened - in one bumper volume.
A Review by Robert Franks 27/8/98
Do we really need another programme guide? This has to be the question on many of your minds right now. Furthermore, can this book really cover the area in a new manner, as well as feature a refreshing twist on all the material that one would normally expect to find in a factual Doctor Who book?
The Television Companion does indeed contain all the information that one would expect in a well-researched guide. For example, this includes cast and crew listings, broadcast dates and plot details. However, this is where the similarities end. The book also features a list of popular myths which have developed over the years, as well as a guide to the cliffhangers from all of the televised episodes. All of the stories are presented in an easy-to-find manner, with thumbnail guides to quickly locate a particular era.
The real treat with the The Television Companion is a section which have never been attempted in a previous Doctor Who guidebook. Each televised serial incorporates an analysis section, which covers contemporary reviews, present-day reviews, and the authors' own opinions. The end result is that the book offers a much more complete overview of every story. From the first reviews in 1963, the book weaves a complete picture of how Doctor Who has unfolded over the last 35 years.
The book is notable for the fact that it does not concentrate on one specific media type -- BBC audience surveys are mixed with fan reactions. The latter are drawn from such diverse sources as fanzines to Internet newsgroups. The authors are also not afraid to show their true feelings or present cases which contradict popular thought. For instance, they present one fan's case as to why The Dæmons is the worst Pertwee adventure ever produced, as well as a detailed account of the muddle that was Season 23. All of this current day analysis on top of the contemporary material provides for a book overflowing with memories.
The book's strongest point is the fact that it offers a chance to remember the ups and downs of not only the show, but fandom as well. If anything, this book is more for the general public or those people who may only remember Doctor Who from their childhood. The Television Companion lives up to its title by being the perfect coffee-table book. Provided that you have some sort of memory from Doctor Who, the book will enable to relive those memories, and hopefully motivate you to purchase the video.
Before you become worried that this book is not really for the fans, rest assured that there is still plenty of interesting material. From the public's "bemused" reaction to An Unearthly Child in 1963, to the nostalgic, Americanized version in the TV Movie, we witness a side of the series rarely referred to in the fan press. The reaction of the general populace is sometimes interesting -- for instance, your average viewer can sometimes enjoy a serial, but for entirely different reasons than the fans.
Overall, The Television Companion features enough facts to keep the fans happy, as well as containing plenty of material to interest the casual reader. It would be difficult to find a more complete account of Doctor Who over the last 35 years.
Indispensable by Tim Roll-Pickering 18/9/01
When I'm writing a review of a television story for this site I often need to check details such as the cast or a particular spelling. And there's only one book I ever need to consult. That book is The Television Companion.
The detail contained in the entry for each story is considerable, listing all the credited cast and crew and pointing out variations as well as extras credited in the Radio Times listings, such as the monsters in The War Games or the fact that the robots in the last two episodes of The Chase are spelt 'Mechonoids' in the scripts and the credits for The Planet of Decision but the credits for The Death of Doctor Who uses the spelling 'Mechanoids'. There's also a section exposing popular myths, such as the one that Inside the Spaceship was written in order to allow an extra couple of weeks to produce the sets for Marco Polo and providing the truth of the matter - in this case the story was written when it seemed that the series would only be commissioned for a thirteen week run. There are quotes from each story, ranging from the thoughtful such as the Doctor's "As we learn about each other so we learn about ourselves" from Inside the Spaceship to the memorable such as a Dalek stating "We are the masters of Earth!" in The Dalek Invasion of Earth to the ones reflecting how some fans feel about a story such as in Time and the Rani when the Rani states "I've had enough of this drivel". It is possible to spend an eternity with this book and constantly discover or realise numerous little things about a story. There's also 'Things to watch out for' such as the fact that in The Robots of Death Robophobia is named 'Grimwade's syndrome' after then production assistant (and later director) Peter Grimwade and 'Things you probably never knew' such as the fact that one of the locations for Silver Nemesis has since been used as the site for the Millennium Dome.
One novelty is the detailing of every single episode ending - something that has never been done in a previous book - and this is incredibly useful particularly when a story is only immediately accessible in a compilation form and so it is difficult to discern where each episode ends.
Although a lot of the data included is familiar to myself, having read Doctor Who Magazine for getting on nine years now as well as all of the authors' series of Handbooks, it is extremely useful to have it all in one volume and there are a lot of additional facts. The main criticism that can be aimed at the book is that several of the short pieces on the series' development are worded incredibly similarly to pieces in the aforementioned books but in the authors' defence it is often difficult to come up with a different slant on such matters and many of the pieces are original.
It is in the analysis that the text seems most familiar. Often the comments about a particular story use phrases familiar from one or other of the author's comments in the Handbooks and so one is tempted to ignore the analysis altogether. However the authors have also listed other comments, both from contemporary public reaction such as Audience Appreciation Reports (and thus giving us the best chance to imagine what the 'casual viewer' thought of a particular story) and also from fan publications showing how opinion on particular stories has changed over the years - for instance The Web Planet and The Time Monster have both fallen heavily from grace since the early 1980s whilst The Deadly Assassin was panned by fans when it was first transmitted but has since soared in their esteem whilst City of Death was similarly savaged but has since been (in my humble opinion, inexplicably) elevated to the level of "all time great". The analysis is detail and often well balanced and routinely provokes the reader to ask themselves 'Do I agree with this?'
Like any other reference work The Television Companion can be praised and/or criticised for the position it adopts on some of the traditional disputes amongst Doctor Who fans such as 'What titles should be used for the Hartnell stories?' or 'Is The Trial of a Time Lord one story or four?' A book has to make a decision one way or another in many of these matters and I must here confess that my prejudices are in favour of some of the same answers as the book uses for reasons that fall outside the scope of this review but I can understand the arguments for the alternative answers.
The cover is interesting, showing all eight Doctors (with Paul McGann taking centre stage) with the whole image treated to add horizontal lines to make it look like a television image. Whether or not this effect works depends upon one's experience of the medium and I suspect that it's my relatively young age that means I do not immediately link the effect to its intention but it is a good idea nonetheless and makes for a nice cover on an indispensable book. 10/10
A Review by Terrence Keenan 8/2/05
Based on the Telos revised edition.
Well, let's get this right out of the way. No offence to Jean Marc L'Officier, but The Television Companion does wipoe the floor with JML's programme guide variations.
The book is stuffed to the gills with details, some known, some unknown, does a little myth-busting (although the one in The Brain of Morbius about the Silent Gas Dirigibles of the Hoothi is true and the book gives credit to the wrong person -- it's Maren, not the Doctor who says this), lists all the episode ending (very cool) and, for me the most interesting part, gives a detailed analysis of each episode, based on then and now views, audience research and other factors. Not surprising to me, they lend towards a traditional, Peter Haining-esque, opinion of stories, but will at least give and show differing views.
One more nice feature is that the Telos version comes in an oversized paperback edition, unlike the original BBC books version. It allows for better presentation on the pages within.
My only beef, and well, it's big to me, is the naming of certain Hartnell episodes. Howe and Walker decided to use the recent production notes' titles for the early Hartnell stories. With the most annoying one being The Mutants for The Daleks. Y'know, if you want to know what the proper titles are for the early Hartnell stories are, go by what the BBC sells the videos under. And guess what, they sell the first Dalek story as THE DALEKS!
Otherwise, one of the better reference guides around, worth shelling out the sheckles for.