ECW Press
Who's 50
The 50 Doctor Who Stories to Watch Before You Die

Editors Graeme Burk and Robert Smith? Cover image
ISBN 1 770 41166 6
Publisher ECW Press
Published 2013

Summary: Doctor Who has been a television phenomenon since it began 50 years ago on November 23, 1963. But of all the hundreds of televised stories, which are the ones you must watch? Featuring 50 stories from all eleven Doctors, Who’s 50 is full of behind-the-scenes details, exhilarating moments, connections to Who lore, goofs, interesting trivia and much, much more. Who's 50 tells the story of this global sensation: its successes, its tribulations and its triumphant return.

Note: Since this book was co-written by the editor of the Guide, to avoid any conflict of interest, Matthew Kresal has agreed to be handling editor for reviews of this book and any others written or edited by Robert. Matthew has complete veto power over any review and all reviews will be sent to him for approval (or you can send them to him directly at timdalton007 at yahoo dot com).


A Review by Finn Clark 22/8/13

Reviewer's note: This is a review of a book co-written by Robert Smith?, on a website that's run by Robert Smith?. Quite rightly, he was unsure about whether it would be ethical for him to run this review. I (Finn) appreciate his feelings, but I've also told him not to be a shrinking violet and just put the bloody review up. So if you think there's any breach of taste or etiquette involved, you're correct and it's mine. Signed, Finn Clark.

Warning: this hasn't been published yet. It's due in October 2013. It's thus possible that things might change and my review might have become inaccurate by the time the book appears.

In short: I really enjoyed it. I read it all in one sitting and it made me want to check out their earlier book, Who Is The Doctor (about seasons 1-6 of the new series).

Fundamentally, it's an answer to the question, "Where should I start?" If you've never watched Doctor Who before and you're wondering where to begin, this book's for you. (That's not me.) However at the same time, it's also aimed at long-term fans who enjoy in-depth discussion of stories and thinking about them in their historical context. (That's me.) You might be wondering about the wisdom of this approach, since those two targets might as well be on different continents, but Smith? and Burk achieve it. They do so by writing a lot and going into lots of juicy detail. This isn't just a list of lists. Even with the non-fiction background stuff, I read everything with interest and learned things I hadn't known before.

I particularly enjoyed their even-handedness. I don't remember ever seeing before such fair, clear summaries of UNIT dating and Hartnell story titles, for instance.

What we're really here for, though, are the reviews. These are great. They get cute from time to time with format (e.g. fake letters or recipes, personal reminiscences), but I approve in principle even if it's occasionally distracting. (A review in poetry, for instance, is a fearsome thing to attempt because you're forcing the reader to read more slowly. I speak from experience. You need a much higher concentration of insights and points to make.) However the form doesn't matter. The content is what's important and there's a ton of it here. Smith?'s piece on The War Games is magnificent and they're very nearly as good on Doctor Who and the Silurians and Inferno. There's a throwaway line from Burk that, for me, I don't think could be bettered as a summation of the series. "It completely subverts expectation, like all good Doctor Who." Smith? on the Keller Machine is glorious. This book's full of intriguing, well-argued opinions and it's a delight to wallow in them.

This is strongest when the authors are going against received wisdom or disagreeing with each other. I'd have enjoyed a bit more disagreement, actually, or at least a bit more constructive negativity. (The book loses a little steam on reaching the modern series, largely for this reason.) I have trouble processing a discussion of The Face of Evil that doesn't mention Pennant Roberts. However, the single best aspect of this book is that either Smith? or Burk are liable to disagree with the inclusion of any given story and, if so, aren't afraid to put the boot into, say, Genesis of the Daleks, Logopolis or Ghost Light. I loved this. What they're saying is refreshing, but also it gives context and weight to their other comments. The authors came to praise Doctor Who, not to bury it, but unleavened praise can seem meaningless.

The selection of stories isn't evenly spread across all eras, but that's fine. Doctor Who is, to put it mildly, not homogeneous in quality (or indeed in anything). It also helps that they're only doing fifty stories, which is about 20% of the total. This frees them up not to try to be definitive, instead allowing a more idiosyncratic selection. In other words, they're unpredictable. Most of their selections are mainstream, but there are enough surprises in there to make you either punch the air or have to pick your jaw off the ground. (The odds are probably about fifty-fifty.) The Leisure Hive? Really?

HARTNELL - five stories out of 29, or 17 that are complete. Lots of Season One.

TROUGHTON - three stories, which alas pretty much chose themselves. Little latitude given the sad state of what's currently in the archives.

PERTWEE - six stories, including three-quarters of Season Seven. Again, fair enough, although I wonder if the authors weren't tempted to spend a paragraph or two discussing this.

TOM BAKER - the elephant in the room. They cover seven Hinchcliffe-Holmes stories, plus an eighth that hung over in Horror of Fang Rock. After that, there's more from Season Eighteen than from the rest of the Graham Williams era. Now in itself, I have no problem with this. It's the right choice. Hinchcliffe stories are superb television productions, whereas the Williams era looks like shit. No need to push people towards Underworld or The Power of Kroll unless you're feeling mean. However, again, the authors don't mention how they've been selective, while their only mention of Williams-era problems is in discussion of The Horror of Fang Rock, despite the fact that it looks fantastic. I can imagine people reading here that The Horror of Fang Rock looks cheaper than The Talons of Weng-Chiang, continuing to The Invisible Enemy and getting the shock of their lives.

For me, speaking personally and for myself, the lack of comment on Williams feels like a hole in the book. (Well, him and Pennant Roberts.) There's not a word on his competence, but instead a mention of budget problems and 1970s inflation. It's not as if the authors don't give opinions on, say, Andrew Cartmel or Chris Clough. However it's not my book!

DAVISON - five stories out of 20. Loved one of their choices in particular!

COLIN BAKER - two stories, which as with Troughton (but for a different reason) pretty much choose themselves. Harsh things are said about this era and it's hard to disagree with them.

SYLVESTER MCCOY - six stories out of 12, but I love all their choices and would defend them to the death. If anything, I'm disappointed not to get more.

MCGANN - they don't like it much, but they include it. Again, their viewpoints are well-argued and interesting even if you disagree, e.g. on the mighty Eric Roberts.

THE 21ST CENTURY SERIES - this is where the book falls off a bit. The authors' problem is that they already did all this in Who Is The Doctor. Unfortunately, that still leaves a bit of a hole here. Two Ecclestons out of 10, four Tennants out of 36 (not counting animation) and three Smiths out of 37 to date. That's barely ten per cent. I have no problem with their choices, which include one that delighted me by being bonkers, but even so we partially lose the sense of a Doctor Who narrative that we'd previously had. We also don't have any disagreements with one author being rude about a favourite of the other. (It's easy enough to be positive about the new series without choosing your favourite ten per cent of it.)

In fairness, though, I now want to buy Who Is The Doctor. This is a win for the authors.

Overall, I really liked this. Admittedly, I'd liked both authors' writing in the past, but it was still nice to find that this was basically everything I'd hoped it would be. My only criticisms are slight, subjective ones that come from the fact that they're so good at giving a behind-the-scenes overview that I got greedy and wanted more. I enjoyed their choices, even when I thought they were out of their trees. (Nothing would have been worse than a parade of all the usual suspects.) It's a hugely successful book of which I'm sure the authors are rightly proud and I hope it sells like hot cakes.

A Review by Tim McCree 31/12/17

This book was published to help celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who in 2013.

The authors, Robert Smith? and Graeme Burk, both Canadians, BTW (one even lives in the same city as me) picked out their favourite stories from both Classic and New Who. They felt that these were the stories you had to see before you died (as the title suggests). Of course, they realized that not everyone will agree with their choices, something I will come back to a little further one.

The book is very well structured. It is divided into all the five decades that Doctor Who has been on. All the chosen stories, for each Doctor, are placed in their proper decades. Of course, when the Doctor spanned more than one decade, such as the case of Tom Baker, the book lists his 70's stories in the 70's section and his 80's ones in the 80's sections. So you know where to go when looking for a certain Doctor.

Of course, the 1990's only had the Paul McGann TV movie that aired on Fox in 1996.

Since this book was published in 2013, the Doctors in the book stop with the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and Companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), who were then the current TARDIS team.

The book also goes into the behind the scenes information of all the chosen stories. Some of the info I had already known beforehand, but there was new stuff that surprised even me. Most of the new stuff I learned concerned the New Series, as I had been a longtime fan of Classic Who (I had been watching Doctor Who before Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman were even born) and pretty much knew a lot about the making of the Classic show.

The authors decided that only stories that existed in their entirely in the BBC archives would be included. So, most of Second Doctor Patrick Troughton's stories are not included (since most were stupidly destroyed by the Bonehead Broadcasting Corporation, back in the 1970's).

Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor, gets a whopping thirteen stories in this book. Well, he is the longest running actor to play the Doctor (a title he still holds, more than thirty years after leaving the role).

As for the stories, the authors selected, well...

Some I agree with. For example, Inferno, The Ark in Space, Genesis of the Daleks, Pyramids of Mars, The Deadly Assassin, Horror of Fang Rock, City of Death and Earthshock, among others, are all very good stories and deserved a place here.

However, other choices baffled me to no end. The Gunfighters? Are you serious? Logopolis? Aside from being Tom Baker's last story, there is nothing special about it. Kinda? What the heck are you guys smoking!?

And my favourite Classic Who Companion, Nyssa, really gets a raw deal here. Only two of her stories (the aforementioned Logopolis and Earthshock) are included. What about Black Orchid and Arc of Infinity, stories in which Nyssa really shines. Why aren't those stories included? WTH, guys, WTH!!

Despite that, I enjoyed this book and feel it's a must-have for all Who fans, both Classic and New alike.

9/10 (you guys would have gotten a perfect 10, if you'd included more Nyssa stories).