While I was at Long Island Who (a general post about the weekend is coming, I promise) I also had the pleasure of spending a good amount of time with Graeme Burk and Robert Smith?, authors of Who is The Doctor and the new book Who’s 50 – The 50 Doctor Who Stories to Watch Before You Die. Who is the Doctor is an analysis of the new series, episode by episode, through the end of Series 6 and Who’s 50…well that is self-explanatory, is it not? I think that these two books are must haves for any Whovian’s library, and I am not just saying that because I think the authors are delightful human beings. The books are smart, they are chock-full of tidbits and history, and they are funny. They read like the transcript of the impassioned debate over your favorite episodes that you have most definitely had with your friends at your local pub or on Twitter.
But what is the best about these books is that the overwhelming love that Graeme and Robert have for Doctor Who is evident in every word. So often these “Unofficial Companion” books can feel dry and “facts only” but that is not the case here. What’s one of the most engaging things about the books is that Graeme and Robert have very different opinions on how Doctor Who should be made. As Graeme put it at the con, he tends to look at the episodes more in the context of the big picture of the series, while Robert gets analytical about the details of the episodes. These differing opinions lead to some great and impassioned debates about the merits of episodes and their place in the Who canon. I can’t recommend the books enough, so I’ll leave it at that and stop gushing. For now.
Graeme and Robert hosted a panel at the Con where they talked about the process of whittling down all the Doctor Who episodes to their top 50 and they also read excerpts and took questions about their choices. They came up with their list by individually making their own list and then comparing notes (which made me chuckle, as that was the exact way Sage and I came up with our lists for our top episodes of The Office and The X-Files!). They actually matched on 33 out of 50 (wow!) and then broke up the remaining episodes between them and decided that neither one of them could object to the episodes that the other chose…which I LOVE. That is how, as they put it, some unconventional episodes wound up in the book. It wasn’t about picking the BEST or most IMPORTANT episodes (because there are tons of books that do that), it was about picking out the episodes that meant the most to THEM…which is why Who’s 50 stands out among the rest.
Whoops. Gushing again.
To open the panel, Robert read an excerpt from their section of “The Green Death”, a Third Doctor story, and the first episode he ever watched. To give you a taste of just how good this book is, I’m going to share some of what he read…
“I’ve seen amazing episodes of this TV show – including falling in love all over again with the New Series – that I continue to adore. But no experience in my life has ever been or ever will be as profound or worldshaking as watching the thrilling finale of “The Green Death” at five years old and losing my Doctor Who virginity. I went in as a boy and came out a fan.”
NO I DID NOT TEAR UP A LITTLE BIT WATCHING HIM READ THAT. I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT.
Since the New Series is my area of expertise, I thought I would take a look at the episodes that they chose to include in the book. Several of them matched up with the list that Sage and I chose for people who wanted to get into Doctor Who, which again made me feel like we were doing things right here at Head Over Feels.
Ninth Doctor: “Rose” and “Dalek”
Graeme and Robert DID point out that the episodes they ended up choosing for the new series remained fluid right up until the very end. They were originally going to spotlight “End of the World” and “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” from Eccleston’s run but finally settled on “Rose” and “Dalek”, which I wholeheartedly agree with. The completist in me says you absolutely can NOT have a top 50 episodes of Doctor Who without including “Rose”, which was the jumping off point for SO MANY fans (including me). It’s the perfect introduction for those unfamiliar with the Who Universe and had it NOT been good, the series probably would have flatlined. Having rewatched “Dalek” recently, I also feel this episode is an excellent choice. So much of Series One was about introducing a new generation of fans to the Doctor Who canon and “Dalek” introduced the storied battle between the Doctor and the Daleks in a wonderful way. Eccleston really brings his A-Game in this episode, showing all sides of The Doctor, but especially tapping into the darkness that we all could tell was lurking just under the surface. But what is also important about this episode is that it shows just how much Rose’s compassion and utter humanity is beginning to change the Doctor and heal him. It’s a truly fantastic episode and I high recommend a rewatch of it if you haven’t visited it recently.
The Tenth Doctor: “Love and Monsters”, “Blink”, “Human Nature/Family of Blood”, and “The Waters of Mars”
During the panel, I questioned the inclusion of “Love and Monsters”. Graeme’s response to my question? “Um, because it’s AWESOME.”
I wasn’t questioning the merits of “Love and Monsters”, but it just seemed interesting to me that they included an episode that barely FEATURED the Doctor. Their response was that “Love and Monsters”, aside from being a flat-out excellent episode, really showcased what Doctor Who was capable of as a show, that it could do episodes that didn’t feature the main character prominently and episodes that really stretched the definitions of the genre.
When it was pointed out that most of the Tenth Doctor Episodes chosen actually didn’t heavily FEATURE the Doctor (as you could strongly make the case that the Doctor is not in “Human Nature/Family of Blood” as Tennant is playing John Smith most of the time), it led to an astounding (to me) confession from Robert. He is not a fan of David Tennant as The Doctor. This, of course, led to the two of us having an impassioned debate about it at a Con After Party that I am sure will be continued when we see each other at Gally. It mainly consisted of me saying “BUT HOW CAN YOU NOT LIKE DAVID TENNANT?!?!” over and over. #sorrynotsorry
I also appreciate the inclusion of “Waters of Mars” because not only is it a genuinely terrifying episode but it also showcases The Doctor at his darkest. Ten is completely out of control in this episode and it is a compelling portait of just how terrible the Doctor can be, in my mind, when he is travelling without a companion to keep him rooted in goodness. I also think it is a tour-de-force performance from David.
So there Robert.
The Eleventh Doctor: “Vincent and the Doctor”, “Asylum of the Daleks”, “The Name of the Doctor”
“Vincent and the Doctor” would probably be in my top 5 episodes of the new series, so I applaud its inclusion in the book. It’s an episode that speaks to everything good about The Doctor and his travels, especially in the final scene (“We definitely added to his pile of good things…”). This episode was shown to a good friend of mine who had been really iffy on Doctor Who as a whole, and it was the one that made him see what I love about the show so much. If you have a friend who is drawn to emotionally driven stories, this is the one to show to them.
As they were writing this book while Series 7 was airing, it was important to Graeme and Robert to include episodes from that series, especially as Who’s The Doctor only went through Series Six. That’s why “Asylum of the Daleks” and “The Name of the Doctor” were included. And as I look at Series Seven as a whole, aside from “The Snowmen” (which was on the list for a while), those are the ones I would include. “Asylum” is a true spectacle and is Doctor Who at its most cinematic. I will never forget seeing it on the big screen at the Ziegfeld theatre and being blown away by the visual storytelling of the episode and the fantastic twist involving Oswin. And “The Name of the Doctor”…well that takes us right up to where we are now, as we anticipate the 50th Anniversary special. Robert commented that he and Graeme would go back and forth after every episode of 7-B saying “Is this the episode we should include in the book?” and that after “The Name of the Doctor” aired, it was abundantly clear that it should be the one.
Personally, I would have made a case for “The Angels Take Manhattan” to be included, but I tend to be drawn to the episodes that have an overwhelming emotional impact. Shocking, I know.
Graeme and Robert also talked about what the process of writing the book meant to them, which is where the title of this post comes from. Graeme was speaking to the process of rewatching the episodes they included and how it made him rediscover just how much he loves this show. It can be easy for a long time fan of a show to become cynical about it, especially when you spend so much time analyzing it. In fact, it’s EASIER to be cynical. It’s easy to say “Oh, the show isn’t as good as it used to be” or “Steven Moffat is ruining the show”. But what is not easy is taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. Doctor Who is constantly evolving and that has always been the beauty of the show, and that is why it has endured for 50 years.
Whether you have been a fan since childhood or just came into the series with Matt Smith, Who’s 50 is a book for you. I know I am using it as a primer for the classic episodes I need to see as I continue to delve into Who‘s vast archive and I was pleased to discover that I had already ticked off many of the Classic Episodes they chose. I have a long way to go, but at least I know I am on the right path.
Graeme then closed the panel by reading an excerpt on their chapter covering “Survival”, which was the last episode of the classic series. If this post hasn’t convinced you to buy the book yet, this bit should…
“A 48-word soliloquy closes off the 26-year-long chapter of Classic Doctor Who. Typical of Doctor Who, it promises all sorts of things that it never could deliver – cities made of song, people made of smoke and rivers that can dream – but I love it all the same because it claims those possibilities could be true. Every time I hear ‘There are worlds out there,’ I get a little teary-eyed. It’s a reaction from when this was the end of televised Doctor Who, when Doctor Who was killed by indifference and lack of imagination on the part of those who ran the BBC. Now we know different. Now we can see what takes place in seven years, in fifteen years, with the pressing of a DVD remote, with the turning of a page. But, at the time, that strange, funny, sad eulogy was the end.
Come on, Ace, we’ve got work to do.”
RIGHT IN THE FEELS, YOU GUYS. I had goosebumps everywhere.