Fifty Stories for Fifty Years: Andrew Hickey

Adams, Douglas

One of the great writers (quite oddly, but that’s another story) of the 20th century. He wrote, of course, Hitchhikker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the Dirk Gently novels (which have a lot in common with Shada). Given his association with Dr Who, which this book is about, I was hoping for a little more on him. But then, after Shada, what more can be said that hasn’t been said elsewhere?

Anthology

What this book isn’t: it’s a collection of critical essays, taking one story from each of the years Dr Who has been active. It’s not just the TV show, though: the novelisations, comics, and audios all get a guernsey

Assistants

Those who travel with Dr Who: of course, they’re also called companions – but in the 60s and 70s, Dr Who had to be a figure who was authoritative, with no equal. This was somewhat of a shame, as the best companions were his equal, as Hickey points out.

Baddies

In Hickey’s view, those who undermine the whole meaning of Doctor Who by really being obstinate and refusing to let the story unfold organically. He believes (and I agree) that you can have contradictions and incompletion. Dr Who, at his best, is about the joy of learning, of science, of adventure. Sticking things into a box tends to undermine all of these.

Baker, Tom

Longest serving and immensely popular actor who played the Doctor in the 1970s and 1980s. Described, rightly, by Hickey as one of the most charismatic actors ever, Baker is the definitive Dr Who for many people. Hickey himself prefers William Hartnell, but there are a lot who would put David Tennant or Matt Smith above both of them.

Daleks

The greatest of television science fiction villains. I was fascinated to find out Tom Baker only faced them twice. Only rivalled by the Cybermen, who aren’t quite as interesting, though if the Daleks had never been thought of, the Cybermen would be in their place.

Davies, Russell T.

Showrunner. Hickey ‘leans towards not a fan’: he defends this position. I lean towards ‘a fan’ because he brought it back, and the idea of the show (and Hickey shows the genesis of these ideas) and got it to more or less work. Not every script that Davies has done has worked, and neither have those of his successor, Steven Moffatt, but in my view, the concept has.  There was a sense that they don’t quite know their own strengths. I agree with Hickey when he disparages the ‘story arc’ – the Bad Wolf one was particularly disappointing and bathetic, and made no sense after some thinking – was Rose really that influential? Since when? How? etc.

Dicks, Terrance

Writer of scripts, but also of many novelisations. As Hickey says, rather workmanlike, but effective. Dicks has a claim to have shaped the literacy of a generation of English (and Australian) readers.

Doctor Who

Iconic television, book, radio, comic figure who has just celebrated 50 years of broadcast. One of the great science fiction ideas, the scripts, as Hickey points out are often ridiculous and just plain bad. Just as often, though, they are revelatory and transcendent. Dr Who is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. Instead of dying, he stems entropy by regeneration: hence the character, like Sherlock Holmes, but in a much more practical way, having never lived, can never die.

It’s also the title of the programme which features the character. If you like science fiction, you must have at least a passing acquaintance with the Doctor. A stunningly good program at its best, when it worked within its limitations, it enhanced imagination. When it kicked against them, it was often disastrous. Given that the show has a boundless brief (time travelling alien can travel anywhere at any time) and has had some of the best writers in the business and most creative crew) it is surprising how much of it is just plain. Nonetheless, at its best, its one of the best shows of all time.

Goodies

See Baddies

Hickey, Andrew

Author of at least half a dozen books: of the six I own, I’ve found them all unputdownable. His book on the Beatles is among the very best on the subject. his Monkees book is definitive  This book is just as personal, intelligent and well-written as the others I’ve read. He is about my favourite current author.

Holmes, Robert

By common consent, the best scriptwriter Dr Who has had.

Humour

Hickey’s books are infused with this: for example – he describes a ‘meme’ as a term meaning an idea, coined by someone who never had one.

Levine, Ian

Massive fan of Dr Who, record producer and DC Comics collector. Levine has managed to save many episodes, but Hickey broadly disagrees with his approach to continuity, use of old monsters and restoration of missing scenes.

Logopolis

Hickey’s entry  for this and the Book of the War inspired this format for this review. It allowed him to bring in concepts like entropy and Teilhard De Chardin and other large concepts. He deals with them excellently. Read Hickey’s book, rather than ask me.

Moffatt, Steven

Current show-runner: Hickey tends to the ‘not a fan’ side of things, whereas I tend to the ‘am a fan’ things. But there are some worrying trends – there is, often, a lack of imagination – the scripts I found brilliant tended to be those in which the Doctor is somewhat fallible. Moffatt has a worrying tendency to pander to the largest fan base (look at Sherlock, where most of the scripts now seem to be aimed at the ‘single female 22 year old librarian’ demographic, whatever that is. If he’s not careful, he’ll lose 60% of the audience who don’t reasonably fit that, and I suspect a great deal of the audience who do will get offended. Nontheless, the best of his stuff is among the very very best.

Nathan-Turner, John

Showrunner of Dr Who from 1980-1989: although he preferred variety tv, and seemed not to ‘get’ Dr Who, as Hickey points out, his flaws were not necessarily worse than any other showrunners’ flaws. Terrance Dicks compared Nathan-Turner to Hitler and Himmler. Most fans dislike him, but Hickey is, as always, fair.

Quibbles

Of course I have some with this book, but they add to the enjoyment: I think Davies and Moffatt have added to the show more than they have detracted from it.

Hickey critiques the use of the Gen-X ‘so’ intensifier. While it does suggest a lack of imagination (would anyone else in the galaxy speak that way?) I’d point out that the show has always had the values of its time and place.

I think that John Pertwee was a better doctor than Hickey thinks. Hickey dismisses Pertwee’s doctor as a bully – I think it was a much better performance than that.

I also think that the best of the post 2005 series is the one with Charles Dickens, but I also think Matt Smith will go down as an underrated doctor – when the scripts are good, Smith was perfect. He, like Colin Baker, was lumbered with some terrible ideas that he made the most of.

There are a few typos. Big Deal.

Shada

The great ‘missing’ Doctor Who episode: written by Douglas Adams, it has been recreated by fans (including Ian Levine) from existing footage and augmented animation or sounds. Its ideas later turn up in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Hickey also points out that it is very similar to the Beach Boys album Smile, in that it almost collapses under its own weight of expectation. And when it is finally done, it doesn’t reach these expectations. and nothing that follows does either. (Although see Moffat)

Time Travel

A surprisingly little used plot device (until after 2005, and in the novels, etc). The Doctor of course can travel throughout time and space effortlessly, but few plots concentrated on the ramifications of this. Watching this as a child, and later as an adult in repeat, I never noticed…

You

The person reading this: and what you should do? Read this book if you are a Doctor Who fan – you will get a lot out of it.