Doctor Who - The Television Companion
By David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker
Book review by Jon Preddle
A warning - don't try to head-butt this book. It might do irreparable damage or leave a nasty bruise! (That will teach me to leave it on the edge of the shelf above my bed during the night!) At 550-plus pages, this bumper volume is the largest Doctor Who book ever published. Already having Virgin's Programme Guide I was somewhat hesitant at first to bother with this new book from the Howe & Walker writing partnership, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that there is much in it that is new.
The book covers all televised stories including the 1996 TV Movie, dividing each into bite-sized sub-headings. The bulk of the text appears in the ‘Analysis’ section, and consists of contemporary reviews from newspapers and BBC audience research reports, plus more recent retrospectives from well-known fanzines. Even good old TSV is given a considerable share. What I found interesting was that fans generally pan the stories that the press raved about, and vice versa!
In terms of the cast list, the Programme Guides (and the DWM Archives) contains full uncredited casts lists, but the Companion only lists the cast and crew credits as they appear on screen. This is actually a good idea as it enables one to identify the cast on an episode by episode basis. Sadly there are a few slip ups in identifying which of the Jon Pertwee episodes credit him as ‘Dr Who’ and those as ‘Doctor Who’.
The ‘Popular Myths’ heading helps to dispel some of the nonsense and bollocks that fandom has believed over the years, but in some cases the authors seem to be stretching it just a little bit in order to include at least something for every story (take the pointless entry about Tony Starr under Planet Of The Daleks for example). Thankfully ‘Things You Probably Never Knew’ does offer some interesting new facts that have not appeared in previous Who books.
As for ‘Things To Look Out For’, I would like to ask David and Stephen how they expect us to look out for specific highlights from the missing episodes when chances are we will actually never get the opportunity to do so. Hmm?
I don't think it is intended that this book be read from cover to cover - it is, as the title suggests, a companion, a book to have at hand when viewing Doctor Who episodes - and was probably designed more towards those unfamiliar with the series. Even if it was, there is still a lot in it for the hard-core fan. Just keep it safely secured at night. (Oh, and they've spelt ‘Stephen’ Spielberg's name wrong - again!) [4/5]
Book review by Brad Schmidt
At first, the idea of sitting watching Doctor Who armed with this hefty slab amused me, until whilst watching The Web Planet I realised I was consulting The Television Companion religiously to see how far away each episode ending was. Reading like a heavily edited omnibus of all the Doctor Who non-fiction books so far, albeit with much of the humour excised, this 500+ page volume is yet another production from David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker - but by far the most essential Doctor Who reference work by anyone, ever.
What is most memorable about The Television Companion is the fact that every story is given a balanced analysis - it's not decreed that Timelash is bad, for example, rather the authors draw upon a wide variety of opposing reviews spanning the years to present a genuinely interesting study of every story - which is altogether far more interesting than cut-and-dried opinions.
The Television Companion is indispensable to all fans of the television series, especially because of the detail in which the Hartnell and Troughton stories are studied. The emphasis is no more in-depth than any other era of the show, but seeing as many of their stories no longer exist, it's highly rewarding and an admirable asset to a potentially video-biased read.
Almost a gravestone to televised Doctor Who, The Television Companion is perfect for both mourning and celebrating the show; and utterly essential. [5/5]
TSV WRITERS IN THE TV COMPANION
There are no less than sixteen separate mentions of TSV in the pages of the Television Companion. David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker (both long-term subscribers to TSV), have selected quotes from various TSV reviews going back as far as 1991, as well as of from course many other Doctor Who fanzines, with which to illustrate the ‘Analysis’ section for each story. To save you having to hunt through the book to find the TSV quotes, here's a list of all the mentions.
This item appeared in TSV 56 (October 1998).