‘Running Through Corridors (Vol. 2: The 70s)’ reviewed

❉ Your hosts Toby Hadoke and Robert Shearman return to cover 11 seasons, 58 stories, four producers and just the two Doctors.

It’s the lot of every generation of fandom to tell their elders that their version of ‘Doctor Who’ was crap and that theirs is the golden age. This is, of course, a phase most of us grow out of – whilst we might never appreciate the way the show was made for audiences when we were too young to watch, we can learn to appreciate the merits of it. When I came into fandom the Pertwee backlash was in full swing, the Tom ‘n’ Davo kids asserting their voice by tearing down what they saw as a lazy, gaudy era. Except for the first season, that was different and therefore approved of. It reached an apex with Paul Cornell’s righteous kicking of Terror of the Autons in DWB which damned the story and the era for sexism, racism and smugness. In many ways its reputation has never really recovered, with the passage of time being particularly cruel to its pace and look as well as the mores of the day.

Frankly, we were due to give the era something of a critical redress, to try to look at things with a generous eye rather than a mean-spirited one. For that reason this second book in the ‘Running Through Corridors’ series was the one I was most looking forward to. In case you missed out, or forgot in the interregnum between books (love a good interregnum) ‘Running through Corridors’ is the diary of an act of loving madness: a pact between two friends to watch all of Doctor Who in a year, from a policeman shining a light on a humming police box in Totter’s Lane to Matt Smith thinking he was a girl and realising the TARDIS was crashing. No excuses for missing out on the daily quota, even the small matter of getting married shouldn’t get in the way of daily Who fix. Two episodes per day and three on weekends from New Year’s Day 2009 to New Year’s Day 2010, reviewed in a spirit of critical generosity. It also helps that as both professionals and fans our heroes Robert Shearman and Toby Hadoke are aware of the exigencies of television production and the constraints the show was produced under – they never descend to the cheap jibes about wobbly sets and low budgets. Well, rarely…

Volume 2 of the series sees our heroes covering eleven seasons, fifty-eight stories, four producers and just the two Doctors. And make no mistake, they suffer for our reading pleasure – at one point they voluntarily suffer an episode of The Mutants followed by two of The Time Monster in one day to keep things on schedule. Such tests have derailed lesser souls, but these men have the fortitude and direction of Amundsen rather than Scott.

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The strength of the book is unchanged from its predecessor. Shearman and Hadoke are affable, witty and knowledgeable hosts and the dialogue between the two underlines a genuine, deep friendship. Shearman is, as you’d expect, very strong on story and structure and finding ways in which things which seem to  jar or not work may actually fit. Hadoke, by contrast, is the Wikipedia of character actors, ably and deftly recalling not only every Who appearance by seemingly every actor to appear but their full careers. Anecdotes such as the one about Graham Leaman in The Three Doctors entry lend the book the kind of flavour other Who reference books tend to lack as they limit their focus to career highlights. It’s the benefit of both men being professionals and fans: the overall effect is of sitting with the two in a pub simply listening while they talk. It’s glorious stuff that reminds you of the simple joy of sitting around nattering about this daft old show with mates. The bonus is the snippets from their lives; the art cruise, the bad gigs, convention trips and, above all, Toby’s matrimony. Although Toby’s dedication extends to spending his day watching three episodes of The Android Invasion (and, magnificently, recreating the scene from the Target novelisation cover on the day) he shamelessly takes his first day of married life off, breaking all the diary rules. If it weren’t for his hosting of DVD commentaries, stage shows, competing at conventions, Big Finish acting work and utterly sublime Who’s Round podcasts I might even have been moved to think that his priorities were in the wrong order. The personal elements of the diary add a warmth to the proceedings  and a subtle second story behind the Who trek and keeps this from being too much dry analysis.

This light format though is really a disguise which lets them achieve one of the great critical feats of Who scholarship. As fans we’re all familiar with the obvious points where the series changes and can give snap verdicts on every story (regardless of whether we’ve seen them or not). This format differs by tracking the incremental changes in the series on an episode by episode basis: it analyses Doctor Who as one giant evolving entity rather than as a series of discrete units. That’s an important angle as it displays Doctor Who’s biggest strength off: the juxtaposition of genres and creative talents to form a giant patchwork quilt of a story. It’s the element that can get lost when talking about the show and something made obvious by how often a new episode one perks both men up after a dull story.

Only occasionally does the delay in publication of the diaries show – one of Toby’s entries bemoans the lack of Donald Sumpter in modern Who when by now he’s made multiple appearances including the 50th anniversary special. Other than that the format lends itself to delays. On the page no time has passed, we’ve simply had to wait six years for the cliffhanger of the last page of volume 1 to be resolved. Volume 2 ends on an similarly apt upbeat note to the first volume. As with their first break they’re about to encounter one of Doctor Who’s great stylistic leaps: from the light entertainment sci-fi of the ’70s to the glossy gloom of the ’80s. Will our heroes survive it intact?

As a certain producer once said… stay tuned.


❉  ‘Running Through Corridors 2’ by Toby Hadoke and Robert Shearman (with a Foreword by Louise Jameson) was published by Mad Norwegian Press on December 6 2016; the ebook will go on sale in May 2017. ISBN: 9781935234074. Retail price: $29.95.

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