❉ Sam Maleski reviews an unofficial study of the Tenth Doctor’s era…
Doctor Who has a long history with episode guides – from the Complete History volumes lovingly detailing the production of every individual story; to The Discontinuity Guide or the still ongoing About Time series. Not so much with the New Series, though, which pretty much gives Doctor Who: The David Tennant Years, the new book by Jamie Hailstone and SonicBond Publishing, a free niche to pump full of content. Does it manage to fill it, though? Well …
The good, first. There’s something to be said for the format of the book, short and dense. The basic structure (synopsis, review, technical details and trivia for each and every story) is not too dissimilar from what you might find in About Time, but unlike Miles and Wood, who include a fair amount of essays, digressions and hot takes in their (sometimes overlong) dissection of each story, here, we keep to the bare essentials, getting an overview of a story in two to three pages. That makes it a solid bibliographic reference if you need to check your facts or are missing some details about Who, with everything clearly labelled and accessible.
The inconvenient there, is that it’s hard to justify that kind of approach to pop culture writing when the internet is so easily accessible – there’s a fair chunk of the book devoted to synopses and cast details, and people can access those on IMDB free of charge. The simplicity makes it a lot more accessible and streamlined as an episode guide, that much is true – but are the people who buy episode guides looking for the streamlined essentials? Surely the appeal of Miles & Wood is precisely in their digressions and authorial voice.
The book, therefore, essentially lives on the strength of its review and trivia sections. The latter are quite solid, and no doubt the highlight of the project: there’s a fair amount of fun details and precise behind the scenes stuff, written with a nicely organisational eye. The inclusion of quotes from interviews and other documents is an especially nice touch, allowing the book to exist to some extent as a way to centralise and efficiently source a lot of the production history of the Tennant years. It’s a shame that a lot of those sections lack precise sourcing and quotations, however: while it’d be silly to criticise such a book for, say, lacking the academic rigour of a Black Archive, it remains that presenting a good list of source could have been a key advantage for it, that it sadly doesn’t quite seize.
The review sections are relatively brief and factual, often about half a page – they’re solid enough as a brief snippet of Hailstone’s thoughts, but don’t tend to get especially in-depth on the episodes or offer any unorthodox takes on the era: they almost read more like recaps of the story’s dramatic structure and reception by fandom doxa (which, to be fair, is a good thing to have in an episode guide) than any kind of personal engagement with the Tennant years. Which is a shame, because the (generally strong) introduction hits a really good note right off the bat, really showing the passion of the writer for the era, and finding a pretty compelling biographical hook to explore, in a few pages, the relationship David Tennant has had with Who.
The two strongest assets The David Tennant Years possesses reside in what it does differently from other guidebooks. The inclusion of his animated adventures and appearance in The Sarah Jane Adventures, for starters, is much appreciated, and gives insight and history to stories too often overlooked (although, on that note, it is perplexing that none of his minisodes got the same treatment – surely Time Crash would have deserved a mention?). The lovingly detailed image galleries are another plus – while, once again, visual resources are readily available on the internet, it is nevertheless nice to have that commitment to concrete references in the book.
The section that highlights the location shootings for a fair amount of Tennant episodes through original photographs taken by the author is one of the best things the book does, offering the reader a genuinely interesting vista into the production process of these stories – on some level, the book might have been stronger if it centred those more and integrated them into the discussion of the actual stories instead of confining them to a separate image gallery. Not only are they of good quality and of considerable documentary interest, they also show a personal connection with the era, a warmth and humanity’s relationship to those places and these few years of television, that the rest of this enterprise doesn’t always showcase.
Those sum up the book, really. While The David Tennant Years doesn’t always succeed in its goals, and is hindered by strange and archaic structural choices, it is nevertheless clearly a labour of love and a noble, respectable attempt at concentrating information on the golden years of New Who.
❉ Jamie Hailstone: ‘Doctor Who – The David Tennant Years: An Episode Guide’ (Sonicbond Publishing). Format: Paperback (21cm x 15cm) Pages: 128 plus 16 colour Illustrations: 48 Colour. ISBN: 978‐1‐78952‐066‐8. follow on Twitter | friend on Facebook | forward to a friend
❉ Sam Maleski (they/he) writes about genre fiction and Doctor Who – including one Black Archive for Obverse Books and the Sheffield Steel essay collection series. They can be found tweeting at @LookingForTelos and blogging at @MediaDoWntime.