Note: I received a digital copy of these books from the author for review consideration.
My sister is back on the blog today to help me with a dual review! These Doctor Who books are two different looks at one of the most beloved (and long-running) science fiction shows ever created, written by the queen of geek guides, Valerie Frankel. I’ll let Melanie tell you about the first one (Amazon affiliate links are included below):
Doctor Who and the Hero’s Journey
The first thing you should know is that this book is current up to the fiftieth anniversary special, so if you’ve somehow missed any of the episodes prior to that, be warned: Spoilers! (but not in this review). Doctor Who and the Hero’s Journey provides an in-depth exploration of how the characters in Doctor Who follow the framework of the Hero’s Journey as they experience growth and overcome challenges. The author systematically examines each character in “New Who,” both companions and Doctors, and even a few villains, placing them in the context of the Hero’s Journey. This book does make extensive use of Joseph Campbell’s theory of a Hero’s Journey, so background knowledge of his frame for heroic myths is helpful.
What I liked about this book was that, rather than focusing solely on the Doctor, it treated both the Doctor and the companions as having their own hero’s journeys. The Doctor plays a role in the journeys of his companions, just as each companion plays a role in his own journey. The author treats Nine, Ten, and Eleven individually, with their own story arcs, companions, and growth. The book reveals the overarching themes or plots of each season by tracing developments across the individual episodes. Because it refers to the episodes of not only Doctor Who, but also Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures by name, if you don’t have a flawless memory for show titles (or at least easy access to Google), you may end up a little confused about what the author is talking about.
The author’s extensive study of Doctor Who is evident in the way she compiled random references to the Time War and the mysterious pasts of both the Master and River Song. She pieced together a coherent narrative of the events of the Time War, and (my favorite part!) provided a chronological timeline of River Song’s life. Overall, a fun and informative read for super-fans of Doctor Who.
Pretty Darn Good
And now my review:
Doctor Who: The Where, What, and How
Holy trivia, Batman! This book discusses every reference, both internal and external, related to Doctor Who. It covers retcons, literature associated with Doctor Who (and how Doctor Who relates to books, TV, and the internet), self-references, spin offs and novelizations (and all the expanded universe of Doctor Who), pop culture references, catalogs references to literature, religion, TV, comics, myths, music, games, and more; along with references to Doctor Who in other media. As Frankel says, “[Doctor Who] is a program about ourselves, a cultural mirror defining what fandom is and what it can accomplish.” This rings especially true as fanfiction and professional work are merging, with the addition of huge Doctor Who fans like Moffat, Davies, and David Tennant.
So much is included in this book that even the most detail-oriented super-fan will definitely learn something from this book. For instance, did you know that young Amelia Pond is played by Karen Gillan’s real-life cousin? Or that the Eleventh Doctor’s bowtie is red if the episode occurs in the future, and blue if it happens in the past? Now you know!
The huge amount of Doctor Who history allows for plenty of self-references that even die-hard fans might miss on the first viewing. Frankel digs deep into the minute details, so every fan can have access to these in-jokes and references. This can become an issue, however–if you’re not deeply interested in the minutiae of Doctor Who, you may find some sections boring, as they’re just bullet points of trivia. I felt that way about some sections, like the references to the writers’ and actors’ earlier work; that sort of thing just doesn’t interest me. What really fascinated me was references in new Doctor Who to classic Doctor Who. Because I’ve never seen the classic episodes, I know I’m missing out on some fun details. Frankel was able to fill in some of those gaps for me.
There’s also a fun section in the back about where to go on a Doctor Who tour! From stores selling merchandise to sites seen in various episodes, this guide sounds like a super fun way to tour Great Britain. There is also an episode guide (handy if you haven’t memorized the name of each episode, as Melanie mentioned earlier) and a glossary, just in case. Definitely worth a look for super-fans, but I’d probably recommend Hero’s Journey first.
Rating: Good but Forgettable
Are you a Doctor Who fan? Ever read either of these books? Let us know in the comments!
P.S. In case you missed it: Valerie Frankel does Sherlock.