Home : Archive : TSV 41-50 : TSV 42 : Review

The Handbook: The First Doctor

By David J Howe, Mark Stammers & Stephen James Walker

Book review by Jon Preddle

I wasn't particularly impressed with the Fourth Doctor Handbook, as it contained nothing new for me. This gave me the impression that the other books in the series (if any were to be published) would be just as dull. Fortunately, my faith was restored by the excellent Sixth Doctor Handbook, with its detailed look at the cancellation crisis of 1985.

One would have thought that the authors' coverage of the origins and production of the First Doctor's era had already been exhaustively covered in their book The Sixties. But as readers of Doctor Who Magazine will know, co-editor Marcus Hearn's recent discovery of ancient BBC files sheds new light upon that which was previously known about the origins of our favourite TV programme. The Handbook authors have used the same sources, plus much, much more.

As expected, this Handbook follows the same format as the other two volumes; with quotes from various interviews with Hartnell, as well as people he worked with on Doctor Who. There is a character study of the first Doctor, and a look at 'Establishing the Myth' from a continuity point of view. I found this section appealing because many of the topics they discuss have been previously covered in issues of TSV, such as Susan's origins, the Doctor's real name, the TARDIS, and Dalek history.

There is the obligatory story guide, but with a 'Did-You-Know?' type facts section and supporting interview quotes with directors and designers who worked on the stories (these interviews coming mostly from the authors' own now-defunct fanzine, the excellent The Frame). 'Selling The Doctor' finally confirms my belief that New Zealand was the first country outside of England to actually screen Doctor Who, but unfortunately the writers have Auckland as the first region to air the series when it should be Christchurch.

The Ark is selected as a typical Hartnell story and given an extended behind the scenes account, but this 'Script to Screen' is much briefer than those in the previous Handbooks because of page restrictions. This is a great pity because the Script to Screen section was one of the best parts about the previous volumes. However, it is still very informative, particularly director Michael Imison's claim that the Monoids were his idea!

The abridged 'Script to Screen' is more than adequately compensated for by the 'Production Diary'. Half of the book is devoted to this section, and it is this alone that makes the Handbook a must-buy. It begins in April 1962 with the BBC's initial discussions about a new Saturday tea-time family serial, right through to October 1966 and Hartnell's farewell party following the recording of part four of The Tenth Planet. Through extracts taken directly off BBC internal memos and correspondence we discover the many problems faced by the production team getting the first serial made, from initial script issues to difficulties with finding a suitable studio that could cater for the special effects requirements. Budgets are also discussed, and we are even given the cost to produce each individual episode! The script editors' side is covered, from the issues faced with having scripts arriving late or being rewritten, to complete breakdowns of all the stories that were never made. I was surprised to see SF novelist John Wyndham included in the line-up of names!

If the previous Handbooks had featured similar Production Diaries then they would have been something to really rave about. I can only hope that subsequent Handbooks have a diary (and I hope the authors and Virgin can take it upon themselves to publish a separate back-up volume to cater for the Fourth and Sixth Doctors. So, how about it, guys?!)

If you loved The Sixties, then this Handbook makes an ideal complementary volume.

This item appeared in TSV 42 (January 1995).