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The Nine Lives of Doctor Who

By Peter Haining

Book review by Paul Scoones

Peter Haining established himself in the mid-eighties with books such as A Celebration and The Key to Time as one of the earliest published ‘historians’ writing about the background to the series. A succession of thinly disguised rewrites of the same material, examples of unabashed plagiarism and blatant inaccuracies all combined to discredit Haining's authority on the subject and after five books about the series, he disappeared from the scene.

The focus of this new book, a decade later, is at first promising - a biography of each of the nine actors who have played the Doctor - but the execution reveals that Haining is still committing the sins which earned him notoriety in the first place. As if setting himself up as Doctor Who's answer to James Burke, Haining tries valiantly to find patterns and connections in the lives of the actors. Some of these are debatable, others are just plain wrong, and even Haining catches himself out on occasion, at one point describing Terry Carney (Hartnell's manager) as Hartnell's granddaughter's husband and at another as his son-in-law (the latter is correct).

As with Haining's earlier books his facts are called into question - the series' first episode was not a last-minute replacement, nor did it screen ten minutes later than the advertised time. Arc of Infinity was most definitely not recorded two years after Time-Flight, and when did ‘Mark Strickland’ play Turlough?!

Haining begins his book with an anecdote about a fan who confused the fiction of Doctor Who with reality and decides from this experience that fans need educating about the real lives of the actors who played their hero. This might be mildly offensive were it not for the amusing revelation that Haining himself apparently has trouble making the distinction. We're reliably informed “the first Doctor wore a long white wig”, as do a couple of other Doctors. It's an astonishing slip for a writer whose stated purpose is to distinguish the actors from their on-screen counterparts.

The information on each actor's life is surprisingly slight and superficial (the chapter on Pertwee spends as much time describing the cars as it does the man). The author emphasises his own personal connection with each of the actors - although in the case of Hartnell this was no more than a case of standing in an autograph queue - though disappointingly such meetings have failed to yield anything fresh to say on the subject.

If there is a gap in the market for Doctor Who books, it is for deeply researched, well-rounded individual biographies of each of the Doctor actors whose lives have yet to be chronicled, and not for this eighties throwback. [1/5]

This item appeared in TSV 59 (January 2000).