Final Thoughts: About Time 1

By the end of July, they have the cast, the set-up and the “trademarks”. They can now make the series we all know today. Except that they didn’t, to start with…

Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles, About Time 1

I recently finished reading About Time 1: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who by Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles. It looked in depth at the first three “seasons” of Doctor Who, from 1963-1966. The book delves into the behind-the-scenes details of what was going on with the BBC at the time and what factors went into making the show what it was (and is). It’s fascinating to see what was originally intended with the concept and how it morphed and changed over the first few seasons to become much more what we are familiar with now.

I always loved the first Doctor. He’s sort of a crotchety old man and alternates between grumping about how things aren’t going how he wants or giggling because they are. There’s a lot more to him than that, of course, but that was what (perhaps oddly) endeared him to me when I first watched the show. One of the interesting things about him is that he is the most hands-off incarnation of the Doctor I remember. He definitely meddles with time and space when he feels it is necessary either for his own sake or for ethical reasons, but he is less eager to jump into political messes than most of the later versions of him.

Initially, the Doctor wasn’t intended to be the main character. Isn’t that a strange thought? But you can see it in some of those first episodes and the book does a good job of discussing how that shift happened. A lot of the early show seems to be trying to figure out what the goal of the program in general is. Sometimes it wants to be educational, other times it’s leaning heavily into entertainment, and sometimes it’s purely trying to sell Dalek toys! So it’s easy to see why it took a few seasons for the show to find it’s rhythm!

Camfield also, on occasion, used the less martial system of holding up a pound note and offering it to whoever came up with the best solution to an unforeseen problem.

Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles, About Time 1

One of the most interesting elements of the book was the way it regularly put the show into the context of the time it was made and viewed in. The mindset of British culture at the time was still somewhat post-World War II and somewhat Mod and somewhat trying to shake off a pessimism that made longing for something new challenging. There were crazy rules for children’s television (for example, it couldn’t contain children) that affected things and BBC politics mucking with things behind the scenes. And through it all, it was negotiating what it could expect an audience to already know about (the French Revolution, Britain in 1066, the Crusades, etc.) and what it could expect them not to know (the US wild west outside of Hollywood westerns, what a galaxy exactly is, etc.).

I really enjoyed this book and it made me very much wish that more of the original episodes still existed (over 100 episodes were destroyed and don’t exist anymore, so all we have is audio and some still photographs). It’s very detailed, though, so likely not remotely of interest to anyone who isn’t familiar with Doctor Who, despite the wealth of fascinating information about the British world of the 1960s beyond the show itself! That said, I’m somewhat intrigued that they did this for every season and suspect that reading more of the series would given some unique insights into how the changing times affect a show that has existed in one form or another for most of the past sixty years.

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