From time to time I get asked questions about Doctor Who. Sometimes this happens at work. Sometimes it happens online. When you’re known for being a fan of something, you end up fielding all sorts over time.
Anyway, I was recently asked by a new-ish fan how they could get into “the old stuff”; into Classic Who. I gave them a reply and even made a Tweet on this earlier day, but it really deserves more and if this gets picked up into Google’s almighty algorithm and helps someone years from now… great. I love that semi treasure-hunting nature of the Internet.
Basically my answer can be broken into three linked areas:
- Try and watch Classic Who. The path of least resistance is often the right way to go. I know it can seem daunting with seven classic Doctors (and eight if you count Paul McGann who made one TV movie), and loads of episodes between 1963 and 1989 (or 1996 if we’re including that damn TV movie again), but there are going to be loads of Top 10 and Top 20 story lists all over the Internet if you Google them. And probably even lists for specific Doctors. Got a feeling you might like Tom Baker? Google a Top 10 list for him. Without even looking, I’m sure one exists. Probably dozens. Heck, I might even go and make my own one day and add to the overall chaos.
- Listen to Doctor Who podcasts. In my Tweet I mentioned a few podcasts that are around, right now, and specialising in talking about Classic Who episodes. I won’t repeat them here so that this blog post can remain reasonably timeless. But podcasts, especially ones that have been going for several years and have a good back catalogue of episodes, are going to put fans in your ears, talking about an episode (or episodes), in a way that will draw you further into fandom, and what fans think of all this stuff. Of course, such podcasts are usually spoilerific, so try and watch the stories the podcasts are about. You don’t really want to learn the big reveal of Castrovalva episode three before you see it, do you?
- Buy (or borrow if you have a cool library), some reference books. Such books might have been rare when I was a newbie fan in the mid 1980s, but they are dime-a-dozen now, as our US cousins like to say. From professionally published works, to self-published stuff, you will start tripping over dozens of potential tomes if you go looking. So can I recommend a set of books that I use? The About Time series by Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles is extremely good. For the classic era, there are six volumes, covering Seasons 1-3, 4-6, 7-11, 12-17, 18-21, and 22-26 (plus that damn TV movie). They also do similar books for Nu Who, but I have never bought them, so can’t comment on them. And the question wasn’t about Nu Who anyway.
The reason I like the About Time books is simple. They are written with a tone that’s both serious and fun. You will absolutely “learn stuff” if you read them, but you will have a laugh, too. All the information you could need is there, lovingly crafted in a way that will keep your interest with lots of trivia and asides but never lead you astray. Plus there are loads of essays in each volume that take you off on tangents from the episodes, but in a very related way. These are also where a lot of the funny in the About Time books comes from. In About Time 4, for example, you get “Why Couldn’t the BBC Just Have Spent More Money?”, “Why Does Earth Keep Getting Invaded?” and “‘War of the Daleks’: Should Anyone Believe a Word of It?” among others. The essays are also located on the right hand pages of the books so that you can read the guide from back to front or, if you’re just after essays, flick through the right hand pages alone. It’s a neat way to dip in and out at your leisure.
One of the drawbacks of the About Time books is cost. They might seem reasonable at US$20 to $25 apiece, but that’s before you factor in postage as they likely won’t be at your local bookstore. For an Aussie like me, that could be approaching $50 apiece in our local currency and, as I mentioned, there are six if you want to cover the entire Classic Era. So, not cheap, I grant you. However, if you want a set of reference books for the classic era, with the same tone of voice throughout, some really great information, and some laughs, I can’t go past recommending these to you. Beg, borrow, or steal one and see how it sits with you.
[PS: I don’t have any deals with Amazon or Book Depository or any other popular book dealer, so I won’t link you to the books sitting on any particular site. I’m sure you will be able to find the books with ease. Or, if this really is a long time on the future, on eBay at least.]