(Montclair, New Jersey--July 31, 2014) Doctor Who
is indisputably the most successful and beloved series on UK TV and the most-watched series in the history of BBC America. The show debuted in 1963, and there have been (if you count the spin-offs) nearly 1,000 episodes since. No matter how much Who you’ve seen, however far in you’ve gotten, there are always new things to learn and to discuss, especially with a brand new season (starring a brand new Doctor) beginning August 23rd!
In Doctor Who FAQ
($22.99, Applause Books), Dave Thompson not only states the facts (the book comes with four appendices, including an episode guide), but gives his opinions, answers, and context to the scenes, creating a dialogue that’s just as important as what’s on screen.
This newest addition to Hal Leonard’s FAQ book series includes Doctor Who’s origin story, the program’s influences, all you could want to know about the TARDIS and regeneration, essays on each of the 11 Doctors and 35 companions, a Z-A list of the Doctor’s best baddies, history lessons, and the search for the lost 136 episodes. Those who are not satisfied by television alone will relish in the chapters on toys, novels, audio episodes, movies, spin-offs, and songs about Doctor Who (a “genre” coined as Time Lord Rock or “trock”). Last but not least, Thompson’s list of worst Doctor Who episodes ever will surely keep Whovians arguing amongst themselves until the end of time (and space).
Highly illustrated, Doctor Who FAQ is not an encyclopedia, or an episode guide, or a biography. It is an adventure, a roller coaster through a funhouse of discovery and an introduction to all of the things that make Doctor Who great. As foreword writer Lance Parkin puts it, “Doctor Who is, quite simply, one of the greatest things known to man. I don’t mean on TV. It’s up there with sunshine and chocolate cake.”
The following is an excerpt from Doctor Who FAQ by Dave Thompson, published by Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, an imprint of Hal Leonard. Reprinted here with permission of the publisher.
Culture Versus Commercialism
Radio was, and would remain, the BBC’s specialty for much of the next forty years. Television was restricted to just one black-and-white channel that launched in November 1936, then relaunched a decade later after World War II forced it off the air in September 1939. It would be 1952, and the televised coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (an event that the Tenth Doctor witnessed in the story The Idiot’s Lantern) before the television was seen as anything more than a needless luxury by the majority of Britons. The arrival of the aforementioned rival broadcaster, a conglomerate of independent regional stations under the overall banner of the nascent Independent Television Authority (ITA, later ITV), set sail in 1955, and by 1962 it was estimated that more than twelve million British homes had a television set, out of a total of seventeen million.
Popular history insists that British television was rarely on the cutting edge of whichever new sciences were reshaping the arts. Rather, it was content to simply muddle along with whatever was to hand. Broadcasting, restricted to just eight or so hours a day, was resolutely monochrome; color technology existed, but it would be 1967 before the BBC began to embrace it as anything more than an expensive novelty and 1969–1970 before every new program was broadcast in that format.
A second BBC channel had long been a possibility, but it was 1964 before BBC2 (to distinguish it from BBC1, of course) came into being and was promptly turned over to what was regarded as “serious” programming: highbrow documentaries, in-depth science shows, the arts, and so forth.
The corporation eschewed gimmickry. Its output relied on human ingenuity to create the programs that sustained it and the situations that sustained them. Human ingenuity and the singular genius of the people that were placed in positions of creative power. It was self-reliant and, once past its financial arrangements, self-sufficient.
Funding for the BBC’s operations was provided by the public. Britain was (and remains) just one of some fifty different countries worldwide that required viewers to fork out for an annual “television license fee” (that total is now closer to three dozen), with the ensuing revenue estimated to cover around 75 percent of the BBC’s operating costs.9
Further money was raised by selling BBC programming abroad, and it would doubtless have been the easiest thing in the world for the BBC to simply take the money and run, to churn out the cheapest, most tawdry programming it could possibly get away with, and spend the rest on bonuses for the fat cats.
From the very beginning, the emphasis was on excellence. The first Director General of the Corporation, Lord Reith, set out the BBC’s objectives, and, for the next half-century at least, it stuck doggedly to them. The outfit was there to entertain the public, he admitted that. But it was also there to educate and inform, and anybody who has tried to do all three things at once for any period of time will readily understand just how precarious a tightrope walk that can be. Particularly when there are always people standing at either end of the rope rocking it back and forth. Politicians, watchdogs, moral guardians, television critics, disgruntled viewers, rival broadcasters, avaricious media moguls, all had a stake in knocking the BBC off its perch. They still do.
The BBC ignored them. Or maybe “ignored” is too strong a word. Every concern aired in the corporation’s direction would be “given a hearing.” “Taken onboard.” “Subjected to consideration.” And then things would just carry on as before, because the BBC had a far higher remit than simply catering to either politicians or public, or anybody else who believed that the fact that they paid four pounds a year (around $15 at the time . . . today a license costs 145.50 pounds) for its output gave them a right to dictate what that output should be.
Viewers of the 2011 BBC series The Hour will be familiar with the pressures that politicians brought to bear on the corporation as it strived to juggle its responsibility to deliver a balanced diet of news and current affairs with the self-serving requirements of the incumbent government. On more than one occasion, but very notably during the period surrounding the so- called Suez Crisis in 1956 (the background to the first season of The Hour), the public’s right to know and the government’s need to stop them knowing placed the Beeb in an almost untenable situation.
But it weathered the storm and was ultimately applauded for doing so, not because it did what it was told, but because it did what it believed was right. And that belief wasn’t simply at the core of everything the BBC did, it was enshrined within its very reason for existing.
ex-pat British writer, has penned over one hundred books including of the Sherlock Holmes FAQ; Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell; and Hearts of Darkness: James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens, and the Unlikely Rise of the Singer-Songwriter. He has also written books on Cream, Kurt Cobain, Genesis, Jeff Beck, Bob Marley, and Deep Purple, and he has been a contributor to Rolling Stone, Goldmine, MOJO, All Music Guide, and more. He lives in Newark, Del.