The following post originally appeared on our sister site, Itty Bitty Writer Publications.
Today we take a look at Who’s 50: The 50 Doctor Who Stories to Watch Before you Die by Graeme Burk and Robert Smith?. This book examines the 50 top stories of Doctor Who that one must see before they die, and while for a life long fan of the show it was hard pressed to tell me to watch something I hadn’t already seen a hundred times; I can clearly respect that I am now an outlier in current Doctor Who fandom; and for the young fan, new to the show, possibly overwhelmed by the vast expanse of the shows history it can be a little daunting to go it alone. That’s where this compendium comes in handy.
Available October of 2013 from ECW Press
The make up of Who’s 50 adopts the familiar take of story outline, interesting tidbits and an analysis of the characters on screen. The authors then offer their insight on the story and why they picked it for inclusion on the list.
There are some no-brainer entries on the list from the Classic Era – The Unearthly Child and The Daleks are must watch stories to understand where the show started, and they are actually revolutionary in their story telling for the time. Genesis of the Daleks is a perennial favorite of ours as is Talon’s of Weng-Chiang (which we were glad to see made the list despite the rampant and casual racism that taints this story with a sort of yucky I need to take a shower afterwards feeling, and not just because you can see Leela’s version of “little tit” while in the sewer.) The books authors have clearly done their homework and watched an awful lot of Doctor Who, speaking of awful…
there are also some stories that we found ourselves scratching our heads over. Let’s just say that Leisure Hive, The Happiness Patrol, and Love & Monsters do not get a lot of play time in the Itty Bitty Writer Publication’s offices, unless the interns have been bad. Even with these oddball entries the authors make their point as to why they included them on the list, not necessarily changing our heart and mind on the stories themselves, but at least letting us appreciate why someone might want to see them.
What to like
- This book provides a lot of insight into the past of Doctor Who, much of which will be new to the reader; especially if they have limited exposure to the early years.
- The authors’ take on the wilderness years (sic 1990’s), the information provided around the cluster fuck that was the FOX TV Movie and the early attempts by RTD to bring the show back are enlightening to those of us who were fans before the internet. Oh how we feel for Richard E Grant and his 1 week of being Doctor #9.
- This book is a compilation of love, put together by two of the most recognized and respected writers in Doctor Who fandom, as such it is well written, it is put together in a very precise manner that aids in the readers ability to follow their thought processes, and is a great addition to a person’s personal library of Doctor Who books. This is no fanzine from the 80’s, this is the real McCoy, even if they did include The Happiness Patrol.
- They let the new viewer know how to watch the show, especially the older episodes. We missed out on the cliffhanger growing up since our local PBS only showed the omnibus cuts without the cliffhangers…we like the cliffhangers in the classic era, they add tension to the story and makes you wonder how the Doctor will get out of whatever mess he is in. Correction we like the cliffhangers with the exception of episode 1 of Dragonfire.
What not to like
- Even when the authors fail to agree, say on The Gunfighters, the disagreement feels like it’s a staged conflict, intended to show us that Burk and Smith? are like a bickering old married couple on reality TV. Unfortunately we are more willing to buy the fact that the bothers on Duck Dynasty are fighting over a malfunctioning coffee maker then we are that the authors are in serious disagreement.
- It gets long, this is not a book to sit and read with a ravenous appetite, it is a book to nibble on gently as you watch the stories on the TV. It is a companion piece to the artistic works they are discussing and should be read in accompaniment to the actual broadcast media.
We have traditionally adored the books from Burk and Smith?, and in reality this one is no different; but it comes with a caveat…Watch the stories in between and spread out your consumption of this book. If you attempt to read it quickly or without the context of the stories they are describing you will miss out on the true value of the work. Who’s 50 gets a solid and very respectable 4 out of 5 so put it on your list of books to grab as you celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Doctor’s travels through time and space.
It looses one point because of the inclusion of The Green Death, which we find painfully slow and dreadful; we can forgive The Gunfighters.