Non-Fiction Book Review – The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

  • Title: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy: The Discerning Fan’s Guide to Doctor Who
  • Author: Marc Schuster
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/11/2015

I so wanted to like this book. I started reading it awhile ago, then put it down. I finally picked it up again, started from the beginning again, and re-read it. It was a real struggle – and any book that’s a struggle to read is unsuccessful. By struggle, I don’t mean that the language or concepts were difficult – nor do I mean it was boring. It was, well, I guess, the best word is – annoying. Like being stuck talking to a know-it-all arrogant buffoon at a party is annoying.

This book was more of an attempt by the authors to show off their knowledge of different academic disciplines, than an analysis of Doctor Who. The authors really didn’t seem to understand Doctor Who at all, they insulted the show’s fans, and they didn’t cover various academic disciplines well either. The insistence on describing Doctor Who as a kitchy, camp, silly show – doesn’t really sound like a fan pov. And it describes only one season really of the program, that of Gareth Williams (exec producer of Tom Baker’s second-to-last season), a showrunner who was so bad he was replaced after only one season, when, in general, most Doctor Who producers lasted three years or longer. Williams was the producer responsible for stories such as: “Underworld”, “Creature from the Pit”, “Nightmare of Eden”. When I tell you that the authors of this book found “Underworld” to be the peak of the show – if you’re a fan, you’ll understand why I have issues with this book.

One of the main problems with the text is that the author’s never once, in their arrogance, jingoism, and cultural imperialism, ever consider that Doctor Who is a British show. Yes, they mention that – but they never consider it. When analyzing “Carnival of Monsters” and “Kinda” the word “Colonialism” pretty much never comes up. Yet both stories are obviously criticizing British Colonialism. Doctor Who has never hesitated to present stories that get one to think about one’s own cultural bias’. For example, the character of the Brigadier, initially was presented as a negative character – not evil, but someone who’d follow orders without thinking – no matter the consequences, and the embodiment of British colonial attitudes towards others. That the Brigadier also became one of the most popular characters was due to the actor’s brilliant performance, and that the character learned from the Doctor and eventually stopped shooting first and asking questions later. Compare the Doctor’s relationship with the Brigadier in “Doctor Who and the Silurians” verses “Remembrance of the Daleks” for example.

“Kinda” is a story where the Galactic Empire has landed on the planet Deva Loka – and the colonials immediately assume the natives are “primitive” – only to discover, to their shock and surprise, that the natives of the planet are much more sophisticated than the colonials from Earth. But then, that story is densely packed with a lot to analyze – and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy does get into some of it – but ignoring the obvious references to the destructive nature of colonialism, does the story a huge disservice.

Throughout this book, the fans of Doctor Who are portrayed as geeky, unattractive, obsessive fanboys – who will never be successful (or get laid, to be blunt). That a book that sounds like a celebration of the show addresses the fans with “get a life” so to speak, is, well, insulting. In fact, many of the fans of Doctor Who ending up writing for the Doctor Who lines of original novels or comics, and then working in the television or comic book industries professionally. Among the fans of the show who are now professionals: Russell T. Davies (who brought the show back in 2005), Paul Cornell (who has published original modern fantasy novels, written for the new series, and wrote several original Doctor Who novels), Tony Lee (professional comic book author), Peter Anghelides (professional author), Mark Gatiss (actor, television writer, and television producer), etc. That’s just off the top of my head – there are many more.

It is also of note that the academic analysis also isn’t that great – the psychology chapter, for example, focuses almost solely on Freud, the largely debunked Victorian – with no mention of Adler, Jung, or Maslow. And Doctor Who, is filled with Jungian archetypes, some episodes more than others.

The chapter on linguistics fails to mention the debate of linguistic relativity (the idea that without having a word for something one cannot have an idea for something; though it does become a chicken-an-egg argument: Which comes first? The word, or the idea?); neither are Dell Hymes, Frank Boas, Edward Sapir, or even Noam Chomsky.

Overall, I was extremely disappointed with this book, and I do not recommend it.

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Book Review – The Map of Time

  • Title: The Map of Time
  • Author: Félix de Palma; Translated by: Nick Caistor
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 08/26/2012

This was the best novel I read in 2011 (I read the e-book edition). I enjoyed it because it almost parodies the classic British novels that I love so much. But it also reads like a Victorian early SF novel (think Wells or Verne) and, indeed, HG Wells is one of the characters in the book. The novel has three distinct parts, and it really heats up at the end when you realize exactly what is going on (I’d love to read a sequel or another book in the series but with new characters). My e-copy was bundled with a copyright-free copy of The Time Machine by HG Wells (which I didn’t really need because I’ve read it before and own copies in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats).

The novel involves a time travel con game, HG Wells, real time travelers, and Jack-the-Ripper. I know that sounds like a lot — but it pulls it off. I cannot recommend this enough – five stars!

Update: There are two sequels planned for this novel. I have the first one, The Map of the Stars.