Book Review

The Unsilent Library: essays on the Russell T Davies Era of New Dcotor Who

I don’t read a lot of critical writing. Perhaps that’s due to having literary criticism forced upon me at college, or maybe I’m just lazy, but it’s a lack I’d rather like to remedy, and this book – slender, and dealing with a subject I know and love – was ideal to steer me gently towards analytical thinking.

A pleasingly broad range of perspectives are represented, although there is inevitably some repetition, and the occasional implied disagreement in detailed interpretations. The book covers aspects of ‘New Who’ ranging from time paradoxes (always a tricky subject) to the Doctor as a messiah figure. Several writers focus on the roles of his companions, an understandable emphasis given they are the foils to the ultimately enigmatic Doctor while acting as our advocates in the huge and rambling ‘whoniverse’. Knowing as we now do the resolution of the River Song plot arc, I almost wish the book had been compiled a year later, because I’d be very interested to know what the contributors would have to say on that subject. Still, without a time machine …

For me, the best essays were those at the beginning of the book, and some of the more academic language in the second half was a bit off-putting. In particular I found Clare Parody’s ‘Approaching Character in New Doctor Who’ somewhat impenetrable, although to be fair this probably has less to do the piece itself than with the combination of my aforementioned unfamiliarity with critical writing and a nasty head-cold. By contrast, Graham Sleight’s opening essay, ‘The Big Picture Show’, summarised the differences between old and new Dr Who succinctly and concisely (in short: emotion, pace, scale and Davies’ attitude to the SF genre) and Paul Hawkins piece on the excusable use of deus ex machina plot devices in the series gave me food for thought not just as a viewer/reader, but as a writer.

A comprehensive index and full listing of the shows making up ‘New Who’s first four seasons are added bonuses.

I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in the interface between speculative fiction and popular culture, or to long-time Who fans like me who enjoy both the old and new incarnations, and appreciate having the differences pointed out by people who know what they’re talking about.

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