Full disclosure: I’ve known Graeme Burk and Robert Smith? through a variety of online Doctor Who fan communities since the series was an obscure line of novels carrying on in the wake of the cancelled TV show. I have attended conventions with them, I’m big fans of them as people as well as authors, and I have been commissioned on occasion by Robert for essays in one book or another. (Including the recently released Outside In 2, by ATB Publishing, where I wax opinionated on “The Christmas Invasion”. You know, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.) The point is, I am probably magnificently biased when it comes to the recently released ‘The Doctors Are In: The Essential and Unofficial Guide to Doctor Who’s Greatest Time Lord’.
That said, it’s tremendous fun to read. It’s not an episode guide, because goodness knows we are spoilt for choice when it comes to that. (Including one by Burk and Smith?, as it happens.) It’s also not a history of the program, because again, there are plenty of great ones out there. Instead, this is a book of critical analysis–the authors take a look at the various facets of the Doctor’s magnificently complex personality, embroidered by thirteen actors and dozens of writers, directors and producers over the years, and try to figure out just what makes him tick. Is he a brooding and melancholy survivor of unimaginable devastation? A cold, alien wanderer in the fourth dimension? A puckish sprite who revels in making mischief for the wicked? (Um, yes to all of the above. Sorry, spoilers!)
Naturally, with fifty years of stories to mine for material, there are a wealth of interpretations to draw upon, and a wealth of conclusions to come to. That’s where the book shines, really; Burk and Smith? are among those rare people who can disagree completely and totally and not get upset about it. Over the course of the book, they clash over topics from “Does ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ really live up to its reputation?” to “Was the Third Doctor too cozy with UNIT?” to “Was Matt Smith prone to trying to punch up a bad script by flailing his arms and shouting a lot?” And impressively enough, their answers are always well-reasoned and informative even when they disagree. Even more impressively, they disagree profoundly for much of the book and the tone is still light-hearted and humorous.
Is it essential reading? Well, it does serve as a basic reference guide to the series–Burk and Smith? do give a potted history of the making of the series as they discuss each Doctor, there’s a list of recommended viewing that will certainly serve as a good place to start, and the back of the book contains a list of resources if you want to know more. But I will admit (as do they, in the back of the book) that there are other books out there that serve as a more comprehensive guide to the history of the show both in front of and behind the cameras. This is intended as light reading, not as reference material.
In other words, if you already have one of a dozen or so episode guides, behind the scenes books, or reference manuals on Doctor Who, this probably isn’t going to tell you anything you don’t already know. But if you’re the sort of person who already has episode guides, behind-the-scenes books and reference manuals on Doctor Who, you’re probably the sort of person who appreciates reading one that’s well-written, entertaining and far from merely a dusty compilation of facts about the series. If that’s the case (whether you own all those other books or not, really) you will get a lot of enjoyment out of ‘The Doctors Are In’.