John: So, we're starting a book about Doctor Who books with introductions to Doctor Who books. If that gets any more recursive, we'll have people writing about this sentence. :)
Dee: That's true! And yet, I can't think of a better place to start. Except by marveling at Harlan Ellison admitting, at the time he did, that he actually enjoyed a TV show.
John: That is right up there with Dave Sim gushing about a female writer, yes. And yet, when you read it, you get exactly what he's talking about. He's saying that Doctor Who isn't trying to be like television.
Dee: Really? I got from it that it was trying to be television, but trying to be more at the same time. His problem with other shows seems to be they don't try hard enough.
John: Well, he's certainly on record with that, but I kind of got the sense that he was pointing to Doctor Who as an inheritor of a literary tradition. He talks about Tarzan, H.G. Wells, Uncle Wiggly...the Shadow, too, but that's radio. The main point seems to be that Doctor Who isn't about spectacle, it's about ideas.
Dee: I'm not entirely sure I agree with him that it's the only show about ideas.
John: Yes, but I think that it goes without saying that Harlan Ellison might be using dramatic hyperbole to make a point. I just think it's interesting for our purposes that he compares Doctor Who to literature and contrasts it with TV and movies...and years later, Neil Gaiman talks about how he doesn't want to go back and watch old episodes on TV because they're better inside his head.
Dee: Could you expand on that a bit for me? The thing I took away most from that essay was the idea that Doctor Who spreads itself, but we can talk about that in a moment.
John: It was a throwaway comment, when he was talking about 'The War Games'. He said he didn't dare go back and watch the story because it wouldn't live up to his memories of it. Which is interesting to me because so many Doctor Who fans, particularly ones about my age, did read Doctor Who as much as watch it. In a pre-VCR, pre-DVD era, you were as likely to have read the book as seen the episode.
Dee: I wonder if Harlan feels the same way! I have to admit that one thing I enjoy about going back and seeing old episodes IS seeing if I can see the zippers or the Hand of Sutekh.
John: Well, yes, no book can ever convey the delivery of "Nuzzink in ze vorld can schtop me now!" But I think that one of the reasons that the novels came out so well is that there was already a strong culture within fandom of Doctor Who as a literary phenomenon--and it's something you can see in these introductions.
Dee: I have a general rule of thumb that "whichever came first is better" when it comes tg visual media and novelizations. I haven't read any of the Target novelizations, so I can't say if that applies to DW, but I also think that what you're saying amounts to "it doesn't matter which came first here."
John: Not quite--Doctor Who has had a lot of talented actors working on it over the years, and that's something you can't duplicate--but I think Neil makes a good point when he says that Doctor Who is all about its ideas and its worldview. Doctor Who has concepts that change the way you think, and those work well in any medium.
Dee: How has DW changed how you think?
John: I think it certainly makes me look at everyday objects differently--I can't look at someone wearing a Bluetooth without getting creeped out, for example.
Dee: I think in a big way it's made me feel I'm not alone. I'm not the only one who looks up in a city, sees an airplane going by, and imagines the sky filled with zeppelins instead.
John: Which is something, until 2005, that the series never had the money for. But lucky for us, that never stopped it from trying.
Dee: I think the richness of the world is also part of it. The books will deepen that richness, of course.
John: Yes, and I think that's a perfect segue to the next book on our list--the novelization of 'Remembrance' demonstrates how a really good writer can take an excellent TV episode and flesh it out even more without the constraints of filming holding them back.
Dee: I have a lot to say about that one!
John: And I can't wait to hear it!