The Binge Watcher’s Guide to Doctor Who: A History of Doctor Who and the First Female Doctor
Since I’d just rewatched the Doctor Who episodes featuring the Thirteenth Doctor, played by Jodie Whittaker, I was looking forward to reading analysis of that series, particularly around the rather significant change of making the character a woman for the first time in over fifty years.
Unfortunately, The Binge Watcher’s Guide to Doctor Who: A History of Doctor Who and the First Female Doctor is unsatisfying, slapdash, and self-indulgent. There are four main sections to the book:
- Random bits on the history of the show and the announcement of Jodie Whittaker taking the role
- A much-too-short episode guide (covering, given that the book was published at the end of 2019, only series 11 and the New Year’s special Resolution)
- A small section on the outcry from traditionalist fans and speculation on future episodes (unnecessary and already out of date; also, it’s longer than the discussion of the development of the three current companions, which would have benefitted from more space and insight)
- Interviews with a random collection of people tangentially associated with Doctor Who, such as a US convention runner and someone who makes puppets
The book is shallow in its coverage of the actual show; instead, we get what reads as summaries of fan magazine articles about the announcement of Whittaker.
The episode reviews, which I hoped would be the meat of the book, are summaries, with little analysis or opinion. When an opinion is given, there’s rarely supporting material provided for it, beyond “this is what the author thought”. That ties into the general problem of my not knowing who Mackenzie Flohr is nor why her opinions are significant or substantial. I can tell you, because she goes into it in much more depth than needed, that she wrote a novel, appeared at several Wizard World conventions, and met Matt Smith. None of this is particularly relevant to this book.
It’s normal, even expected, for Doctor Who fan-written books to talk about the author’s first Doctor, how they came to the show, and what they liked about it, but there’s a fine line between establishing one’s knowledge and background and indulging in me, me, me. This book errs on the side of the latter, particularly when it comes to the reactions to the first female Doctor. Her mentioning that a particular opinion got her yelled at on Twitter doesn’t give the reader any insight or understanding on the topic.
The reaction of conservative, old-fashioned fans who objected to a woman playing the role isn’t handled at all well. Flohr seems more interested in using her inability to be argued with to say “that’s why I’m right” than in actually engaging with the topic in depth or context. Certainly, such out-of-date thinking doesn’t need to be taken terribly seriously, but anyone trying to use this as a reference to the situation will be disappointed, as the author seems to assume the reader is already familiar with what happened and key players.
That inability to provide appropriate context is a problem throughout the book. Flohr sometimes states the obvious (the nadir of which is probably “some people still experience racism today”) but doesn’t explain passing fan references that aren’t obvious or well-known. The interviews are similarly poorly done. The subjects’ importance to this topic aren’t always explained or necessarily relevant to this version of the Doctor.
The book also needed another editing pass; in addition to the above problems, there are a number of typos. For example, it’s a small thing — but indicative of the lack of attention paid to detail — that several references are made to “Arachnid in the UK”. The episode title is actually “Arachnids in the UK”.
This book feels as though it was intended to be an introduction to the subject, as indicated by the subtitle, but the author wasn’t able to step back enough to understand what new viewers would actually need to know. What is here is remarkably forgettable or superficial.
You can find out more at the publisher’s website. (The publisher provided a review copy.)