Doctor Who – The Handbook: The First Doctor by David J. Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker

It was good fun being a Doctor Who fan in the 1990’s. Maybe this was because there were no new television stories to be ripped to shreds (apart from the quickly forgotten American TV movie). So DW fandom stopped complaining about the present and began to really dig into the past. 

A hefty and lavishly illustrated hardback (The Early Years by Jeremy Betham, 1986)  had already stoked my interest in the series’ first faltering steps, but it was this modestly priced, modestly sized paperback published in 1994 which really took my breath away.

To be a DW fan back then meant that studying the sacred texts (The Making of Doctor Who and DWM especially) was a solemn duty. Slowly the nascent fan would begin to drink in all the lore and history – which stories were classics, which were turkeys, how jabolite was used, the companion who lost their knickers the most, etc, etc.

One of the most important lessons concerned the first few months of the show. We all knew that things looked dicey in the early weeks until the Daleks arrived in the second story – after that, the long term future of the show was assured.

Um, not quite.

The heart of The First Doctor Handbook was the Production Diary. This laid bare just how hand-to-mouth those early years were and how often the series teetered on the edge of cancellation. I seem to recall some info had already appeared in The Frame, but most of it was new to me.

Frankly, it’s an astonishing and eye-opening read (one day, when all the files are available, I’d love to see the production history of the first 26 years of the series tackled in a single volume, or indeed a number of volumes).

The Production Diary might account for a large chunk of the book, but the interview material (both from and about Hartnell) is also of interest. More information about Hartnell has become available since, but this deftly edited selection of quotes still stands up well.

The Handbook also includes an obligatory episode guide which is somewhat of its time (The Gunfighters receives a firm thumbs down for example).

I have far too many DW books (including a fair few I’ve rarely touched in decades) but The First Doctor Handbook is one I do find myself coming back to every so often. For anyone interested in the painful birth of the series it’s a must read. 

7 thoughts on “Doctor Who – The Handbook: The First Doctor by David J. Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker

  1. I think the Doctor Who fan scene thrived in the nineties despite the fact that the series was no longer on tv rather than because of it. It was hard to run a fanzine and think of something to say every couple of months.

    Have you read the About Time series of Doctor Who critiques?

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    • Yes, I’ve read all the About Time books. They have their moments although you really have to approach some of the facts with a large pinch of salt (they’re on much firmer ground when discussing why a certain story works or doesn’t work).

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  2. Of course, in the nineties you also had the ever increasing VHS range and UK Gold repeats which meant that the grainy pirate copies many of us had could be dumped in favour of something better.

    That”s another reason why I think fandom flourished back then – for the first time most of the series was readily available in decent quality. So previously neglected stories could have their moment in the sun.

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    • You’re right about the greater availability of old episodes of Doctor Who during the nineties. It was a shame that the BBC weren’t making new episodes of Doctor Who for future video release.

      I knew that Doctor Who shouldn’t have been off air for as long as it was when in 2005 I went to see the Doctor Who exhibition on Brighton’s Palace Pier, and a six year old boy saw some banners on the pier adverting the exhibition and ran along excitedly shouting “Doctor Who!”.

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  3. I have a book called “The Television Companion – The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who” by David J Howe and Stephen James Walker which came out in 2003, before the current series kicked off.

    Have you come across this book?

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  4. The Television Handbook was first published by BBC Books just after The TV Movie was transmitted and BBC Books took the rights back from Virgin. Howe and the other authors got the rights back eventually and republished through Howe’s company, Telos. An updated version in two volumes was published a couple of years ago and is available now.

    https://telos.co.uk/shop/doctor-who/the-television-companion-1-2-two-book-cost-saving-deal/

    All of The Handbooks have also been republished by Telos in a two volume collection

    https://telos.co.uk/shop/doctor-who/the-handbook-vols-12-doctor-who/

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