I discovered the first volume of Running Through Corridors in 2011. This for me was pretty much a change-your-life book. Before the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, I’d heard stories about people who tried to do “the pilgrimage” – watch the entire series in order, all the way through from 1963 through whenever. I’d rarely if ever, however, heard of anyone who’d done it successfully. By the time the 50th anniversary year arrived, several blogs popped up (including this one) with people trying to achieve the same feat. Well, within 13 months of January 1, 2013, which many of us chose as the start date for our pilgrimage, I’d made it only as far as The Enemy of the World Episode 3, and there I remain.
Rob Shearman and Toby Hadoke have slightly higher stakes for their pilgrimage than erstwhile bloggers. They’ve got a three-book deal with Mad Norwegian Press to do the same thing. Running Through Corridors chronicles their project, which was originally timed to run all the way through Doctor Who‘s “gap year” – 2009, the first year that the New Series did not broadcast a full run on TV. Volume 1, covering the entirety of the 1960s, came out shortly thereafter. Volume 2, which covers the ’70s – Spearhead From Space through The Horns of Nimon (two weeks of which aired in January 1980), was only just released. I found my copy at LI Who 4 this past November, and pretty much had grabbed the book off the table and handed my cash to the proprietor faster than the Raston Warrior Robot massacring a squadron of Cybermen. If you know what I mean. And I think you do.
So as not to waste the book in a mere three days, as I did with Volume 1, I decided to savor this one, reading about one and only one serial per night. Spearhead From Space and Doctor Who and the Silurians got me through the rest of the convention, and now I’ve finally finished, far too soon. When is Volume 3 due, again?
Running Through Corridors is written by the most die-hard of fans, so the level of observation and analysis on display goes far, far beyond a 300-word review and then a star rating for each story covered. Rob Shearman and Toby Hadoke, the book’s conceit goes, watch each serial part by part, and send each other e-mail reviews when done. About five to ten percent of the book thus serves as a diary, as we follow the authors through their quotidian 2009 routine – going to Doctor Who conventions, vacationing or lecturing abroad, or, in Hadoke’s case, getting married and thus having to put off watching The Brain of Morbius for a day (but only a day. I can sympathize; I stayed up until 3 AM the night before my June 2005 wedding trying to watch The Parting of the Ways in a New Jersey hotel room, long, long before BBC America offered same-day airings of New Series episodes in the US).
Shearman always gets the first word, and he’s nominally the more somber of the pair. Even before I discovered Running Through Corridors, I’d always enjoyed Shearman’s appearances on the Classic Series DVD release special features, providing a mixture of insight and hilarity. He takes the “big picture” approach with the classic series, looking for watershed moments when the show changes its format forever, and he finds such moments in fascinating places. I like his notion that the character of Reegan in The Ambassadors of Death may have inspired the invention of the Master the following season. He finds another such moment in the middle of Planet of Evil Part Two:
“[T[he Doctor isn’t being presented merely as a scientist or a wanderer any more, but as a seer dabbling in cryptic warnings. […] The Doctor is reinvented as something “other”, and quite suddenly too.”
Hadoke is, nominally, the joker of the pair. He served as the moderator for the audio commentaries during the last several years of the Classic Series DVD releases, and a very important job he had, too. Before the use of moderation became widespread, DVD commentaries were usually two-person affairs, with aging trading on very vague and fuzzy memories, offering such banal insights as “Look how he turns that doorknob”, or “My goodness, Fraser, isn’t he tall”. After Hadoke began moderating, the commentary tracks became much more lively and listenable.
When writing about old Who, Hadoke trades in puns and references of laser-guided precision, specifically written for those of us who’ve already seen the episode in question four times and can cite whole stretches of dialogue without resorting to the transcript. At the end of Planet of the Daleks Part Six, for example: “There’s no talk of a “final end” now – when they say no-one can defeat the Daleks, you can actually believe them. A battle has been won, not a war. You could almost say that they are entombed, but they live on …”. Or, at the end of Image of the Fendahl Part Four: “Terror and teatime: that’s my idea of Doctor Who, as comforting and traditional and rich and complex as your finest slice of fruitcake”. (Of course his parting words at the end of “City of Death” Part Four are a bit more predictable).
Hadoke also loves tracking the performers who appeared in various Doctor Who episodes – not just the relatively big names like Michael Sheard and John Abineri and Pat Gorman, but also the bit parts, people who he encountered elsewhere on the theater circuit, like Second Nimon from the Left in The Horns of Nimon, or recounting the tragic life story of an actor who appeared in Episode One only of Frontier in Space.
Men after my own heart, both writers frequently refer to the novelization of the story in question — especially when the book provides a very alternate take on a specific TV moment, such as in Episode Four of The Sea-Devils. I even managed to catch one (and only one) mistake in the book, as Hadoke observes that the character of Alistair Fergus (a TV commentator who appeared on TV solely in Episode One of The Daemons) was killed in the novelization – this is not actually the case. As we’ll discuss when I post my thoughts on the first half of that novelization a couple of days from now.
It’s also a very positive book, as the two authors strive to find something meritorious in every story they watch. When they do choose to pile on a story (The Time Monster or Nimon, to name two rare examples), or one poor out-of-depth actor (a particular fellow in The Mutants), it’s a surprise, but at least the rancor doesn’t last for long.
Most importantly, the book is not just smart and full of hidden wisdom and trivia; it’s also laugh-out-loud hilarious. 1970s Doctor Who has not aged particularly well, from a special effects or set design or costuming standpoint. There’s lots of fun to be had in ribbing the way that many of those production choices are now embarrassments. But, more importantly, it’s good-natured ribbing, just so those of us who’ve been following the show obsessively for 30-odd years don’t feel like we’ve entirely wasted our lives.
Unless you loved The Time Monster. Then the book has no pity for you.