John Kenneth Muir's Retro TV File: Doctor Who
A Critical History of Doctor Who on Television




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Retro TV Files

Blake's 7

The Fantastic Journey

Land of the Lost

Logan's Run

One Step Beyond


Space Academy

Star Trek: The Animated Series

Tales of the Gold Monkey


Battlestar Galactica

Alien 3

"John Kenneth Muir has given researchers of
Doctor Who and cult television perhaps the definitive work on the Doctor Who phenomenon with his book, A Critical History of Doctor Who on Television.  The book, currently available as a hardbound edition covers almost every element of Doctor Who from the program's origin's to fandom, to the show's various spin-offs in novel and comic book form. Muir has given researchers a book which is an excellent jumping off point for more detailed investigations. Written in a scholarly style, the book opens with an inquiry into the show's origins and into its developments as it changed during the tenure of the various actors to play the doctor...

...Muir presents the scholarly reader with many of the views from each side of the Atlantic and though writing with an American viewpoint definitely takes a neutral stance on all that has happened in the Whoniverse...

....Besides the book's broad look at
Doctor Who, there are a number of other strengths....Most refreshing of all is Muir's use of scholarly investigation as the backbone of the text.  This book succeeds in giving legitimacy to the task of researching Doctor Who as an important cultural phenomenon. This edition has a strong bibliography and an outstanding index that will be of great use to other researchers...

...In my opinion, this work has superseded
Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text as the strongest of critical works on the program...John Kenneth Muir has given television researchers and Doctor Who fans alike, up to this time, the definitive work on the program, one that will be used for years to come...It is highly suggested that if one intends to research the field of Doctor Who that one owns this work.  This book is a must for the serious researcher's library. -ZEPO, EARTHBOUND TIME LORDS.

[S]pending time with Muir will breathe fresh life into your view of a series you thought you had sussed.-DOCTOR WHO MAGAZINE

...[H]e [Muir] seems to have done a pretty good job of explaining and describing DOCTOR WHO here. -INTERZONE, January 20, 2000.

...[E]verything you would want to know about the show and who appeared in it.-LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS, November 2001.

...Doctor Who fans will be delighted with the book...-Anthony Slide, CLASSIC IMAGES, January 2000.

...necessary reading...;-CULT MOVIES essential reference which provides critical and historical examinations of the ideas, morals and philosophies contained in the hit TV series...This provides anecdotes and fine insights...essential for avid Dr. Who fans.-THE MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW

...[H]e [Muir] is selling the show to American fans of sf television and films, encouraging them to take a look at a cheap but much moved little imported series which is becoming increasingly difficult to find in the syndicated schedule. -Andrew Pixley, CELESTIAL TOY ROOM
Excerpt from A Critical History of Dr Who on TV by John Kenneth Muir: Essay entitled Cinematography and Special Effects, pages 65 - 67:

...With such a low budget, the visual effects on Doctor Who have always been cheap.  Not necessarily cheesy, but primitive (to say the least).  This was a potential weakness that Doctor Who overcame in some beautifully inventive ways during the black-and-white era, from 1963 to 1969.  In fact, Doctor Who was probably at its most visually distinct during the 1960s, when black-and-white photography could successfully hide the seams and the strings.  The special effects budget simply led directors to be more creative and to attempt new things.  Some of the results remain startling today.

The set designers deserve credit too.  There were beautifully painted backdrops in "The Aztecs" to give one the impression of a vast Aztec City surrounded by a mountaintop temple, and complex miniature cities and installations built for "The Daleks," "The Chase,"and "The Dominators."  There were also armies of Daleks built on miniature landscapes in "The Power of the Daleks" and "The Evil of the Daleks."  All of these effects were competent and interesting, if not expensive or completely realistic.  The only place in which the protean
Doctor Who fell notably short in design was in the representation of spaceships. The space vessels seen in "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" and "The Dominators" were clearly of the flying saucer school that had dominated 1950s sci-fi productions.   Uninventive in scheme, these ships also had the distinction of hanging from visible wires.  The other spaceships in Doctor Who, particularly seen in "The Seeds of Death" and "The Dominators"  were needle-nosed rockets reminiscent of the early Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials.  Also less-than-satisfying on Doctor Who was the practice of using stock footage from other productions any time big effects were needed. The explosion of the Dalek mine in "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" was a badly edited montage of stock footage explosions, and the TARDIS's encounter with crocodiles and undersea monsters in "The War Games"  was also BBC stock.  This shift to stock footage was certainly more difficult to spot in black-and-white than it would have been in color but was nonetheless a money-saving ploy that did not always work.

Despite these isolated problems,
Doctor Who's directors and editors made their special effects memorable by using cheap but effective film techniques.To simulate time travel in "An Unearthly Child," a weird swirl of electronic images was superimposed over the faces of the main actors.  Coupled with otherworldly, electronic sound effects, the inexpensive superimposition effectively captured the feeling of spinning through the time vortex.  The blasts of Dalek gunfire in "The Daleks" and other serials was accomplished cheaply by turning the image of the collapsing victim into its negative.  This shift to the negative image was accompanied by a lingering blast sound.  The illusion of a deadly ray was complete.  In later shows, such as "The Dominators" and "The Seeds of Death," the effects of alien weaponry was dramatized by burning holes in the film and by distorting photographic frames, respectively.  All of these laser effects...successfully suggested the terror of extraterrestrial weaponry.

Hand-held camerawork and extensive location shooting also contributed to the success of early
Doctor Who shows such as "The Dalek Invasion of Earth."  The series did not have the budget to create an alien city the size of London, so they brought their aliens to London instead.  Seeing the non-humanoid Dalek ascending from the Thames and marching on the "real' city was a fruitful use of the effects budget.  The grainy film stock and hand-held chase footage through London caused the sequences to seem more immediate and urgent.  Tight editing of these segments also granted the serial a kind of crazy, frenetic pace.  The same editing techniques were later used in "The War Games," one of the series' most stylish serials.

Doctor Who, there are dozens of examples of production ingenuity.  Film is reversed to create the effect of a sudden, powerful gravity pull in "The Dominators."  "The Chase's"  final sequence sees the artful blending of quick cutting, miniature work, low and high angle shots and image superimposition to give the impression of a monumental battle between the Mechanoids and the Daleks.  The deliberate use of slow-motion in "The War Games"  (after the fast-paced, tightly edited climax of the stoyr) reveals the ultimate temporal power of the Time Lords better than any other visual effect ever could.  Even the main special effect of Doctor Who, the materialization of the TARDIS, is accomplished cheaply by filming an empty  landscape, stopping the camera, and fading the TARDIS into the scene.  The effect is not only cheap, but also believable, especially when coupled with the grinding and wheezing TARDIS motor sound effects.

In its early days,
Doctor Who proved that sometimes the cheapest effects are also the most dramatic. P.O.V. subjective shots were used in "The Daleks" to express Barbara's entrapment in the Dalek City.   In "The Mind Robber,"; Jamie and Zoe find themselves on a giant empty plain, one completely overexposed with light.  On the soundtrack, a strange clicking sound is heard.  The feeling of isolation in an unknown, vast realm was very powerful.   The same episode also saw the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe clutching the TARDIS main console as it spun into blackest space.  All that was required to create this shot was the central control panel on a revolving pattern and a black background.   When shot in slow-motion and from a great distance, it appeared as if the travelers were holding on for dear life, whirling through a time-space eddy.  Perhaps all of these special techniques are better described as tricks than effects, since there are very few optical effects such as laser blasts or matte paintings seen in Doctor Who's 1960s days. Whatever they are called - effects, gimmicks, or tricks - they are part of Doctor Who's unique visual appeal...

(c) copyright The Lulu Show LLC, 2004

More original artwork for a Critical History of Dr. Who. This rogue's gallery of villains was created by artist Mindy Easler.

Original artwork of the  TARDIS for John's Critical History of Dr. Who.  By Mindy Easler.
A Critical History of Dr. Who
By John Kenneth Muir

able of Contents


Part I: The History
Hartnell's Halcyon Days
Troughton's Time in the TARDIS
Pertwee's Period of Physical Prowess
Seven Years with Tom Baker
Davison's Day as Doctor
Colin Baker's Bad Breaks...
McCoy's Moment of Magic
The 30th Anniversary
McGann's Movie is Made in America

Part II: Curriculum Vitae:
Lineage: Doctor Who's Parents
Doctor Who's Children
The Elastic Format
Morality and Meaning in the Doctor Who Universe
Playing Doctor: Strictly Forbidden!
Cinematography and Special Effects

Part III: The Series
Critical Reception
The Episodes (Season 1 - 26)

Part IV: Spin-Offs
TV Shows
Role-Playing Games

Part V: Fan Matrix
Fan Clubs
Epilogue: Time is Relative

Production Codes
Recommended Viewing
The 20 Best


Over 490 pages of text. Now available!