I B TAURIS £12.99 £11.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897

Inside the Tardis, by James Chapman

Experts in alien killer armchairs: A scholarly analysis of Doctor Who is all very well, but the prof's been beaten to it by the fans, contends Matthew Sweet

Doctor Who is accustomed to renaissance. He clutches at his hearts, announces that this is the end and, in a blur and blaze of Colour Separation Overlay, becomes a man with an entirely different Equity number. That's nothing, however, to the renaissance currently being experienced by Doctor Who: Russell T Davies grinning his big Welsh grin all over the BAFTAs, ratings so huge that they have altered industry prognoses about the future of TV drama; a nation enthralled by the chavvy, chipmunky majesty of Billie Piper.

My tutor at university used to say that one of the most significant things about the Renaissance was that it was the moment at which it became impossible for one person to have read every book in existence. What era can we be said to have entered when it is no longer possible for a single person to have consumed every text bearing the Doctor Who logo?

This month, the tally of new material includes four episodes of the new Saturday night series on BBC1, four instalments each of the cable spin-offs Doctor Who Confidential and Totally Doctor Who, one issue of Doctor Who Magazine, two issues of the Doctor Who Adventures comic, two audio-only dramas on CD, three hardback novels, one paperback novella, seven mass market non-fiction books and one academic study by the Professor of Film at Leicester University.

So to participate completely in the cultural practice of Doctor Who, you would have to devote every waking hour to it. You would have to give up your job and renounce family and friends. You would have to stay hunched in your room for days at a time. (If you've just thought of an unkind joke about Doctor Who fans, hush your mouth - at least they don't go on the rampage through city centres when they don't like the result on Saturday.)

James Chapman is not the first academic to subject Doctor Who to seminar-style analysis. That honour goes to a double act, John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado, whose Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text (1983) applied the theoretical discipline of the Frankfurt school to Doctor Who's melodramas of alien invasion, alien possession and alien killer plastic inflatable armchairs.

As Chapman observes, this approach caused so much amusement in the Doctor Who production office that one of the book's more impenetrable sentences made it into the series. In the 1987 story "Dragonfire", a glum-looking heavy asks Sylvester McCoy's Doctor: "What do you think of the assertion that the semiotic thickness of a performed text varies according to the redundancy of its auxiliary performance codes?" The Doctor, for once, is speechless.

When The Unfolding Text was published, Doctor Who non-fiction existed principally to tell you what the acronym TARDIS stood for, and that Patrick Troughton played the central part in the style of "a cosmic hobo" - whatever that was. The potential readership just wasn't ready to investigate the hermeneutic coding of William Hartnell's astrakhan hat. And, judging by Chapman's book, neither are they now.

Chapman's approach is unpretentious, readable, solidly authoritative and self-consciously anti-theoretical. "The Doctor may have conquered Daleks, Cybermen and Ice Warriors," he argues, "but would he survive an encounter with Foucault, Derrida or Deleuze?"

In place of theory, Chapman has substituted long hours of truffling in the document files of the BBC Written Archives. The results of this aren't quite as pioneering as his publishers claim; he was beaten to most of this stuff by the non-tenured scholars of Doctor Who Magazine. Fascinating memos on the genesis of the series - in which the Doctor and his companions were a team of time-travelling troubleshooters scooting about the universe in a flying saucer - won't be new to anyone who bothered to click through all the extras on the recent DVD release of William Hartnell's first three stories.

I don't remember, though, having ever before clapped eyes on the internal BBC correspondence inspired by the unfortunate appearance of the title character of the 1979 story The Creature from the Pit. "The Monster appeared in the studio resembling nothing so much as a giant green blancmange with a four foot phallus," agonised the producer, Graham Williams. "The most easily available (and essential) function gave the impression of erection." Despite these anxieties, the on-screen evidence suggests that Williams was unable to prevent Tom Baker putting the creature's pseudopodia into his mouth and blowing. There was, I suppose, no official watershed in 1979.

When it comes to the more recent incarnations of Doctor Who, getting hold of official BBC paperwork is trickier. Like the contestants on Catchphrase, Chapman must content himself with simply watching the screen and saying what he sees. Some future researcher will get the gig of examining the exchange of memos relating to Colin Baker's dismissal from the series - or, indeed, the emails that preceded the departure of Christopher Eccleston. But Chapman's book is an extremely good starting point for anyone wishing to think seriously about Doctor Who - if you think that's a valuable way of employing your time.

Somebody, though, ought to start writing the sequel straight away. Doctor Who is becoming more complicated and expansive by the day, and its effective analysis might require an author with a slightly more adventurous approach.

Doctor Who isn't just 28 seasons of television drama and one TV movie with Paul McGann in a dodgy wig. It's also 43 unbroken years of comic strips, 100-odd audio dramas, 300-odd novels, thousands of web pages and a mixed bag of stage plays, radio plays, webcasts, feature films, annuals, sketches and story anthologies. More importantly, Doctor Who is something that we do as well as watch or read. Its concepts and metaphors have invaded our language. It has colonised the British consciousness more effectively than any race of rubber-skinned aliens. It is a monstrous, unstoppable, ever-growing discourse.

So what would happen if, on some time-trip to the Left Bank in the 1970s, Deleuze , Derrida and Foucault encountered Doctor Who? That's easy. It would simply slide on top of them like a giant green blancmange with a four-foot phallus.

Matthew Sweet's play, 'Doctor Who: Year of the Pig' will be available on CD in January 2007 (Big Finish Productions)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?