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)

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
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.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?