Space Helmet for a Cow 2: The Mad, True Story of Doctor Who (1990-2013)

By Paul Kirkley

Rating: 3 stars

The second volume of Space Helmet for a Cow takes up the story from where the first volume leaves off: Doctor Who has been cancelled and that looks like that. Talking us through the Wilderness Years, to its triumphant return and beyond, Kirkley retains the informal, chatty style from the first book that makes this as easy to read as that volume.

There is, however, a major issue with this volume, which Kirkley acknowledges in the introduction, is that this is all still comparatively recently. Doctor Who returned in 2005, that’s just twelve years ago, at the time of this review. There hasn’t been time for things to come out in the wash yet, so we still don’t have the full story behind Christopher Eccleston’s short time in the Tardis, or why Freema Agyeman left after just one year. And that just gets worse, the closer to the present day that we get. By the time we’re up to Eleven’s last series (and the afterword, that discusses Twelve’s first couple of seasons), it’s become just a glorified episode guide, with a ratings count. That’s not to take anything away from the work that Kirkley has put in, but I’d be much more interested in the second edition of Space Helmet Vol 2, that emerges in another couple of decades.

There’s still some good stories behind the scenes, and some running gags at the expense of former BBC director general Michael Grade (and Adric. I would say poor Adric, but, well, it’s Adric). But it’s not as essential a volume as its predecessor. And it could still do with an index.

Book details

ISBN: 9781935234210
Publisher: Mad Norwegian Press

Space Helmet for a Cow: The Mad, True Story of Doctor Who (1963-1989)

By Paul Kirkley

Rating: 4 stars

This is an engaging book, informally written, with lots of snarky asides to the reader and imagined conversations between the figures that form this history. I’m a confirmed fan of many years standing, but there was still a fair bit in here that I didn’t know. Kirkley admits in the acknowledgements at the end that he relied heavily on secondary works, but for a book like this that’s perfectly reasonable. And he provides his references in a comprehensive source section at the back.

Although I didn’t really get into the fandom properly until later, I’ve always tended to go along with the general notion that John Nathan-Turner wasn’t good for the programme, but Kirkley is sympathetic to him and I find myself coming away with a much more nuanced view of the chap. The higher echelons of the BBC in the 80s, though, come in for a drubbing.

One thing that the book sorely needs is an index. There are so many names that it’s difficult to keep track of them all, so an index to let you flip back and check up on them would be invaluable. Without it, it makes it hard to use as a reference. In saying that, the book is clearly intended as a narrative history, not a scholarly one, so the omission is understandable.

So overall, this is an entertaining history of the fascinating story of a remarkable television programme. One that somehow managed to survive its first couple of disaster-laden episodes and is still going strong, more than fifty years later.

Book details

ISBN: 9781935234173
Publisher: Mad Norwegian Press
Year of publication: 2014

Powered by WordPress