This is the first serious academic study devoted exclusively to New Who and Matt Hills is definitely the man for the job. Based at Cardiff University (where else?), he’s a longstanding fan and has written earlier studies of fan culture and the horror genre.
A background in cultural theory – something I personally lack – would probably help you to get the most out of this book; the first paragraphs of some chapters can seem daunting to someone who barely knows their Foucault from their Fanfarlo. But persevere – it does get easier and there are extensive citations and suggestions for further reading, should you wish to extend your explorations. Hills is unashamed to challenge cultural assumptions concerning “quality” versus “popular” TV, or “cult” opposed to “mainstream”. The discussion of where New Who has positioned itself on this axis and how fandom, fans-turned-TV-professionals and a more general audience relate to each other makes interesting and sometimes provocative reading.
Murray Gold gets a long-overdue chapter to himself as Hills explores the musical devices used in the show to make it more appealing to a general family audience. Hills also looks closely at the importance of Chris Eccleston’s involvement to ground the relaunched show in an established tradition of high-quality social realism (with limited success, since CE then expressed his frustration with what he saw as a formulaic role lacking in dramatic development opportunity). Discussion of David Tennant is largely confined to Who’s history of trying to align itself to high culture via Shakespeare. There’s comment on attitudes to Tennant playing Hamlet, particularly from Greg Doran at the RSC who took exception to the local chippie putting a Dalek poster in the window and regarded DW as an unhealthy viewing habit for anybody more than ten years old. Hills also makes the perceptive point that JK Rowling has been used as a kind of Shakespeare substitute for the younger generation (she’s mentioned at least twice in The Shakespeare Code: 3:2).
The book is confined to RTD’s era and deconstructs a number of his statements about the show, as well as glancing at the well-established connection between cult SF and homosexuality – Hills quotes from, though doesn’t explicitly endorse, sources that suggest the gay worldview permeating cult SF is intrinsically hostile to characters finding lasting happiness in houses with carpets, doors and, by implication, kids. I still think there’s work to do on the gendering of Doctor Who fandom and the way the relaunched has brought large numbers of heterosexual women into the fanbase; for an excellent interview with Hills, covering this topic and several more, check out Harry Jenkins’ weblog.
The last chapter examines changing attitudes to fandom seen in RTD’s Who, pointing out that the character Clive in Rose (1:1), the archetypal obsessive, male, conspiracy theorist stereotypically associated with old-skool fandom, actually dies and is supplanted by Rose herself, the everyday, working-class embodiment of the new order. By the time we get to Fear Her (2:11), the franchise is confident about making the Doctor the object of general public adulation via the 2012 Olympics, and this theme is developed further into a narrative device that can rescue humanity from the Master in Last of the Time Lords (3:13).
The book was completed (though not published) just before the end of RTD’s tenure and the author hadn’t seen Tennant’s final episodes. Should it run to a second edition, it would be interesting to read his overall assessment of the Davies years, which he points out early in the book are distinct from Classic Who for a number of reasons, but particularly because they are an example of hitherto-unknown “authored” DW – that is, subject to a clearly-defined individual’s creative vision. How this has played out in relation (sometimes opposition) to the various constituencies within fandom and the BBC is largely the subject of this enjoyable study.