Book Review: Outside In / Edited by: Robert Smith? / Publisher: ATB Publishing / Release Date: November 23rd
There has been something of a sea-change in the world of Doctor Who non-fiction publishing in the last few years. Where once guide books were the order of the day (and there are still, of course, any number of excellent guide books arriving in the market), there is now more emphasis (particularly among independent publishers) on opinion and analysis. ATB Publishing are newcomers to the field (albeit with quite some experience at the game), and their first foray into the market looks set to make their mark.
What’s great about Outside In (or Outside In: 160 New Perspectives on 160 Classic Doctor Who Stories by 160 Writers, to give it its full title) is that it takes the format of the guide book, the chronological journey through the classic series, and then replaces all the dull factual bits with some far more interesting commentary. Robert Smith?’s basic premise for the book is that it should reflect modern fandom’s feelings about the old series, rather than doffing its cap to received wisdom, and in order to achieve this, Smith? trawled the internet seeking out reviews of the old stories that made him think of them in new ways, ultimately arriving at a roughly 50/50 mix of “found” essays and brand new ones written especially for the volume. This book, then, is essentially 160 fresh and original ways of thinking about something you thought you already knew everything about.
Two things stand out: firstly, Outside In is tonally as varied and as variable as the classic series itself could only ever really hope to be. 160 different voices all singing at once produces a very distinct sound; this is one of a number of books currently appearing on the market that take an essentially very similar approach to the subject, and what marks this out as perhaps a cut above the others is the invaluable time put in by its editor. Rather than having an open house approach to submissions, an approach that can lead into dangerous territory, everything and everyone here has been selected for inclusion, and that gives the book a uniformity of value that the others will struggle to match.
Secondly, the quality of the writing is never less than good, and the variety of thinking on display means that this book is pretty much the definition of something for everyone. And that’s quite fantastic, because if you, like me, like a little variety in your reading (and if you’re a Doctor Who fan, then why wouldn’t you?), being able to find that variety, combined with the quality mentioned earlier (Smith’s done a very good job of ensuring that despite the diversity of authors, the “feel” of the book is not off-putting or peculiar in nature – a trap it could so easily have fallen into), can be rather difficult; to find this much diversity between the covers of a single volume – and this much worth reading, too – is delightful.
This isn’t an über-serious look at the classic series, but it does have its moments of sobriety. Nor is it a carefree romp through the old Doctor Who stories (it is after all a pretty substantial 400-odd pages), but there are certainly examples of levity. It’s thoughtful, insightful, and entertaining – and that’s perhaps the best recommendation a book can get.