Alan Siler likes Doctor Who. A lot. A regular on the convention and podcast circuit, the congenial Atlanta based author is much more than a fan. Bursting with energy and motivated to share his passion for all things Gallifreyan, Siler went out on his own, writing, editing and publishing several books, including Children of Time: The Companion of Doctor Who, Facing The Raven Season: Doctor Who Season Nine In Review and his recent children’s book Lucy Can’t Dance under his own publishing imprint, Kozmic Press. He’s also contributed essays to several other publications and served as one of the driving forces behind the now dormant WhoLanta, Atlanta’s largest Doctor Who convention. He’s also appeared at several conventions, including Dragon Con, Gallifrey and ConJuration.
In 2015 he released his first book, Doctor Who’s Greatest Hits, a handy guide that offered readers a detailed profile of his 55 favorite episodes, each complete with extensive production notes and an essay on why he loved it so much. Broad in scope and highlighting both the classic and new series, it served as a reference point for both Whovian newbies and long times fans. Fast-forwarding to 2019, a restless Siler, now with several credits under his belt, decided to kick it old school and revisit that first book. The result of this circumspection is Doctor Who’s Greatest Hits: Remastered, an updated compendium that now includes stories from the 13th Doctor era as well as a revamped layout update and different formatting.
Released last month, the book allows fans to learn about the history of the program as they travel in time and space with the Doctor. Anglotopia interviewed Mr. Siler about Doctor Who’s Greatest Hits Greatest Hits: Remastered, the show’s fandom and why he is determined to make more people love the classic series.
Discuss the process of updating the book?
It started out being just a straightforward thing. The original edition was a ranking of 55 best stories in a countdown format. My intention was simply to add a few things to bring the book up to date – some Capaldi and Whittaker stories, the new version of “Shada,” etc. But I decided to put the book in chronological order instead of a countdown, which provided the opportunity to add as many things as I wanted. For instance, there are some key stories that weren’t represented in the original, like “Logopolis” and “Eleventh Hour.” I then started thinking of other stories that could be included to give a somewhat fuller picture of the development of the show, and before I knew it (i.e. two years later) I’d added 30 new chapters! Along with that, I greatly expanded the behind-the-scenes info to give more insight into the show’s production history, added a new chapter on the show’s creation (it’s “origin story,” so to speak), and added a section to each chapter placing it in its cultural context – what films, books, television, plays, or social changes were happening at the time each story aired. It turned into a massive amount of work.
What episodes, if any, were cut from the original book?
I think the only one that got omitted from the new edition is “Listen.” The first book in 2014 only went up through Peter Capaldi’s first season; the new one covers everything up through 2019, and there are so many incredible 12th doctor stories from Capaldi’s second and third seasons that I was afraid he’d get disproportionately represented. So, I cut “Listen” so that I could add other 12th Doctor episodes that are better.
What were the toughest choices you made in selecting stories?
The hardest call to make was to get to a stopping point! The more chapters I added, the more I thought I needed to add. I kind of got caught in a loop! Eventually, I just had to make myself stop – if for no other reason than I have to save some things for the next update! Otherwise, story selection was made mainly with three criteria in mind: 1) What episodes/stories are the best of examples of what Doctor Who is or can be? 2) Which ones tell the best story of how Doctor Who evolved and changed over the decades. And 3) Which ones represent important turning points for the series. And then a fourth criterion – something may not be the best or the most important episode, but I love it and want to include it! That’s certainly the case with “The Sontaran Stratagem.” That’s one that you never see on “best of” lists, but I think it’s a superb action / alien invasion story. Same with “The Gunfighters.”
In addition to including new episodes, how else is the book different?
It’s really a drastic change. In addition to all the other changes I’ve already mentioned, the new one has lots of new artwork and illustrations. One example is I decided to add some location photographs, so you’ll see the Eiffel Tower, the Gladstone Pottery Museum, and the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia in their corresponding chapters. A friend of mine, Ashley Raburn, drew pieces for the original edition, and he created a whole new set for the update. Also, putting the book in chronological order gave me the opportunity to create distinct sections for each Doctor, so I had a graphic design friend of mine (Martin Stone Hennessee) create a title page for each section in the style of each Doctor’s on-screen title sequence, and they look really spectacular. So hopefully the new edition will be a bit more of a visual experience than the original was.
What would you like the book to tell those who may not have warmed to the classic series?
I hope that by putting each story in a cultural context and detailing the circumstances under which it was made, it’ll provide newer Whovians with a path to accessing the Classics, and an understanding of and appreciation for them. Maybe they’ll discover some connection with their favorite New Series episode, or read a review that intrigues them, and will be inspired to investigate some era of the Classic Series that they’ve never seen before.
Do you think scholarly works on Doctor Who have affected how fandom perceives the Classic series?
Oh, absolutely! That has certainly been the case in the past. Fandom was convinced decades ago that “The Gunfighters” was the worst Doctor Who story ever produced. Likewise, it was common knowledge during the time that the episodes were still lost from the BBC archives that “Tomb of the Cybermen” was the absolute pinnacle of Doctor Who achievement. Neither of those things is true. “Tomb” is certainly very good, but it’s still on average with the rest of the really excellent serials in Season Five. And “Gunfighters” has a great deal to commend it – the humor is topnotch, the direction is quite creative, and the script moves at a steady pace. It’s far from the worst Doctor Who ever. I do try to be careful with how I present my reviews. If what I write influences anyone’s reception of Doctor Who, I want it to be for the positive. Even when I’m critical of a story, I always try to balance it with what I find to be good as well. Even in the worst Doctor Who story there’s something enjoyable to be found!
Which of the episodes you covered do you think is the most groundbreaking in terms of storytelling and narrative?
I think “The Daleks’ Master Plan” is brilliant. It attempted to do things on a scale that the show had never achieved before. Being 12 episodes, there is some dragging in the second half, but the first six episodes are taut, thrilling, fast-paced, and dramatic. The final episode is one of the most devastatingly bleak things in the show’s history. The visuals and soundscape are quite harrowing. It’s like watching a David Lynch short film. “Mawdryn Undead” does a Steven Moffat-style “timey-wimey” plot 20+ years before Moffat came onto the show. It tells one story occurring in two different time zones and ties them both together in the end. It was quite a thrilling thing to see in 1983! I think that “Midnight” is one of the most brilliant single episodes in Doctor Who history and is without a doubt (in my mind, anyway) Russell T Davies’ greatest achievement on the show. It’s essentially a base-under-siege story, but because it takes place in an environment in which it’s impossible for anything to exist, you never know exactly what you’re under siege from. It’s a bottle show, taking place on one enclosed set, and doesn’t use any special effects, relying solely on mood lighting and performances by a brilliant cast to convey the alien threat. It’s a work of absolute genius. And finally, “Heaven Sent” is one of the greatest examples of Doctor Who elevating itself to the status of artistry. The brilliant script by Moffat and the beautiful direction by Rachel Talalay create an episode in which the Doctor grieves the loss of his friend and turns it into a visual and narrative tour de force that explores the Doctor’s inner sanctum. Layer that with an incredibly powerful performance by Peter Capaldi, and you have one of Doctor Who’s crowning achievements.
Which episodes do you dislike?
Very few. As I said earlier, even in the worst story, you can find things to enjoy. You can always learn something new about the Doctor or about one of the companions, and that’s fun. A so-called terrible story may have a really interesting monster (for instance, one of the most unpopular stories – “Time and the Rani” – features the Tetraps, which are a really fantastic creature design). So, there’s always something good to discover.
What has Doctor Who taught you that you can’t learn by watching the show?
There are two scenes that to me really some up what Doctor Who means to me. The first is in “The Parting of the Ways,” in which Rose tells Mickey and Jackie that traveling with the Doctor has taught her to be a better person. “you don’t just give up. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand. You say no. You have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else just runs away.” The second is in “The Doctor Falls.” The Doctor pleads with the Mistress and the Master to stand with him against the Cybermen, simply because it’s kind. “If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live. Maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey, you know, maybe there’s no point in any of this at all, but it’s the best I can do, so I’m going to do it. And I will stand here doing it till it kills me. Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall. Stand with me. These people are terrified. Maybe we can help, a little.” I wish I had the courage and the strength to live my life that way. It’s an ideal to strive for.