Not only is this house brick-sized new Doctor Who book the ugliest-looking publication to come our way in quite some time (the drab gun-metal grey cover design makes it look like a block of concrete, and is hardly likely to make it leap out from your friendly neighbourhood bookshop’s groaning shelves), it’s also quite possibly the most bafflingly-pointless. With Doctor Who currently in the creative doldrums and only one new episode on the horizon this year (the obligatory Christmas special), it’s not even an especially timely release. A more cynical reviewer (some are available) might suggest that the book is intended to keep Doctor Who ‘warm’ and its fans interested during its latest ‘gap’ year. But in truth, there’s no particular reason for even the most moderately well-informed fan to invest in this new tome, which really offers no new insights into the 52-year history of the series, and contents itself with just regurgitating well-known storylines, character beats and familiar behind-the-scenes Doctor Who ephemera.
The book’s format is relatively simple, if not especially imaginative, chronicling an entire year (January 1st to December 31st, fact fans!) and regurgitating key facts from Doctor Who history, by allocating them to a specific date in the calendar, many being transmission dates of particular episodes and first appearances of significant characters (and each incarnation of the Doctor) or acclaimed storylines. Each day covers some significant event or other from Doctor Who history, whilst sidebar panels provide occasionally brief real-world context to the episode or cross-references to other notable moments in Who history (Whostory?), which might have happened on the same day in another era. Some of the entries are more tenuous than others; January 1st introduces us to the Doctor, the random connection to the first day of the year being that the TARDIS apparently landed in Trafalgar Square during New Year celebrations in a 1966 William Hartnell episode, and Paul McGann’s 1996 TV movie ended on New Year’s Day 2000 in San Francisco. Other dates have rather stronger ties to the series, the first appearance of the Master on 2nd January 1971, the first appearance of the third Doctor on 3rd January 1970 and the fifth Doctor’s debut on 4th January 1982. And just to prove that we’ve done more than just flick through the first few pages, 15th April marks the beginning of David Tennant’s first full series (2006), 12th May recognises that the Doctor met the Thals again, in a 1973 serial (albeit the screening of the sixth episode of a serial, in which he met up with them in the first), as well as the 1968 birthdate of Catherine Tate (Donna Noble).
Other dates are of slightly greater interest to the more hardcore; 12th November is commemorated as the day in 1964, when the first hardback Doctor Who novel was published and 25th November remembers the first UK newspaper review of the series, by Michael Gowers, in The Daily Mail in 1963. Some entries seem entirely random, however; this reviewer has no idea why the rise of the Cyberking from the 2008 Christmas special The Next Doctor, finds itself on 22nd August and 5th January asks ‘When is a Police Box Not a Police Box’ purely because a thread in 1985’s Attack of the Cybermen involved the TARDIS finally changing shape (briefly), as part of a cheap publicity stunt.
Author Justin Richards has been the Editor of the BBC Doctor Who book range for years, so he knows his stuff and he’s clearly relishing recounting familiar on and off-screen stories in a succinct, if dry and humourless style. But it’s hard to know quite who this slab of a book – it’s printed on cheap paper, and enlivened here and there by some decent illustrations by Freakhouse Graphics – is aimed. There’s little new here for long-time fans and newer fans may find it a bit intimidating. But if you’re determined to take the plunge, it’s best dipped into (as Richards points out in his introduction) rather than read from cover to cover. For that way would surely lie madness and confusion. Now, let’s see; June 16th… ‘Professor Yana is Not Who He Seems’. Indeed.
DOCTOR WHO – 365 DAYS OF MEMORABLE MOMENTS AND IMPOSSIBLE THINGS / AUTHOR: JUSTIN RICHARDS / PUBLISHER: BBC BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: 10TH MARCH