BOOK REVIEW: THE CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO DVD COMPENDIUM / AUTHOR: PAUL SMITH / PUBLISHER: WONDERFUL BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 4TH
For a certain kind of person, there’s no greater pastime than the building of a collection – and nothing worse than a collection that remains incomplete. In 1999, with the tentatively extras-light release of a ‘special edition’ of The Five Doctors (in other words, a version previously compiled for a VHS ‘remix’; and it’s a testament to how particular this volume is that this DVD issue is included in the appendices along with other non-broadcast and related material, rather than in the main body of the book), the BBC began a fifteen-year-long process of releasing the classic series of Doctor Who on the new Digital Versatile Disc format. The last – to date (and pending any further discoveries of missing episodes) – story to be issued was The Moonbase earlier this year, finally ‘completing’ the collection.
And whether your collection is complete or not, it’s often the cataloguing of these trophies that brings an even greater pleasure than the collection itself. Now that’s a genuinely nerdy thing to do! Fortunately for Doctor Who fans, Paul Smith has managed to create a directory of the entire classic series DVD range that is not only as comprehensive as anyone could ever wish, but that also serves as a brilliant sampler to the collection for any newcomers starting the journey. The only downside to this is that anyone who had already embarked upon creating such a catalogue of their own ,will now find their work obsolete before they’ve even completed it.
The Classic Doctor Who DVD Compendium is then, perhaps the closest thing to a bible that the classic series Doctor Who fan will ever need.
It begins with a lengthy, informative and engagingly written account of the history behind the range, comprising short sub-chapters on all the things a self-respecting fan might need to know: the story behind the original recordings from which the masters for the discs were made; a brief profile of the ‘restoration team’ (those chaps responsible for making Doctor Who look so damned good on DVD; I’m quite sure there will be a lengthier volume telling their story in more detail at some point); a short history of the missing episodes (the Doctor Who nerd’s worst nightmare in terms of being a completist!); and much more in a similar vein. If you’re already aware of the story behind the Doctor Who DVDs, chances are you’ll still discover things you didn’t already know. And if you aren’t, then these 19 pages will bring you up to speed in a manner that’ll make you wish you’d developed an interest in all this much earlier.
We then arrive at the book’s main section, a 300+ pages alphabetically-listed guide to the DVDs themselves, including individual listings for each of the stories and shorter listings for any box sets that have been issued along the way. This section of the book performs two basic functions. Along with the obligatory dates and details, for the connoisseur, there’s an in-depth guide to the Value Added Material that provides an invaluable reminder of where everything is – and indeed what everything is. Then for the newcomer, there’s a lovely set of ‘connections’ alongside each item wherein the novice fan can discover not just what else in the range each of the main cast and crew have been involved in, but more importantly, in what other stories they can find similar elements should they have enjoyed the episodes they’ve just watched. In terms of reviewing the feature content, Smith has opted instead of an overtly subjective critique, to focus on those ingredients that make the serials worth watching, and the consequence of this is to give his book a much more optimistic perspective than is often the case in Doctor Who guidebooks. It’s a very refreshing choice.
And it isn’t only in this main section where the benefit of having Paul Smith as the author can be felt, for although the individual entries for each of the serials is thoughtfully put together and appealingly written (so much so that although I doubt many will sit down and actually work through the entire volume from front to back, any who do will be unlikely to find the experience a disappointment), Smith’s true vocation comes to the fore in the appendices. Those who are familiar with Wonderful Books’ Time & Space Visualiser, will be aware of Smith’s deftness with a graph and while he hasn’t undertaken the treatment of his Compendium in the same way, this book profits immeasurably from Smith’s clarity of vision and his ability to employ that to the best advantage. Among the appendices the reader will find an exacting guide to the location of each and every one of the range’s many easter eggs, along with the kind of cross-referenced lists of exactly where among the many discs almost anything of interest can be located. If you like commentaries which involve a certain member of the production team such as the writer or the producer, then Index ii will point you towards all the discs wherein further examples can be found. If you enjoy watching extracts from such programmes as Blue Peter or Saturday Superstore, then Index iii will point you in the right direction. Or if you simply enjoyed a certain monster or villain, there’s an Index for that too; there are indexes for almost anything the relatively sane person could ever want. It’s a virtual paradise for a particular kind of fan, and it’s what makes the book an absolute necessity for every kind of fan.
There are a handful of books that any self-respecting Doctor Who devotee cannot live without owning; The Television Guide, The Writer’s Tale, Who on Earth Is Tom Baker? and a copy of Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks (in whichever of its many editions) chief amongst them. The Classic Doctor Who DVD Compendium happily slots into that list, ideal for both the seasoned fan and for anyone who started with the new series and has half a mind on investigating the old. It is an utterly indispensable purchase.