Review: The Doctor – His Lives and Times / Author: James Goss, Steve Tribe / Publisher: BBC Books / Release Date: September 26th
Another day, another Doctor Who tie-in book. It’s the fiftieth anniversary year, and the BBC are pulling out all the stops to get their flagship sci-fi drama onto bookshelves. This latest offering comes from James Goss and Steve Tribe, with contributions from an impressive array of actors, writers, and other personalities associated with the show. Billed as “the ultimate guide to the last Time Lord”, The Doctor – His Lives and Times takes us through each of the Doc’s eleven incarnations thus far, with each Doctor’s section divided into two sub-sections: one giving new in-universe material, and the other following the behind-the-scenes story of that era.
The in-universe sections are compiled in the style of River Song’s scrapbook as she researches the Doctor’s history for Madame Kovarian – leaving aside the argument of whether fans want to be reminded of that particular storyline, it's a nice concept to bind these sections together. Each Doctor’s chapter follows a similar format: one long feature which sums up many of that Doctor’s adventures – such as the Time Lord’s 500 Year diary, a transcripted interview between Sarah Jane and K9, and Mickey Smith’s blog – accompanied by an assortment of clippings, notes and photographs. This all amounts to a lot of diegetic titbits relating to the Doctor’s history, but the real problem is that all a lot of it seems to do is recap the TV stories. As a point of comparison, the recent Brilliant Book series used similar in-universe documents to expand the worlds of Eleventh Doctor episodes in new and substantial ways – Churchill’s diaries detailing unseen adventures with the Doctor, for example. Here, nothing new is added to the stories, and it really feels like a wasted opportunity. On the plus side, there are a few gems from guest contributors – an enjoyable Neil Gaiman-scripted prelude to Nightmare in Silver, and an extract from John Smith’s Journal of Impossible Things courtesy of Paul Cornell.
The behind-the-scenes sections feel like a different book entirely. Using quotes from writers, cast and crew (pilfered from contemporary interviews and other sources), these sections construct a chronological narrative, detailing what was going on from a number of different perspectives. These sections flow well, are very well researched, and are full of fascinating facts you probably didn’t know.
As far as Doctor Who guidebooks go, His Lives and Times is an odd one. It tries to be two very different books that don’t really fit together. While the in-universe sections offer nothing new, the behind-the-scenes material is considerably more engaging. The book looks pretty and has an impressive array of contributors, but, though a nice coffee table book, “the ultimate guide” it is not – there are better choices out there.