Review: Time & Space Visualiser – The Story and History of Doctor Who as Data Visualisations / Author: Paul Smith / Publisher: Wonderful Books / Release Date: Out Now
Doctor Who is, as any Starburst reader knows, one of the longest running science fiction series in the world. For longevity, and fan interest in keeping it alive even when the series itself was off-air, it’s right up there with Star Trek. There are books devoted to preserving every detail of every aspect of the production – both behind and in front of the camera. It really is one of the best documented staples of the science fiction genre, with very little that’s unknown about the series and its ongoing continuity.
With such a rich history, already mined, it’s difficult to think of anything new or indeed different that can be covered in the inevitable tsunami of books which will no doubt be released in celebration of the series’ fiftieth anniversary. Luckily, self confessed Doctor Who fanatic and writer Paul Smith has come up with a truly elegant solution to this dilemma with the publication of his mysteriously titled Time and Space Visualiser.
The first question, naturally enough, is what on Earth – or Gallifrey – is a Visualiser? Well, it isn’t a graphic novel, or a Haynes manual. It’s a book which fully lives up to its back cover hyperbole of presenting "Doctor Who as you’ve never seen it before!" Paul Smith is to be congratulated on finding a wholly original way of bringing the Time Lord’s statistics to life as a series of graphic data visualisations. That’s right – this is a series of graphs. And although the information displayed probably isn’t new to the more seasoned and detail hungry members of Who fandom who consume the show’s trivia with the voraciousness of a black hole, it certainly is a book that lends itself to several hours of browsing and comparison.
The parameters are set in the opening – this book is concerned only with the TV series, not the Peter Cushing films of the sixties, and not the expanded universe of the offshoot Dalek strips, nor any of the novels that have appeared over the last half century. Only the canon. Split in to four parts, covering Production, Fiction, Transmission and Reiteration, the whole of the Whoniverse is right here at your fingertips, every story, from An Unearthly Child to The Angels Take Manhattan.
It’s an incredible achievement, and some of the facts and conclusions that can be drawn are pretty surprising. For example, you may well know that the longest transmitted Doctor Who story of all is The Dalek Master Plan, a mighty 12-parter from 1966, but the highest viewing figures for the programme in the '60s were in 1965 for The Rescue and The Web Planet. These figures of approximately 13 million would not be repeated until Tom Baker’s era with The Robots of Death in 1977. The highest viewing figures ever recorded were for Destiny of the Daleks and City of Death in 1979.
You can glean conversation stoppers such as who has written the most incidental music for the show, how many episodes have been recorded in which particular studios at the BBC Television Centre, the writers and directors ranked according to their popularity among viewers. But the geekgasm really begins in the Fiction section where we have graphs showing the cumulative shift between Earth and elsewhere over the Doctor’s timeline, the highest points of the Earth visited, as well as the lowest depths and all points in-between. How many episodes have finished with a cliff-hanger that involved a surprise revelation, a monster reveal or a worrying discovery? What’s the gender balance of major villains? What are the minimum and maximum number of on-screen Dalek task forces?
So much information - this book is a TARDISful of pure geek gold which has to be seen to be believed.