BOOK REVIEW: IT’S EVEN BIGGER ON THE INSIDE / AUTHORS: TIM QUINN, DICKY HOWETT / PUBLISHER: MIWK PUBLISHING / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 3RD
Beginning in the spring of 1982, Tim Quinn and Dicky Howett provided a still-young Doctor Who Magazine with its regular fix of the “funnies” for well over a decade, with two original volumes (The Doctor Who Fun Book and It’s Bigger on the Inside – from whence this compilation takes its name) appearing in 1987 and 1988. Both books and the entire run of three- or four-panel strips, plus longer-form cartoons for the special edition publications and a whole host of other goodies are assembled here in what might be dubbed the definitive Tim and Dicky. It’s quite a collection; more than 200 lovingly presented A4 pages, in both black and white and full colour where appropriate, and for Doctor Who fans of a certain vintage – and more particularly for readers of the magazine – It’s Even Bigger on the Inside is a priceless trip down memory lane.
The artwork itself is, and let’s not beat around the bush, rather eccentrically realised. Dicky Howett is no Dave Gibbons, although nor should he be. Forgoing any attempt at life likenesses in his depiction of the characters, the cast of Howett and author Tim Quinn’s strip Doctor Who? are rendered with a gloriously child-like simplicity, never quite straying into caricature, but never attempting to be anything more than a representation of the actors being portrayed either. The overall effect is one of an overexcited schoolchild having been let loose in the art block and drawing up a storm of his favourite characters, with no self-editing facility for all their physical quirks and blemishes. Howett’s third Doctor in particular is a creation of some edification, and his Peter Davison (the original strips’ leading “actor”, of course) is at once instantly recognisable and yet bears no resemblance to the actual actor whatsoever. There is far less sophistication at work here than in the comic strips of more recent times, but there is also a brio and an insouciance that carries the work through.
Likewise, Tim Quinn’s scripting is somewhat variable. When the punch lines hit home they really tickle the funny bone – and there’s a surprisingly considerable variety in tone and subject too. The strip would as often make fun of fannish preconceptions as it would wallow in childish toilet humour, often making the kinds of jokes that only true devotees of the subject matter might appreciate – and always in the most loving, if more than occasionally sarky, of manners. But for every joke that scores, often with a rather pertinent point buried beneath a veneer of silliness, there’s another one that’s just, well, silly. If the result is a fairly hit-and-miss ratio of truly funny gags (and some of the gags are truly funny), then the cumulative effect of collecting together the strips is basically to bludgeon the reader into a kind of benign submission. It’s a bit like Carry On Doctor Who, in the best possible way; if the last joke didn’t trouble your sense of humour, then another will be along shortly that will. But all the while the slightly inadequate variations on the Doctors, companions, monsters and villains included herein, draw you into their world in the same way as Kenneth Williams and Sid James once did at the cinema. In some ways, it’s an acquired taste, but it’s a taste that’s really not difficult to acquire. You just sort of surrender to it.
Regular readers of Doctor Who Magazine back in the 1980s and early 1990s – even those who haven’t been back and revisited those old editions – will find themselves nodding along in recognition. Indeed, it is shocking to realise quite how many of these strips spring out of the memory even as the reader is approaching the final panel. But It’s Even Bigger on the Inside isn’t only a work of nostalgia. There is enough good nature in the humour, enough detail hidden in the characterisations, and enough plain Doctor Who-ness about these strips to satisfy most fans, and the volume appeals on much the same level as Steven Moffat’s Comic Relief spoof The Curse of Fatal Death did, or even – in the way in which Quinn and Howett manage to generate a sense of affection while essentially emphasising elements that weren’t quite as significant in the original – Terrance Dicks’ script for The Five Doctors. It’s a genuine achievement to be able to parody or pastiche something without ever tipping over into unpleasantness, but Quinn and Howett’s book is so good-natured they make it look easy. They have even managed to engender a sense of fondness for 1980s Doctor Who in this hardened JNT sceptic.
As is so often the case, It’s Even Bigger on the Inside is something of a difficult book to dip into. Once you get started, you simply can’t help yourself saying “Just one more page...” and before you realise what you’ve done, you’ve relinquished an entire evening to it. This is a lavish and easy to love treasury of some of the most fondly remembered off-screen Doctor Who moments from a decade in which the programme was under-performing on its televisual stage, and it deserves a far wider reception than merely among nostalgia-buffs of its magazine origins.