Thursday, October 27, 2016
Review: DOCTOR WHO: THE WHONIVERSE
With Doctor Who books, they fall these days into all manner of categories. The programme makers and the merchandisers/publishers have a dicotomy ... they want to sell books to young kids - say the 5 to 10 age group, but the show isn't really aimed at that age group and so sometimes features material which is 'grown up' to say the least. It's the same phenomenon which gave us 'Freddie Krueger Knife Gloves' for under 10s to wear at Halloween, when the film was an 18 certificate, and the celebrated 'Freddie' was a child murderer ... hardly someone to be marketed to kids! Same with Jason/Friday the Thirteenth Hockey Masks. But it's all about the money ...
If you're looking for factual books, then there are the occasional gems. Titles like Marcus Hearn's Doctor Who: The Vault and Stephen Nicholas and Mike Tucker's Doctor Who: Impossible Worlds spring to mind and stand out as great examples. Other so called 'Guides' are just lists of monsters or planets or people, copiously illustrated with the same old publicity photographs of everything ... nothing particularly new or groundbreaking and fundamentally picture books. Nothing which really goes into the background to the series and presents new information or imagery ... Titles like Russell T Davies' A Writer's Tale are few and far between these days when secrecy as to how Doctor Who is made and developed borders on the paranoid. Thank goodness for Andrew Pixley who alone seems to be given access to document and archive the behind the scenes details for Doctor Who Magazine. Maybe Steven Moffat will be able to pen his own version, laying myths to rest and allowing others to understand the roller-coaster that Doctor Who can be to make.
Which brings us to Doctor Who: The Whoniverse. For a start, it doesn't help that it has the same title as an unofficial book published in 2015 by Lance Parkin. That was another list-based book covering all the various planets seen in the show. By contrast, what George Mann and Justin Richards' tome does is simply to take a timeline through all the worlds of Doctor Who and write it up like a history of the universe. There are a few titles which have already documented all this: Lance Parkin's A History (Mad Norwegian, 2014) is one; and Jon Preddle's Timelink (Telos, 2011) is another, so the bulk of the work had already been done. To be fair, the written content is good and accurate, but it's dry and humourless and recounts Doctor Who stories that we know, using words and terms and phrases and dialogue from the show that we know ... it's all so familiar.
To illustrate the book, rather than use any actual imagery from the show itself, they have called on the talents of some of the artists who have worked on the conceptual side of the programme, as highlighted in the previously mentioned Impossible Worlds. I said in my review of that book that I would have loved to have seen elements in the show based on the art of Alex Fort, and here it is ... the artists have created planetscapes and paintings of monsters and spaceships ... all in a conceptual style. What is a shame - and I say this without knowing - is that many of the paintings look 'soft' as though they have been enlarged from smaller originals. Perhaps the painting style is 'soft' in the first place, but it's a little like peering through a vaseline-covered lens (That's a Web Planet reference kids) at the images. In addition, it's amusing to see Daleks with four, three and even two rows of 'balls' on their skirts ... all depending on how the painting has been rendered and how small the images of the creatures are.
The art is, mostly, superb, and this is a nice showcase for it ... but here's the rub. The book has a competant, if fusty, text, nice illustrations ... so why does it fail? Basically because it has no point. It's a £35 hardback, large format and beautifully bound and printed with a padded cover and gold foiling, not to mention faux foxxing on the pages ... a lot of hard work has gone into what is effectively a large picturebook, containing text which says nothing new, and images which aren't actually from the show and which are blurry and misty. I can see kids being given this for Christmas, and then it lying forgotten after a few moments flicking through. There's nothing new here.
If it had been a new art book along the lines of Impossible Worlds, showing a 'what could have been' side of Doctor Who which to be honest is pretty much what the imagery is, then it might have worked ... But then it needed a greater diversity of art and ideas, concepts drawn to different conclusions, elements given full reign rather than being what a seventies BBC Budget dictated. This indeed was the idea behind a series of artwork images that I developed for my fanzine The Frame back in the 90s, and we got some incredible images from a variety of very talented artists.
There are no new ideas you see, just ways of spinning what has already been done into something new, different and hopefully worthwhile. Maybe they thought that's what this book would be - something worthwhile ... but sadly as a complete package it fails, but through no fault of anyone working on it. I stress, it's up to the same high standard as all the Doctor Who books in terms of design and printing and presentation. I think it's the basic concept which is flawed. Which is such a shame.
DOCTOR WHO: THE WHONIVERSE
Published by BBC BOOKS on 27 October 2016
Hardback - £35.00