Sunday, November 18, 2018

Review: Doctor Who: The Women Who Lived

With a new Doctor in the form of Jodie Whittaker about to take the stage, BBC Books decided to celebrate by releasing Doctor Who: The Women Who Lived.  'Amazing tales for Future Time Lords' it says ... but that's not quite what you get.

Several years back, I co-wrote a book called Doctor Who: Companions, which was a look at all the actors and actresses who had played the Doctor's companions to that time ... so basically Classic series, and including a couple from the original novels and comic strip too.  My co-author Mark Stammers and I delved into the factual background of the characters, discovering their origins, BBC Outlines, their casting and so on, and also spoke to as many of the artistes as we could to try and gain a rounded and hopefully interesting view of the role of the Companion and what it meant to the many people who had played them.

Written by Chrystal Dee and Simon Guerrier, this new book takes the female companions only, along with many other significant female characters from the show, and presents a page or two on each, accompanied by a piece of artwork depicting said character. All the imagery is by female artists too ... so it looks like the only men involved are co-author Guerrier, along with all the book's production team.

And it's a strangely insubstantial affair. The text in each case is simply a brief description of who/what/where/how that character was presented. Written in very easy to read, child-friendly text, it's skimmable and doesn't contain anything really new. The 'Amazing Tales' promised by the cover are simply those which Doctor Who as a series has already presented. Maybe this is a storybook to read to children when they go to bed ... maybe ...

So what is it then ... perhaps an art book? When I penned Timeframe, that title was deliberately designed as a scrapbook of images, with the text playing second fiddle to the visuals. Here the text takes up more pages than the visuals, but seems to be secondary to them.

If this is an art book, then I'm really sorry, but many of the pieces look nothing like the characters. Many have over-simplified styles, and others have the characters conceived as almost Manga-inspired imagery, with over-large eyes and boyish figures. It's really not to my taste at all. There are a couple of what I would describe as decent images, but these are far outnumbered by those where I was left scratching my head as to who it was meant to be ... with only a costume element or even the text alongside it giving me a clue.

I think this book should really have come from the BBC Children's Books stable as it's far more on a par with the young-aimed fare that they have been publishing. As a BBC Book, you'd reasonably expect something with a bit of meat and interest in it. At £16.99 for a hardback, this really is not something which appeals to me, and, I wonder, will it appeal to the under-tens who it seems to be aimed at. Do ten year old boys want to read a book of brief character descriptions and plot details concerning a bunch of women from a TV show, many of which they may never have heard of. Maybe that's the point, and the BBC want the series' associated merchandise aimed at 9 year old girls. I suspect this might be true, as Dee and Guerrier say at the end of their Introduction: 'we hope this book will inspire you - to revisit adventures from these women's point of view, to write about and draw your favourite characters ...' Not really something you'd find in a book aimed at adults.

Published on the 27th September 2018 by BBC Books

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