Saturday, December 03, 2022

Review: New DOCTOR WHO books Christmas 2022: A Short History of Everyone; The Official 60th Anniversary Annual 2023; Origin Stories

It's been a little time since I've had a chance to chat about some new Doctor Who titles, so it's been a pleasure to look at these three titles, all of which appeared recently ...

First up is Doctor Who: A Short History of Everyone. This is actually material compiled from three earlier titles published by Penguin: How To Be A Timelord; The Companion's Companion and A History Of Humankind; but the material has been reworked with additional illustration and 'jottings' to bring it up to date and relevant for the 13th Doctor.

It's a strange book really: it's aimed at the younger market, so the layout is all handwritten text with notes scribbled in the margins, faux post-it-notes scattered about ... as though the Doctor has compiled all this information together in one place, complete with photos and drawings and sketches and so on, and it's just been printed! There's sections 'written' by Ace, and Grace Holloway and UNIT and Susan and so on ... All as though the Doctor has kept a scrapbook of everything as they wander through their adventures. And it's all very 'talking down', with quips and jokes and all aimed at ... maybe a 6 year old?

But there is a fondness about it ... it's busy and interesting to look at, quite diverting ... it's just all so young-aimed. I suppose in a way the show with the 13th Doctor was aimed far younger than the 12th or previous Doctors. The storytelling onscreen was simpler and the moral dilemmas more straightforward and in-your-face, so possibly this is where they were trying to pitch this book ...

As an introduction to Doctor Who for a young fan, it's pretty good, though lacking much in the way of meat. It is excellently designed and structured though, and the authors (Craig Donaghy and Justin Richards) have done a great job in trying to cover as many bases as they can. As always with these books, there's a focus on 'modern Who' ie post 2005, but there's a fair amount of Classic Who represented too with information on past Doctors and companions, as well as a handful of monsters who have not (so far) reappeared in the new series: Haemovores, Sil, Krynoid, Axons, Jagaroth and so on.

All in all, a nice little book which should be diverting for any young fan!

Next up is Doctor Who: The Official 60th Anniversary Annual 2023. Over the years the Doctor Who Annual has undergone various transformations. From being predominantly fiction-based for most of the Classic Series, to now being a photo/latest series-based book in line with the majority of Doctor Who publishing in the 2000s.

For the 60th Anniversary volume, writer and designer Paul Lang has pulled together as much as the 62 pages allow ... And again this is all written for younger readers ... using slang and trying to be flippant and funny all the time. Some of it works, but there's a part of me that really hankers for the adult-written but accessible factual texts of the past ... I guess the Annual is not the place to be looking for that!

There a history of the Doctor here, Daleks, Companions, Weapons ... that some items are missing is covered in that the 13th Doctor had her memory wiped ... so this is only the stuff she can remember ... it's fiction posing as fact posing as fiction ... very Meta!

We have Sontarans, Sea Devils, Swarm and Azure ... Karvanista ... foes of the Flux ... some puzzles and quizzes, a drawing challenge ... There's even a short story here by Jasbinder Bilan - 'Clara Oswald and the Enchanted Forest' (which is actually from the book Origin Stories! Nice piece of PR there!)

The Annual has always been traditionally the Christmas stocking present for kids, and this volume continues the tradition. Like the Short History, it's busy and there's a lot crammed in ... plenty to read and look at on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, some activities to do, a story to read ...  

As a celebration of 60 years, Annual-style, it's good, and Lang covers all the main bases. It's also gone up in price by £1 - the first price rise since 2009 - 13 years! Which is not bad going.

Finally for this selection, Doctor Who: Origin Stories. This is a collection of ten short stories (and an Epilogue) featuring the lives of some of the Doctor's companions before they met the Doctor ... Two of them have been written by the actresses who played the companion: Sophie Aldred contributes an Ace story, and Katy Manning pens a Jo story. It's also good to see credit and acknowledgement being given to the creators and copyright owners of several of the characters and elements used within the stories.

The 'Ace' story, 'Chemistry', kicks things off, and it's a tale of Ace at school where she invents Nitro9 and blows up the Chemistry Lab ... but the Doctor is there too as a chemistry teacher who helps her ... and then the Head turns into a monster and the Doctor saves her ... 

It's nicely written, but I'm not a great fan of narratives where the Doctor inserts his/herself into the past lives of companions before they met him ... that would do all sorts of harm to the timestreams as well as screwing up in-show continuity (just look at Clara!)! Sadly this meant that several of the stories in this book were not for me.

'My Daddy Fights Monsters' by Dave Rudden is a tale of young Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and an encounter with an alien 'Assessor' observing the Earth and trying to find more out about the Doctor ... At least the Doctor isn't in this one ... it's OK ... a little simple ... but something that could conceivably have happened in Kate's past.

The next story 'The Myriapod Mutiny' is by Emma Norry and features Yas and Ryan, again at school and again facing some alien incursion ... and the Doctor makes an appearance too ... but it's OK as their memories are wiped at the end ...

Then there's a Davros story by Temi Oh, a Sarah Jane Smith tale from Mark Griffiths in which she meets the fourth Doctor but then forgets all about it at the end, a second tale from Dave Rudden has Vastra telling a story of her early life to Jenny, Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé writes about Martha Jones who meets the Doctor and then forgets all about it, Nikita Gill's story features Amy Pond and Rory, Jasbinder Bilan tackles Clara (who again meets the Doctor and then forgets all about it), and finally Katy Manning spins a tale of Jo Jones (nee Grant). This is more of a memoir - various little excerpts from her life - and she meets a time traveller ... but it's Iris Wildthyme from Paul Magrs' books and audios rather than the Doctor ... and then finally the Epilogue where we get another story from Dave Rudden which features the Master/Missy.

Overall this is an uneven and disappointing selection. Too many of the tales rely on a past, and then forgotten, meeting with the Doctor, and for many of these companion characters, part of the point of them appearing in the show was that their past lives were uneventful and lacking meaning: a meaning that travelling with the Doctor gave them. Maybe because it's aimed at the 5-10 year old reader this sort of repetition is okay ... the young fan just waiting and anticipating in each case for the Doctor to appear ... 

Conceptually a book focussing on stories of what happened to the companions before they met and travelled with the Doctor was perhaps always going to be a struggle ... either there is no story there, or they had already met (and forgotten) all manner of alien monsters and nasties, and of course the Doctor was there to put things right. It does have a beautifully composed cover though - sadly uncredited in the book.