Review: Doctor Who: Books: The Handbook (Volumes 1 and 2)

handbook-v2-cs-cover-f-100 handbook-v1-cs-cover-f-100By David J. Howe, Stephen James Walker & Mark Stammers

Telos, out now

The unofficial complete history of the classic series.

The seven volumes in which this mammoth work were first published were among my most consulted books when they came out from Virgin in the 1990s, and indeed each one proudly sits at the start of their relevant Doctor in my collection of novelisations and novels from that period. The Telos edition combined them into two huge books, which are now finally back in print; in addition to correcting the usual errors that had slipped in, it was the chance for the authors to expand areas that were cut for space.

Each Doctor follows a similar format. After some choice quotes from the relevant actor (which can sometimes prove how easy it is to provide hostages to fortune!), and then quotes about him from others, we get into a dissection of the character as seen on screen – not necessarily how the writers or producers wanted him to appear, but how he actually came across to the audience. The additions to the mythos follow (although the authors’ insistence on calling Serial B The Mutants may be technically accurate, it still grates in a volume that also discusses the Pertwee story by that title) and then a detailed production diary. From Script to Screen is an idea that I admit freely I nicked to use for the first of the Companion books I did for Titan on Farscape – it gives a chance to shine a light on aspects of production that can otherwise get overlooked. Each section concludes with Selling the Doctor, with some fascinating insight to foreign markets.

If you know the original books, you’ll spot some differences – the novelisations of the start of the eras have gone and the sections on each story with the quick facts and the authors’ opinions are also absent. The former were quite fun but disposable; the latter, of course, were reworked for the Television Companion (rereleased a few years back). It means that those old paperbacks aren’t quite redundant yet… but it’s good to have the Howe/Stammers/Walker scholarship once again generally available.

Verdict: One of the best guides to the classic series back in print. 9/10

Paul Simpson

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