Monday, 20 April 2015

The Unofficial Doctor Who Book Guide - Chris Stone (Long Scarf, 2015)

One thing Doctor Who books seem to do better than anyone is to provide touching introductions, and the Doctor Who Book Guide continues that happy tradition with a fittingly nostalgic Foreword from author Iain McLaughlin.  Nostalgic and true, as it happens – as he rightly says ‘[w]ithout those Target books we would never have had Professor Nightshade or Faction Paradox’ and, for me, as much a fan nowadays of Doctor Who in print as Doctor Who on screen, that’s a pretty impressive thing to be able to say.  More than any other genre franchise – more, perhaps, than any tv show of any sort ever – Doctor Who books are genuinely indispensable to anyone who wants to gain full value from their fandom.

It’s that indispensability, in fact, which elevates this guide above other, apparently similar titles.  Unlike, say, a recent guide to the distinctly finite Doctor Who dvd range which, while damn pretty, should really have been a website not a book, there’s enough range and diversity in Doctor Who books to support a title which only lists the different editions of each publication.  This is a useful book, which in the end is the best thing you can possibly say about a reference title.

So, having established  that the existence of the Book Guide is not some dubious madness on the part of the author, what of the contents?

Well, it starts off with an excellent introduction from Christopher Stone in which, amongst other arcane matters, he explains what  that ’10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1’ thing at the start of books means, why 1984 editions of the Target books might not even exist, and just price tag clipping does to the value of your treasured pink Pertwee Annual!  It’s all good stuff, and interesting, but having examined the added extras, let’s mix metaphors wildly and move onto the meat of the thing…

Each book has a section devoted to it, including images of each edition of the book in question, with a box out breakdown beneath of such details as cover price, spine colour, ISBN, publisher and date.  Lest that sound a bit dry, Stone has also attempted, with varying degrees of success, it’s fair to say, to add a bit of colour to each entry with mocked up newspaper reports, quotes, background information and the like.  It can be a bit repetitive when several new editions in a row have the exact same cover (An Unearthly Child, first out of the  blocks, for instance, starts with five near identical covers.!) but it’s difficult to blame the author for doing exactly what he said he would do, and show everything!   

Where the book comes into its own though is with the more obscure titles – after five very similar aUC covers, we have the cover to ‘Doctor Who entre en scene’ and ‘Doctor Who und das kind von der sternem’, neither of which I can recall seeing before, and both of which I now, in my half-daft collector way, want…

Any negatives, I hear you ask?  Well, one or two of the cover images could do with sharpening up (but the edition I have is a pre-publication one, so it’s entirely possible the author is already aware of this) and a couple of the background pictures are somewhat distracting from the main text.  Other than that my main gripe was that I wasn’t sure what was real and what was damn clever fakery in the additional material – was there really a belief that the novelisation of ‘Galaxy 4’ was good enough to justify a major marketing campaign?

All in all, an excellent idea which, on the basis of this early draft, will make a welcome addition to any Who book fans shelves.  I’ll definitely be picking up a copy…

The Unofficial Doctor Who Book Guide is available for pre-order in softback and hardback

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