I was asked, some time ago now, to comment on what I thought were the best Doctor Who reference books. Obviously, the term ‘best’ is subjective but if I’ve bought it, then generally I think it’s worth having. There are a couple I may take issue with in places, but I’ll get to those eventually…
So, here’s the first shelf from my collection
Starting from left to right we have The Handbook, by David Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker. These three writers were responsible for the excellent fanzine The Frame, and have written many books on this subject! Originally released in seven volumes by Virgin, each book was divided into three major sections. The first presents a series of snippets from interviews with principles involved in the creation of the persona of the respective Doctor; the second gives detailed notes about every televised adventure of this Doctor; and the last concerns itself with behind-the-scenes developments during this Doctor’s era. The enormous, 800+ page Telos edition (David Howe’s publishing company) brings together all these volumes plus extra material cut from the Virgin editions for reasons of space. Quite honestly, this is a book every fan should have on their shelf. The Handbook and The Television Companion together provide just about everything you need to know about the show, its stars, its background, its stories, its monsters and its successes and failures. Superb.
In 1965, two Americans took Doctor Who to the cinema. Starring Peter Cushing, Dr Who and the Daleks and Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150AD brought a colourful world of Dalek invaders and a time-travelling Police Box to the big screen for the very first time. In the decades that followed, many others have tried and failed to replicate the success of those two movies. Barely a year passes without someone, somewhere, trying to make a new film based around Doctor Who. Through new interviews with those involved and never before published paperwork from the BBFC, Now On The Big Screen by Charles Norton is the complete story of the few Doctor Who films that were made and the many more that were not. An exciting adventure of Scarecrows, Yeti and the deadly game of Cricket, it’s also a cautionary tale of ‘development hell’ and the many lost motion-pictures that have ended up there.
Wiped! Doctor Who’s Missing Episodes by Richard Molesworth is astonishingly good. As we all know, in the 1960s the BBC screened 253 episodes of Doctor Who, starring William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton. Yet by 1975, the Corporation had wiped the master tapes of every single one of these episodes. Of the 124 episodes starring Jon Pertwee shown between 1970 and 1974, the BBC destroyed over half of the original transmission tapes within two years of their original broadcast. In the years that followed, the BBC, along with dedicated fans of the series, began the arduous task of trying to track down copies of as many missing Doctor Who episodes as possible. The search covered BBC sales vaults, foreign television stations, overseas archives, and numerous networks of private film collectors, until the tally of missing programmes was reduced to just 106 episodes. This book looks in detail at how the episodes came to be missing in the first place, and examines how material subsequently came to be returned to the BBC. Along the way, the people involved in the recovery of lost slices of Doctor Who‘s past tell their stories in candid detail, many for the very first time. This second edition updates the story with details of the episode discoveries from Galaxy 4 and The Underwater Menace as well as general updates, corrections and revisions throughout. Unfortunately for them the discovery of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear happened just too late for them to add a new chapter, so expect a third volume in the not too distant future!
What can I say about The Television Companion? Possibly the best episode guide you will ever buy? That doesn’t do it justice really. Some of us grew up with Jean-Marc L’Officier’s Programme Guide but this…? Well, it’s everything you ever wanted to know about what is now called the Classic era of Doctor Who (1963-1996). Every story is covered in depth in all aspects of production, including plot details, cast and crew lists, episode endings, transmission dates, memorable quotes and popular myths. In addition there is a comprehensive analysis of every adventure, utilising reviews from contemporary and retrospective sources. First published by the BBC in 1998, then revised and re-issued in a much longer version by Telos in 2002, it’s received a 50th anniversary sprucing up spanning two volumes which, in my opinion, remains the definitive guide to Doctor Who on TV. Pair it with The Handbook and you’ve got one amazing read!
Okay, this next one is a bit geeky I suppose, but then in the world of Doctor Who fandom – what isn’t? Howe’s Transcendental Toybox is the definitive (only) collector’s guide to Doctor Who merchandise. From activity books to wallpaper, everything is covered. From the rare and obscure to the commonplace and disposable, every facet of merchandise is covered. Including factual material, descriptions, photographs and a guide to current prices it also helps the beginner in what to get, what to ignore and what to look out for. The book covers Doctor Who merchandise around the world, including items released in America, France, Portugal, Canada, Hungary and Australia as well as the many UK-produced items. Fully revised and updated from the first edition, this edition covers all items released up to the end of 2002. There are volumes covering the New Series but I have less interest in those, so I haven’t bought those!
The next three books are pretty easy to describe. The TalkBack trilogy is a collection of interviews (some extremely rare) with the people behind the Classic years of Doctor Who. Directors, designers, producers, story editors, writers and cast are all featured, providing a fascinating view of the show from behind the scenes. Wonderful stuff from Howe, Stammers and Walker (again).
Doctor Who On Location by Richard Bignell is now out of print and can be tricky to find at a reasonable price. However if locations are your thing then you really should try and hunt it down. It’s an informative and entertaining look at the various trials, tribulations and joys of taking a complex television programme out of the studio and into the great and unpredictable outdoors of the United Kingdom, Europe and (once) Canada. The most comprehensive listing of Doctor Who filming locations ever produced together with a full scene-by-scene breakdown of how they were used in the transmitted programmes. It contains coverage of all the BBC-produced stories that featured location work from 1964 to 1989 together with sections on the 1996 TV Movie, Daleks Invasion Earth 2150AD, K9 and Company, Dimensions in Time, Shada and the unproduced adventures, The Nightmare Fair and The Dark Dimension.
Last but not least is the somewhat controversial About Time series by Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles. I can’t say much about these as I haven’t read them yet! People have gone on about them for ages but I just haven’t had the time to read them. Clearly I left getting them for too long though, as I can’t get hold of a reasonably priced Volume 3 anywhere. Oh well, it’ll turn up eventually. It’s not as though I’m going to get through them any time soon…
Volume 2 coming soon…