Review: Doctor Who: Books: The Doctor: His Lives and Times

Bhis-life-timesy James Goss and Steve Tribe

BBC Books, out September 26, 2013

A biography of the Doctor – and an oral history of Doctor Who

Last year’s contribution by Goss and Tribe to the non-fiction range, A History of the Universe in 100 Objects, acted as a replacement for The Brilliant Book in the schedules (since of course there had only been five new episodes in 2012!). This year, they’ve managed to do a Brilliant Book of Doctor Who 1963-2013 – and there’s no other word for it: it’s fantastic.

Dealing with the non-fiction element first, it should be noted that this isn’t anything particularly novel as an idea. DWM’s “In Their Own Words” volumes inevitably covered a lot of the same ground, as did the collections of interviews from The Frame, although Goss and Tribe have been able to gather material from many more sources than just one magazine. They’ve also not hesitated to get new interviews to fill in gaps: Paul McGann, for example, talks candidly about his time as the television Doctor. Interspersed among the quotes are various ‘talking heads’ extolling key episodes from the show’s run, so you get Terrance Dicks discussing The Eleventh Hour, or The Ark script editor Donald Tosh on the subject of The End of the World. There are also a couple of intriguing “false endings”, for The Parting of the Ways and A Good Man Goes to War. (In at least one case, I’m not sure that they wouldn’t have been better…)

However, it’s the fiction elements which make this a book you’ll want to revisit. Each era of the show is relayed in an appropriate fictional form (and it would spoil it to reveal what each is), which means that the on-screen events are filtered from the narrator’s perspective. This gives rise to a large number of jokes and cross-references, which link elements of the show which seem obvious in retrospect, but wouldn’t necessarily have crossed your mind.

In the recent DWM feature on the show’s return in 2005, it’s stated clearly that as far as the original new production team was concerned, there was a Berlin Wall-like barrier between “classic” and “new” Who. That Wall has been slowly coming down over the past few years – to the extent that it seems it’s only Big Finish who suffer from the distinction, and even they’ve now co-produced new Doctor material – and it’s become one big show that has run for fifty years. The opening section (a report on the Doctor) includes references to stories from just about every era – and I suspect that the reason I could only find nine of the eleven is because I’ve missed them, not because they aren’t there!

The fiction section also gets a boost from some extra writers: Neil Gaiman provides the unseen first scene of Nightmare in Silver (complete with drawings by Artie and comments from Clara); Paul Cornell pens entries from ‘A Journal of Impossible Things’ (as seen in Human Nature/Family of Blood); Andrew Smith returns to the Starliner to produce some System Files; and Marc Platt contributes a ghostly guide to Gabriel Chase. The design – by Paul Lang, Richard Atkinson, Michael Dinsdale, Stuart Manning and Dave Turbitt –  and Matthew Savage’s illustrations add considerably, with some of Lee Binding’s poster artwork for series seven (The Name of the Doctor particularly) thankfully finally seeing print form.

However the kudos for this must go to Goss and Tribe who have pulled together all the disparate elements into a cohesive whole – and even drop the tiniest of hints about what’s coming in November (or at least, that’s one way of reading it).

Verdict: This is the book to get for the 50th anniversary. 10/10

Paul Simpson

Click here to order Doctor Who: The Doctor – His Lives and Times from Amazon.co.uk

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