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BOOK
Who's Next
An Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who

Authors: Mark Clapham, Eddie Robson and Jim Smith
Virgin Books
RRP: 7.99
ISBN 0 7535 0948 2
Available 10 February 2005


This unofficial guide covers all of broadcast
Doctor Who to date: not just the 700-plus episodes that comprised the 1963-89 television series, but also the radio serials, the 1996 TV movie, the charity specials and the more recent internet-broadcast semi-animated and fully animated serials...

This is not the first guide to Doctor Who that Virgin has ever produced. Indeed, its structure is very similar to Cornell, Day and Topping's Discontinuity Guide. However, this is the publisher's first "unofficial guide" to the series, meaning that the work hasn't been sanctioned or approved by the BBC, so the authors can say pretty much whatever they like.

There are no in-depth details of storylines, cast or crew in this 400-page book: such things are left to even weightier tomes such as Howe and Walker's Television Companion. However, notable cast and crew members are identified whenever the authors see fit, with reference to their other work in the series and beyond. This is useful whenever you find yourself thinking, "Oh, what's he/she been on?"

Other categories examine the villains, monsters and alien worlds encountered in each story, while "Science/Magic" details instances of meaningless bafflegab - and occasional real science - in the show. "History 101" (which is erroneously omitted from the "How to use this book" section at the front of the guide) describes visits and references to Earth's past and future history. "Availability" notes which stories do not exist in the BBC archives, and gives details of VHS, DVD and CD releases, and web URLs.

Such information may come in useful if you are a relatively casual fan of the series or if you are, in light of the Chris Eccleston episodes, only now thinking of delving into this Doctor Who thing. However, for fans who (like me) know much of the series backwards, it may be a case of "so far, so familiar". For more devoted fans, it is the authors' opinions that set this book apart. "Things Fall Apart" describes each story's shortcomings, and their analysis of each serial concludes with a critical verdict.

The authors express some surprising, but refreshing, views. For instance, they consider The Invasion to be superior to The Tomb of the Cybermen. However, I do wonder how they can justify criticising Susan's "fake" dash through the petrified jungle in The Daleks, when they do not even mention the TARDIS team's similarly unconvincing forest run in the preceding An Unearthly Child, a story that they consider to be flawless.

Clapham, Robson and Smith also have strong feelings about continuity. Unlike the so-called Discontinuity Guide, which in spite of its title attempted wherever possible to establish links between different stories, this book delights in the fact that much of the series - like a pair of fashionable jeans - doesn't fit properly. Like me, you may be surprised to realise that, contrary to received wisdom that tells us the series' main character likes to be called "the Doctor", William Hartnell's incarnation never made such a claim.

I am not so happy about the way in which the authors disparage the works of Big Finish. Fair enough that none of their productions are listed here, apart from their two webcast dramas, because the emphasis of this book is on broadcast Who, which is free at the point of use. However, Clapham, Robson and Smith pour undue scorn on Real Time and Shada (though their championing of the more challenging Death Comes to Time is entirely justified) and they seem to avoid even mentioning actors' performances in the commercially released productions unless they cannot help it.

Nor do I agree with their decision to omit the Jim'll Fix It skit, In a Fix with Sontarans, despite the inclusion of the (admittedly excellent and affectionate) Comic Relief pastiche, The Curse of Fatal Death. Hey ho, each to their own - such differences of opinion are all part of the fun.

Despite its truly dreadful cover design (either use the right kind of police box or don't bother at all), this book is well worth picking up. It's not as essential as The Television Companion, but it's still very good.

Richard McGinlay

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