The 1992 Yearbook
|ISBN||1 85400 283 X|
|Edited by||John Freeman|
|Starring the first seven Doctors and various companions|
A Review by Finn Clark 28/4/04
Marvel's Doctor Who Yearbooks aren't often associated with World Distributors' annuals, but it's hard to believe that Marvel weren't thinking of the annuals back then. They're the same format, have the same page count and have a similar combination of fiction, features and comic strips. (They look thinner, but that's just a consequence of better paper.) The 1992 Yearbook feels more like DWM in hard covers, especially since some of its material was reprinted from past issues of the magazine, but it still carefully includes fiction for all seven Doctors.
It has various articles. Where it all began has Stephen James Walker going into detail on the show's genesis. The Doctor ordered is an introduction to the show with Gary Russell talking us through each of the Doctor's first seven incarnations. The Complete Guide is simply a twelve-page episode guide, like a Television Companion lite. All of these are well laid out, a zillion miles ahead of anything from World Distributors and nothing you'd be in a hurry to reread. The most interesting non-fiction pieces here by John Nathan-Turner and Sophie Aldred, each giving their perspectives on making The Curse of Fenric. (When this Yearbook went to press, those TV episodes were two years previous. Wow, now I feel old.)
Oh, and there's also The Complete Guide to Doctor Who? by Tim Quinn and Dicky Howett. These two jokers had been doing comedy strips for DWM since 1982 and this is a full-page spread from 'em. It's crudely drawn, childishly silly and as always good for a laugh!
Then there's the fiction. In order we have:
The other pieces are prose, but not what you'd call short stories. They're Brief Encounters, a format of one- or two-page vignettes as seen in DWM during 1990-94. These are also all written by famous names from the TV show, representing the various generations of Who. They're also rather good! (Well, three of them are anyway...)
The Meeting is a surreal but charming piece in which Lucarotti himself meets the 1st Doctor over a glass of wine in L'Auberge du Pont Romain in Paris. Future Imperfect is unspeakable fanwank in which the 2nd Doctor meets Gulliver while the TARDIS is still reforming after The Mind Robber, learns he's also Goth from The War Games and The Deadly Assassin (all played by Bernard Horsfall) and gets sent through time to take part in The Three Doctors. It's even bad fanwank, since the 2nd Doctor of The Three Doctors must have been lifted from his timestream at a point after The Invasion ("Corporal Benton! Haven't seen you since that nasty business with the Cybermen!") but The Mind Robber is only the second story of Season Six. However at least it's nicely written and has a good Troughton.
Then there's Time on a Vine by John Lydecker, aka. Stephen Gallagher, author of Warriors' Gate and Terminus. I love this one. It's a haunting window on the 5th Doctor's soul as he saves a young businesswoman from death in the desert. She becomes his companion for a year and a half, but we never learn her name.
And then finally there's Colin Baker's contribution, The Deal. This is a hoot! Colin is a wonderful ranconteur and here has a witty, exuberant prose style which practically falls over itself in its eagerness to get to the next punchline. It stars his Doctor (of course) with Mel and it doesn't pretend to be anything other than two pages of outrageous fun. Of all the writers to have worked in Who, he reminds me more than any other of Charles Daniels.
Overall this is an attractive hardback that I'm sure any Doctor Who fan would be happy to own. It has something for everyone, serving up interesting and varied fare in both fiction and non-fiction. You even get Tim Quinn and Dicky Howett! If you're looking for a fiction-based collection then I'd steer you towards the 1993-95 Yearbooks, which were basically hardback anthologies, but this is a pretty book. It's perhaps a tad insubstantial, but I think it's lovely.
Doctor Who and the Return of the Annuals by Andrew Feryok 23/7/11
Before there were Decalogs and Short Trips books, Doctor Who short stories were confined to the kiddy-oriented Doctor Who Annuals which were published by World Book distributors. From time to time, World Book would take the care to commission quality stories and quality artwork, but by and large they were just a poor excuse to cash in on the holiday season and earn a quick buck. The Annuals came to an end in the mid-1980s with the hiatus of the show, but they returned once more under the guise of the Yearbooks published now by Marvel and Doctor Who Magazine. Now the annuals were no longer throwaway kiddy stuff, but carefully crafted to target its primary audience: hardcore Doctor Who fans who had grown up on the show. As a result, there are no superfluous articles about space travel, or corny board games. Instead, there are episode guides, articles examining the nature of the show, and behind-the-scenes look at the making of the program.
My opinion of each individual short story and comic is detailed below, but I will note here my overall impression of the Yearbook. The fact that the Yearbook is focused on fans is a definite boon. The articles are well chosen and provided new information even to me with my own extensive and obsessive knowledge about the series. The opening article about the origins of the show, how it was conceived by Sydney Newman, and the fits and starts the show went through as various production teams tried to get the show off the ground is really fascinating. This is followed by a cool article that looks at the different personalities and character traits of each Doctor from William Hartnell to Sylvester McCoy. The article also compares each and gives some interesting insight as to who exactly this mysterious alien is. Both John Nathan Turner and Sophie Aldred write detailed articles describing the behind-the-scenes making of The Curse of Fenric and demonstrate how a BBC drama was made in 1989... warts and all!
The only article that doesn't stand up is the episode guide, since the series has come a long way and it's information on lost episodes and video releases has greatly changed. But, for its day, it must have been a godsend to fans in the pre-internet days of the series (and yes I remember those days; I had to keep track of episodes from what I saw on TV and what I could glean from video catalogs and the one and only Doctor Who book at my library). It's a shame therefore that the short stories are such hit and miss. When you have the likes of John Lucarotti, Marc Platt and John Lydecker contributing to your book, you expect some quality. Instead, we get a volume that feels seriously up and down. While they've nailed the non-fiction end of things, hopefully future Yearbooks can tackle the fiction end a bit better. I will admit though that the illustrations and especially the comic book design is miles better than anything the World Book Annuals did!
And now, here are the individual stories:
John Lucarotti writes fan fiction! Is that even possible from a guy who was one of the best writers of the Hartnell era? Apparently it is, because that is exactly what this reads as. It's not exactly bad, but considering that Lucarotti gave us such classics from the Hartnell era like Marco Polo, The Aztecs, and The Massacre, you would think he would have written something with a little more meat. Instead, this is a one page fan fiction in which Lucarotti fantasizes about meeting the Doctor for real at a French cafe. This might have been interesting, but aside from namechecking some events from The Massacre, this story really doesn't amount to anything but Lucarotti sitting there thinking he's hallucinating. I admit I shouldn't be expecting too much for something that was written as a Brief Encounter for Doctor Who Magazine and a Yearbook aimed at kiddy fans, but still I was hoping for something at least interesting. Lucarotti could have given us so much more. Instead, he's given us bad fan fiction.
Okay, what the heck is going on? We have two of the most respected authors in Doctor Who producing the worst kind of fan fiction ever. Marc Platt delivers us another dose of fanwank which makes John Lucarotti's The Meeting look like Shakespeare. This is the guy who gave us fricking Ghost Light and Lungbarrow! It's a confusing mess of continuity and the continuity is solely there to explain how the Second Doctor got into the events of The Three Doctors. I have to admit that Marc Platt does capture the Second Doctor extremely well and his reaction to running into a Time Lord is fantastic. But that's about all I can say that is positive. First of all, how did the Second Doctor get himself back into the Land of Fiction? And why would he try to go back there when he nearly killed himself and his companions trying to get out in the first place? Are we expected to believe that he would risk his life moments after returning to reality just to go back and get his recorder? And how is Gulliver suddenly Goth in disguise sent by the Time Lords to send him on a mission? I can see how fans would think that Bernard Horsfall's two Time Lord roles could be the same character, but saying that Goth and Gulliver were now the same is stretching things beyond believability here. What next, his Thal character from Planet of the Daleks was actually Goth in disguise acting on behalf of the Time Lords? Or maybe David Colling's roles in Revenge of the Cybermen and The Robots of Death were now just Mawdryn in disguise!? And how exactly did Goth get into the Land of Fiction? And how did he know the Doctor was there? And how exactly does he teleport the Second Doctor into The Three Doctors when they are in a mental world and the Second Doctor is in fact back in the TARDIS? Sorry Marc, but this was bad. This was really bad. Good work on the Doctor though! Please, let's hope that stories can pull themselves into something decent instead of wallowing in fanwank and producing something that is way below their caliber.
The only comic in the volume is, like a lot of other things in this volume, pure fanwank and fan fiction. The sole purpose of the story is to relive the glory of The Sea Devils and have a multi-Doctor story. And yet, despite this premise, the story is incredibly entertaining and pushed all the right buttons in this fan! To begin with, the artwork is great. While there are places where it is obvious the artist was copying from publicity stills of actors, by and large, the artwork is original and looks very well done. The Fourth Doctor comes across extremely well in this story with his humor bordering almost on that of the Tenth Doctor. I love when he is making deductions about where he is and then asks "don't you agree" to a soldier pointing a rifle at him that we previously didn't see. When he is escorted onto the bridge, he is singing boisterously "yo ho ho and a bottle of rum." And later, during the middle of a crisis, when he is giving orders he randomly gives someone a jelly baby! But his flippancy is balanced with a steely resolve and focus as he realizes the seriousness of both the Sea Devil attack and the danger to his own timeline. The Third Doctor doesn't come across too well and his dialogue seems to consist of a lot of "old chaps" and over-emphasized patronizing. He also comes across as being more helpless since he relies completely on the fourth Doctor for taking command. The Seventh Doctor, in his brief appearances, also does well and seems to be in a playful mood. He even ends the comic by mimicking the fourth Doctor and singing "yo ho ho and a bottle of rum." The Sea Devils look amazing and are the best designed thing in the comic. It's a shame that the comic is too short to really make characters out of them, but they provide the necessary threat and danger that they need to be. Jo and Ace have too small a role to really comment on, but are competent. On the whole, this is a fantastic comic. It may not be a classic and is clearly aimed at fans, but it is very well written and drawn and will bring that warm and fuzzy feeling to any fan. After all, who can resist a multi-Doctor story?
Time on a Vine
Another veteran author writes for the Yearbook. This time it's John Lydecker who gave us the classic and eerie Warriors' Gate from Tom Baker's final year. Unlike Lucarotti and Platt, Lydecker does not deliver fan fiction but a really good short story! He doesn't attempt to tell a complex plot, but instead captures a moment: the moment when the Doctor rescues a girl who has been taken out of time and placed in an impossible situation to die. It's told from the perspective of the girl and actually way ahead of its time. We are now used to the new series exploring companions and the impact that traveling with him has on their lives. But this story was written way before even the book series had come about and started exploring these themes. I love the portrayal of the Fifth Doctor in this story. His kindness and gentleness is not seen as a weakness or something for fans to moan about how weak-kneed and incompetent he is, but is in fact his great strength. He is able to ease the heroine out the trauma she is experiencing from having been suddenly and violently ripped from her own time. He provides a calm assurance and strength where flippant humor or grouchiness would not have been appropriate. I also like the idea of this woman being stranded in a non-existent place with a pool of water she can't approach or she will be attacked if she does. John Lydecker has written a brilliant story and it shows just what I think Doctor Who Magazine and Marvel where looking to aim for in their Brief Encounters and Yearbook series. Not a chance to fill in bits of continuity, but a chance to explore in more depth some of the emotions that have otherwise been overlooked by the classic series. Fantastic and not to be missed!
Okay, a message to Colin Baker: please, please, please, please, please, please, please WRITE A DOCTOR WHO BOOK! I know you just came out with a short story collection recently that contained some Sixth Doctor short stories and I know you've written a Marvel comic before, but based on your writing style here, we fans desperately need you to write a Sixth Doctor book! This story is fantastic and easily up there with Lydecker's story... perhaps even surpassing it. Colin Baker writes with such wit and verbiage that it is a joy to read every word. I mean just look at some of the fantastic alien names he's come up with: Mosca Ragazzo, Vertipax, and the Vervaloochen. These are the types of names that Douglas Adams, Robert Holmes or Dave Stone might spew out on a regular basis! Colin Baker captures his Doctor perfectly, which is not surprising since he IS that Doctor and created him. He also gets the chemistry between Mel and himself and understands that beneath all that bombast and arrogance is a playfulness and humor about him as if it is all an elaborate act to hide his gentler side. I love how the story opens with Mel finding a note reading "Go away - extreme danger!" The Sixth Doctor doesn't just put up a "do not disturb sign" but a sign saying that you'll be in extreme peril if you disturb him! I also love when Colin Baker describes how he opens and then throws away the door of Mosca Ragazzo's dilapidated shack. And the final conclusion is to die for as he not only saves the Earth but gets crates and crates of chocolate bars as a reward which he promptly uses to rub in the nose of the astonished fitness-obsessed Mel. This story is not to be missed and I would even recommend this entire Yearbook just to able to experience this! If Colin Baker is this good a writer, then it is an utter crime that BBC Books and/or Big Finish doesn't get off their butts and do whatever it takes to woo Colin Baker into writing some Doctor Who stories!