Panini Books
The 2006 Annual

Published 2005 Cover image
EditorClayton Hickman


A Review by Finn Clark 3/4/06

In its own understated way, one of the most important Doctor Who annuals. Like the 1971 Pertwee annual and its riffs on the hard-nosed UNIT team of Season Seven, this book's stories have a coherent vision inspired by their parent TV season. In addition, like the first Hartnell annual, it's straight from the horse's mouth. Instead of David Whitaker we have an array of TV luminaries... Paul Cornell, Gareth Roberts, Steven Moffat, Robert Shearman and of course Russell T. Davies himself.

Admittedly his pen portraits of the 9th Doctor and Rose are only interesting because he wrote them. They're fine. Nothing wrong with them. However no one would have scrutinised 'em with the same attention had they borne the name of some anonymous staffer. We wouldn't have seen as much significance in their references to comic strips and Virgin NAs, in their continuity links to the old series and in their hints dropped regarding the planet Crafe Tec Heydra.

Overall, the articles are a mixed bag. Despite being aimed at newbies instead of fanboys, sometimes they appeal to everyone. As well as Russell T. Davies' introductions to the Doctor and Rose, there's a six-page behind the scenes article about filming the Eccleston season, with lovely photos and interesting mini-interviews. Less worthwhile are "Who's Who" (a potted history of the TV show from 1963 to 2006), "Inside the TARDIS" and some puzzle pages. The latter in particular left me slightly nonplussed. If Panini were going to go that far in their homage to World Distributors, I'm disappointed that they didn't choose to include articles on Sumerian mythology or the Mongol Empire of the 13th and 14th centuries. At least that would have been educational.

However this book's heart is its stories, to the extent that the next annual will be renamed the Doctor Who Storybook and have almost twice as much fiction, albeit in a book with more pages. The short stories will be seven instead of four and the comic strip will have fifteen pages instead of eight. This year we got Doctor vs Doctor (Gareth Roberts), The Masks of Makassar (Paul Cornell), Pitter-Patter (Robert Shearman) and What I Did On My Christmas Holidays By Sally Sparrow (Steven Moffat), plus the comic strip Mr Nobody (Scott Gray and John Ross).

Doctor vs Doctor is fun without being its author's best work. As I've said before, I don't think the 9th Doctor and Rose are naturally suited to Gareth Roberts's style. He's always seemed more at home with eccentric TARDIS crews like the 4th Doctor and Romana, who inspire jokes just by walking down the street. The 9th Doctor and Rose are too normal. Nevertheless here he's found a way to build comedy around the Eccleston Doctor, using his down-to-earth normality to deflate the grandiose pronouncements of a Poirot-esque detective. It begins as Agatha Christie pastiche, until the Doctor shows up on page three. I enjoyed it. It won't change anyone's world, but unlike many stories I can see why its author wrote it.

The Masks of Makassar is the book's only 'straight' Doctor Who story. You could cut-and-paste it back into an old World Distributors annual and no one would notice the difference. The Doctor beats the bad guy, who incidentally is the only traditionally evil villain in the entire annual. After all those criticisms of his weak antagonists in his later Doctor Who novels, it's as if Paul Cornell has since been overcompensating in stories like this and Scream of the Shalka. This story's okay, although I disliked the Doctor's line: "holding on with my fingertips against a huge enemy that wants to swallow me up, and I think it just might, cos I can't think of a thing to stop it." Uh-huh. In a throwaway seven-page story in a Doctor Who annual? That felt cheap. 'Twas as bad as yet another "for the first time, Benny saw the Doctor truly frightened" from the Virgin NAs.

Pitter-Patter is a mood piece, written in a strong first-person voice. It's even sufficiently mature and sombre to earn a moment of Doctor-defeatism that's theoretically not dissimilar to the one I complained about from Paul Cornell. It also has an imaginative monster with an SF twist. This 2006 annual is obviously a short anthology, but Rob Shearman's given it weight. I really liked Pitter-Patter. It's not splashy or melodramatic, but is instead following in a World Distributors' tradition of sneaking surprisingly thoughtful or downbeat stories into what were basically collections of kiddie fare.

Finally there's What I Did On My Christmas Holidays By Sally Sparrow, which is simply great. There are no bad guys or threat to life and limb, but simply an absorbing mystery and sparkling first-person narration from the lovable Sally Sparrow. Steven Moffat can do no wrong. We all loved him for his Continuity Errors in Decalog 3 and here he's clearly having as much fun. The results aren't quite as brilliant as the classic stories of the 1981 Doctor Who annual, but they're not unworthy of being mentioned alongside them.

I guess there's also the comic strip, written by Scott Gray and drawn by John Ross. It's reasonable without ever putting Scott Gray up there with Wagner, Mills and the Moores, although it's interesting to see Rose getting equal billing with the Doctor in a way that poor Izzy never got in five years. Look, guys, it's not so hard to write companions after all! As for the art, I'm a John Ross fan, although one or two moments aren't perhaps as funny as they might have been. Still it's dynamic stuff and easy on the eyes.

I mentioned a running theme. Eccleston's Doctor tended to let someone else save the day, with his role being that of catalyst and inspiration. Unlike some I didn't actually mind this, although I think Eccleston's performance was part of what helped me to accept it on-screen. I mention all that because the 2006 Annual is doing that too. It's debatable in Doctor vs Doctor, although our Doctor does expand the mental horizons of Dr Merrivale Carr, and it doesn't really apply in The Masks of Makassar, but thereafter it's the moral of every story. The Doctor changes people's lives. In Mr Nobody it's Phil Tyson. In Pitter-Patter it's Andy. Steven Moffat gives us Sally Sparrow. For these three people meeting the Doctor isn't merely a spin in the spotlight, but a life-changing experience that makes them reevaluate themselves and their place in the universe.

I'm almost certain that this was accidental, which only makes it better. It might have been overpowering as the moral of every story, but this 2006 annual paints a powerful portrait of the Doctor's power to change lives. It's an uplifting, empowering message and one that gives the book its own distinctive character compared to past Doctor Who annuals.

I should praise the art. Good illustrations add atmosphere and these ones make a huge difference. Andy Walker almost seems to be channelling the late Phil Bevan. Martin Geraghty does lovely dynamic work, showcasing his hard-won experience from drawing hundreds of pages of DWM comic strip. His portrait of Sally Sparrow is so cute! Finally Daryl Joyce was a perfect choice for Pitter-Patter. I'm not wild about his first two pictures, but thereafter he does some beautifully atmospheric work that's just to die for. Incidentally is it just me or does Andy's dad resemble David Tennant?

Overall, well worth a look. Admittedly it's not aimed at us. It's Christmas stocking filler for children and newbies, but once you've accepted that you'll find it surprisingly memorable.