BBC Books
Doctor Who: The Legend

Authors Justin Richards and others Cover image
ISBN 0 563 48630 9
Publisher BBC
Published 2003

Summary: A large format, lavishly illustrated book, published to celebrate forty years of the UK's most popular science-fiction series.


Doctor Who: Half the Legend (a slightly previous rant) by Rob Matthews 18/5/03

Anyone heard BBC Books' plan for celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Doctor Who? Probably you have, but here's a plug from the BBC website anyway -

'Doctor Who: The Legend is a large format, lavishly illustrated book, published to celebrate forty years of the UK's most popular science-fiction series. This epic publication takes the reader on a journey through four decades of TV history, covering every one of the TV stories. Each entry includes a summary of events, new facts about the characters and fascinating behind-the-scenes information.

Stunningly illustrated with a vast collection of photographs, including previously unseen pictures from archives and private collections, the book is a must-have - not only for Doctor Who fans, but for anyone who has a fondness for the show. As well as providing a unique overview of the series, it includes features on the make-up, special effects and merchandise that have all contributed to the Doctor Who legend.

From our first glimpse of the TARDIS in a junkyard on a cold November evening in 1963 to Paul McGann's portrayal of the Eighth Doctor, Doctor Who: The Legend is a comprehensive, stylish and evocative guide to forty years of tea-time time travel.'

Call me a miserable git, but the whole enterprise sounds utterly dispiriting to me. Doctor Who has been going on in one form or another for forty years, and for about fifteen of those it hasn't been in the form of a television programme, and it certainly hasn't been at tea-time. A great number of the property's best stories have been created after the TV show itself was quietly murdered - some of the actors who latterly played the Doctor have given their best perormances in other media, and with the Eighth Doctor we've had the only incarnation to be created almost - but not quite - indpendently of television. Additionally the mythology of Doctor Who has been greatly expanded, its scope widened, and it's worldview tested by more adult sensibilities. In Bernice Summerfield and Fitz Kreiner we've had companions created in print who've lived and breathed more fully on the page than a lot of the ones we actually saw in the flesh. Authors like Jim Mortimore, Paul Magrs and Lawrence Miles have written ostensible genre books good enough to be called novels in their own right. There have been more 'apocryphal' Doctor Who stories than there have been 'canonical' television ones... And yet still the BBC implies that Doctor Who's last breath was when Paul McGann portrayed the Doctor in some shitty TV movie.

Forgive this rant, but I'm pretty damn offended by this.

Sounds to me like this book that allegedly 'celebrates' forty years of Doctor Who is in fact going to completely omit fifteen of them, because they're not on television and so don't count. Justin Richards edits the book line, of course, so perhaps original Who fiction will get a footnote (or a couple of pages, at best, though you can be sure the NAs won't get a mention despite the craft and the love that went into them - while the BBC, incidentally, sat around waiting to see if there was any profit in the idea). This supposed gift to fans sounds more like an insult. Do we really need to know any more about those hundred-and-odd televised stories? Of course not, they've been dissected, examined, analysed, torn to bits and put back together again bloody hundreds of time. We don't need to see any more images of the Kandyman, or of the Daleks swanning over Westminster, no matter how 'lavishly' these pictures are plastered across glossy fresh new pages. ('Lavishly', incidentally, generally meaning that they take up a lot of space and pad the page count). It's cultural necrophilia. And the implication still is that all those books and audios we've spent our time and money on are basically worthless - that the only 'real' Doctor Who is a dead TV series that the beeb will never resurrect. This book is another cynical ploy to bilk us fans of our cash, and leave Doctor Who a comfortably dead artefact preserved so we can have an occasional look at it, like bloody Lenin's corpse. It's nostalgia-Who yet again. And I hate nostalgia, especially when the characters and the ideas and the spirits of creativity and open-mindedness that I love are still alive and kicking and still coming up with new stories aimed at you and I as we are now.

The beeb's cynicism is expressed even by this Lorraine-Controller-type-woman who's supposedly well-disposed towards the idea of a new series;

"It's only a wish, there is nothing substantial to back things up so I don't want to raise false hopes with die-hard fans! Suffice to say that Doctor Who has its fans among my commissioning team, most of whom spent the 70s behind the sofa on Saturday evenings too!"
'Die-hard fans', see? Our love of Doctor Who hasn't been killed yet, but that's just because we're being stubborn. But we can be mollified briefly by having our memories of those TV stories waved in front of us for a bit. I read the following thoughts somewhere and can't remember exactly who said them, so apologies to whoever it was for stealing their sentiments- 'We didn't love Doctor Who for its shakey sets and unconvincing monsters: We loved it in spite of them.' The BBC refuses to understand that the spirit of Doctor Who is more important than the form - and sadly even most fans refuse to believe that Doctor Who made not for television but for people who actually care about it can really be 'proper'.

Hey, books pre-existed television, you know. Just because they're cheaper to produce doesn't make them inferior. And in fact no new TV series could ever match up to the best of them anyway. They've spoiled us. So stop thinking of them as a stopgap, and stop thinking they don't count.

This means you, BBC. Maybe for the fiftieth anniversary you could at least grudgingly accept there are Who stories more recent than Ghost Light?

The Leg End by Phil Fenerty 24/2/04

Nowadays, it seems that every hit TV series gets a tie-in book. For goodness sake, even "How Clean Is Your House" (where a matronly woman shows people how to turn on the Hoover whilst another disgusts us by analysing what was growing on the carpet) had one.

So it seems only fitting that Doctor Who in its fortieth year should get the lavish, coffee-table treatment just in time for the Christmas present buying market. And what a treat we had in store for us. Eye-strain. Sprained wrists. Headaches.

So, what do you get in the package?

Each actor to play the Doctor gets a nice write-up, none of the information is new, but that's hardly surprising as they are so well documented by now that a new fact would be big news. Each incarnation's career and character is described in little detail (one or two coffee-table sized pages). The TV stories are presented in order, with photos to illustrate them and new information as presented (The Doctor, companions, the TARDIS, etc.). There's a pithy one line description of the story (e.g. "In which an alien jelly attacks an isolated lighthouse..." for The Horror of Fang Rock, continuing in a similar vein all through). a capsule description of the plot (containing less information than a L'Officier Episode Guide) and pertinent photos. At various, seemingly random points, there are sections of "Behind The Scenes" information. The Seeds of Death (not notorious for its writing problems, despite Terrance Dicks contributing the bulk of the script) receives the "Script Editing" section (surely more pertinent for The Ambassadors of Death or The Brain of Morbius).

At times, sections seem to be remarkably similar to data from The Discontinuity Guide (The Talons of Weng-Chiang for example), although this could merely be coincidence. There are only so many new pieces of information available to each story.

OK, so the book is competent and reasonably well researched (although the organization leaves a lot to be desired).

The book is really let down by a layout I could have bettered 15 years ago when laying out my University newspaper with photo-reduced columns and a Pritt stick. There is text EVERYWHERE, in lots of different fonts and sizes, scattered over photos, in different colours - a dog's dinner. The fonts chosen in some cases are are arbitrary, though it's nice to see the return of the font used by TV Comic to illustrate Dalek-speak (used here for story titles).

Then there's the pages. They're all different colours, too. Some are silver, with a white typeface - pretentiousness for pretension's sake (my fiance's description on first view of page 179). Headache-inducing, more like.

But this is not the worst crime. Oh no. For a book "stunningly illustrated... from the BBC archive and a range of never-before-seen pictures" the photos are treated appallingly. Hidden behind the text, printed in thumbnails requiring a magnifier to discern, monochrome-tinted (even from 1970 onwards!), ill thought-out: the list of crimes against photography continues on and on. Planet of Evil (pp 208-209) has three photos: transformed Sorenson (purple-tinted monochrome, obscured by text); the Doctor and Sarah-Jane (monochrome, onscured by text); the anti-matter creature (thumbnail). The Kandyman (page 366) gets the same treatment - that design deserved glorious technicolour and a write-up about the legal problems which it generated (not even hinted at).

This is a publication which could and should have been used to showcase Doctor Who for the 21st Century, as a springboard for the new series. But it is badly let down by the design and layout choices made, by the terrible way the images have been treated and the typefaces used. I was given this as a present, so come to it with a more forgiving air: if I'd shelled out for it, I would have felt hugely let down.

Overall: a messy missed opportunity.