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Book Review

Book Cover

Doctor Who
The Ultimate Monster Guide (Hardback)


Author: Justin Richards
BBC Books
RRP: £15.99, US $24.99
ISBN: 978 1 846 07745 6
Available 24 September 2009

Ever since Terrance Dicks unleashed the glorious Doctor Who Monster Book way back in 1975, licensed Who publishers have been quick to spot that a cheap and cheerful way of shifting tons of oversized paperback books is to fill them up with photographs of old men in dodgy rubber costumes, get a fan to write some accompanying text (along the lines of “The Martians come from Mars and are allergic to Pork Pies”), give it a title that suggests that this tome might just be the definitive and essential guide to Doctor Who monsters that no respectable young fan could possibly live without, lest they self-combust. Then, simply sit back, and watch the sales figures soar as the kids hand over their hard-earned pocket money in droves.

Over the last 25 years or so, these guidebooks have come in all shapes and sizes, and have generally ranged from the drab to the uninspiring, with very few matching the honest simplicity and magic of that original Terrance Dicks title back in ’75.

So, here we are in 2009, and what have BBC Books presented us with as an early contender for the Who Christmas Market? It’s called Doctor Who: The Ultimate Monster Guide and you’d never guess, but it purports to be a definitive A-Z of the Doctor’s deadliest foes! Another one! Hurrah!

Is there anything new that could possibly be written about the various blobby fiends that have terrorized the viewing nation over the last 45 years? In a word, no. But then again, this book never actually tries.

In fact, it took me a little while to work out what BBC Books have actually done here, as the presentation and marketing could potentially be rather misleading - it wasn’t until I started examining the material inside that all became clear.

Over the last few years, BBC Books have been releasing several large-format glossy paperbacks aimed at the younger reader, kicking off with Monsters and Villains back in 2005, and following up with a new volume every subsequent year with such titles as Aliens and Enemies and Creatures and Demons. These were fairly lightweight but fun Monster guides which were aware of their own market and delivered the goods, proving to be quite a hit with the kids.

The Ultimate Monster Guide surprisingly turns out to be a compendium of these first three volumes, very slightly tweaked and with the odd update here and there to reflect the latest episodes, all wrapped up together in a gorgeous hardback edition.

Quite a nice idea really, although I feel that this could have perhaps been made more explicit in the packaging, as many young fans are likely to buy this volume without realizing that they probably already own most of the material inside.

As a book in its own right though, it’s certainly a pleasure to browse. A whopping 352 pages of facts and background history to every major Who nasty to have graced the television screen, lavishly illustrated throughout with colour photographs and stunning concept artwork.

From the Abzorbaloff (shame that it kicks off with the most embarrassing Who Monster ever, but blame the order of the alphabet) right through to the Zygons, most of the entries feature brief but very welcome insights into the scripting or design of each monster, along with a largely pointless synopsis of every story in which the featured monster appears, and the usual fun facts and trivia.

There’s a natural emphasis on the new series so expect plenty of coverage of such legendary, iconic villains as, ahem, The Adipose, The Slitheen, Max Capricorn, and that bloody Abzorbaloff, but there’s also a pleasing amount of space devoted to the classic series too, including such surprise entries as The Celestial Toymaker, The Giant Robot, and even The Zarbi.

And yes, both the Daleks and Cybermen are obviously very well represented here, with a staggering 47 pages dedicated to the Daleks alone.

In truth, there’s probably not much meaty content here for the mature fan, although even an old veteran like me was still impressed with the wealth of design sketches and artwork, and the dazzling presentation in general.

If you’ve not yet dipped into the previous glossy paperback versions, then perhaps now might be the time to indulge in this mighty compendium, especially as the price is more than reasonable for such a lavishly designed hardback book.

If you already own some of the earlier books though, just be aware that the vast majority of The Ultimate Monster Guide is recycled material - because the cover and blurb don’t make this clear enough for my liking.


Daniel Salter

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