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Book Review

Book Cover

Doctor Who
The TARDIS Handbook


Author: Steve Tribe
BBC Books
RRP: £12.99, US $19.99
ISBN: 978 1 84607 986 3
Available 27 May 2010

This is the inside scoop on 900 years of travel aboard the Doctor’s famous time machine. Everything you need to know about the TARDIS is here - where it came from, where it’s been, how it works, and how it has changed since we first encountered it in that East London junkyard in 1963. Including photographs, design drawings and concept artwork from different eras of the series, this handbook explores the ship’s endless interior, looking inside its wardrobe and bedrooms, its power rooms and sick bay, its corridors and cloisters, and revealing just how the show’s production teams have created the dimensionally transcendental police box, inside and out...

I wasn’t expecting much from this little 128-page hardback. I imagined something with big text that didn’t tell me much beyond the usual “the Doctor’s TARDIS is a Type 40”, something heavy on photographic illustrations, with the emphasis squarely on the new series.

How wrong I was. Author Steve Tribe has scoured the entirety of televised Who and gathered a plethora of detailed information, from both the fictional universe and behind the scenes. He has collected data from more than 30 seasons of the show, with all its intrinsic discrepancies and inconsistencies, and has managed to collate this into a coherent narrative. For example, he rationalises the contradictions inherent in depictions of the TARDIS’s defences and other capabilities over the years, such as the Hostile Action Displacement System (from The Krotons) and the patently pointless Pause Control (from The Android Invasion). Each of these devices was used once and then never mentioned again, probably due to its inherent inconvenience, such as rematerialising halfway up a mountain in the case of the HADS. Tribe also discusses the numerous rooms and controls that have been used or mentioned in the show, regeneration and the positive effect that the proximity of a TARDIS can have upon its after-effects, and assembles a concise and cogent history of the Time Lords from the diverse references that have been made to them.

Little TV symbols dotted throughout the book indicate the television stories from which the author has gleaned his information, though these are rather simplistically applied and do not indicate an exhaustive list of his sources.

The design of the book maintains a clear distinction between the fictional world of Doctor Who and backstage details. Tinted panels contain information about, for instance, why many of the TARDIS’s rooms and corridors resemble bricks and mortar in The Invasion of Time, why the original control console was painted green, and how the materialisation/dematerialisation sound effect was created. There’s a detailed comparison of the various police box props that have been used over the decades, design drawings and photographs of the control room’s differing designs, including the secondary control room from Season 14 and the TV movie version, and annotated photographs of the current incarnation of the console.

If this book has a weakness, it’s the presence of plot and character summaries for the first six episodes of the 2010 series. These are of dubious relevance to the rest of the book, and are shoehorned in, sometimes rather awkwardly, possibly at the insistence of the show’s brand manager.

Apart from that, this is a great little book, whose wealth of information makes it seem far bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.


Richard McGinlay

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