Doctor Who
The Encyclopedia (Hardback)

Author: Gary Russell
BBC Books
RRP: 14.99, US $24.95
ISBN: 978 1 84 607291 8
Available 04 October 2007

From Anura to Volag-Noc, Harriet Jones to Sally Sparrow, Anne Droid to Plasmavores -
Doctor Who: The Encyclopedia is the definitive A to Z of everything in televised Doctor Who between 2005 and now...

Compiling a definitive encyclopedia on a BBC drama about a 900-year-old man who travels through time and space in a tatty old police box may seem at first to be a slightly odd way of investing your time and effort.

But, on considered reflection, once you’ve had a chance to absorb the wealth of informed detail on offer in this hefty tome, you may just find yourself rethinking your initial reaction and coming round to the conclusion that, yes, you were absolutely right, this is all very, very odd.

I seem to remember a clutch of valiant attempts to chronicle the original series in encyclopedic format back in the '80s, and I’m not sure that any of them really made the cut.

One of the more promising efforts was the illustrated volumes of Encyclopedia of The Worlds Of Doctor Who by David Saunders, which, despite forgetting about a couple of pivotal entries such as “Castrovalva”, still seemed as if it was confidently building up to be the ultimate Doctor Who reference work, until the range came to a rather abrupt halt after the letter R, due to poor sales.

In my younger days, I would happily buy anything with the Doctor Who logo plastered all over the cover, including this sort of faintly pointless material, the problem being that I was never quite sure what to actually do with this stuff after I had shelled out my hard-earned paper-round money on it.

I’m sure that the new generation of Who fans will be similarly scratching their heads at how exactly they should absorb this new book that their distant Auntie bought for them, as Doctor Who: The Encyclopedia is perfectly placed to act as Christmas stocking fodder all over the country, regardless of its contents and its worth.

Gary Russell’s mammoth task is to focus entirely on the new series, so anybody expecting entries on The Ice Warriors or The Zarbi will have to look elsewhere, to the abortive attempts of the '80s, where they may also uncover the dietary habits of The Draconians and the mating ritual of the Monoids.

There’s certainly no doubting the painstaking work and dedication that has gone into this volume. I would be amazed if Russell has been careless enough to let anything at all slip under the radar in this complete catalogue of every reference ever to be uttered or displayed or even just hinted at, in the last three seasons of Doctor Who. You can tell that you’re indulging in a pretty exhaustive study when the first batch of entries are all just phone numbers that happened to momentarily flash on the screen at some point.

But the question remains... why? And perhaps more importantly... who’s it for?

It's certainly not something that could be read from cover to cover. And perhaps I’m mistaken, but I can’t imagine many young fans sitting alone in their bedrooms and pondering to themselves: "Hmm, exactly what type of acid were criminals boiled alive in, during executions on the planet Raxacoricofallapatorius? If only I could... wait a minute... of course!... the encyclopedia!"

In its defence, it has to be said that BBC Books have produced a pretty exquisite tome at a very reasonable price. The book is nicely illustrated throughout with superb photographs, and there are also several extended entries on the likes of The Master, Bad Wolf, and The Torchwood Institute which do make for interesting reading, as well as several tantalising hints to the upcoming Series 4.

In short, it does make a glossy addition to the Doctor Who collector’s bookshelf, but I can’t see it actually being pulled from that shelf enough times to make this a truly worthwhile purchase.

Danny Salter

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