Doctor Who FAQ review

There are now more books written about Doctor Who than you can shake a Sonic Screwdriver at. And thanks to the show’s phenomenal worldwide popularity, since producer Russell T. Davies reinvented the concept in the mid-nineties for the Eastenders/Reality TV audience, every facet of the once mysterious Time Lord’s existence is up for scrutiny. 

There are books on the Doctors (dead and alive), the companions, the monsters, the technology behind the series, the making of the series, the special effects, the scripts, the philosophy, the merchandise, the morals, the past, the future and now the facts. It’s all so different to the mid-sixties when we fledgling Whovian’s had to rely on The Dalek Pocketbook and Space Travellers Guide paperback, a few Christmas annuals, a couple of novels based on the show, some comic strips and a Wall’s Ice Cream sticker book! 

But back to today, well 2013 to be exact, and it’s time for another unofficial guide to Who. Dave Thompson’s book simply entitled Doctor Who FAQ claims to tell us “All that’s left to know about the most famous Time Lord in the Universe.” Which is something of a boast, you might think, for a paperback with only 338 pages! 

After all, being an American what can Thompson possibly tell us about our very British Doctor that we don’t already know? He and his fellow citizens didn’t even jump onboard the TARDIS until some nine years after the show’s success in the UK – when the BBC sold the colour Jon Pertwee stories to PBS in 1972. Prior to that the only exposure that American’s had to the good Doctor was in a few obscure articles in magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland or via the two Dalek movies starring Peter Cushing. Even then, these films played up the sinister pepper pots from Skaro rather than the character of the Doctor, because nobody Stateside had ever heard of him.

But thankfully all this has changed in the last forty years and Doctor Who is now big business in nearly every country on Earth. And it’s from this rich legacy that Thompson carefully compiles some of the information for his book. Rather modestly described by the publisher as ‘a roller coaster through a funhouse of discovery’, the author actually spends more time concentrating on the series during its 1963 to 1989 period than the more recent incarnations. For example, he opines on whether the 1971 Jon Pertwee story The Daemons – in which the Devil turns out to be the remnant of an ancient alien race – is still the best story ever, or that school history lessons only became more interesting after the Doctor’s encounters with Marco Polo, Emperor Nero and King Richard the Lionheart. 

The chapter on the 1960s/early seventies episodes that the Beeb wiped in order to reuse magnetic recording tape and save money with the Equity union (repeat fees) is a well-written summation on a very dark time in UK broadcasting. It’s a much briefer account than Richard Molesworth’s excellent book Wiped! (that chronicles the systematic destruction of the series in such minute detail you feel that you personally know all the guilty parties involved), but is still comprehensively researched.

Being an unofficial book on Doctor Who, the black and white illustrations are an eclectic mix of annuals, comics and film posters. And for the true series aficionado Thompson’s book doesn’t hold that many surprises, but there’s no doubting his infectious enthusiasm for the subject. And it’s for this reason alone, that Doctor Who FAQ is bound to find a place on the shelf of any self-respecting Whovian.

Doctor Who FAQ, Applause Theatre and Cinema Books, £17.99 (Paperback)