‘Doctor Who: The Encyclopedia’ book review

If you’re reading this, it’s possible that you may be the sort of Doctor Who fan who lies awake at night, thinking, ‘Did the Ood appear in The Pandorica Opens, or, because they are essentially a benign, empathic race, only violent when possessed by other consciousnesses, were they not part of the Monsters’ Alliance?’

If so, then this lavish, revised edition of 2007’s Doctor Who Encyclopedia will be for you, managing exhaustively to catalogue almost every onscreen detail of the revised series from 2005’s Rose to 2011’s online game, The Gunpowder Plot.

Author Gary Russell takes as his rule that any fictional Who content which was free to air in the UK is ripe for inclusion. Thus Music of the Spheres and the 2006 Tardisodes are in – although Matt Smith’s in-character appearance in the 2010 BBC Proms is not, which denies us an entry for ‘Boy in Audience’.

This is fine if you’re in the 0.01% of fandom which has no opinion on what is or isn’t ‘legitimate’ Who. Not so much if you’re still debating whether the animated adventures The Infinite Quest and Dreamland are canon.

This is an official guide to Doctor Who, rather than to the worlds of Doctor Who, so it’s understandable that there should be no mention of The Sarah Jane Adventures. Even so, it’s still a shame that space was denied to The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith and Death of the Doctor, at least, as both these stories, particularly, enrich and further the legend of the parent programme.

As an encyclopedia of fictional content only, this book won’t be much use to you if you want to recall, for example, the names of the Hyposlip Travel Inventors from The End of the World or the character played by Bella Emberg in Love & Monsters (for the record, the Brothers Hop Pyleen and Mrs Croot). The information is included, but under the characters’ names, and so, without an index to cross-check the information by actor or story, for some facts, it will still be preferable to head to one’s favoured internet search engine and type away.

Still, encyclopedias such as this invite quibbles, appealing to the nerd in all of us. But that should not take away from what a staggering achievement this book is: beautifully illustrated and immaculately proofread (a miracle in itself, considering the length), it reads as an immersive, annotated love letter to the revived series.

It’s impossible not to turn the pages and be struck by the wealth and richness of the Doctor’s adventures since his return in 2005. There is Lucy Saxon and Lady Thaw! There is Mrs Moore from The Preachers and Dolly from the Elephant Inn!

If this book takes such pleasure in the detail, it’s only because the show which inspires it does too. If there is to be a further revised edition of the book in 2015, then we await it eagerly – and will invest today in the wheelbarrow which will surely be needed to take it home from the shops.

Published on Thursday 13th October 2011 by BBC Books.

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