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Thursday, 20 October 2011 - Reviewed by Matt Hills

Doctor Who: The Encyclopedia (New Edition)
Written by Gary Russell
BBC Books
UK release: 13 October 2011
This big beast of a BBC book calls for a bigger than usual review. However, my A-Z responses don't have to be read in alphabetical order, so feel free to dip in and out as you like. Having said that, entries given here for 'R', 'T', and 'D' are especially worth a browse...

Author: Gary Russell should be applauded for the near-Herculean task of compiling this new, updated edition. Detailing the stories of River Song, Amy Pond and Rory Williams brings home just how complex and incident-packed their lives have become. But Russell nevertheless presents an earnest, coherent account of the Moffatverse, avoiding entries on “reboot” or “universe” for example – thorny topics which might have needed to engage with what, exactly, has unhappened and rehappened in the wake of series five. Steering clear of continuity tangles and controversies allows The Encyclopedia to represent itself as definitive, though in a sense no such thing is ever really possible with Doctor Who. There will always be matters of fan debate and/or production inconsistency, but under Gary Russell's official stewardship you won't find all these "unofficial" debates fully engaged with.

Biggles: Amy Pond's favourite cat, referred to in The Girl Who Waited, gets an entry. But “sexy Mr. Jennings the hot, hot art teacher” is absent. This dialogue is present in The Brilliant Book 2012's “magic moment” from episode 6.10, but must have been cut from the televised version. Despite being published on the same day, then, The Brilliant Book and The Encyclopedia appear to have worked from different sources: the former drawing on shooting scripts for its dialogue extracts, and the latter drawing on Doctor Who as readied for broadcast.

Cover design: The only place we're going to see the ninth, tenth and eleventh Doctors meet is probably in this composited image, echoing an infamous publicity photo for The Three Doctors. This edition of The Encyclopedia thus imagines or visualises an event which lies outside its own remit, given that it only refers to televised Doctor Who from 2005 onwards. In short, and although it's truly glorious, the cover cannot be covered here, along with all sorts of other new Who comic strips and novels. Couldn't entries for the likes of Aberdeen, or Alan [1] and Alan [2] have been cut to make way for some major information from the non-TV worlds of the three (BBC Wales') Doctors? For instance, "Terraphiles" would surely make a more interesting entry than "Terry".

Doctor, the: The entry for this character is shorter than those given for Amy Pond, Rory Williams and River Song. On this evidence, one might conclude that the Doctor is merely a secondary character in 'his' TV show, while the real narrative focus of recent series falls on Amy, Rory and River. Also, why are only three actors listed as playing the Doctor? Shouldn't flashbacks in The Next Doctor and The Eleventh Hour mean that this list ought to be a lot longer?

Eric and Ernie: Occasionally, entries following one after the other resonate in unexpected and playful ways. Whether by accident or by design, Eric and Ernie put one in mind of the recent, award-winning BBC Wales' TV drama depicting Morecambe and Wise, and overseen by Beth Willis and Piers Wenger.

Fact or Fiction?: The Encyclopedia insists that the Doctor compares himself to a fictional character, Arthur Dent, in The Christmas Invasion, using this interpretation to include an entry on Douglas Adams. This ignores the possibility, embraced in many fan reactions, that Arthur Dent is actually a real, non-fictional person in the Whoniverse rather than a character created by Adams. It seems odd that Gary Russell would cut down this ambiguity and playfulness, arguably present in Russell T. Davies's script.

Guard: There are five Guards listed, ranging from Guard [1] in Utopia through to Guard [5] in The Gunpowder Plot (and lots of spoilerific details are included for this Adventure Game, by the way). Curiously, more vicars than guards have featured in Doctor Who's cast lists (see my entry for 'Vicar' below), suggesting that ceremonies of everyday life on Earth – weddings and funerals – have been more central to this version of Who than fantastical, SF stories of imprisonment.

HP Sauce: Gets a mildly spurious entry on the basis that an HP advert is remarked upon in The Idiot's Lantern. Given the BBC's long-standing reticence in relation to real-world brands, this feels almost like product placement. The entry for Henrik's also works in the real-world Cardiff store Howells (where Henrik's was filmed), blurring factual/fictional commerce. Other table sauces and other department stores are available.

Internet: Reviewing the sumptuous paper-and-print version of this book brings home the difficulties of such a venture. Fans receiving it as a Christmas gift will most likely find it's out of date within 24 hours of unwrapping (since it doesn't and couldn't cover the Christmas Special 2011). By contrast, online resources and fan wikis can be updated immediately after TV broadcast, and a wealth of information is out there for free on the web. When I was a child, I treasured my copy of the Programme Guide A-Z (however unhelpful it may have been in some ways), but in a world of digital media and fan sites, I can't imagine The Encyclopedia being treasured in quite the same way by young devotees of the Doctor. I wonder whether we'll ever see a third edition in bookshops, or whether this publishing project will be wholly digital by the time of Who's fiftieth anniversary.

Jones: There are ten Joneses (characters and real people) listed: Jones the computer, Catherine Zeta, Clive, Danny, Francine, Harriet, Ianto, Leo, Tish, and Martha. Likewise there are ten different Smiths: Delia, Jackson, John, Luke, Mickey, Pauline, Ricky, Sarah Jane, Sidney and Verity, making it a Smith and Jones dead heat. For now.

Kovarian, Madame: In an unusually hesitant entry, Russell concedes that it's unclear whether Kovarian is one of the Clerics or just working with them, and that it's equally unclear whether she is dead or alive in the restored, fixed-point-at-Lake-Silencio reality. To my mind, Kovarian seemed rather under-developed as a series-long baddie, and The Encyclopedia's vagueness on the subject does little to counter that view.

Livingston, Ken: Apparently the Mayor of London in Doctor Who (p.200). The incorrect spelling of -ston rather than -stone may represent Gary Russell's revenge on all those journalists who have ever written about Christopher Ecclestone. Either that, or it's a typo that hasn't been corrected for this revised edition (see my entry for 'T'). Personally, I prefer the Ecclestone Vengeance Hypothesis.

Man in Pub: Played by Neil Clench in Turn Left. The Encyclopedia's almost manic insistence on including every credited actor ever to have ever appeared in Doctor Who ever does occasionally lead to rather dull entries. Man in Pub is marginally more interesting than Man [1] and Man [2], but all these entries suggest that there's a difference between facts and knowledge. Facts are bits of decontextualised trivia, but knowledge puts those facts to work within a frame of understanding and within a context of use. Doctor Who: The Encyclopedia fetishises facts rather than forms of knowledge: discuss. With a man in the pub.

New: An exceptionally popular prefix in new Who (if not the most popular). There are some twenty-three entries beginning with “New”, including placc names such as New York and New Zealand. Whether it's New Gallifrey, New Humans, New Skaro or New Earth, novelty has clearly been at an insistent premium since 2005.

Old: Far less popular and less frequently used than its opposite, there are a mere three entries including this prefix. Youth, novelty, and reinvention would seem to be valued implications, whereas age and the past are far less linguistically appealing in BBC Wales' Doctor Who.

Petrichor: Though The Encyclopedia makes a show of sticking to TV Who (c.f. this review's entries on Biggles and References) it does also include some bits of interpretation that were not self-evidently present in the televised episodes. One example of this is the perfume Petrichor, seen in Closing Time, which we are told here was created by Amy and Rory in order to attract the Doctor's attention. Is this Gary Russell's reading of the episode? Was it specified in the shooting script? Because this is a piece of character motivation that isn't clearly given in the story as broadcast.

Question, the: Doesn't get its own dedicated entry, and so can't be that important in the scheme of things.

References: Sticking to story facts means that many entries miss out on significant context. OK, the Anghelides Equation turns up in the fourth Adventure Game, but how about telling us who 'Anghelides' possibly refers to in real life? And, OK, Florizel Street makes an appearance in The Idiot's Lantern, but how about telling us what it refers to in real-world TV history? In-jokes are very definitely out as far as The Encyclopedia's concerned. But as an informational resource, I'd argue this volume would much be handier if it referred outwards a little bit more. Many entries miss out important real-world contexts.

Smith, Sarah Jane: Along with other characters who appear in spin-off shows, the entry for Sarah Jane covers only her BBC Wales' Who appearances, making minimal references to her earlier involvement in the show, and no references to the events of The Sarah Jane Adventures. Clearly some things have to be left out on grounds of space and word count, but when BBC Wales' production teams – Gary Russell among them – have made such an effort to co-ordinate Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures so that they cohere and reference one another, it seems a shame to exclude SJA, especially, from The Encyclopedia (Torchwood has, after all, been the subject of its own comparable reference volume, but the CBBC show never has been, and remains somewhat neglected in terms of reference works or companion volumes).

Typos: It's a capacious book. There's going to be a few typographical errors. But missing a word in the second sentence of the Introduction is rather remiss, especially as the team of fact-checkers and grammar spotters hasn't even been thanked by this stage. And although it's a real nitpick, the Best Typo Award goes to the fact that Gantok plays Lice Chess with the Doctor (p.130). Steven Moffat's version was lively enough, but I bet he's kicking himself now, having read about Lice Chess. Or scratching his head and wondering why on earth he didn't think of it first. (I bet it'll turn up in the series seven finale).

Under henge: or is it underhenge, as per Character Options' action figures?

Vicar: Between Rose and The Wedding of River Song there have been six different vicars in Doctor Who. And, of course, The Encyclopedia lists Vicar [1], played by Lee Griffiths, all the way through to Vicar [6], Paul Whiston. Let's just hope there's never a Time Lord character introduced who's called The Vicar (with many different dog-collared incarnations), or things could get really messy.

Wimey, timey: There are thirteen entries prefaced with “Time”, from Time Agency to Time Windows, including Time Field to cover series five's infamous crack. But there's no entry for “timey wimey”, meaning that The Encyclopedia can't be used to track infamous bits of dialogue like this, or other examples such as “Geronimo!”, “Allons-y”, “Silence will fall”, and “He will knock four times”. Given the ongoing importance of catchphrases to showrunners Davies and Moffat, this is a rather puzzling omission.

X-Factor, The: Restricted to a mention of character Lance Bennett's dialogue, rather than tackled as a real-world competitor for Doctor Who, this is another instance of production and broadcasting contexts being neglected.

Yappy: “A brand of electronic toy dog” from Closing Time, we're told in the spirit of completism. But again it's faux completism, neglecting to mention that “yappy” is also an in-joke at K9's expense (given the Doctor's accompanying comment).

Zero Room: Zero mentions of this, because although Neil Gaiman wanted to name check it in The Doctor's Wife, it didn't make the cut. There's also seemingly zero mentions of “Sexy”, the Doctor's name for the TARDIS, though if this was deemed appropriate for the TV show then it should surely be appropriate for factual inclusion here. However, it isn't referred to in entries dealing with Idris or the TARDIS (and the latter entry also makes no sustained references to The Doctor's Wife). Presumably Gary Russell was given an editorial directive: no hanky panky in The Encyclopedia.