The Dr. Who FannualBookmark and Share

Sunday, 6 April 2014 - Reviewed by John Bowman

Publisher: Fannual Distributors Ltd
Published: 25th February 2014
Various writers and illustrators
Cleverly billed as an unofficial annual for an unofficial Doctor, this fan-produced publication inspired by the two 1960s Dalek movies starring Peter Cushing has been designed to go with the flow of the authorised World Distributors offerings, which were like manna from heaven to followers of the show in those far-off fiction-starved days.

And it's a publication to treasure indeed - one that sits perfectly between the second and third official volumes. Its bumper 172 pages are packed with stories, features and strips lovingly created by a plethora of inspired, talented writers and artists - familiar names as well as new ones - all with a shining passion for the subject matter. And they've all risen magnificently to the challenge of taking Dr. Who, Susan, Barbara, Ian, Louise and Tom off on different adventures with, as the cover says, "splendid tales of the unknown based on the fabulous films". One can truly imagine Cushing et al uttering the words and thinking the thoughts given to them, while the illustrations - in their widely varying styles - cleverly capture the essence of the artwork in the official annuals.

As such, the fannual not only echoes the wonderful innocence of its '60s counterparts, it is also afforded the luxury of hindsight that allows some fun to be had without ruining continuity. And the contributors' broad-ranging knowledge does allow for some delightful in-jokes - the "Omnirumour" makes an appearance in one place, while lyrics from Not So Old, as sung by Roberta Tovey on the B-side of her 1965 cash-in single Who's Who, are neatly woven in elsewhere!

It'll come as no surprise that the Daleks feature quite often in the fannual, either directly in a story or referenced elsewhere, but it did come as a nice surprise to see another classic monster (I won't say which) make an appearance too.

Being a fan production, with so many other demands on the contributors' and publishers' lives, it's taken a while to see the light of day, the idea having been initially sparked back in October 2012. Co-publisher Scott Burditt told Doctor Who News that what also contributed to the somewhat lengthy gestation was the fact that he didn't want to go down the PDF-delivery road, preferring instead to provide a physical copy for people to leaf through, which also meant they weren't tied to a computer (or similar) if they wanted to read it. "Paper doesn't need a battery," as he succinctly put it!

That then meant investigating the best way of getting it printed, which again took time. In the end, print-on-demand self-publishing was deemed the most suitable production method in order to be able to offer all the desired variants, although he admits that that isn't without its drawbacks when it comes to pricing.

With so much to offer (just take a look at the contents page reproduced here), it almost seems churlish to single anyone out for praise. Different readers will, after all, prefer different prose styles and genres, and this publication seems to have it all - sci-fi, action-adventure, history, comedy, tragedy, philosophy, and romance - but it all starts very cleverly with It All Begins Tomorrow, by Mark Hevingham. I also particularly enjoyed The Trial of Dr. Who, by co-publisher Shaqui Le Vesconte, which sees the scientist brought to account by the Knights of Chronos for the apparent time paradox caused by allowing Tom Campbell to nab the jewel thieves at the end of the second Dalek film, while Happy Ever After and The Girl At The End of Time, both by Katherine Lopez, are extraordinarily poignant and moving in their treatment of the characters (no more details, sorry - spoilers!).

On the artwork side, again, it's a toughie, but shout-outs must be given for Westley James Smith, who provided the cover, as well as Tony Clark and Dave Golding for their work inside.

If I had one criticism of the fannual, though, it's the spelling errors that crept in. One practically expects the occasional clanger these days, but after all the hard work poured into the fannual, there seemed - to me, at least - to be an uncomfortable number of schoolboy howlers in there that let the side down and could so easily have been removed beforehand with a decent proof-read.

Depending on the format and cover chosen - hardback or paperback, with colour or black-and-white pages - the price of the fannual veers upwards from £5.96, via £16.46, to a whopping £37.80. Don't forget the tax (where applicable) and shipping as well (£3.99, £7.99 and £13.99 payable for that in the UK, depending on the preferred delivery speed). The various formats can be viewed and ordered via this link.

So, if you're looking towards the deluxe end of the range, it could put a serious dent in your wallet, but the choice of outlay is yours. And it's well worth remembering how much the commercial overlords at the BBC charge fans these days for the disappointingly slim official annual and what the fans get in return. I know which of the two - fannual or annual - I'd prefer to have, and the fact that the fannual has already had to be reprinted would indicate that many others readily agree.

A follow-up U.N.I.T Fannual 1974 is in the works and scheduled for publication just before Christmas 2014. Certainly, if the Dr. Who one is anything to go by, then it will be something to relish and savour just as much.