Doctor Who: Classic Reference Books (part 1)

As not just a fan of Doctor Who, but a full-blown geek, reference books about the series have always been part of my thing.

(Daily Doctor Who #18)

In fact, you could say that reference books, talking about all the stories and characters of Doctor Who, were instrumental in getting me into the series in the first place.

Growing up in the United States in the 1970’s / 1980’s, Doctor Who was quite the niche product. I was vaguely aware of it, but aside from one scene of The Sontaran Experiment that I can recall, I’d never watched it.

But then one day, I came across a shelf full of licensed paperbacks in my local Waldenbooks. A little like this, but with more books, and at floor level.

I was immediately impacted by just how much story there was to be consumed!

But that might not have drawn me in if it weren’t for one thing…

The Doctor Who Programme Guide

Or rather two things–since there were two volumes, by Jean-Marc Lofficier. Volume Two (the “blue” cover) was a mini-encyclopedia of characters and planets and monsters that were found in Doctor Who, with a reference to what story or stories they appeared in. That was okay, but the real grab for me was Volume One (the “red” cover).

This book summarized all the stories over the first 18 years of the show, covering the first four Doctors (although the fifth also appeared on the cover). So I’d flip it open, and find it said something like, “An Unearthly Child, 4 episodes, regular cast is William Hartnell as the Doctor, William Russell as Ian Chesterton, Jacqueline Hill as Barbara Wright and Carole Ann Ford as Susan Foreman.” Then I’d read on and find that eventually, Carole Ann Ford left the show, but was replaced by Maureen O’Brien as Vicki. Then I’d discover that the rest of the characters left the show as well, and were replaced by others. Then the Doctor himself left the show, and was replaced….

And on and on, or 18 years of television! In today’s day and age of chatter about the 60th anniversary of the show, 18 years sort of sounds like nothing. But it was a big deal back then. Nothing that I was watching had been running for so long. We still only had one live action Star Trek series, and just one or two movies. 18 years was like the life-span of a comic book, but this was live action television.

And so it wasn’t just the stories themselves that grabbed me–it was the idea that the single, over-arching meta-story had been going on for so long. The whole idea of genuine ongoing serialized storytelling on American TV was pretty much limited to soap operas–and maybe Star Blazers

…which I only watched much later.

Things like Babylon 5, The X-Files, Lost…even Deep Space Nine, were not ideas that any of us had heard of. Nowadays, big “story arcs” are par for the course, and half the time the problem with TV is that nobody just make a great standalone episode anymore, but back then I would have given a lot to see a show with an evolving status quo.

For this reason, I used to be fascinated by the whole thing of when characters left TV shows (Henry Blake on M*A*S*H, for example) because it was almost the only time we had a sense of growth and progression in the TV that I watched. Doctor Who, of course, was a treasure trove of such things.

And it was those early Programme Guides that introduced it all to me.

That first day, I believe I bought both of them, as well as my first two novelizations–Underworld and Logopolis.

Soon I had tracked down the show on TV (a story for another time) and now, nearly 40 years later, I’m trying to write about it every day.

These days, those books are long gone. I’ve long upgraded the original programme guides with another similar book, Doctor Who – The Television Companion, by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

This book doesn’t just have a cast list and a story overview, but also a listing of popular myths, notable dialogue, special things to look out or, and a summary of critical responses to all the stories–reflecting both people’s contemporary opinions, and the “modern” responses from the time the book was written (1998).

I’ve also got this book, which is sort of the same as the other Programme Guide volume–the encyclopedia one, and is by the same author.

The information (or equivalent) is so easily available on the internet that I probably wouldn’t have bothered keeping this one except for the fact that I once met Jean-Marc and his wife Randy at a convention years ago and got it autographed.

I like the way they turned the Target logo into a Cyberman.

Anyway, like I said I don’t refer to it that often (it’s been years, actually) but the Television Companion still comes out if I want to read some supplementary material to the story I’m watching. It’s one of the two most commonly referred to Doctor Who reference books that I have. The other one is the Doctor Who – The Discontinuity Guide. I’ll talk a bit about it some other time.

But it was that original Programme Guide that was so instrumental for getting me into the show in the first place.

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