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The Handbook: The Fourth Doctor

by David J Howe, Mark Stammers & Stephen James Walker

Book review by Paul Scoones

To those fortunate few who possess complete collections of publications such as In-Vision, The Frame, DWM and DWB, this book will add very little to their store of information on Doctor Who. However to the rest of us whose reference resources are rather less well endowed, this book is a godsend. And coming as it does from The Frame team, you can be sure that this is going to be a resource that you can rely upon to be perhaps the most complete and accurate analysis of the Fourth Doctor's era yet published.

The Handbook at first appears to be all too similar to the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties series in that their subject is for the most part about the production of Doctor Who and both series are written by the Howe-Stammers-Walker team. Apart from The Sixties and The Handbook: The Fourth Doctor both being superb books, this is to my mind where the similarity ends.

The Sixties (and one presumes The Seventies and The Eighties), is an overview of a decade, concentrating on the people behind the show and its spin-offs as well as, of course, all those beautifully presented rare photographs.

The Handbook: The Fourth Doctor (and again, one presumes, its successors), is on the other hand a far more detailed and concentrated analysis of the show's technical and artistic development. No doubt there will be some crossover with the 'decades' trilogy, but only in as much as they cover the same television programme.

The Handbook's authors must be congratulated for not shying away from including such minutiae as the actual recording dates (and which studio where known), the duration timings, viewer ratings and chart positions, listings of every location and production people down to costume, make-up and visual effects designers for each story. This is a brave step to take, considering that unlike a fanzine - the usual repository of this depth of information - the book must appeal to the general book-buying public as well as the inevitable Doctor Who fan market. Speaking however as one who falls into the latter of these two groups, I'm delighted to find this information made so readily available.

Effects, location, production development and marketing are all essayed in their own chapters. One story - The Brain of Morbius - is singled out and is discussed as a television production in great detail by the director and designer who have been specially interviewed for this book whilst actually watching the story.

All of this however comprises just one of three sections of the chunky 256 page Handbook. Another section attempts to give an insight into the life and philosophies of Tom Baker through what appears to be a fairly exhaustive collection of interview extracts. To my mind, Mr Baker has this extraordinary knack of being very candid and at the same time very cagey, and having read this section I didn't really feel I knew the 'real' Tom Baker any better, but I had a greater understanding of why this is. That chapter is followed up by an analysis of the Fourth Doctor and the development of the character over his era - which is to my mind more marked than any other Doctor, with the possible exception of the Seventh.

The other section is a programme guide containing plot synopses that easily surpass Lofficier's for accuracy, as well as detailed information relating to recording and transmission, including repeats (the only thing that Lofficier's Programme Guide has that The Handbook doesn't are cast lists). There are a few brief trivia facts, and a capsule review of each story, which make this section read a bit like an armchair video viewer's guidebook. Disturbingly, I did find that these reviews tend to dwell rather more on the negative aspects of most stories than the positive. I don't think I would be enthused to watch many Tom Baker stories if I had only this as an indication of their quality.

For me, the most fascinating item in the book was a chapter called 'Rewriting the Myth', which looks at the ways in which the Whoniverse was both altered and built upon by the stories of the Fourth Doctor's era. I hope this feature will be retained for future Handbooks.

If you are at all interested in the Fourth Doctor's era, especially the behind-the-scenes aspects, then this is the best of its kind. Personally, I can't wait to have the whole seven-book set!

Book review by Jon Preddle

This is a difficult book to review. For me, the book contains nothing new (I have seen much of it all before in other publications) and yet I still found it an interesting read.

Written by the same trio who wrote The Sixties, The Handbook is an analysis of the Fourth Doctor's era. There is a biography of Tom Baker which is made up of extracts from various interviews, a look at the Fourth Doctor's persona, his personality traits, etc, plus the obligatory story-guide. I found these three sections somewhat bland, but only because I've read the like elsewhere. However I did find the latter sections of the book interesting.

There is a look at the continuity factors that were introduced into the overall Whoniverse during the Fourth Doctor's era and the developments and innovations made in television and special effects during the seven years (or, to be precise, 6 years, 2 months and 25 days!), that Tom Baker was the Doctor. There is an unusual look at the making of The Brain of Morbius (inaccurately described as a typical Tom Baker story since it didn't have any location filming, unlike the majority of Baker stories), a location guide, the now obligatory merchandise listing, and a ratings chart.

As I said above, the book contains little that is new, but least most of the information is now contained in one book. Fans of the Fourth Doctor will no doubt enjoy it, but The Handbook is, I'm afraid, for completists only.

This item appeared in TSV 32 (February 1993).