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The Universal Databank

by Jean-Marc Lofficier

Book review by Paul Scoones

The fictional universe seen in the Doctor Who TV stories is a vast body rich with complex and detailed information which deserves to have a truly definitive guide to all the people, places and things that have been seen and/or mentioned on screen over 26 seasons. The Universal Databank tries to be that definitive guide, and yet like its various predecessors in the same vein, it falls somewhere short of succeeding in this aim.

The book is an impressive 480 pages long; the page size is the same as that of a normal Doctor Who paperback, but it is nearly 3.5 cm thick! I jokingly refer to it as 'the brick'.

This is of course the third and last book in Lofficier's reference trilogy, the other two being The Programme Guide, and The Terrestrial Index. One thing that bothers me about these books is the high degree of inaccuracy that mars the potential usefulness of the information they contain. If you thought The Programme Guide was bad in this respect, then just wait until you see the 15 pages of errata and addenda for The Terrestrial Index inserted at the back of the Databank!

Lofficier's foreword is unlikely to endear the reader to The Universal Databank either. Essentially it is a long-winded and laboured defence in the face of apparent criticism of his fundamentally flawed history of Earth section in the preceding book. It is, in my opinion, rather bad grace for Lofficier to suggest in no uncertain terms that anyone who takes issue with his view of the Doctor Who fictional universe should stop reading and go and write their own instead, since the people reading the book will for the most part have bought their copies, and thus are lining Mr Lofficier's pockets! Quite frankly, after thumbing through the book a few times - and wincing at the numerous inconsistencies and inaccuracies - I'm half inclined to do just as he suggests.

The major problem with this book is not so much the occasional errors which crop up, but that Lofficier has taken note of details from the novelisations. Whether you agree with including information from these books in a Doctor Who encyclopaedia or not is a matter for the individual to decide, but I feel that it was without doubt a bad mistake not to identify the bits that did not come from the TV episodes.

For the most part, these additions involve assigning characters names that were not given on screen. But as any reader of the Target Doctor Who books knows, the novelisations do not always simply enhance the TV episodes. Sometimes they blatantly contradict them, and it is in reconciling this problem that Lofficier creates what has to be the worst flaw of the book: when two contradictory names are given, Lofficier goes with what the novelisation said and more often than not completely ignores the arguably more correct version given on screen.

Take as an example the topical subject of the Hoothi, which dates back to a one-line reference in The Brain of Morbius. Try looking it up and you'll find there isn't an entry between 'Holograms' and 'Hopkins'. You'll find it instead under 'M' for 'Moothi', because that's how it's spelt in the novelisation! To select a second example from the many available, the house in Day of the Daleks is called 'Auderly' on screen, but in the Databank and the novelisation it's 'Austerly'.

I can't help feeling that if Lofficier had decided against taking any notice at all of the novelisations and instead just presented a complete and accurate record of what can be derived from the TV episodes - nothing more, nothing less - then I would be singing this book's praises, rather than lamenting its all too fundamental failings. I'm sorry to say that the only thing I've so far found The Universal Databank to be useful for is its Terrestrial Index corrections... Oh yes, and it also makes a sturdy bookend!

This item appeared in TSV 32 (February 1993).