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The Making of Timeframe

By David J Howe

It was while sorting through some old storage boxes in search of research material for Doctor Who: The Seventies that I came across them. Several old school textbooks 'borrowed' at the time from the hallowed halls of childhood torment. The memories flooded back as I opened them to discover synopses of The Monster of Peladon, Planet of the Spiders and Robot, all carefully written in a familiar childhood scrawl, and illustrated (at a later stage) with some of the 1975 Weetabix cardboard figures, and photocopies of Target book covers on the opposing pages. Another of the textbooks was full of photocopied Target covers (the quality was truly dreadful - five pence a copy at the local library as I recall), with the text from the back written out in my steady schoolboy hand.

As I looked again on these masterpieces of long-ago enthusiasm, it dawned on me that Doctor Who: Timeframe has, at its heart, the same concept; of celebrating a programme that I love, through the memories and artwork which the Target novelisations had provided for stories that I only dimly (if at all) remembered.

I never felt the urge to fill scrapbooks with clippings and photographs. Instead I filed all mine away in small cardboard boxes, and later graduated to a full-size filing cabinet. Years passed. I bought the books, collected the toys and games, and finally discovered organised fandom towards the end of 1976. My enthusiasm continued unabated towards the end of the decade, and the eighties saw me start full-time work, leave home, get married and have a son. This would perhaps have been enough for anyone else, but I was also heavily involved running the Doctor Who Appreciation Society's Reference Department, and then co-producing a fanzine, The Frame. All this led, of course, to Steve Walker, Mark Stammers and me being commissioned by Virgin Books to produce Doctor Who: The Sixties and, shortly after that, the first in the series of handbooks.

I give this brief potted history by way of an extended introduction because through all these events I have maintained an interest and enthusiasm for Doctor Who, a programme which has brought me lots of pleasure and through which I have made lots of friends.

When the thirtieth anniversary loomed, I found myself in the enviable position of being on good terms with the only publisher of factual Doctor Who books, and with two co-written titles under my belt - a proven track record. So what would any self-respecting Doctor Who fan do, faced with an impending anniversary, and the prospect of Peter Haining leaping in with a sequel to his 25 Glorious Years book of 1988...?

The problem was that it appeared that just about everything had been done to celebrate Doctor Who before. We had had books which covered the series generally, chronologically, and by looking at the characters. There were books in progress which set the series in proper historical perspective and provided a wholly accurate (as far as able) and unbiased view of its development (The Sixties series). What on Earth could we do which would be original, and which would satisfy my strong desire to produce something definitive, worthwhile and which would be a worthy tribute?

The answer turned out, through several production meetings and advice from friends, to be far simpler than I had thought. So simple, in fact, that it had been staring me in the face. What we would do was a picture book.

I had always admired the artwork used on the Target novels and was determined to use some of this in the book, as well as the different eras in which the books had first been published. With the help of Gary Russell I tracked down almost all the artists - although some eluded us - and gained permission to use the artwork, which I also had to track down. Unhappily several pieces I had earmarked for use were lost - perhaps forever. These included Bill Donohoe's cover for The Armageddon Factor, John Geary's The Ribos Operation and Mike Little's unused cover for The Deadly Assassin. The line-up of pieces changed almost daily and there were even some eleventh hour changes, as Chris Achilleos finally located the transparency for his Loch Ness Monster cover, and the original of Andrew Skilleter's Logopolis was located and loaned to me by its owner.

As well as the artwork I wanted to use photographs, press-cuttings, and other bits and pieces to tell the story of Doctor Who through pictures and images. While the book was in production, I likened it to a scrapbook put together by an eternal child. This is not a bad description, although hopefully this scrapbook is a little more ordered than most. My original intention was to cover every major event throughout the thirty year history of Doctor Who. I tried to track down something from everything - and for the most part I succeeded. The reason that not everything is in the book is simply that it wouldn't all fit! The designer, Mark Stammers, had the devil's own job to cram as much in without losing the essential feel of the book. Almost all of the decisions on what was included or excluded were made by Mark, based on my notes, and I think he did a superb job.

The final element of the book was nostalgia. Like many others, I have my own cherished memories of Doctor Who, and I was keen to see these reflected in the book. After all, this was as much a tribute to thirty years of sofa-hiding, and playing Daleks in the school playground as to the programme itself. I hit upon the idea of doing mini-photo novels of all of Doctor Who's really good bits. The problem was choosing the bits! Some seemed obvious: the Cybermen breaking out of their tombs in The Tomb of the Cybermen; the first appearance of the Daleks and the Cybermen; the Autons coming alive in their shop window. Others were less obvious, chosen for their importance to the TV series as a whole rather than for any lasting impact, although some had that as well. Thus Susan's departure from The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the first time the TARDIS dematerialises, the final moments from Survival and the meeting of Doctors in The Three Doctors. Other selections were made from suggestions sent in to Doctor Who Magazine, and also from my merciless questioning of fans old enough to remember the early seasons. Limiting the choice further was the fact that the selections had to be from episodes or footage which still existed with one exception - but on the whole I hope that at least some of the 'Magic Moments' will jog fond memories.

One of the hardest things to come up with was a title. We wanted something that would capture the spirit of the programme, and of the anniversary, and of the visual aspect of the book, without being something that had been used before. It also had to be short and snappy. This task seemed impossible, with suggestions being thrown about Virgin's office and solicited from friends. I recall the suggestion of 'Timeframe' as being part joke (referencing The Frame's title), and part measure of desperation. However, it seemed to fit and was short and snappy. The book did cover a frame of time - thirty years - and the reasons we called our fanzine The Frame were also valid for the book; a frame can be a segment of film, a section of artwork or something into which anything visual can be put.

So Timeframe was born.

Timeframe is very much intended as a visual celebration of thirty years of enjoying a television programme. It is not an in-depth study - The Sixties and its sequels do that - and it gives the same amount of coverage to each of the Doctors as they had on television. Timeframe does not contain many words and the facts are mostly confined to the captions, and it probably won't tell the die-hard fan anything he or she didn't already know. What it hopefully contains in abundance are memories.

I tried to make Timeframe the very best I could, remaining true to the spirit of the programme, while wallowing in nostalgia and memories, and it wasn't easy. There are still some niggling little errors which crept in despite my best efforts, and I was sad to have to lose some of the images I had tracked down.

The two aspects of publishing which most satisfy me are seeing the finished book or magazine for the first time, and seeing other people enjoy it. I was completely gob-smacked when I saw a finished copy of Timeframe. It was colourful, it was well printed. I was almost speechless, which is unusual for me. As for seeing the reaction of others... when friends and family have flicked through my copy, without fail everyone has found something which prompts the phrase 'Oh, I remember that...' or 'I had one of those...' This is what celebrating and appreciating Doctor Who is all about. Shared memories which bind us together; things that we love which form a part of all our childhoods. Memories of a television programme which touched our lives.

Something strange happens when a book is published. It stops being the author's and is passed into the tender hands of the public. Timeframe is no longer my book; it's yours now. Happy birthday, and have fun!

First Proof pages

Scans of the "1st Proof" galley pages for Timeframe. These pages were given to TSV by Virgin Publishing in 1993 to use to promote the book.

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This item appeared in TSV 36 (November 1993).