Sunday 9 December 2012

REVIEW: AHistory (3rd Ed.) by Lance Parkin and Lars Pearson

Five years ago, I reviewed the second edition of AHistory, and described it as “the essential work on Doctor Who’s torturous continuity,” and “an absolute must-have for any self-respecting Who fan.” Now the third edition’s out, and I stand by that.

I’ve now given up any hope of trying to resist the updates on these books. For Parkin and Pearson, it is not sufficient to merely bring the book up to date (or as far as is possible, in an ongoing series; this volume covers adventures released at any time up to the last day of 2011). No, each time they dive back in, they alter the parameters, creating more work for themselves than ever before. The result being that each edition of AHistory is bigger than its predecessor by roughly half, and it has now reached the point where standard printing cannot go any larger. If a fourth edition comes to be, it will either have to be separated into multiple volumes, or be published as a huge, bespoke hardback. The fifth edition will exist in its own dedicated library, while the sixth will collapse immediately into a quantum singularity.

So, this latest update not only includes all the TV episodes, novels, audios and comic strips, in the worlds of Doctor Who, Torchwood, SJA and K9, published or broadcast prior to 2012, but also a vast range of licensed spin-off material. Obvious inclusions such as the Benny books and audios are incorporated, but so is less clear-cut or more obscure  material, including Time Hunter, Graceless and that soft porn film with the Zygons in. Some inclusions are arguable; I’m hugely pleased to see the adventures of Iris Wildthyme and Faction Paradox included, but their relationship to the ongoing canon of Doctor Who is questionable at best. No matter, this time they’ve chucked everything in (almost).

There are some notable omissions. The 2010-11 Adventure Games are, oddly, not included, in spite of being marketed as canonical episodes alongside the TV series (and they only really have one outcome, unlike ‘Find Your Fate’ books and the like). Scream of the Shalka has been given the boot, while Minister of Chance, included on principle, is left out of the timeline due to being completely undateable. (No jokes about Doctor Who fans being likewise afflicted, please.) There’re bound to be arguments over where to draw the line, but it had to be drawn somewhere. This could, without care, have gone on forever; including Kaldor City, a crossover with Blake’s 7, suggests that series be included as well (I bet they were tempted). Sherlock Holmes appears more than once; should the Conan Doyle canon be included? This could get silly…

Some of the information now included makes previously unmanageable stories possible to place, while others throw information long held as gospel into question. The Beast Below, while providing firm, well-reasoned dates, is at odds with a huge section of future history - particularly annoying, seeing as there was a clear attempt to fit with previous continuity that was blatantly fluffed. Trying to get Torchwood: Miracle Day to fit, without completely screwing up the world seen in Doctor Who and SJA, would take a miracle in itself. It’s heartening that there are fellow geeks out there who care enough about this nonsense to spend the time and effort forcing these disparate works into one, reasonable coherent, narrative.

I have not read the book through; this one is so vast that it has become a dipper-into, even for me (but give me one long, quiet night, and who knows). A book that charts the adventures of dozens of heroes through over 1400 stories, from the beginning of time itself, right through the end of the Universe and out the other side… it’s not for the faint hearted. Christ, even the contents list is twenty pages long. It’s a mammoth endeavour, showing real love for Doctor Who and the works it has inspired, and any true obsessive will surely love it.

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