Saturday 10 May 2014

REVIEW: The Annual Years by Paul Magrs

The Wilderness Years were not just the terrible empty span with no Doctor Who on TV. They were also the Annual Wilderness Years, a time with no yearly compendium of bizarre extraterrestrial text stories. World Distributors published Doctor Who throughout almost the entire original run of the TV series. However, the annuals weren't quite like the series. They weren't quite like anything else, really.

A lot of fans dismiss the annuals as speed-written tosh, but for many, they are a significant part of the Doctor Who experience. In the years before DVD and year-round repeats, the annuals were a vital part of keeping the show alive when it was off the air. The traditional Christmas day reading material for the young fan.

Paul Magrs was one of those children, and in The Annual Years, his tautologically-titled tome, he analyses the entire run, from 1965 to 1986, featuring six distinct version of the hero, Dr. Who. He even finds time to cover a handful of extra publications, including the novella Doctor Who and the Invasion from Space, The Amazing World of Doctor Who and the K9 and Company annual. Magrs looks at these strange publications with both an adult fan's eye, and through the lens of nostalgia. He not only gives us an idea what these books meant to him as a child, but how well they stand up today.

The stories in the annuals explored a vast and wondrous omniverse, far stranger and more varied than anything we saw on TV, even if Dr. Who did find himself visiting world on the surface of a uranium atom more often than might be expected. It's commonly supposed that the characters and themes of the annuals had little to do with their counterparts on TV, but Magrs shows that this was often not the case. He tracks the development of the Doctor and his adventures through this strange parallel continuum, noting at which points it is most in line with the series, and when it veers off the rails. Covering each story in detail, Magrs not only gives each one a quick summary, but analyses each annual as a whole. Section titles such as 'Curious Companions,' 'Egregious Errors' and 'Fiendish Wheezes' will give you some idea of the aspects he focusses on.

As well as the contents of the annuals themselves, Magrs provides swift background on the origins of these publications, and ends the book with a set of fascinating interviews with the people behind them. Together with a selection of correspondence extracts, this gives a candid look one of the least documented aspects of Doctor Who's long history.

Adam Bullock's gorgeous cover illustration begins a journey into the weirder recesses of the Doctor Who universe. A world of Sinister Sponges, Eye-Spiders and Devil Birds. A world where Dr. Who, aided with such inventions as the Floater and the vibro-flange, confronts evil, and often blows it up. The little boy called Paul grew up to become a beloved and prolific author. It's not hard to see what inspired him to write his stories, of dimensionally transcendent buses and tiny angels that incubate in the flesh of people's legs. The stories of the annuals can be even stranger than that.

The Annual Years is published in June and can be pre-ordered from Obverse Books 

1 comment:

  1. I really want to read this book now! :) :)

    I always thought, re: Zarbi Supremo (and some of TV Comic) that we needed MORE stories, on tv, where the Doc gets to wander around inside robotic facsimiles of his enemies.