Monday 10 April 2017

REVIEW: UnHistory by Lance Parkin and Lars Pearson

"Apocryphal stories too strange for even AHistory."

Deciding what parts of a fictional universe “count” is a rum game, all the more so in one as long-running and inconsistent as Doctor Who. AHistory has expanded since its first remit to include all manner of spin-offs and expanded universe material, but there's still a huge selection of officially published and broadcast Doctor Who that is essentially impossible to fit into the overall narrative. Not that this is any indication or reflection of quality: Time-Flight is inarguably canonical, but is absolutely awful, while there are very good reasons to discount The Infinity Doctors, The Kingmaker , Happy Deathday and Full Fathom Five in spite their clear brilliance. Parkin and Pearson take a similar approach to me, which is that everything counts, as long as it can be squeezed in there somewhere. UnHistory, then, includes all the other things that we really can't squeeze in to the “real” Whoniverse. Fiction that is, somehow, even more fictional than the rest.

This has led to some odd decisions about what to include. Scream of the Shalka was included in the first edition of AHistory, before being omitted from follow-ups as apocrypha, and finally included here. The Unbound audios have been omitted from all editions of AHistory as “elseworlds” type stories, but the recent crossover of the David Warner Doctor into The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield has led to them being included as “real,” albeit alternative, adventures. Thus, none of them, not even the metatextual Deadline, make it into UnHistory. Other stories' inclusion here is inarguable: few fans seriously try to include the 1960s Dalek movies into the Doctor's timeline, nor the early comics strips featuring Doctor Who and his ugly grandchildren. Nonetheless, this hasn't stopped everyone, and in a fictional multiverse filled with time travel, parallel timelines, temporal duplicates and a Land of Fiction, virtually everything can be made to fit somehow. Indeed, Peter Cushing himself had some very novel ideas as to how his two movies could be incorporated into the Doctor's timeline.

UnHistory includes such exciting adventures as the strips from TV Comic, TV Action and Countdown, The Dalek Book, The Dalek World and The Dalek Outer Space Book, The Curse of the Daleks, Seven Keys to Doomsday, The Cadet Sweet Cigarette Cards, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style stories (often with multiple endings) and much more. After dismissing most short stories from AHistory on grounds of space and sanity, Short Trips and Side Steps and even the many Doctor Who annuals have entries here (as such, this makes a wonderful companion to Obverse Books' The Annual Years by Paul Magrs). TV broadcasts that we may wish to forget, from A Fix With Sontarans and Dimensions in Time to sundry adverts are included. The authors have made a somewhat arbitrary decision where to draw the line when it comes to the various sketches and skits broadcast over the years, but they've got to draw it somewhere. The traditional inclusion of a Gallifrey section to the timeline allows them to include otherwise undateable but absolutely essential stories such as The Curse of Fatal Death into the mix.

As always, Parkin and Pearson have gone to exquisite and absurd lengths to date the stories, which is all the more commendable/ridiculous (delete according to taste)when the whole point is that these stories don't fit. It's a work that revels in the absurdity of its premise, and as always, shows its working, however contrived. Occasionally a year will appear in the wrong spot or an index entry will be conspicuous by its absence, but this is a tiny quibble in such a huge work such as this. So, if you ever wanted to know how “The Monster Files” fit into the mix or when the events of “The Not-So-Sinister Sponge” took place, or if you're just a geek with a sense of humour or too much time on their hands, this is the book for you.

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