I bought my first copy of a Doctor Who: Complete History volume. Specifically, the one that covers “Trial of a Time Lord” season 23. Each issue of this encyclopedia like series usually covers at least two serials from the classic series or two episodes from the modern series. What makes this book so unique is that it covers a whole season, 14 episodes, 4 serials. For those who are confused I have an explanation post on how Classic Who is broken down between episodes and serials here.
As I have previously stated, Trial of a Time Lord is one of my favorite Doctor Who seasons of all time. It seemed natural that this was the first book from this series that I purchased. The publisher of these books, Hachette, does not sell them outside of the United Kingdom and Ireland. If you want them you are completely dependent on the bookstore or comics retailer to order it for you. This means that some of these volumes are sold at a massive premium. A $20 book can go for as much as $80 or more if no one else has a copy. This is especially true for the more “popular” Doctors. Ebay is notorious for having resellers looking to make a large profit off the books. I was lucky and able to find a retailer who was selling the book for $30.
The book is broken down into an Introduction, Pre-Production, Production, Publicity and Broadcast sections for each serial. In between each serial was an article highlighting the career of a the most prominent guest star from the serial.
Part of the book were absolutely fascinating. For example, Trial of a Time Lord was the longest serialized story arc in Doctor Who history, clocking in at 14 episodes. While in my mind I knew this, it was astounding to see it in print. I shared my discovery on Twitter and was accosted online by some random Doctor Who “fan,”who does not follow me, almost a week later stating that “Dragonfire [a single serial during the Seventh Doctor era] was longer…” yeah I don’t understand that statement either. So, for those not aware, a story arc is a story that runs throughout all the episodes it is connected to… in this case the trial against the Doctor ran through the WHOLE SEASON. If you want to debate “Key to Time” or some other such thing I think there we can have a proper discussion. I didn’t realize until I read the volume that “Key to Time” wasn’t considered a connected story arc (I bet modern fans, including myself, see it all as one now, and therefore longer.)
The book hinted at some of the behind the scenes trouble between writers, producer, BBC looking to shut the show down. It even, almost accidentally, helped to clarify who the heck Ian Levine is, for me. (Seriously, before this book I only knew him as some angry fanboy who sunk way too much money into animated remakes, hunted lost episodes and railed against feminism and women as the Doctor.) However, this book fails to take a deep dive on these issues, taking more of the accepted rose-colored glasses approach. I’m trying to think if the book even mentioned the “Doctor In Distress” song or fans trying to fight for the show. I don’t think it did. If it did I literally read over it and my brain shut it out because it was mentioned so briefly I don’t even remember anything about that being there.
After awhile the quick notes of each section feel inadvertently redundant and dry. In an attempt to stay factual and informational the books lack character or charm. Graphics and promotional shots help to break up this monotonous tone. However, it is very clearly a reference guide when you have behind the scenes questions about how scripts and stories came about. I do not recommend trying to sit down and read it all at once. I tried breaking it up by reading it as I rewatched the season. However, even then it was too much to digest at once with descriptions of meetings, phone calls and interviews that were given. A few moments did have impact, such as the death of Robert Holmes, the relationship between Saward & JNT and the BBC’s own desires for the show. It also makes me wonder more what the missing or lost seasons would have looked like, going into great detail about those stories; as well as what a real third season with Colin Baker would have been like if JNT hadn’t been forced to let him go.
It’s a great book for diehard fans.