Doctor Who: Whotopia: The Ultimate Guide To The Whoniverse – Jonathan Morris, Simon Guerrier & Una McCormack (BBC Books)

Whotopia is two, moderately incompatible, things.

Firstly, it is gorgeous. Weighs about the size of a concussion, crammed with fabulous full-colour photographs of many of the things it describes. A coffee table book that, if you balanced it on four stacks of DVDs, could actually function as the coffee table.

It has heft – pick it up single-handed and be prepared to break a wrist – but that’s because gorgeousness takes weight to deliver all its beauty.

And secondly, it is deeply, deeply odd. 

I mean, gorgeous and odd, oddly gorgeous, sounds like a shorthand description of Doctor Who, granted. But in Whotopia, it becomes a question of whether the oddness serves the gorgeousness… or detracts from it. 

On that score, the jury – which is to say the colony of hamsters that run my brain – is still out, despite having gone through the book a few times.

Here’s the thing. Whotopia bills itself as the ultimate guide to the Whoniverse. 

Sure, some of us are still shuddering at the idea that “Whoniverse” is a word we’re using without shame these days, but that’s not the point. The point is that in some respects, what the book does is akin to what The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy purports to do in Douglas Adams’ radio show, book, TV show, movie and set of decorative placemats. It takes the experiences of many, many different contributors, and delivers them in the voices of those contributors, leading to a wildly eclectic style if you’re actually reading it through from cover to cover.

Which you are.

Because you’re a Doctor Who fan.

So, for instance, in a section outlining the Doctor’s very many long-term companions, each of them pops in, in their own voice, essentially outlining their place in the Whoniverse, some detail on their relationship with the Doctor, and how their lives are playing out. So you get a “Dear Grandfather” letter as the entry on Susan Foreman, for instance, and likewise a “Hello, Dad!” from Jenny, the Doctor’s Daughter, and a “Hello, Sweetie” message from River Song.

It’s like that for much of the way through. Each Doctor gets a section to themselves, maybe a couple of columns with a picture, and they deliver a cogent definition of their incarnation, occasionally sliding sideways to provide “Actual Information” as part of their monologue. 

Each of the TV Masters gets the same treatment, and we also get a long history of his life by Davros (very much the New Who version), but – and this is where the oddness doubles down – then we get a history of the Daleks from Clara Oswald, and a history of the Cybermen from Bill Potts. Granted, their experiences are an opening to maintain the format and still deliver large amounts of factual information, but by golly, it’s an odd thing to have chosen to do.

Smaller entries on planets and people who pass through the Doctor’s life but briefly don’t have the luxury of adopting a voice, and so are delivered more in the style of traditional encyclopaedia entries. And, perhaps tellingly, the entry on the Brigadier is delivered in this format too – straight, all facts, no pretending to be the man.

But the sections dealing with alien species are just as odd and irregular. Zygons get covered in a message from Osgood, Sontarans in a field report from Strax, and so on, but the vast majority of other alien species get standard, short, factual entries. And naturally, when we move into sections on planets or places, the first-person idea isn’t appropriate and is dropped like a hot chunk of Axonite. 

The factual approach is continued throughout sections on technology and machines, too, so what you ultimately get is a guide that mostly works like a regular encyclopaedia, but with some wild – if admittedly well-delivered – first-person sections on Doctors, Time Lords, Key Villains and Major Vompanions, with some odd blurring of the styles in sections on leading “monster” races.

So – heavy, gorgeous, odd. But does it work?

Well, yes. And no.

The decision to go with first-person accounts of some things, and simple, factual reports of others makes the book feel unbalanced, but it should be properly noted that all of the first-person entries are rather well done. You’d expect nothing less from the likes of Morris, Guerrier and McCormack. The only places in which those sections start to feel clunky is where the need to add in “official facts” or “elements from the show” overbalances them. 

For instance, while it’s just about OK, the Third Doctor’s entry spends quite a bit of its word-budget name-checking each of the UNIT gang, “and my car, Bessie!” It feels as though it’s trying to cover all the bases of “Things To Know About The Third Doctor” – which in a factual passage would be fine – in a slightly clunky first-person way. That happens a fair amount during the first-person passages, and leads the book to be generally a clunkier affair in places than any of its authors deserve.

Should you buy it?

That’s a tricky one – at the time of writing, it was retailing for around £25. How much coffee table gorgeousness is worth to you will depend on your disposable income and your level of deep Whovianism. 

Should you put it on your Christmas Present Crowdfunder and get a bunch of fellow Whovians to chip in towards it? Yes, probably – it is a whole lot of gorgeousness, with just a couple of sections of slightly clunky oddness. 

Of course, it’s worth putting a coffee table on your Christmas Present Crowdfunder too, because this thing is an uncomfortable fit on many bookshelves – and besides, part of the fun is that you can pick it up (in both hands) at a moment’s notice and bask in the gorgeousness. Tony Fyler

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