There’s no denying that this series of Doctor Who has been an utter delight for fans of the TARDIS. The trusty police box-shaped time and space craft is resplendent in that smashing new paint job, contains the most wonderfully detailed, labyrinthine and downright bonkers console room interior the show has ever seen, has seen one story (technically) take place entirely inside its walls, and is increasingly relevant to the main story arc as a whole, following the revelation at the end of Cold Blood.
It’s all a far cry from Steven Moffat’s assertion, in his pre-showrunner years, that dwelling on the TARDIS was best avoided as “us kids want Narnia, not the wardrobe”.
It’s therefore the perfect time for a TARDIS-centric tome like Steve Tribe’s smart little handbook to make an appearance. And it’s one that does a good job of covering everything that makes the Doctor’s time machine such a brilliantly iconic piece of sci-fi lore.
What the book achieves most successfully is to straddle the divide between the new generation of young fans, and older readers who might want something a bit more detailed and technical. There’s a deliberate split in voice down the middle of the book, with clearly marked sections discussing the behind-the-scenes production, while the ‘main’ text sections are in an ‘in universe’ style, and largely attempt to reconcile all the potentially contradictory versions of the TARDIS’ interior, exterior, rooms, functions and abilities over the last five decades.
Tribe writes in an engaging style, if a little simplistically (this is no technical manual or detailed set of production notes, but those are, after all, generally available elsewhere), and while it’s good to see topics such as the changing shape and details of the exterior police box covered, with some beautiful images to boot, he’s only really doing about half the job that some websites out there already do in a heavier, more nitpickingy way.
That said, I’m not sure anyone’s ever gone to quite so much trouble to produce a definitive list of functions and components, and the five-page section in the middle that does this pushes the book briefly into pure ‘reference work’ territory.
But while the book generally serves a primary purpose of introducing the wide history of the TARDIS to the newer fan, with a tightly-packed array of interesting factoids, there are also a fair few tidbits for the jaded old viewer who’s read all about it in Doctor Who Magazine before.
Most notably, three pages are given over to showing the brand new console in detail, and labelling the six individual segments with their designated functions and controls, possibly, I suspect, the first time that this has ever been done for a TARDIS console, and it’s hard not to get a little thrill out of knowing all about the “Diagnostic” and “Fabrication” panels.
The only disappointment, really, is that a significant pagecount is given over to making the book also serve as a ‘half of series five’ companion, with sections that rather tediously recap the plots of the first six episodes.
Ostensibly a trawl through the TARDIS’ ‘journey log’, these, sadly, serve only to date the book very specifically at this point in time, rather than making it a neat little reference work that might actually have a bit of shelf life. They don’t really tell anything new, and feel like little more than magazine articles dropped in at random points. I’m simply not sure why they’re there, particularly when the book is otherwise so even-handed in giving weight to the past and present of the series (particularly with such sections as neatly recounting forty-odd years’ worth of companions’ reactions to the size of the interior).
Nevertheless, and despite perhaps being a little smaller than its price tag would suggest (on the one hand, the double-page spread of the new interior is the sort of thing that makes you wish it was a coffee table book, on the other, I suppose it then wouldn’t be a “handbook”), this is an entertaining jaunt through TARDIS history, and pretty much a must for anyone with a fixation on the iconography of the trusty blue box.Doctor Who: The TARDIS Handbook is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.