❉ ‘Whographica: An Infographic Guide to Space and Time’ is an innovative new Doctor Who book, bursting with colour, expert knowledge and fun, and which uses infographics, charts and maps to explore the rich universe of Doctor Who.
We Are Cult spoke to writers Simon Guerrier and Steve O’Brien and designer Ben Morris about this attractive new addition to Who fans’ bookshelves.
Ben Morris has created dozens of character icons and puzzles for ‘Doctor Who Adventures’. For BBC Books he has illustrated ‘Who-ology’ (2013), ‘Wit, Wisdom and Timey Wimey Stuff – The Quotable Doctor Who’ (2014) and ‘Time Trips’ (2015).
Simon Guerrier is co-author of ‘The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who’ (2015) for BBC Books, and has written countless Doctor Who books, comics, audio plays and documentaries.
Steve O’Brien is a film and TV journalist, and is a regular contributor to ‘Doctor Who Magazine’. Steve has also made many appearances on the documentaries included on the Doctor Who DVD range, “where I use the only swear word ever uttered in a Doctor Who special features extra. And yes, I am tragically quite proud of it!”
What was Whographica’s genesis?
Steve: I pitched it to the BBC, in a very different form and they turned it down. The original idea was to present it as an episode guide with a review and an infographic for each story. They weren’t so keen on that, but got back in touch a few months later and asked me to re-pitch it in a different form. They were after a new project for Simon Guerrier so they suggested we team up for it. I knew Simon from a few parties and weddings and knew it would be an easy collaboration.
What was your process for delving into the facts, figures and ephemera of Dr Who trivia?
Simon: Me, Steve and Ben discussed ideas, read through other infographics books, such as David McCandless’s ‘Information is Beautiful’ and Tim Leong’s ‘Super Graphic’, plus stuff we’d seen in magazines and newspapers; anything that was a springboard for ideas.
But really, it was a lot of lateral thinking, comparing notes with Steve and Ben, and then watching episode after episode on DVD, checking details and looking for other things we could use. A good example is when I happened to mention it might be fun to do a chart of everyone we’ve ever seen inside the TARDIS – and then that one infographic became two months’ solid work. I went a bit peculiar doing that one.
What were the unique challenges of this project?
Steve: Not to fuck up. BBC Books run everything past a cabal of trusted experts, but mistakes can slip through, especially when you’re talking about a series with as many screen minutes as Doctor Who. We were making corrections until the last possible moment.
Simon: The main challenge was a self-imposed one. Having looked through a lot of other infographics books, Steve and I thought the most effective ones were those that featured the least text. So we made that part of the initial pitch: we’d use as little body copy as possible. That became a real rod for our backs. We were constantly having to rethink ideas to cut down on explanation, and continually reworking headings, sub-headings and captions to make things snappier.
What are the most interesting or unique aspects of Whographica’s format?
Ben: I think the most interesting thing is that quite complex information can be conveyed simply when shown as an infographic.
Who fans will get a lot from the immense research Simon and Steve did, and I’m hoping that someone who is interested in infographics and design in general might also enjoy the book. There’s a book from 2011 called ‘Super Graphic’, which is an infographic book about the superhero universe. I wouldn’t say that I’m a fan of that genre, but the book really draws me in by the way it conveys its information. Maybe ‘Whographica’ can do the same for casual fans, or even non-fans, of Doctor Who.
Whographica seems a very timely release, as infographics are a very ‘now’ means of communicating information visually.
Steve: Working in magazines, I know infographics are becoming increasingly important in how we present information to readers, and Doctor Who’s vast detail-packed history makes it the ideal series to be given the infographic treatment. It’s the right Doctor Who book for the right time.
Ben: BBC Books are always looking to engage fans in ways that they haven’t tried before, and they keep tabs on what current trends are. Infographics are very popular tools in newspapers such as The Guardian and the i, and there are already excellent infographics books like ‘Information is Beautiful’ and ‘Super Graphic’, so I think it was only a matter of time that BBC Books produced a Doctor Who infographic book.
What is it about Doctor Who fans and their love of trivia, facts and statistics?
Steve: We love detail and we like to delve into every nook and cranny of our subject. I don’t think that’s necessarily specific to Doctor Who fans, but it is a FAN thing. Beatles nuts and Twilighters are just as frenzied in their love.
Simon: Well, I think everyone likes a cool, weird fact or bit of trivia. It doesn’t have to be about Doctor Who – documentaries are about telling you things you didn’t know, making connections and changing how you see a particular subject, and quiz shows are all about a delight in odd information and links between things. But I think learning new information about Doctor Who is part of the fun of being a fan.
At the end of compiling this book, did you come away with any fresh insights about the series?
Simon: Oh, yes – plenty. In some cases, that was just because visually representing a familiar fact made it feel different. For example, showing the ratios of missing 1960s episodes, and the statistics for finding them since 1978, really brought the scale of loss home to me. But then there’s stuff we didn’t know when we started, like comparing the time Doctor Who episodes are shown in the evening to the number of people who watch those episodes, to work out the optimum time for broadcasting Doctor Who. I like to think the producers of Doctor Who will be able to use our findings when they discuss scheduling next year’s series. And any increase in the numbers of people viewing will be directly down to us!
What do you think of the finished product?
Steve: It’s lovely. Ben Morris did SUCH a great job in realising our ideas. It’s bursting with imagination. I think it looks stunning and gives fans some old information in a minty fresh way and new information in an unusual way.
Simon: I love it. It’s such a beautiful and beguiling thing. It was odd, because Steve and I delivered each spread as a separate Word document for Ben to then design. We didn’t write them in any particular order, and Ben didn’t design them in the same order we wrote them. We just ploughed on, aware of the fast-approaching deadline. But that meant I didn’t really go back and look at the contents as a whole until very late in the day. Yet that’s the best thing about the book – not individual spreads, but the collective effect of them, and the juxtapositions between them. You have something fairly simple and straightforward, like a pie-chart showing days of the week episodes were shown, and then you turn the page and there’s something bogglingly complex. It means that even though I know the content really well – because what I didn’t write I at least looked over – I want to keep flicking back and forth. So I hope other people will feel the same. A book to pore over.
There’s a long history of Doctor Who reference books; which ones are you most fond of from your childhood?
Simon: ‘The Doctor Who Monster Book’ from 1975 is a particular favourite. My older brother handed a copy to me after the end of Logopolis (1981), when I was a bit confused about Doctor Who turning into someone else. What a book that is. Terrance Dicks writes so thrillingly, vividly and concisely, and the pictures are so enthralling. I was haunted for years by the double-page spread at the end showing the Doctor at the mercy of the Zygons. The back cover is a grid of different Target novelisations, each one promising such wonders. I still go back to that book a lot – it’s a good reminder of the kind of response I’d like to elicit from readers.
Ben: I loved the ‘Doctor Who Monster Books’, particularly the first one, which I carried everywhere with me. That one, at least, will be staying with me.
Steve: ‘The Making of a Television Series’ (1982) stands out, as well as ‘A Celebration’ (1983). The latter’s not a good book especially, certainly not in the light of what we’ve had since, but we all treasured it as kids because Who books were so flipping rare.
What other projects are you working on?
Ben: I’m currently working on a small project for one of the ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ professional dancers, and I’ve just started work on a personal project with a friend who I’ve wanted to work with for a long time.
Simon: I’m currently writing a book about The Evil of the Daleks for the Black Archive range from Obverse Books, and doing Doctor Who things for Big Finish and Doctor Who Magazine.
Steve: I write regularly for SFX, DWM, Sci-Fi Now, Digital Spy, Horrorville and Crime Scene, so more of that. Maybe even something for We Are Cult. Who knows?
❉ ‘Whographica’ is published by BBC Books on 22 September 2016, RRP £16.99.