‘Unhistory’ by Lance Parkin and Lars Pearson reviewed

❉ A digital chronology of Doctor Who apocrypha – the spin-offs too weird to fit into the canon.

In a fandom famed for insane projects – chasing lost episodes around the world, reconstructing them from stills and soundtracks when we can’t find them or even risking a critically acclaimed career by bring the damn thing back to the screen – the Ahistory books may be the maddest of all. It aspires to be a complete fictional history of Doctor Who from before the Big Bang (not the episode, the event itself) to after the end of time itself (again, not the episode). Over time it’s expanded from a small, fanzine published paperback through four subsequent versions to end up in 2012 a 784 page large format paperback monster which makes a fine substitute for a breeze block. It somehow covers the entirety of televised Doctor Who, its TV spin offs, the novels and novellas, audios and the DWM comic strips, which is the small matter of nearly 1,400 stories. Add in the digital only supplement which covered up to the show’s fiftieth anniversary and it’s probably lunging for 1,500 stories without considering the Capaldi era or Big Finish’s prodigious output.

And yet that still doesn’t cover everything. Lance Parkin and Lars Pearson, avowed proponents of everything counting in large amounts couldn’t find room for everything in Ahistory – stuff that couldn’t fit because it’s perhaps just too damn odd or contradictory to what we know. What one BBC short story collection termed ‘sidesteps’.

To this end they’ve created Unhistory, Ahistory’s pocket universe which collects the oddments that have accumulated down the years, ranging from cigarette card stories through the madness of the World Distributors Doctor Who annuals and Severn House’s Make Your Own Adventure novels to the Scream of the Shalka webcast and DVD extra mockumentaries. Never let it be said they aren’t thorough.

There are some fairly arbitrary dividing lines – video games and Big Finish’s Unbound range are regarded as not counting where other interactive fiction and at least six alternative Doctors are. Nitpicking authorial decisions like that though is missing the point – the joy of this book lies in its chronological timeline for the most niche subsets of Doctor Who. It might not have the obvious utility of its parent volume (invaluable for a writer looking for gaps or excuses to drop an obscure continuity reference) but there’s a real joy in having a book which takes in the high nerdery of providing dates for all the TV Comic and annual stories and, with a straight face, also finds a place in that timeline for comedy DVD features such as Oh Mummy!

That such features often seem less bizarre brings out how genuinely odd, even for Doctor Who, many of these spin-offs were – the Doctor becoming a Brian Epstein/Andrew Loog Oldham style pop impresario, floods the Earth with robot servants and most preposterous of all sees the Quarks – the Quarks! – turn into a Dalek level universal threat. That’s the joy of Unhistory, the same fannish joy that flicking through The Comic Strip Companion or The Annual Years brings. It’s finding the strange shapes it’s possible to contort Doctor Who into when the BBC aren’t monitoring the spin-offs as closely as perhaps they should. It’s something of a shame that modern Who is run by people who’ve largely learned the lessons of their predecessors and it’s reflected by the more modern stories covered by Unhistory being less strange than the worlds of the annuals or comics.

Of course, there’s the final joy of books like this and that’s the joy of trying to outsmart the authors. Being a tragic, beyond-all-hope fan I assumed an air of unutterable trainspotterish smugness by noting the presumably unintentional omission of the FASA Solo-Play Adventure gamebooks. That though is like being Blackadder noting that Samuel Johnson’s dictionary omitted the word ‘sausage’. Unhistory, like all good reference works, is the starting point for conversations and discussions, not an end point. It’s high fannishness as a joyful art form.

❉ ‘Unhistory: Apocryphal Stories Too Strange for Even Ahistory: An Unauthorized History of the Doctor Who Universe’ by Lance Parkin and Lars Pearson, published by Mad Norwegian Press is available as an e-book from Amazon.

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