Non-Fiction Reviews

Doctor Who: Impossible Worlds
A 50-year treasury of art and design

(2015) Stephen Nicholas & Mike Tucker, BBC Books, 35, hrdbk, 288pp, ISBN 978-1-849-90966-2


This is an aptly subtitled work: it is an absolute treasure and a visual feast for Dr Who enthusiasts. The compilers, Stephen Nicholas and Mike Tucker, are amply qualified to present the concept artwork and designs behind the television show Dr Who being, as they are, the series' supervising Art Director since 2004 and its Visual Effects Designer respectively. Indeed Mike Tucker worked on the pre-reboot series with Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy before continuing to contribute to the 2005 re-boot; he is also the author of a book on the history of the BBC's Visual Effects Department, BBC VFX.

Sumptuous production values are evident straightaway with the hardback cover that includes both an indentation stamp and a cut that reveals a full-colour rendition of the TARDIS console part of a two-page inner cover spread of the TARDIS control-room interior itself.  The book itself is printed in large format on bladed art paper that facilitates the lavish, mainly full-colour, illustrations. It is divided into several chapters.

'Bigger on the Inside' provides a series of glimpses of the TARDIS's interior designs across several series.  However, for some reason, a third or so of this chapter also includes the designs of some of the other craft featured in the series.

'Daleks Conquer and Destroy' is perhaps my favourite chapter: I remember Dr Who from the first series and the feared Daleks appeared in the second adventure in 1963: trust me, they terrified the under-10s.  Now, I had thought that the Daleks were conceived by that adventure's writer, Terry Nation, but it transpires that while he conceived of the concept of gliding, organically-driven machines much like ballroom dancers the actual design was by Raymond P. Cusick.  The chapter depicts the Daleks as they appeared in various seasons of the show from their first appearance through to the various re-boot seasons. These include some designs that never made it to construction let alone the small screen. Several pages are also devoted to Davros.

'Silver and Steel' does for the cybermen much as the previous chapter did for the Daleks. Apparently, they were the brainchild of Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis.  Kit is arguably better known as a qualified clinician who co-created (also with Gerry Davis) the series Doomwatch..  This chapter has a second, smaller 'half' that looks at some of the other mechanicals in the series, including K-9.

'The Art of War' looks at some of the war aspects to the series including the ever so military Sontarans and a good number of side arm and laser rifle designs.

'A Menagerie of Monsters', as the chapter title suggests, covers weird alien races and horrific creatures including some of my favourites the Silurians, Zarbi (giant ant-like aliens from the Hartwell days).

'Tools and Devices' not sur[prisingly includes the various design manifestations of the sonic screwdriver

'Other Times, Other Worlds' transports us to alien worlds including various visual renditions of Galifrey. These include rough sketches through to detailed, full colour panoramas.

Doctor Who: Impossible Worlds is not encyclopaedic. Perhaps one thing missing that some might hanker for, but which would be impossible to rigorously include, are the various visual inspirations behind some of the designs.  For example, The TARDIS-powered 'Valiant', sky-borne aircraft carrier design (2006/7) is not credited with inspiration drawn from the CGI Cloudbase from the 2000s re-boot series of Gerry Anderson's Captain Scarlet.  Nonetheless, this book is a mine of information, and many if not most of the visuals have not to my knowledge been published elsewhere.  In this sense it is a compendium of much new material, likely even new to the majority of the most seasoned of the show's followers.

Doctor Who: Impossible Worlds is a Dr Who fan's wet dream. Alongside David Howe's 30th Who  anniversary Timeframe (1993), Doctor Who: Impossible Worlds is one of my favourite illustrated books of the TV series.  No fan that calls themselves a 'Whovian' can be without this visually stunning volume.

Jonathan Cowie

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