Online compendia may only be a touch screen away but there should always be a shelf space reserved for its yellowing counterpart.
The humble dog-eared compendium still plays a large part in enriching the viewing experience and even the most tech savvy of Doctor Who fans will find something of interesting in the construction of The Classic Doctor Who DVD Compendium by Paul Smith; if not perhaps for a few design quirks, the odd choice to alphabetise releases and a crippling sense of what might have been.
Designed as a printed Amazon wish list for new fans or a refresher for older viewers still hunting down that last Easter egg in the Pyramids of Mars release (without actually loading the disc itself, of course) the book alphabetises each DVD release, listing amongst other things: there features, a few basic facts surrounding the episodes and the production of the disc, the restoration techniques involved in bringing each release to home audiences and a few tantalising story details which reveal no more than the blurb on the back of the DVD box.
There’s a niggling sense that there are hundreds of stories and minor triumphs that would have made for a far more exciting, essential book.
The layout is clean and the writing is engaging enough; if a little literal and lacking in insight or personality. However, there are a few design quirk that make finding sort after information more arduous than it necessarily should be.
Firstly there is the baffling decision to list each serial in alphabetical order rather than broadcast order, divided by each Doctor – much like the book does itself in two-page overview of every episode not a page before the actual guide itself begins; what’s stranger still, there are no page numbers attached to this quick two page guide either: how handy would that have been right at the start of the book?
What’s more, there are no page breaks between each alphabetised section; meaning entries run clumsily into one another with little or no fanfare. The problem is exacerbated by a vague contents page which rather than listing where each individual letter starts, simply reads: ‘DVD Releases A-Z…Page 29.’
A minor quirk of this system is that each alphabetised letter appears alternatively on the right or left hand corner of the page; meaning, if you are flicking through, you occasionally miss the start of a section, such as when the book switches from ‘B’ to ‘C’ midway down the page.
All of these design issues increase in annoyance with the digital edition which, thanks to the lack of a clearly defined contents page, results in a lot of random finger scrolling to find exactly what you are looking for.
Which brings us to the information itself.
The book is crying out for some authoritative colour; someone who can add a little colour to the technological landmarks (someone like Clayton Hickman or Mark Ayres) and give some genuine insight into what it was like to be fans producing the kind of features that get other like-minded fans excited: What was it like to be handed the keys to such a beloved franchise? What difficulties or problems arose? What were the biggest triumphs or regrets? What is the actual story of bringing the range to DVD?
Although the first thirty or so pages cover the birth of Doctor Who in the home market and the advent of DVD and the Doctor Who range effectively enough, there’s a niggling sense that there are hundreds of little stories and minor triumphs contained within that narrative that would have made for a far more exciting, essential book. There is no attempt anywhere to contextualise any of the features or offer an opinion.
There is still a lot of romanticism attached to books like these and rightly so; there is still a reader out there for an insightful compendium – thinking about the compendium’s place within the Doctor Who universe evoked a lot of memories of watching TV shows and films, racing to the shelves of my local library and grabbing something like the Programme Guide or the Time Out film guide to broaden my understanding and challenge what I thought I had seen. The Classic Doctor Who DVD Compendium: Every Disc, Every Episode, Every Extra couldn’t inspire me or challenge me now in quite the same way.
That’s not to say that there really is no reader for it; everybody has to start somewhere. However, it’s difficult to shake off the feeling that this compendium is something of a missed opportunity.
The Classic Doctor Who DVD Compendium: Every Disc, Every Episode, Every Extra by Paul Smith is available in paperback edition for £16.99 and Kindle edition for £9.26 via Amazon.