This year’s Annual ties into Time Lord Victorious to providing a tantalizing starter before the main course truly begins

There’s something about the smell of a new book. You can almost catch the scent of the forests from which the paper came. With a new annual, it’s even more evocative. It smells, just a little bit, like Christmas trees. Because the traditional British hardback annual is one of the few items to go on sale before the kids go back to school for the express purpose of being hidden away until Christmas morning. And that can be true for kids of all ages. Certainly Blogtor Who’s wife was aghast at the sight of my own copy of the Doctor Who 2021 Annual. In September, no less! But this is a special case. Because this year the annual is part of the storytelling behemoth that is Time Lord Victorious.

Time Lord Victorious, for those who’ve been living as hermits down a Zeiton-7 mine for the past few months, is the new multimedia story arc from BBC Studios and just about every Doctor Who licence holder. Novels, audio plays, the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, the Titan Comics, the Figurine sets. All of them play a part in the arc. There’s even an escape room and a live theatre experience involved! Moreover, you can already pre-order your Brian the Ood mug, even as most of fandom is still asking itself “Who on Earth is Brian the Ood?!” Which is where the 2021 Annual comes in.

 

The Kotturuh, an ancient species dispensing death in the Dark Times, (c) BBC Studios Time Lord Victorious Doctor Who
The Guide to the Dark Times gives the lowdown on the Kotturuh, a major player in Time Lord Victorious (c) BBC Studios

In The Guide to the Dark Times, the 2021 Annual reveals some of the allies and adversaries the Doctors will encounter in Time Lord Victorious

The annual holds that Time Lord Victorious connection back to the end. The Guide to the Dark Times forms the last seven pages – around 11% of the total page count. At one level it’s a straight-forward, attractively laid out guide to the characters and creatures we’re likely to encounter during Time Lord Victorious. It’s not exactly essential reading for the grand story arc. However, it does include several delicious teases of what we can expect from it.

Of the Doctor’s main adversary in Time Lord Victorious, we learn for instance what exactly the Kotturuh want, and what’s hidden under their robes (and it’s quite nasty). We learn more of the role of the Great Vampires (first introduced in 1980’s State of Decay, and also part of the crossover event) and the bargain they struck with the Kotturuh. And we’re also granted little insights into other ancient beings in Doctor Who history. From the Eternals to the denizens of Gallifrey, alll had to deal with the Kotturuh threat. Meanwhile, Brian the Ood Assassin is revealed as possibly an even more intriguing character than that magnificent moniker suggested.

We also get the low down on each member of the Dalek Time Squad. They’re headed back to the Dark Times to deal with the problem in their own special Dalek way. And they’re already promising to be a highlight of the event. From the antediluvian Strategist, to the obsessive Commander and the sadistic Executioner, these neat introductions promise a healthy dose in internal Dalek politics, squabbling and back-stabbing. Even the Drone, brought along as mere canon fodder appears to have secrets of its own…

 

The Master (SACHA DHAWAN), The Doctor (JODIE WHITTAKER) - (C) BBC - Photographer: James Pardon
The Annual includes features like the history of the Doctor and Master’s on-screen battles, as told by the bickering Time Lords themselves¬† (C) BBC – Photographer: James Pardon

The loss of original fiction is a genuine disappointment, though the team have worked hard to compensate in other areas

Time Lord Victorious has been carefully set up so you can pick up and enjoy any individual story independently. But the Doctor Who 2021 Annual and the Guide to the Dark Times may be helpful for those intending to dip in and out of the TLV universe. It lends a context to who the characters are, what they want, and where they’re going. It may be invaluable if, for instance, the Dalek Time Commander suddenly pops up in the middle of your novel. At least if you haven’t read its prior appearances.

But what of the rest of the Annual? Well, there’s a disappointing lack of fiction this year with neither comic strip nor short story. However, there’s some compensation for this with a beefed up word count in the features. The 2021 Annual is probably the furthest the title has come from the Doctor Who Adventures blueprint. It’s still filled with large, handsome photos of the cast, monsters, and locations from the past year’s TV adventures. But there’s a great reduction in the ‘pop, pop, pop’ style of one line facts.

The bulk of the book is split into sections for each story. From Resolution to The Timeless Children there’s a pretty solid page of text given to the plot of each one. And it does its best to adapt to the Wiki age by presenting each episode guide in the first person by a different character to lend a little more colour and humour. There’s also boxouts like ‘New Friend,’ ‘New Foe,’New Tech,’ and ‘Quick Quiz‘ alongside ‘Know Your Enemy‘ pages for each. But even for those there’s a notable increase in detail and wordcount.

Spot-the-odd-one-out and word searches may be well worn favourites, but feature attractive design work and clever tie-ins to the episodes

Themed puzzles like Crack Noor’s Code, Nikola Tesla’s Word Search of Wonder and more are also available to those who want to give them a go before inevitably turning to Page 61 for the answers. (How did Blogtor miss the extra plant next to Yaz’s right foot in the spot-the-difference one?!) Features like the TARDIS Tour and Captain Jack’s Top Five Creatures Who Just Won’t Quit draw younger readers further into the Doctor’s world. But they keeps a lively enough tone to divert those of us who’ve read these facts a thousand times. The Doctor vs The Master, which sees the two Time Lords bicker their way through a potted history of their clashes since 1971’s Terror of the Autons, is a particular highlight.

Design wise, there’s a fresher, clearer feel this year, with clarity and communication obviously being prized most highly. It’s genuinely a welcome change after a few years where the book was getting perhaps a little too fussy and clever in its layout. (Though to be picky, the Be More Doctor introduction is a difficult-to-read white text on a yellow background). There is one slight oddity with Blogtor Who’s copy, at least. Pages 32 to 40 are repeated due to a printing error. It’s momentarily confusing but at least these are extra pages erroneously inserted and the full page count is otherwise present and correct. Whether or not that’s a widespread phenomenon, we can’t say.

The Doctor Who Annual remains a compulsory item on Santa’s list for fans of all ages this year

All in all, Doctor Who: The Official Annual 2021 earns its place under the tree this Christmas. While the Time Lord Victorious content may also merit a little judicious peeking under the wrapping paper. The extended word count and energetic but informative style may not completely make up for the loss of the fiction pages, but it does make for one of more engaging and readable annuals of recent years.

 

Time Lord Victorious: Where to Next?

Blogtor Who's updated timeline for Time Lord Victorious, now with added DALEKS! and more... (c) Blogtor Who Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Ninth Doctor Tenth Doctor Daleks Kotturuh Brian the Ood
Blogtor Who’s updated timeline for Time Lord Victorious, now with added DALEKS! and more… (c) Blogtor Who

From the Doctor Who 2021 Annual, the Kotturuh’s path through the Time Lord Victorious action continues in The Fool, the Knight and the Dead from BBC Books on the 1st of October.

Doctor Who: The Knight, The Fool, The Dead (c) BBC Books Time Lord Victorious Tenth Doctor Brian the Ood Kotturuh Dark Times
Doctor Who: The Knight, The Fool, The Dead (c) BBC Books

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