The Annual that never was arrives 27 years after the fact, in a lovingly observed recreation of the Eighth Doctor stocking filler that might have been
The Doctor Who annuals have always had a special place in the binary cardiovascular systems of fans. Or at least in the hearts of those who came to the show as children, with a hardback book of delights waiting next to the sock on a Christmas morning. The quality of the content they contained could be variable, and the connection to the show itself even more so. They were often the product of people who’d never seen the show alongside artists not allowed to use the likenesses of all the cast. But we wouldn’t have been without them.
Except, of course, we were. The last of the original run of annuals came out in 1985, and it was a full 20 years before the Doctor Who Annual made a triumphant return with Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper on the cover. But that two decade gap in between remains an old wound. And one which Terraqueous Distributors are attempting to heal with unofficial annuals. As if they’ve drifted to us from the vortex from a parallel reality these attempt to reflect what such annuals would really have looked like if they’d appeared during the wilderness years. This time, it’s the turn of the Dr. Who Annual 1997 to vworp vworp its way to our reality.
The unofficial hardback’s premise is that a 1997 annual would have followed on from the Radio Times comic strips
The main premise here is that an annual arriving in late 1996 would have, of course, featured the freshly minted Eighth Doctor, but also continued on from the Radio Times comic strips that year. Those teamed Paul McGann’s incarnation with two new companions – future space freighter crew woman Stacy and the Ice Warrior Ssard. Ssard in particular is a neat use of a medium to introduce a regular character that could never have worked on TV.
The use of Stacy and Ssard makes perfect sense in context, though it does make the project feel a little like a niche within a niche within a niche. Similarly, while the official annuals tried to be open and accessible as possible, a story here is enmeshed in the characters and continuity of Candy Jar Books’ Analysis Bureau books and the 1968 television serial The Invasion. Combined with the assumption of a working knowledge of the mid-90s Radio Times strips, it feels like the Annual is drawing the venn diagram of Doctor Who fandom remarkably tightly. It also slightly spoils that 1997 Annual illusion by using character not yet even created.
However, Stacy and Ssard are vividly enough sketched for the most part, and with enough of an interior life, that anyone with a less encyclopedic knowledge of the show, its spin-offs, and its spin-offs’ spin-offs, will still be happy enough to spend these 170 odd pages with them.
A tour of the Doctor’s TARDIS (or rather an exquisite replica) is a highlight of the non-fiction features
The book accurately recreates the familiar mix of illustrated short stories, comics, features and puzzles. Among the short stories, Infestation is a particular strand out. It deftly does the heavy lifting of trying to give new readers some background on Stacy and Ssard without seeming too exposition heavy. It’s also among the best at providing a window into that road untaken, mining the original series bible for the TVM or ideas like the Cybs, an incredibly vain Cyberman variant.
A highlight among the features is My TARDIS, My Home. It’s another entry that gives genuine mid-90s vibes, built on the kind of incredibly detailed photographs of ever inch of the TARDIS console that we might have gotten if the TVM had sparked a series. In this case the frankly gorgeous photos which illustrate the piece come courtesy of Allen Machielson’s simply astonishing fan built recreation of the set for his Whoseum. So beautiful is his work, in fact, that you might wish for slightly less of the accompanying text so you can soak up even more detail.
You can order the 177 page hardback now
As an exercise in generating nostalgia for something that never existed, the Unofficial Dr Who Annual 1997 is a fitting bit of time travel. With so much love for the era packed into so many pages, there’s inevitably the odd story which swings and misses. But if you’ve ever looked sadly at that twenty year gap on your bookshelf, wished we’d got more time with the cast of the Eighth Doctor comic strip, or just like some good, old fashioned, Doctor Who, then you’ll find plenty to enjoy here.
You’ll also be helping support a good cause, with none of the contributors to the annual receiving any of the money raised. Instead it’s all going to Refuge, the charity for supporting those affected by domestic violence.
The annual is available via a print on demand service an can be ordered here. There are also two variant covers available, details for how to order those are available on Terraqueous Distributors‘ Facebook group.