Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping’s The Discontinuity Guide: The Definitive Guide to the Worlds & Times of Doctor Who

Originally published in 1995, this revised volume takes a decidedly irreverent look at one of science fiction TV’s more enduring, endearing institutions: Doctor Who. Remembered by many for its wobbly paper-mache Pinewood Studios effects, frequently changing casts and cheesy incidental music, Doctor Who is, nonetheless, a unique experiment in television, and one that has been frequently engaging and entertaining, despite the production quality. There have been numerous books about the show, some more serious than others; here’s one that refuses to take itself seriously, and fans will love it.

This new edition of The Discontinuity Guide covers seasons one through sixteen, Doctors One through Seven (William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Simon Baker and Sylvester McCoy — hopefully a future edition will include the two most recent Doctors, Christopher Eccelston and David Tennant), episode by episode. Yes, episode by episode — covering story origins, continuity, and settings — it’s that thorough! For each episode arc, the authors open with air dates, episode names, and the writer’s and director’s names before launching into a section called “Roots,” where they list the obvious — and in many cases, not so obvious (pop songs, TV shows, political speeches) — sources the writers drew from or referenced. For the factually inclined, they also include sections on “Continuity,” “Future History” (stories taking place after the original air dates, whether 20th century, 21st century or far in the future), “Location” (where did the episode take place) and “Links” (to other episodes).

All of which is well and good, if you’re into just the facts, but the meat of the book — the fun stuff — is where the authors poke gentle fun at the show through sections like “Fashion Victims,” “Fluffs,” “Goofs,” “Dialogue Disasters” and “Technobabble.” The latter is familiar to any fan of Star Trek: it’s those unbelievable, over the top explanations passing for hard science. A sonic screwdriver? Fine, I’ll buy that. But phobic energy, Bennett Oscillators and a “time flow analogue”? A bit much — or at least a lot silly. “Fluffs” are largely about flubbed lines and similar mistakes, while “Goofs” are more a nod to poor production quality and writing (props misbehaving, slips in continuity, plot holes, etc.). Researching both clearly required many hours of being glued to the TV and an impressive use of the pause button. (Thanks for taking one for the team, guys!)

“Fashion Victims” lampoons not just unfortunate wardrobe choices (“Zoe in PVC.” “Zoe in a lame catsuit.” “Zoe in a feather boa.”) but also for outlandish costumes for creatures/enemies (“The Cybermen seem to be smiling, possibly because of their flares.” Flares being, I believe, bell-bottoms.). With “Dialogue Disasters,” the authors revive a few lines that were probably better left forgotten. Take a gander at “Great jumping gobstoppers, what’s that?” Or “Die, Overlord, die!” Or “I should be taking it easy, not bounding around like some Megaluthian Slimeskimmer.” Ow. (To be fair, Cornell, Day and Topping also include “Dialogue Triumphs,” to acknowledge particularly clever lines).

Also interesting, but a bit more serious, are the “Untelevised Episodes” sections, where the authors list events the Doctor and his companions mention that take place off screen — both in the past and future. These leave fans wondering what some of the stories might have been like had they actually made it to the screen (the Doctor mentions meeting Theseus, Sir Walter Raleigh, Shakespeare, and even being at Krakatoa’s eruption!).

One of the odder sections is “Double Entendres,” mainly because many of them make no sense (perhaps ones needs to be British?). Many are juvenile, but are rather amusing, nonetheless.

Each section wraps up with a “Bottom Line,” wherein the authors give a very brief critique of the episode arcs and how they rate as a part of the show. For good measure, they occasionally toss in short essays on topics they find of import — or simply intriguing — such as the Doctor’s age, the Key of Time, or language.

The Discontinuity Guide is a labor of love by dedicated fans, and a heck of a lot of fun to flip open and read!

(Monkeybrain Books, 2004)

[April Gutierrez]

About April Gutierrez

Since last we met our intrepid book reviewer, April Gutierrez, she’s moved halfway around the world to the land of the rising sun. Home is now Fukuoka, the largest city on Japan’s west-most main island, Kyushu. The Japanese boast of their homeland’s four seasons, but April recognizes just two: Granrodeo tour season and … the rest of the year. During the former, she’s running around Japan from Hokkaido to Okinawa, mixing sightseeing with awesome rock concerts. The rest of the time, she’s busy exploring shrines and temples closer to home and regretting she has but one stomach to offer up to Japanese cuisine.