Story: A mashup of fiction, behind-the-scenes fact and a treasure trove of photos, the Brilliant Book covers Matt Smith’s first season as the Doctor. Profiles of the show’s stars and creative staff include looks at the production of the 2010 season and glimpses into the history of the show. The Dream Lord put in an appearance to drop vaguely spoilery hints about the 2011 season, but those hints are wedged in between lots of misleading red herrings and other total fabrications.
Review: When I was a kid and Doctor Who was on the cusp of being in vogue in America in the 1980s, Doctor Who books usually shared many qualities – they were nifty hardbacks with nice cover art, they had gobs of information about the show’s past that you were unlikely to find anywhere else in the days before the web and the commercial availability of every complete story in existence, and they also usually happened to be compiled by the late Peter Haining (I hesitate to use the word “written” because Haining made an art form out of collating essays and other content that was written by others). Not unlike the show that inspired it, Haining’s books were wordy and progressed at a very leisurely pace (even for non-fiction), and contained lots of exlamation points!
By contrast, “Doctor Who: The Brilliant Book 2010” changes topics, typographical/layout styles and authors every few pages – a sort of printed representation of the breakneck pace at which the Doctor’s adventures unfold in the modern series. It’s worth noting that “The Brilliant Book” is written and edited by a former editor of Doctor Who Magazine: this book is sort of like a periodical that happens to have a higher page count and a hardback cover, shifting its focus frequently.
It’s a very pretty book, featuring plenty of production artwork, gobs of photos, and specially commissioned art. In a lot of ways, “The Brilliant Book” is the direct successor to the Doctor Who Annuals of old, which followed a similar pattern. The front and back cover montages are nicely done, neatly summing up the 2010 season and its interconnected web of recurring characters. Articles on such topics as the TARDIS and the Daleks, which have quite a bit of history (and different looks) behind them, do actually discuss – and show – the history of those elements of the show. There’s less emphasis on the Doctor’s past lives, but they do crop up here and there (read, for example, Winston Churchill’s letters describing his meeting with several of the Doctors).
The short fiction pieces are handled by a combination of old hands at Doctor Who fiction and new. Some names will be familiar to anyone who’s been reading Doctor Who print fiction since the ’90s, while there are some surprising newcomers (well-regarded SF author Brian Adliss contributes a short story in the Doctor’s universe). The closest relative to the Brilliant Book is the Doctor Who Annuals of old, except that the Brilliant Book is aimed at a slightly older audience – the activities and the puzzles of the old Annuals are gone, replaced by celebrity profiles of the show’s stars. I could go on a rant about how this primes young readers for future innundation by the celebrity-obsessed media, but then again, I’m not sure how often the word puzzles and connect-the-dots puzzles of the Annuals were actually filled out or solved. Time and audience sophistication marches on.
The Brilliant Book is a neat compilation of articles, fiction and photos that doesn’t linger very long on any one topic (at least within the larger framework of Doctor Who). If you can put yourself in more of a magazine mindset and not expect terribly deep treatment of any particular topic, the Brilliant Book is a pretty good read – something where you can flip to any given page and land not too far from the beginning of a new article.
Editor: Clayton Hickman
Publisher: Random House