Our Favourite Merchandise: The Doctor Who Monster Books

Tom Baker does a great bit of comic shtick in interviews; you’ve probably seen it. Recounting tales of how awestruck fans ask him who is his favourite of the other Doctors, he says he loves nothing more than pretending to come over all puzzled as he peers into the distance:

“Other Doctors…? There were other Doctors?”

Only Tom Baker could get away with that. A grin as wide as the Mersey as he makes a gag of overlooking everyone else who ever played the role, and somehow makes you love him all the more.

The thing is, I had my own “other Doctors?” moment. Only mine was for real and I can place it to the moment I first laid eyes on Terrance Dicks’ Doctor Who Monster Book in 1975.

What a treat to get hold of this book with that great monster montage on the cover. But who were these other men pictured alongside the Doctor on the opening pages? There was the current Doctor on the right – no problem recognising him; hat, scarf and curls all in order. And to his left the one who’d come before, the guy who’d fought great big spiders and great big maggots – I could just about remember him.

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But this old man, and the dark haired one, both looking stern and serious? All these years later I can still remember the feeling of glorious bafflement as I realised that, when it came to this fantastic programme that filled my imagination like nothing else, I really didn’t know the half of it…

“Other Doctors…? There were other Doctors?”

I’m sure I can’t have been alone in finding this wonderful book so influential. Younger fans must roll their eyes when they read yet another article telling them how good they have it these days, but it’s worth mentioning that it was this slim volume that educated a generation of kids about the programme in the pre-home video era.

For one thing, it had photos. Photos! My first sight of Daleks crossing Westminster Bridge, the Cybermen outside St Paul’s, and of the first three Doctors together came not from a clip show or a repeat but from the Doctor Who Monster Book. There really was nowhere else where you could see what old episodes actually looked like. Sure, there were the Target novels, with those fantastic Chris Achilleos covers (many of which were reproduced in this book) but it was still early days for those books and besides, that wasn’t the same.

Terrance Dicks has come in for some (mostly) gentle stick over the years for his prose style but he’s on top form here: simple, readable and accessible to young readers. Here he is on the First Doctor:

“Although still very active, with a great appetite for knowledge and adventure, this first Doctor was already showing some signs of his great age. He could be querulous and irritable, impatient with those whose intelligence didn’t match his own. He was capable of a kind of childish secretiveness and selfishness…”

Arguably he under-sells Hartnell’s playful side there but that’s still a wonderfully concise description. No mean feat to be so entertaining and informative whilst never patronising the reader.

And then there were the headlines that introduced the different sections. ‘The Monsters… the Worst Came First!’ for the Daleks. ‘Monsters Who Came Back for More!’ for the Cybermen, Ice Warriors, Yeti and other fearsome invaders. And ‘A Mixed Bag of Monsters’ for various terrifying one-offs. This is a book that managed the difficult task of making the Gellguards (‘hideous… blobby, almost shapeless servants of Omega’) sound exciting.

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Published as Tom Baker’s first run of adventures was finishing, the book is a little uncertain as to what his defining characteristics will be (‘a strange mix of contradictory qualities… who knows what terrors and dangers lie before him?’). Two years later, it’s a different story and the programme has enjoyed a sustained period of success. Time for a second volume…

The Second Doctor Who Monster Book is the clear (if somewhat unimaginative) title for the 1977 follow-up, and the first thing that strikes you on picking it up today is the way it illustrates how Tom Baker had taken a grip on the role by this time. Whereas the first book had been an overview of the series to date, this edition focuses exclusively on the current Doctor and presents a summary of each of his adventures from Robot to The Talons of Weng-Chiang (although the picture editor did opt for Tomb-era Cybermen to illustrate The Revenge of the Cybermen, which wasn’t the only mistake made by Target in depicting them).

Although the book is smaller in size and lacks the pull-out poster from the first, there’s more use of colour images this time. Perhaps the most interesting aspect though, is the opening chapter ‘The New Doctor Who’ which is as good a description of the Fourth Doctor’s character as you’re likely to read. Some highlights:

“The fourth Doctor somehow manages to be both elegant and casual at the same time… He has become sharper and is some ways a more ruthless character than before… These days the Doctor is quite likely to give friends as well as enemies the rough side of his tongue…”

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Again it’s insightful, informative and doesn’t talk down to the reader. Dicks is wise enough to close with a direct quotation from his and Malcolm Hulke’s The Making of Doctor Who, repeating the never-bettered description of the Doctor which would be re-used again decades later in the programme’s 50th anniversary episode:

“The Doctor believes in good, and fights evil. Though often caught up in violent situations, he is a man of peace. He is never cruel or cowardly.”

The two Doctor Who Monster Books have to be classed as among the most important non-fiction titles in the series’ history. Published at a time of growing interest in the show they served the need felt by many to know more about previous adventures and to actually see old monsters, even if it was just in still images.

In recent years we’ve been spoiled by books like The Secret Lives of Monsters and A History of the Universe in 100 Objects; beautifully put together volumes, lavishly illustrated in full colour throughout. But these two older books will always have a special place on the shelves of those who grew up in an earlier era when material on their favourite show was so much harder to come by.

If your copies have become lost or fallen apart, or if you’ve never owned them but want to find out what I’ve been banging on about in this article, both books regularly come up for sale on eBay. Expect to pay in the region of £10-20 depending on condition.

(This article originally appeared on Kasterborous.com, December 2014)

  • TimeChaser

    I never owned these books, sadly, but I remember many others in the past that I did (and in some cases still do) have. I love the non-fiction/reference side of Who in print as much, if not in some cases more, than the fiction.

  • Tidgy’s Dad

    Lovely article.
    That first book was a joy to me too, but I must confess to being a trifle disappointed with the second one.
    It just wasn’t as big, not in it’s scope nor size.
    But the first one I thumbed through until it fell apart.
    Happy days.