Why The Key to Time: A Year-by-Year Record Was Worth The 30-Year Wait

Back in the mists of time (well, the mid-1980s) when I was a teenager, I prided myself (in private to no-one-at-all) that I had EVERY SINGLE DOCTOR WHO (reference) BOOK. Yes, even all three volumes of Encyclopedia of The Worlds of Doctor Who: A to D, E to K, and L to R from Piccadilly Press, Knight Books.

I think the final few volumes were wiped from existence by entropy triggered by the Master’s messing with the Logopolitan’s control of the Charged Vacuum Emboitments (or maybe because sales weren’t as healthy as hoped). Which was a bit of a bugger if you had a passing interest in Sontarans, Silurians, or the Zarbi. Or if you wanted to find out about the Time Lord known as the Doctor, whose life story was due to be covered in the final volume of the encyclopedia. How utterly evil Piccadilly Press, Knight Books.

Back in the ’80s, there were very few factual Doctor Who books, and the King of the Hardbacks was an author called Peter ‘Sweeney Todd is real, honest guv’ Haining. His first book was 1983’s seminal Doctor Who: A Celebration, which charted ‘The first twenty years of Doctor Who – up to The King’s Demons’. How fortunate to end on such an absolute belter.

But his next book, The Key to Time: A Year by Year Record (to my shame) did not feature on my heaving Who bookshelf. Considering how much shame and guilt I harboured in my teen years, this omission loomed strangely large.

So you can imagine how overjoyed I was when I wandered into a second-hand bookshop in Seaton in Devon (detail fans) this year and found the missing tome, a snip at £2.25. Now I know how Skagra felt when he rubbed his digitus secundus along the spine of the Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey…


My completist tendencies aroused, I took the book to the counter. Picture the scene:

BOOKSELLER: Here’s your £2.75 change. Enjoy.

ME: I will. You see, now I have the power to do anything I like. Absolute power over every particle in the universe. Everything that has ever existed or ever will exist. As from this moment – are you listening to me, bookseller?

BOOKSELLER: Sorry, what?

ME: Because if you’re not listening I can make you listen, because I can do anything. As from this moment, there’s no such thing as free will in the entire universe. There’s only my will, because I possess the The Key to Time: A Year by Year Record by Peter Haining!

BOOKSELLER: Oh, would you like a copy of Encyclopedia of The Worlds of Doctor Who, Volume 4, S to Z?

ME: What, you don’t mean… of course I would…

BOOKSELLER: Yeah, mate, we all would. Bloody Piccadilly Press, Knight Books…

So after 30 years, I finally managed to add his seminal work to my collection. The Key to Time: A Year by Year Record is a chronological collection of key dates from the first 21 years of the telly programme known to many as Dr Who. It’s a celebration of two decades and a year, and when you reach that age you are given ‘a key to the door’, or – if you will – a Key to Time. Clever, clever Peter…

According to Haining, the book marked the fact that the Doctor had ‘come of age’, or the fact that Doctor Who: A Celebration had sold very well to shame-filled teen completists and they wanted an excuse to do one the next year and not wait a whole flippin’ decade.

It ends on March 22, 1984, when as Haining recounts, ‘Colin Baker makes an eagerly and thankfully short-awaited first full appearance as the Sixth Doctor in the dramatic story, The Twin Dilemma…’ How fortunate to end on such an absolute belter.

Now, I know what you are thinking. Not that. Dirty. The other thing: ‘What’s this got to do with Fandom Week?’ Well I’m getting to that, give me a break. You’re lucky to still have free will to ask such questions. Consider that. Or I’ll make you consider that.

What’s unique about Key to Time: A Year by Year Record is that alongside publicity photos and newspaper cuttings, it is illustrated by drawings from your actual Doctor Who fans. Idiots like me, and you. With hilarious results.

Let’s be fair, most of them are pretty good. Some are, shall I say, less pretty good. Here are some of my faves… (Photos taken on my cameraphone; apologies, scan fans.)

A superb rendering of the impish and child-like Second Doctor (I presume) as a toothless bewildered loony.


A surprise early appearance by John Barrowman as a ‘Starlight Express’ Cyberman.


‘I spent ages getting the shading right around Pertwee’s bottom.’


‘We’ve managed to remove every emotion apart from gormless. Give us a kiss, Gordon…’


A superb rendering of the suave, dapper, and distinguished Third Doctor, (I presume) as a 108-year-old dormouse-faced creature with half its head missing.


Oh there’s more, and it’s worth £2.75 of anyone’s money. In fact, I’ve got a whole series of articles in mind to cover some of Peter Haining’s strange observations from the book too.

So please petition The Doctor Companion for a follow up article or five before someone else snaps it up. I’ve already had an offer from Piccadilly Press, Knight Books for a five-volume set. How fortunate to end on such an absolute belter.