If there’s one thing Doctor Who fans love, it’s showing off how much they know. There’s a Doctor Who themed pub quiz with rounds just about production codes. An entire branch of academic media criticism exists just to talk about Doctor Who. Even the official Doctor Who website can’t resist testing its visitors.
However, The Doctor Who Quiz Book by Beth Axford, out today from Bonnier Books, is as much about celebrating Doctor Who as proving your knowledge. I had a chance to chat to the author about how the book came together and the way she fought to make it accessible to fans of all stripes.
About the Author
Beth Axford is a writer who has contributed articles to publications including New Statesman, Digital Spy, Radio Times, the official Doctor Who website and – in fact – the Who Shelf! Beth contributed a post for International Women’s Day 2019. As a huge Doctor Who fan, she co-hosts The Quiz of Rassilon at BFI Southbank, and co-founded The Time Ladies back in 2017.
As Beth’s debut book, I had to know how it all came about. She told me that the way Doctor Who had been making headlines lately played a part…
I was contacted by the publisher, who had realised the 60th anniversary was coming up and there was a special airing in October where Jodie [Whittaker] was going to leave. This was at the end of May and Doctor Who had been in the news quite a lot recently – Ncuti Gatwa had just been announced; the return of David Tennant and Catherine Tate had been announced. The publisher specialises in commercial books about stuff that’s trending, the sort of fun books you see in the shops. They told me they wanted a Doctor Who quiz book to come out in October in time to be their big Christmas release.Beth Axford, Author
The Doctor Who Quiz Book
Once she’d agreed to write the book, it was down to Beth to figure out what form it would take. But she was well aware of the fact that there are other Doctor Who quiz books out there, both official and unofficial, so how did she go about setting her book apart from the rest?
It’s called a quiz book but I think it’s more of a fan celebration book because, while it’s got fifteen to twenty questions for every chapter, there are also games, word searches, crosswords and more. My favourite bit is these Buzzfeed-style personality quizzes – like ‘Which companion are you?’ or ‘Which incarnation of the Master are you?’ There’s a lot of stuff that aren’t quiz questions. For each chapter I wrote a four to five hundred word introduction so that, for every section of book, I could just talk about what this aspect of Doctor Who means to the fans.
The main way I’ve made it different was by ensuring there’s something for every person; every kind of Doctor Who fan, by making sure I covered all bases and made it really fun and visual. We’ve got a lot of illustrations in there.
Also, I don’t think it takes itself too seriously. When it gets too serious or too hard, it stop being enjoyable.Beth Axford, Author
Keeping things light and varying the book to include games and other activities puts the book between two camps. Simultaneously a fun party game and an activity book for unwinding alone if you need a break…
It can be a nice mindfulness activity, something to just sit with and do the word searches or the crosswords or the games if you just need something to take your mind out of the world for a bit.Beth Axford, Author
This extends to Beth’s chapter introductions, which give a little background on the subject and appeal to your sense of nostalgia by comparing how Doctor Who fans down the decades may have first encountered the topic. When was the first time you saw Gallifrey on TV? Who was your first companion? How did you feel when they left? For Beth, this was an important part of making The Doctor Who Quiz Book stand out…
The publisher gave me free rein with the introductions, so I took it as a chance to talk about what that particular aspect of Doctor Who means to us as fans. Why do we love to hate The Master? What does that say about us? What do we get from seeing the Doctor through the companions eyes?Beth Axford, Author
Accessibility seems to have been Beth’s watchword as she was crafting the book, hoping to create a range of challenges and activities without alienating those who can’t name every episode in order. The author has found the right balance, with easy questions like identifying the Dalek’s infamous battle cry to trickier ones that might catch out even the most hardcore Doctor Who fan. Making the quiz questions multiple choice speaks to that aim of accessibility. Even if you don’t know how long a Rel is, you’ll be able to take a punt without fear of falling behind…
There’s something for everybody in there. We’ve got questions about The Abominable Snowman, questions about Amy Pond, questions about behind-the-scenes stuff. There’s really hard stuff; really easy stuff. I just hope everyone finds something in there that they like.Beth Axford, Author
And the book comes with fact pages so you’ll be able to bulk up your knowledge of Doctor Who trivia at the same time!
With the Doctor Who universe being a vast and varied place, Beth opted to break up the book by subject to let people focus in on those aspects of the Whoniverse that most appeal to them. Again, this was done with the reader in mind…
It would have been easy to divide it by Doctor but I don’t think that is accessible. For the general public, who are going to see this in a shop, or if you are a casual fan … I wanted people to see clear sections on what it’s about split it up into sensible, digestible sections. Two companion chapters, Daleks, Cybermen, The Master, Planets and Worlds, Historical, Aliens, Behind the Scenes, and so on. That was how I felt we would get the most coverage and most accessibility.Beth Axford, Author
Not only do fans love showing off their knowledge of minutiae, they also like being right! So, during the research and fact-checking phase, how did Beth handle the pressure of writing a quiz book for a group of people who love to nitpick a subject where there’s a lot of wiggle room?
It was on my mind every second of writing the whole book! Honestly, it’s terrifying to write anything about Doctor Who ever because you’re so scared that you’re going to get things wrong. But the amount of difficulty I’ve faced being a woman talking about and writing about Doctor Who means that, if I get something wrong, I will get much harsher criticism than if it were one of my male friends writing a Doctor Who book, which has happened before.
I fact-checked everything so much but there could be a fact I got wrong, an episode I’ve not understood properly, research I’ve missed out on. But it’s such a big, broad universe there’s no way you can get everything right all the time.
I’ve tried to preempt it by having the first chapter be about each Doctor and referencing the Fugitive Doctor, the War Doctor and so on. I’ve talked about it in terms of how a real person would see it – inclusive of every Doctor that’s on screen, saying there are thirteen Doctors but then there are these extra Doctors. In fact, I refer to some of them as a “full-time Doctor” – we wouldn’t call Jo Martin or John Hurt a full-time Doctor, but you would call Christopher Eccleston that. It was a worry but I think I got around it by wording it in the right way.Beth Axford, Author
Not all Doctor Who is on television. I should know, this blog wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the books. Often something established on TV will be contradicted by something in an audio or a comic, or vice versa. So with accuracy already on Beth’s mind, how did she approach the non-televised stories?
For accessibility reasons, and to make sure that it meant something to everybody, I didn’t want to over-saturate it with [questions about] stuff you couldn’t just go and watch on iPlayer or Britbox. I’ve got a chapter about the spin-offs – UNIT, Torchwood, Sarah Jane, Redacted – but apart from that I rarely mention comics or audios. It’s very hard to make something that’s for everybody. You want to be inclusive of the people who love this extra stuff so much but I think it would cut a lot of people out if you talked about it too much.Beth Axford, Author
Published by Bonnier Books, The Doctor Who Quiz Book is an unofficial release with no links to the BBC. For Beth, this gave her more creative freedom…
There’s something to be said for it being an unofficial book in that I could talk more broadly about what Doctor Who means to people. What it means to me and what our story with it is. What it means for representation, for people seeing themselves in companions or the Doctor – the kind of thing you may not see in an official book. I wanted it to feel like a celebration and make sure it wasn’t tethered to any specific era.Beth Axford, Author
Though the ‘Unofficial’ label is clear and upfront, looking at the cover artwork you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a BBC Books product. The stylized artwork depicts a trio Doctors, including the incumbent played by Jodie Whittaker, over a lavish blue vortex pattern, with two more Doctors on the back.
We spoke about the cover really on. I said we should have three Doctors on the front – Fourth, Tenth and Thirteenth. It was a great process because, while it was a collaborative process, all my recommendations were taken on board. I think that comes from me being in marketing … and a Doctor Who fan. It was a really nice process, if we didn’t agree on something we’d compromise but for the most part they let me take the lead as a Doctor Who expert … Because it was such a quick turnaround I got to see the cover quite soon [after finishing the book], so that instant gratification was nice.Beth Axford, Author
Calling it The Doctor Who Quiz Book doesn’t really do justice to the depth of work, imagination and consideration that’s gone into this book. This is far more than a game of trivia. Beth’s prose gives the book personality, the regard for accessibility shows care and the activities lend it variety. This book is, in every sense, a celebration of Doctor Who and its fans.
The Doctor Who Quiz Book is out today and available to buy from all good book retailers.
With thanks to Beth Axford for taking the time to talk to me and to Bonnier Books for advanced materials and the page extracts used in this post.