Now We Are Six Hundred: A Collection Of Time Lord Verse by James Goss and illustrated by Russell T Davies (book review).

‘Now We Are Six Hundred’ is a book of poetry by James Goss (Big Finish, the universe) and illustrated by the hitherto unknown as an artist Russell T. Davies (BBC, Channel 4, the universe also) is a thing to be welcomed. I’m pretty sure there has never been a poetry book although I’m sure someone can drag up some quote of the Doctor spouting some poetry in an episode. At its best, the ‘Doctor Who’ providers produce many quotable lines that are poetry-like and apparently profound but this book has a lighter touch or so it seems initially.

This small hardback is a nicely put together little item sure to be on the gift list of the fan who must have everything. On the front is a most delightful picture of the Fourth Doctor hanging by his scarf from the TARDIS. The look on his face is…mischievous. The Dalek hovering above the titles is probably one of the new-fangled flying ones. The cover sums up the sense of whimsy and this continues inside the book with the Beforwards.

The introduction is suspiciously and, of course, deliberate close to the Winnie The Pooh original and is a homage to the endearing character and our little Piglet-like character of Figment meets a strange blue tree in the Thousand Year Wood and goes away humming a new tune.

Throughout the book are the illustrations, line drawings, pop up in the pages. You can image RTD doodling in read-throughs as he drifts off out of the window. But these illustrations are not just of his Doctor as they all get a look in with a few monsters and companions in there, too.

Poor James Goss. He has to do the writey-wimey bit and get us to read poetry. Out loud preferably! It wasn’t everyone’s favourite subject at school but who could resist being a swotty know-it-all about the content of poetry about the Doctor and his adventures.

If I could pick out a few favourites here it could explain a little about why this works. There is a range of poems and a range of emotions. We have comedy and cleverness in ‘The Master’s Beard’, a neat little poem with each verse in the shape of a beard. There are a series of poems featuring companions. The delightful name-checker of ‘Friendship’ is a role call and almost a eulogy. ‘Josephine Grant’ picks up in the character of Jo with the words ‘Jo Jo Grant had a mouth like an oh’ and ‘Jo Grant saw the whole universe’. The heartbreaker though is ‘To Anonymous’ from Donna Noble, surely the most sorely used of any companion and this poem the only one that made me cry.

On a lighter note, there is plenty to amuse. If you like River Song, then you could laugh along to ‘To Her Coy Doctor’ which cheekily and to very good effect takes the Andrew Marvell ‘To His Coy Mistress’ and turns the tables. ‘For at my back I always hear, your blue box roaring near’.

As I said at the beginning, we often have a difficult relationship with poetry. School requires it to analyse it to death and sucks the life out of many a classic ode. But without the War Poets from the 1914-18 conflict and beyond, we would struggle to understand the psychology and feelings of people trapped in impossible situations. Poems are a window into history and offer visions of the future. I like this attempt to draw us into the intrinsic poetry of Who which is full of drama, humour, love and losses. A war poet indeed. It’s not perfect and I’m no poet but I hope it appeals to a wide age range and gets them to explore some of the poems behind this anthology as well as the show.

I’ve only explored a few of the poems but you can tell how closely Goss is entwined with his Doctor although I must say that he has a relaxed attitude to scansion. So modern. The illustrations are charming and light up the page. Tiddly pom.

Finally, you can see in the book that the original poems are acknowledged sources in the headings and that it’s not all Pooh.

Sue Davies

September 2017

(pub: BBC Books/Ebury. 118 page illustrated small hardback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78594-271-6)

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