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The who, what and why of the Doctor
by Nick Walters
Reckless Engineering book cover THIS STORY LAST UPDATED:
20 February 2003 1058 GMT

Bristol Doctor Who author Nick Walters's guide to the Doctor - past, present and future and his new book: Reckless Engineering.
Nick wanted the book's cover to reflect Brunel's reputation as a risk-taker
Read about Reckless Engineering, and then browse Nick's guide to Doctor Who.
> Introduction
> Guide part 1
> Guide part 2
> Guide part 3
> Guide part 4
> Guide part 5
:: This story
> Internet links:

The BBC's official Dr Who site

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites

Engineering the look of the book

The striking cover of the book came about during a conversation with Ken Shinn, good friend and fellow Doctor Who fan.

I wanted to get across the idea of human progress being stopped in its tracks, and I also wanted to get something related to Bristol on the cover.

We settled on the famous photograph taken in Millwall of Brunel standing in front of the giant winch chains of the ss Great Eastern.

Skull Brunel
A macabre Brunel graces the cover of Reckless Engineering

It is such an iconic image which sums up the pioneering spirit of the Victorian era:

Brunel is dwarfed by the huge links of the chains, but seems undaunted – in fact he appears confident, cocky, with his hands in his pockets.

His clothes are rumpled, yet smart, it looks like he’s been working all day in them.

And the trademark cigar and reinforced top hat (which served a purpose – it’s the forerunner to the modern-day hard hat) are both in place completing an instantly recognisable image.

I always give credit where credit’s due, and it was Ken’s idea to replace Brunel’s face with a skull, to illustrate the devastating effect of the ‘cleansing’ which prevents the Industrial Revolution from ever happening.

The resulting cover is very arresting, taking an iconic image and giving it a surreal twist.

Of Reckless Engineers

As for the title of the book, visitors to Bristol
who arrive by train will see, facing them as they walk down Station Approach Road, the frontage of the Reckless Engineer, and may wonder where the pub got its name.

Brunel had a reputation for ‘recklessness’, and no wonder when you consider the following incident which took place in 1836 after the laying of the foundation stone of the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

A 1000ft-long iron bar had been slung across the Avon Gorge, and a basket, suspended from a roller on this bar and hauled back and forth by ropes, would provide a temporary means of transport for men and materials.

Brunel and an un-named youth made the first crossing, but when the basket reached the lowest point of the bar, the roller became stuck, and the basket couldn’t be drawn up the other side.

The Suspension Bridge towers above Avon Gorge

Whilst the basket swung in the air nearly two hundred feet above the River Avon, Brunel climbed out of the basket, up one of its suspension ropes and freed the roller.

Then he returned to the basket, which was now able to complete the journey.

One can imagine the looks on the faces of the workmen and other observers, and it is no wonder that Brunel gained his reputation as a risk-taker.

I hope I have captured some of the personality of Isambard Kingdom Brunel in Reckelss Engineering and that people will enjoy his teaming-up with the Doctor.

As for Bristol, well, as I have said, it isn’t the real Bristol in the book, it’s an alternative one where progress stopped in 1843 and the city lies in ruins.

It’s a haunting backdrop for the story, and in a way the book shows what life in the 21st Century might have been like without the benefit of men like Brunel, of what life might be like if the Industrial Revolution never happened.

Indeed one character in the book thinks that life would be better this way...

Judge for yourself, when Reckless Engineering hits the bookshelves in April!

I hope I have captured some of the personality of Isambard Kingdom Brunel in Reckless Engineering.
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