Editor under fire for using BBC magazine to plug his own book

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The Independent Online

The BBC has defended the editor of its science magazine after he used the title to give extensive coverage to his new book about its television show Doctor Who.

Paul Parsons devoted a dozen pages of the April issue of Focus magazine to his book The Science of Doctor Who, which is published next month. The title of the book is featured prominently on the magazine's cover next to a giant image of the Tardis, with the strapline: "The amazing real science behind sonic screwdrivers, cybermen, regeneration, and more!"

But the book, which has a foreword by the doyen of science fiction writers Arthur C Clarke, is not even published by the BBC. It is clearly described as an "unofficial guide", because it is published by the independent publishers Icon Books.

Inside the magazine, there is an in-depth eight-page feature by Parsons investigating the link between the Timelord's gadgets and the laws of physics. This is followed by a double-page spread offering readers a free copy of the book, worth more than £8, if they subscribe to Focus.

Parsons mentions the title in his editor's letter, writing: "This month we've turned Focus's scientifically critical eye on the new series of Doctor Who, due to air imminently on BBC 1 ... For the super keen, my book The Science of Doctor Who is published on the 6 April, and you can get a free copy by subscribing to Focus."

A review of the book by the astronomer and science fiction writer Alastair Reynolds is given pride of place in the magazine's book section. "Eclectic, breezily written, funny," reads the glowing headline.

A BBC spokeswoman defended the decision to promote Parsons' book so heavily in the magazine he edits. She said: "With the new TV series of Doctor Who to be broadcast in April, the April issue of Focus features The Science of Doctor Who - a feature with an angle suitable to the magazine's popular science and technology content. Given that Paul is a Doctor Who expert, it was only natural that he write this article. All book reviews carried out for the magazine are impartial and independent, and indeed Paul's book was peer reviewed by the award-winning science fiction author Dr Alastair Reynolds.

"The Science of Doctor Who is offered as a gift to new subscribers ... on the subscriptions page and in the editor's letter. Our subscriber numbers are currently at their highest ever, in part due to the successful promotions offered to our readers in this type of offer, which is linked to magazine content. We believe the book will be a welcome gift.

"BBC Magazines seeks to support BBC TV programming and Doctor Who is a much-loved and successful show in the UK and across the world."

The second series of Doctor Who, the classic science fiction show revived last year by the screenwriter Russell T Davies, starts on BBC 1 in April. In a special Christmas edition, the Scottish actor David Tennant replaced Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor.

Focus only became part of the BBC's magazine portfolio when the broadcaster's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, bought Bristol-based Origin Publishing in 2004. Three years earlier, Origin bought Focus from the National Magazine Company. The magazine's circulation rose 8 per cent to 57,306 last year.

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