Sunday, May 01, 2011

The black death

When I was rather smaller than I am today, I was a fan of Doctor Who. Actually, I say I was a fan, but fandom is an entirely relative concept. I watched the show religiously, of course. And I’d also seen both the movies (in which Peter Cushing played the Doctor) when they cropped up on TV. But my loyalty wasn’t all-consuming. I can’t remember ever going to the Longleat exhibition, for example. I did buy and read lots of the Target novelisations, but I wasn’t a completist, and in the end I sold my collection. And although I pestered my mother to up the family’s fibre intake so I could amass the Weetabix card set, I’ve no idea what happened to it; the same goes for the 10th anniversary Radio Times special and the Tom Baker doll. I started to lose interest some time during the Romana era, and by the time Colin Baker’s unlovely persona had dragged the show into an 18-month hiatus, I barely noticed. By comparison with some fans, I was a complete bloody lightweight.

One area into which I did put a little extra effort was in writing my own Doctor Who fiction. To be honest, even there I was something of a dilettante, as I don’t think I ever finished a story. I’d come up with a title, something like The Daleks of Doom, or  maybe Doom to the Daleks, then begin with an incredibly violent opening passage, usually involving the spectacular destruction of several Ogrons. (These were the hulking, simian sidekicks of the Daleks, who helped them with the stuff they couldn’t do in those days, like carrying things and climbing stairs. I think I saw them as analogous to the hard boys at school who were good at football and laughed at my glasses and said Doctor Who was for poofs.) Then the Doctor would arrive and survey the carnage and wonder what was going on and so would I and I’d go off and have some lemon squash and forget about it.

One thing I didn’t do was to attempt to render the stories that I’d seen on TV as prose. This was partly because of the existence of those Target books: I knew that if I waited long enough, Terrance Dicks or Philip Hinchcliffe or someone like them would put each story between covers. Instead, I was intent on creating my own narratives, even if they were never going to go anywhere. Of course, after the show had gone off air, an entire sub-culture of original stories appeared in print form, with hundreds of books to keep the Who brand alive, but as I said, I was well out of the loop by that point.

Although I was careful not to tread on Target’s turf, I probably took a few hints from the books, albeit subconsciously. (Not that I have any examples of my deathless genius to hand, and I suspect they suffered the same fate as the Weetabix stuff, so this is all based on my increasingly fuzzy memory.) I wasn’t a slave to the house style, though: the Target books were careful not to acknowledge the real-world status of Doctor Who, beyond a cursory acknowledgement of the scriptwriter of the story on which the book was based. So the much-derided artwork might depict the actor who played the Doctor, but Pat or Jon or Tom never got a mention. Instead, there would be a stock explanation of which incarnation was in play, such as:

THE CHANGING FACE OF DOCTOR WHO. 
The cover illustration of this book portrays the third DOCTOR WHO whose physical appearance was altered by the Time Lords when they banished him to planet Earth in the Twentieth Century.

Whereas I preferred:

THE CHANGING FACE OF DOCTOR WHO. 
The cover illustration of this book portrays the third DOCTOR WHO who was played by Jon Pertwee.

Moreover, whenever a character in a Target book incurred the wrath of the Daleks, there would be a searing flash of light, a scream, and the unfortunate individual would slump to the floor, often with wisps of smoke rising from his body. Whereas I knew what happened to people who were exterminated. They went negative. You could see it happening. So when the Daleks exterminated someone or something in my stories (I’m not sure how old I was when I realised that “exterminate” was a proper word, not one invented for the purposes of the show, like TARDIS) I’d write something along the lines of “The Dalek fired his gun and everything went negative and the Zygon died.”

In many ways, it betrayed an early fondness for metafiction and similar postmodern japeries, although at that stage I probably thought metafiction was next door to Metebelis III. Yes, that’s the sort of thing that passed for humour back then. These days, although I do like the resurrected Who immensely, it’s more of an indulgent, nostalgic fondness. Although I finally have a sofa with plenty of space behind it, I don’t hide there. And in retrospect, I even feel a tiny bit sorry for the Ogrons.

9 comments:

tenderhooligan said...

What are you thinking of the current series? I'm enjoying it, for the most part, but I think they're trying to fit too much in: the action, Amy and Rory's relationship, the Doctor being silly, River Song's story, little girls seemingly regenerating etc. etc. etc. I find myself zoning out quite a bit because it's very high maintenance. (For their slowness, alone, I prefer the old ones.)

GreatSheElephant said...

I used to like the books too. I just can't bring myself to watch any of the modern series. Dr Who is Jon Pertwee. End of. And the sets are cardboard. Also end of.

Annie said...

When did you change your template????

Tim Footman said...

There does seem to be a lot of content packed in Tenderhooligan, but modern shows are created for multiple viewings, whereas when I first watched Genesis of the Daleks, I thought I might never see it again. Aesthetically the two eras are very different, but there were huge differences between, say, a 1963 episode and one from 1983 as well. Yes, I still prefer the Glory Years (essentially when Sarah Jane and Leela were around) but I know damn well that’s as much to do with my age at the time they were first broadcast as anything.

Despite what I just said, GSE, the core of DW remains the same – the Doctor tries to use a combination of intelligence and morality to solve problems. I still maintain Matt Smith has echoes of Patrick Troughton - although PT never did tongues with Alex Kingston, so far as I recall.

On Friday, Annie. It was my gift to Kate and William. It's not much, since his mother gave them Cambridge, but they might appreciate the distraction once the wedding goes to form and they start hating each other.

tenderhooligan said...

Tim, oh, you're right. It seems to be about packing as much in as possible now and that works for most audiences because it's very immediate and, for that 45 minutes, you're captivated (apparently). And the repeat viewing is important. It's just not for me. :(

Genesis of the Daleks still ranks as a favourite for me, and is still the source of many silly jokes for me and my bessie.

Annie said...

'the hard boys at school who were good at football and laughed at my glasses' This breaks my heart and makes me want to commit violence upon them. Little Tim...

Tim Footman said...

Genesis is definitely in my Top 5, TH, along with City of Death, but the all-time fave has to be The Talons of Weng-Chiang.

Ah, sweet of you, Annie, but don't worry, their violence was mostly verbal. And I was pretty handy when it came to that weapon of choice...

Annie said...

Okay, thanks for the info. Don't always deal well with change. Looks good though.

Rosie said...

Lemon squash, orange squash, lemon barley water...that opened a long unopened can of memories. I'm still watching Doctor Who. It's possibly the only thing that has been constant.