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.