Genesis of a Doctor Who Fan

Hello! It’s been a while I know.

I’m here to tell you about the future, but in order to tell you about the future we’re first going to take a little journey into the past…

The internet shares a thing or two with the TARDIS. It can transport us back in time and space. Not physically of course but as a repository for memories; words and pictures that trigger something in our minds that can take us back to simpler, less complicated times.

It’s also bigger on the inside.

So let’s do a little time travelling. Our first stop on this journey is going to be a Saturday teatime in 1971. 5:30pm on January 2nd to be precise. This marked the start of Season 8 of Doctor Who with the first episode of Terror of the Autons. This is the story that introduced Jo Grant. It also introduced a young lad, about two weeks shy of his sixth birthday, to the world of Doctor Who.

Or at least that’s how I remember it. I certainly watched that story and I have no recollection of Liz Shaw, the Doctor’s previous assistant (they weren’t referred to as companions back then) but I can’t say with 100% certainty that this was the first episode of Who that I was ever exposed to. It’s definitely the one that hooked me though, that ignited the little flame that separates the casual viewer from the avid fan.

That flame was fanned into a fire a couple of years later. The exact time is lost in the mists of memory but the location remains clear in my mind: A Cub Scout hut in Horley, Surrey. I wasn’t a very outgoing child, I’d much rather stay indoors with a pile of comics than socialise with other kids. That’s probably why my parents sent me to Cubs in the first place. That shyness was also the reason my Dad would end up coming to cubs too, because at first I really hated it. He went by the name Baloo.

You’re probably picturing some sheltered only child but that’s a far cry from the truth. I have two brothers, one older and the other just over a year younger. The younger also went to Cubs, so I wasn’t going there alone. I think I just preferred my own company and certainly the things I enjoyed doing were solitary pursuits…which brings us back to that unknown time in that little hut.

It was a sponsored silence. For most children that age this required a real effort of will, a rowdy pack of Cubs can make a lot of noise. For me it required little will at all, give me a good book and this was pretty much my natural state. And a good book was exactly what I went in armed with thanks to my parents taking me and my brother shopping beforehand. That book was Doctor Who and the Zarbi by Bill Strutton, one of the first Target novelisations.

Having been exposed to the Doctor’s previous incarnations in the tenth anniversary story The Three Doctors the Target books allowed me to explore the show’s rich history. After the Third Doctor’s mostly contemporary earthbound adventures this was mind-blowing! Alien worlds were the norm not the exception, not to mention lavish (for the imagination is not hampered by a BBC budget) historical dramas.

These books played a big part in the development of many a Who fan including some now working on the show, particularly Mr Moffat and Mr Gatiss who have written introductions to the recent BBC reprints. Gatiss has even produced a BBC Radio 4 documentary about the books called “On the outside it looked like an old fashioned police box” which is well worth half an hour of any Who fans time.

But childhood must come to an end and eventually I moved away from Doctor Who. It happened slowly. I was 16 when Tom Baker left and while I would continue to watch the show until its cancellation in 1989 it wasn’t with the same fanatical fervour of old. It was no longer the end of the world if I missed an episode and gradually the missed episodes began to outnumber the watched.

So is this the end of our journey? It took a few years but a series of events conspired to draw me back to the show.

The BBC had started releasing selected stories on VHS while the show was still on air with the first release, Revenge of the Cybermen coming out in October 1983. But the releases were few and far between with most years seeing only three releases. Things would pick up in the Nineties but in early 1991 it’s fair to say that they weren’t even on my radar.

By this point I was working in a sales office, the usual 9 to 5 grind. It wasn’t what I wanted to do but I’d ended up there anyway. A job is a job after all. Until the company I worked for decided relocating to the Midlands made good financial sense. Then a job became a redundancy.

So one day in 1991, again the exact date is a mystery that only a real TARDIS could solve, found me in the Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street in London. I think I was in London looking for a job. I’d got the idea that working in a comic store would be more spiritually rewarding than another boring office job. I still had a deep love of comics and I figured I could put that passion to good use. That didn’t happen although I would end up working in retail.

Anyway I found myself looking at the video racks in Virgin and I stumbled across the Doctor Who section. Here at last were some of the stories I had only previously experienced in book form! I couldn’t resist. I picked up four cassettes that day, one for each of the first four Doctors. An Unearthly Child, The Seeds of Death, Spearhead from Space and The Ark in Space. The latter was a story I remembered fondly but the others were new. Best of all An Unearthly Child’s cover announced it was “The first ever televised Doctor Who adventure” something I’d never even experienced in book form, the novelisation having finally come out in 1981 by which time I’d moved on to more grownup books.

Like Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III, just when I thought I was out the Doctor pulled me back in. And in I’ve remained, through the false hope of the TV movie in 1996 to the eventual rebirth of the show in 2005.

Which brings us to now and to that future I spoke about at the beginning of this article. Who is 50 this year (I’m not far behind) and while most have been celebrating the buildup to that momentous anniversary I’ve decided to use it as a starting point. So on Saturday 23rd November 2013 at 5:15 I’ll be watching An Unearthly Child and I’ll be watching one episode every day from there on. At the end of each story I’ll be posting a review on Mine Was Taller. For the missing episodes I’ll either be using the Loose Cannon reconstructions or the BBC audio CDs with linking narration. Maybe both.

So that’s the plan for now. From there I may expand things to include some of the Who novels, comics and audio dramas but we’ll start with the TV episodes and see how we go. We’ve had false starts on here before but if there’s one thing that should keep me writing it’s writing about something I love and I love Doctor Who. I have since I was six and hopefully I’ll be able to bring some of that little boys sense of wonder to the reviews. I’ve got great-nephews now who are fans of the show and it’s nice to be able to share something that has lasted so long it’s transcended…well time and space I guess.

Feel free to join in. I think allowing ourselves 25 minutes or so out of every 24 hours to try and recapture that magical feeling that only the Doctor can provide is time well spent.

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