Blue Box Boy, by Matthew Waterhouse
I’ve just finished reading Matthew Waterhouse’s memoir of his Doctor Who experiences, Blue Box Boy. It’s a mixed bag, probably most candid and self-critical when dealing with the author’s childhood and adolescence, which is depicted as Doctor Who-obsessed to a degree which disturbs even this author. Despite Waterhouse being eight years older than me, there are many parallels, though I’d never have bought box after box of Weetabix and buried the cereal itself in leaf mould while searching for the elusive Sarah Jane Smith card in the box itself. His discovery of copies of Eagle and TV 21 abandoned by older siblings reminds me of an article in the Look-in Television Annual published in 1976, which left me in no doubt that I should have been born a decade earlier to enjoy TV 21 as it was published, though now I know that several Look-in staffers had worked on the earlier title and regarded it with affection.
The core of the book is Waterhouse’s period as an actor on Doctor Who, plucked from a post-school stint in one of the BBC’s cuttings libraries. Throughout, the reader is left conscious of how marginal Doctor Who was as an acting job in the early 1980s. Sarah Sutton’s encounter with a former dance school friend who has joined Top of the Pops‘s Legs & Co. lodges in the memory. Additionally, Matthew’s fanhood haunts him through the book, as Doctor Who personnel are baffled and horrified by its rising fandom. Paul Darrow makes several appearances, as Waterhouse remembers him often lunching with the Doctor Who companions when Doctor Who season nineteen and Blake’s 7 series D. Plunged into the wash of the new series when invited to take part in DVD commentaries and convention signings, Waterhouse’s final chapter finds him in the draughty halls of Milton Keynes, with Lalla Ward, Sarah Sutton and himself stabbing their marker pens into desks as long queues of new series fans wait to meet latterday Dalek operator Barnaby Edwards. In the meantime convention money has allowed Matthew to discover America, or at least sleep on the streets of New York at night, meeting Benny Goodman in a bar and fobbing off muggers with change rather than hand over his convention earnings.
Two decades after he joined Doctor Who, Waterhouse has few recriminations to make and is philosophical about his career, though this is not to say he is not occasionally catty, particularly about fans (who are often depicted in wild generalizations which nevertheless are possessed of some truth) and about BBC staffers of what’s now a long-vanished age. He often chooses to describe his own feelings – as every reviewer has noted, in the third person – and leaves wider contextualization to the reader, depending on their own experience. This is part of what detaches private memoir from public autobiography: the personal as impacting on the personal, the author caught in events as much as or more than they shape them. Perhaps more than anything this is book is for anyone who, as Matthew Waterhouse says with characteristic self-deprecation, has spent too much time living in their own head.