Skaro 2.1, October 1981
Skaro had a longer history as a title than most Doctor Who fanzines, thanks in part to a reputation for strong writing which challenged ingrained fan orthodoxies, high production values, and adventurous marketing, being one of the first titles to be advertised in the classified columns of the Marvel UK monthlies (a valuable shop window for small presses and specialist comics/SFF retailers in the 1980s) as well appear as in shops like Forbidden Planet. The October 1981 issue is a little early for all this. It’s self-consciously a relaunch issue: fanzine production was competitive and so editor Simon Lydiard drew attention to the move from photocopying to lithography. The off-air stills from The Keeper of Traken in the centre pages seem odd now, but video recorders were still scarce, commercial video releases of old Doctor Who on a large scale still many years in the future, and the monochrome reproduction of the colour video-created merge of the features of Tremas and the Master surprisingly effective.
The tone and content of the articles is a reminder of how young and unworldly most early Doctor Who fanzine writers were, the praise for Genesis of the Daleks in the review of season twelve (1974/75) being qualified by disdain for the ‘crude commercialism’ the authors thought Terry Nation displayed in Destiny of the Daleks. The editorial line, though, is already emerging as robustly revisionist, critical of the obsession displayed by many members of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society (DWAS; then almost synonymous with Doctor Who fandom in Britain) with continuity (‘we got ourselves into a situation where we couldn’t see the wood for the trees’) and attempting to root assessment of the series in an awareness of production conditions. Season twelve’s shortcomings are presented as the result of a fight with budget cuts, an argument which I think would now not be considered sufficiently distinctive. Yet at this time fan research was in its infancy. Doctor Who Monthly was making more information about the programme’s past available to a wide audience, building on the work of the DWAS Reference Department, Cybermark Services (whose Adventure in Space and Time project was then in its early stages) and other fan projects. However, access to research materials was less adequate than it subsequently became and programme historians were more reliant on the memories of participants and viewers than they would become. Articles about the history of Doctor Who in fanzines of this period are as much fodder for students of media reception as they are anything else.
The item which put Skaro on the fanzine map, though, was probably the contribution in this issue by Robert Holmes. The leading article was editor Simon Lydiard’s reappraisal of Holmes’s The Deadly Assassin, widely disliked by fans in the wake of its broadcast largely for its portrayal of the Time Lords and the subject of a notorious review in the DWAS fanzine TARDIS by Jan Vincent-Rudzki, the society’s president. Fan conservatism was denounced, the need to keep the audience interested through innovation and excitement highlighted, and the visualization of the story by the writer and the director praised. Simon had sent a copy of the review to Robert Holmes before publication, leading to Holmes replying in the kind of detail that today’s Doctor Who creators, no longer the stewards of a cottage industry, would be unlikely to do outside channels thoroughly vetted by brand managers. Holmes’s idea of Gallifrey as a place ‘which produced quite a few galactic lunatics’ and on which the Doctor ‘was not too keen’ reminded the more devoted wing of his audience that there was more to the functional consistency of the ongoing fiction of Doctor Who than intense fidelity to the literal meaning of dialogue. When River Song told Amy and Rory ‘Rule One: the Doctor lies’ in ‘The Big Bang’ twenty-nine years later, the shade of Robert Holmes would have been smiling in agreement.