Why Who? The Influence of Doctor Who in Fiction, 16 July 2014
Posted by Matthew Kilburn
Work has led this blog to be neglected; but I spent the evening just past at an event which I thought I’d flag up here. It was the last book talk and signing to be hosted by Blackwells Charing Cross Road, as the Oxford-based bookshop chain prepared to migrate from London’s historic street of books; but as at least one attendee said, it felt like the beginning of something rather than the end. Why Who? The Influence of Doctor Who in Fiction placed Andy Miller, author of among other things The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Books Saved My Life, alongside multigeneric scribe Jenny (T.) Colgan, armed by Blackwells with copies of Doctor Who Dark Horizons and bringing along an extract from her Doctor Who e-novella Into the Nowhere. and Neil Perryman, one half of the legendary and beloved Neil and Sue of Adventures with the Wife in Space, the book of which has just been re-released in a new slightly more populist paperback edition. A combination of popularity and the fact that Blackwells close their Charing Cross Road branch on the date of this post – ‘tomorrow’, as I haven’t been to bed yet – led the event to be hosted in the Phoenix Artists Club at the corner of Phoenix Street and Charing Cross Road. I’d not been to the Phoenix before, and its black-walled cave-library-bar of an interior was highly appropriate for an event which had gathered together so many people involved in the book side of Doctor Who and their friends and admirers and critics.
There were issues raised by the material concerning audience: Andy Miller’s excised extract revived memories of Tom Baker’s presentership of Yorkshire Television’s ITV book series for children, The Book Tower. In children’s television in 1979, four deliberately placed sugars in one’s tea was the most determined statement of opposition to the establishment. Comparisons of Baker’s eventual successor, Timmy Mallet, to the last incumbent of 1963-1989 Doctor Who were not well received in one corner at least, but raised thoughts about what is acceptable to different audiences and how specialist readerships with privileged information will interpret material very differently to less committed audiences primed by exchanges of news and opinion which I’ll label mainstream for want of a more appropriate term.
Jenny Colgan, meanwhile emphasised that even in these days of tight deadlines and regulations in licensed Doctor Who fiction, there is still room for experimentation with the regular characters. The Clara of Into the Nowhere is a person who bears the scars of her experience of being scattered along the Doctor’s timeline much closer to the surface than the Clara we have seen on television after The Name of the Doctor so far, and on the strength of the extract read founds a wariness of her time with the Doctor upon it; someone who has died tens of times for the Doctor can’t be the Doctor’s innocent surrogate through whom he views the universe afresh, or so this Clara feels. Neil Perryman’s moment was autobiographical, the story of how he and Sue met, but given how his book is about how the fiction of Doctor Who is part of the framing material of their relationship, then this was relevant.
My abiding memory of the questions and semi-formal discussion afterwards is that they were dominated by discussion not of Doctor Who‘s influence on non-Doctor Who fiction, but of Target Books and the New Adventures. Andy Miller praised David Howe and Tim Neal’s The Target Book for exploring how the Doctor Who range survived at Target through a series of takeovers and amalgamations. There was much praise for the influence of Terrance Dicks, whose books Jenny Colgan always sought out first when growing up as a Target reader, and there was a lot of appreciation for the elegant economy and of his prose coupled with compressed characterisation. There were suggestions for ‘literary’ writers of the late twentieth century attendees and panellists would have liked to have seen write for Doctor Who, though none seemed to strike the right note with me.
Afterwards there was much lingering, book purchasing (with attendee Steve Berry’s Behind the Sofa a late addition to the Blackwells table) and chat and an impression that there were lots of people who had only communicated through the internet or had not seen each other since they stopped going to the Fitzroy Tavern (and there was much love expressed for Jenny Colgan’s Guardian piece on the Tavern for its alignment of the Doctor Who fan gatherings there with the pub’s literary London heritage). There was an appetite for more events in a similar vein, perhaps also extending to the legacy of Doctor Who Magazine; there are successful literary careers now where authors’ subjects and treatments owe as much to their experience and knowledge of Doctor Who on screen and in print as anything. Blackwells helped start digging the sub-surface tunnel, but a lot of Doctor Who‘s influence is still underground.
This is a late-night blog on an office day, which will close with the expression that the event provided a thoroughly enjoyable series of meetings with everyone I was introduced to or renewed acquaintance with there. My only regret is that I was quieter than I would have liked, dumbfounded perhaps by possibilities – though what does one say when one is introduced a few times as the man who guilelessly unearthed Peter Capaldi’s 1976 fanzine contributions? (‘I bet he really likes you’, someone said…)
Posted on 17 July 2014, in doctor who events and tagged andy miller, blackwells, book signings, doctor who, doctor who authors, doctor who books, doctor who events, doctor who non-fiction, doctor who novels, doctor who reviews, doctor who writers, jenny colgan, london book signings, neil perryman, phoenix artists' club, writing doctor who. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.