Doctor Who: A Memoir Of The Wilderness Years - Part 1 1989-1994 - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: A Memoir Of The Wilderness Years - Part 1 1989-1994

Many Doctor Who fans fall into two categories, those who originally discovered the 'Classic' series and those who came to the show since 2005, 'NuWho' if you will. But what if you become a Doctor Who fan during the Wilderness Years? Dominic Fellows is just that, and over the next three days he looks back on his formative Who-years.

This story begins in 1988. I have vague memories of running round the living room naked with a toy car, but the earliest thing I remember completely is when the Dalek Emperor’s casing opens to reveal Davros. Of course I have seen Remembrance of the Daleks many times since, but I still remember that feeling of mystery and excitement that you only get the very first time. Much like in a relationship, and this moment began a relationship that would span over two decades with more ups, downs, twists and turns along the way than the rockiest of marriages. But, discerning reader, before you roll your eyes and skip to the next chapter thinking ‘Another yarn about watching it after the Basil Brush show with tea and crumpets and making everyone be quiet because you were trying to record the sound and then years later rushing out to buy the target novel to relive that moment and then being disappointed when you saw it again on television, they’re lovely an all, but there’s a million of ‘em!’, rest assured this is not one of those tales. Because when I was a kid, we didn’t eat tea and crumpets, there was no Basil Brush, we didn’t have to make everyone quiet to record the sound and we certainly didn’t have target novelizations. Because I didn’t become a fan in the Sixties when it was new, nor during its golden age of the Seventies. I wasn’t even around to mourn its passing in the Eighties. Because I am a very rare breed of fan, the type of fan that got all their Who-related fixes from comics and old tapes. I became a fan in the Nineties.

When you are four years old, the Kandyman is genuinely terrifying, a treat you love that boiled you in strawberry fondant. When you are four years old the Nemesis statue is a ghostly presence, the screams of which you have never heard before. And when you are four years old a punk werewolf really will send you behind the sofa. And that was my first time. That was when I joined the legion of four year olds who had done the exact same thing from the Daleks twenty-five years earlier.  In my innocence I couldn’t possibly have known that this small act would dog me for the next twenty years. With the exception of a holiday in Majorca, I don’t recall anything of my life between broadcast of the final episode of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy and the first of Battlefield.

Though I do know we had moved from our home in Lichfield and out into the Fens of Lincolnshire. For those of you not aware, if the fens were being described to you and the phrase ‘out in the sticks’ got used, it was under sold. Imagine London. Then imagine about an hour from London is a city called Peterborough. Then imagine miles and miles of countryside at the end of which is a small town called Bourne. Three miles of more countryside out of Bourne is a tiny village called Morton surrounded by miles of fields. That’s where I grew up. Of course there were huge advantages to growing up in that area; houses were a lot cheaper. I was eighteen before I realised that four bedroom houses with down stairs toilet, dining room and separate double garage were not standard housing. Still the autumn rolls over and the whole family settles down to watch the opening episode of Battlefield. Even now whenever I see the derided viewing figures for Battlefield written down it fills me with a sense of pride to think ‘I was one of those three million’. And when you are five, Battlefield is amazing. Fourteen weeks go merrily by and I develop a fear of anyone with Green eyes, including my mother. I blame the cliff-hanger from part two of Survival for that. The following year it doesn’t return and being six I don’t even notice.

1990 – 1993
Between 1990 and 1993, Doctor Who is a distant memory to me, after all it had been off the screen for a whopping four years and I developed fuzzy memories of monsters in war time England and alien dogs scampering through pipes which I remember fondly from a bygone age, after all I was nine. So when Planet of the Daleks comes on in 1993 I’m ashamed to say I heard the announcer, got very excited and then instantly disappointed as the Pertwee titles rolled and my reaction was such;
‘Urgh! Old!’ Before promptly switching it off.

As far as I was concerned, Sylvester McCoy was the Doctor and all the others who pre-dated him were just poor imitations. But The Doctor would not let me go. Fans a good deal older than I am will remember the sting of Dimensions in Time. I would like to now offer up the somewhat controversial opinion that it’s not that bad. When it was publicised and no secret was made whatsoever about it being set on Albert Square we really should have realised it was not meant to be taken seriously. It was just all we had and not what we wanted, like when your partner buys you a shirt when you want a DVD. If you gave us Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant running around thwarting the Sycorax on Coronation Street now, it would be the funniest thing ever, and we would accept it as we have a regular series. And so Dimensions passed me by, pretty unremarkably, but then something truly magical happened.  In November 1993, 30 Years in the TARDIS was broadcast. But I did not dismiss this as ‘old’. I was captivated by it; it was everything you ever needed to know about the show in one, handy, hour-long chunk. There was life before McCoy! The Daleks had been around for years! The Doctor had had male companions! Silver Nemesis wasn’t the only Cyberman adventure! And I finally found out who this Davros guy was. I was interested again.

The Green Death was repeated in January ‘94 and I discarded my former reservations about ‘old Who’ in favour of an open mind, I would ignore the dated visuals and concentrate solely on the ideas, what was at its heart and not how it looked. I found myself warming to the show like never before.
One day a friend of mine, Matt was his name (SPOILER ALERT: He doesn’t turn out to be Matt Smith) was searching through his old tapes, some of them were as ancient as five years, and he comes across a true gem – Ghost Light.  Although I was accepting of the older material, there was still nothing that compared to the excitement of seeing an episode of my Doctor again. As part one played out all those memories came rushing back to me, the husks in the cellar thrilled me just as much as when I was five and as I waited in anticipation for the next episode… Nothing. Instead of the next gripping episode of Ghost Light, I got Bergerac. I was horrified and disappointed but then the fates aligned in the most unusual way, in a way that was in all likelihood responsible for the way I lived the rest of my life.

It was one of those rainy Sundays. One of those days spent at elderly relatives houses where tea and stale custard creams are served up for elevenses and ham baps with an inch-thick layer of margarine for lunch, which you avoided eating, not only because they were horrid, but because you were promised McDonalds on the way home (which we didn’t get as my Dad assumed we had eaten). Naturally, I insisted upon watching the final episode of The Green Death. It wasn’t the epic series finale that has become commonplace, but it was the best I had. But then something even better happened, an ident at the end of the episode advertising ‘A range of Doctor Who adventures now available from BBC Video’. Ghost Light was among them. I don’t recall if I dragged my parents out that weekend, that very weekend, or if I spent months saving up pocket money but either way I spent my hard earned £11.99 and that was my first ever official date with Doctor Who. And like all good dates, one is not enough. I wanted to see more, I especially wanted to see other Doctors.

Matt had The Robots of Death so that was the next one I lapped up, although I was put out to find that the cliff-hangers had been removed. I know it was common practice in the late Eighties to release programmes commercially in this way and with Doctor Who there was a logic to it as single stories had multiple episodes, but when you got ninety minute episodes of The Young Ones where the already loose plot periodically changed it really jarred your enjoyment. So like the most emphatic of all geeks I would shout at the television ‘NO! That’s wrong! The show’s famous for its cliff-hangers and you took them away you butchers!’ But then I was ten.

I wanted to have an even view of the series, so I committed to having at least one episode from each Doctor. I’d like to say my choices were based on received wisdom, but The Television Companion was yet to be published and I was yet to discover the joy of finding out of print copies of such fan bibles as The Programme Guide and The Terrestrial Index - the latter would become my preferred choice as the former was so out of date it only went as far as Logopolis. So my choice was made not on what I had heard but simply by what was in the shop. This lead to a somewhat unfortunate incident where the second Doctor Who adventure I ever owned and first Troughton episode I ever saw was The Dominators. It didn’t put me off Doctor Who, but it did put me off Troughton episodes for a time. I should have realised when I picked it up in BeWise for £6 - a bargain for a VHS tape in 1994. Although my faith was instantly re-affirmed when I came across Terror of the Zygons in Blockbuster Video (back when it was called Ritz), which was amazing as video rental places simply did not stock Doctor Who. EVER. I rented it, watched it, copied it and drew my cover for it felt tip. I don’t do that anymore. Now I print them off.

Christmas that year, I asked for and received The Claws of Axos, Kinda and The Rescue & The Romans. That year, I began a standing tradition, long before Russell T Davies did; Doctor Who at Christmas! Although where as now we get a one off episode, for me it was practically an all day marathon. Well Christmas is a time to spend with loved ones.

Kinda was the only one I had chosen not because it was there but based on received wisdom. And that wisdom had come from a very discernible source that I trusted implicitly. My Mother. I live in eternal envy of my mother as she is the only person I know who remembers watching the fourth episode of The Tenth Planet and The Power of the Daleks and yet, the episode she remembers most fondly is Kinda and it remains one of my favourites too. Boxing Day was not much different, as Matt had also been bitten by the bug and got Doctor Who tapes every Christmas so he would trundle over and another marathon would ensue, with Dragonfire and The Seeds of Doom. These days were not quite as successful as the notion of watching six complete adventures in one day, while possible is not as desirable as it sounds. The fact that we made it through Rescue, Axos and Dragonfire was shocking enough.

Tomorrow, there's a new Doctor, briefly, and Dominic continues his journey with the years 1995 to 1998.

Dominic Fellows is an actor and writer from Birmingham in the UK. He is also producer of the group Stripped Down Theatre (find them on Facebook). His shows have had more than one or two ‘geeky gags’ in them.

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