Doctor Who: A Memoir Of The Wilderness Years - Part 2 1995-1998

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Dominic Fellows continues his journey into Who-fandom/obsession!


Read 1989 to 1994 here.

1995
I now had in my possession at least one title from each Doctor except Colin Baker. It wasn’t that I had an aversion to Colin Baker, there were just a lot less of them, and most of what was there was yet to be made available. And then something unthinkable happened. I went out of sequence. I heard about this particular story that not only involved Cybermen but also the death of a companion. This was when I discovered the joys of the ordering service. It turned out that although Ritz would only rent out Terror of the Zygons they would order videos in upon request. The tension was unbearable as the t-shirted gentleman behind the counter, disappeared into the back of the shop and returned with a hefty tome full of un-stocked merchandise. He thumbed through the pages as I grew more excitable then stopped and handed me the D-section. And there it was ‘Doctor Who – Earthshock £10.99’ weeks of pocket money, gone in an instant followed by an unbearable seven day long wait. My Dad finished early on Fridays and so I rushed home in anticipation. I still don’t know if he was just being absent minded or just teasing me, but the conversation when like this;
‘Dad, did you get my video?’
‘It’s in the car’
I went to the car. No tape.
‘Dad it’s not there’
‘It’s on the back seat’
Back to the car. Still no tape.
‘Dad I can’t find it’
‘It’s under the newspaper’
Back to the car and everything becomes clear. I can see an object poking out from underneath the news paper and on this object is an image. I didn’t see at first, but on a closer glance it was very clear to me. The very top of a Cyber-helmet. Eagerly I go to open the car door. It won’t open.
‘Dad! Give me the keys!’

The Andrew Skilleter artwork on the cover is breathtaking. I ran round to Matt’s, whose family were having fish and chips. Everyone in the village had fish and chips on a Friday because that’s what day the mobile fish and chip van came round. We settle down with our food and watched Earthshock, and it’s wonderful.

This however, does present me with a huge problem. I have two Davison titles, no Colin Baker and only one from the rest of them. ‘Oh well’ I think ‘Maybe if I just get two from every Doctor. That modest ambition lasted for a week.

Throughout 1995, I did whatever I could to get my hands on any episode I could. It didn’t matter where we went in the world, I would always drag my Dad into every video/library/junk/charity shop in an attempt to find Doctor Who at a good price. Not only that, but I would use any excuse I could to persuade my parents to put up the cash. Birthdays and Christmas were easy, but I was born in April so there were a whole seven months when I had to come up with other schemes. I got Planet of the Spiders as a get well treat for breaking my leg; I got The Ribos Operation in the summer if I agreed not to spend any money on holiday. I think the most extreme thing I ever did was allowing my Granddad to use my room when he came to visit provided I got The Androids of Tara as rent. I even remember being on holiday in Florida, checking the video stores, finding probably about four shelves worth and then being crushed to find out they wouldn’t work in the UK. It was when I went away for a week on a school trip to Whitby, and point blank refused to spend any money as I had seen one episode in WHSmiths bargain bin for a fiver. This could be understood if it had been Genesis of the Daleks, but the episode in question was The Twin Dilemma. This was the moment I accepted I was a fan.


Shortly before the summer of ‘95, Doctor Who would play another part in my personal development. My Dad was a teacher and would obtain all kinds of equipment ‘permanently on loan’ and this is how I got a camcorder. He also ran a youth theatre so I had access to costumes. You can see where this is going. Curiously enough, in our first ever, home-made Doctor Who epic I did not play the Doctor. Matt did. Matt was The Doctor in The Rescue. And why did we opt to do The Rescue? The logic was that in order to include the title sequence we would film one off the TV screen. We chose a Hartnell episode because they didn’t give the title actually on the title sequence, although this was totally scuppered when, such was BBC policy at the time, a massive screen-filling title card pops up immediately before it starts. And so it became known as The Rescue. More friends became interested over time and we made countless re-makes (in name only) of various episodes. I still have a set of six, three-hour tapes under my bed, and that just accounts for the stuff I kept. Our other friends weren’t fans and so they always wanted to do other things, and so we experimented with original stuff, which was frankly rubbish, but it did mean however that I now have a record of every terrible performance I have ever given and have been able to watch, re-watch and analyse myself for years. Welcome to another one of my all time passions – acting. This was also something I got hooked on. I know Toby Hadocke has already shared a similar tale with fandom, so my wonder is what exactly is it about Doctor Who that inspires people so? A doctor once told me that the creative part of my brain was hugely over-active whereas the number orientated part was, bluntly, not. Maybe there is just something about Doctor Who that inspires creativity, which would make sense as the ideas always far outstretched the resources of the show. And so I had become a fully fledged Doctor Who fan with a penchant for performance and a mate called Matt.

The Christmas marathon that year was The Hartnell Years, Logopolis, The King’s Demons and The Five Doctors – Special Edition. A special edition! New scenes! New special effects! New music! Is this what it would look like today? Although thoroughly exciting at the time, what I find somewhat amusing about The Five Doctors was when the 25th anniversary edition was released a few years ago it was packaged up with the special edition when more time had elapsed between the two than had initially between that and the broadcast version, making the special edition look equally dated and not so special. Still, Christmas day 1995 was one of the most unique, The First Doctor debuted, the Fourth departed, Kamelion arrived and the first five Doctors came together to take on Cybermen, Daleks and The Master. That’s what happened in Doctor Who when I watched it.


1996
January 1996 - Paul McGann is the Doctor! I had no idea who he was, but I was about to go through some truly emotional times. It was great that it was coming back, but the advent of Doctor Who – The Movie came with a price, literally in some cases. The BBC was deleting their back catalogue of Doctor Who videos. What the exact reason for this was I don’t know, but before long it would take more than a few weeks pocket money and some crazy schemes to get my hands on those lovely tapes. I bought The Tomb of the Cybermen at the first opportunity and watched it alone at night in my Granddad’s house with the lights off. Everyone says about Tomb that its discovery was a letdown as they had imagined something far grander. I was a twelve year old boy in 1996 seeing it for the first time and I still thought it was fantastic.

The Movie was nearly here but its arrival was tarnished. In May 1996 my Granddad on my father’s side passed away. The funeral was May 15th. For those of you who don’t know the significance of that date, it was the release of The Movie on video. Maybe it was grief making me retreat to a safe place or maybe I was still too young to fully understand but as the funeral had been in Birmingham, which had a much better HMV than Peterborough and never one to miss an opportunity (I’m feeling a little shame as I write this) I asked Dad to take me. And God bless him, he did. I can only assume it was something normal and helped him deal with the emotion of the day, but then my Dad has always been the sort of man to just get on with things. So we get there and behind the counter is a massive poster saying;

DOCTOR WHO – THE MOVIE AVAILABLE HERE MAY 15th 22nd

I’ve no desire to repeat myself so I’ll simply refer to an article I wrote on this just last year - here.

As it happened, they were selling off a bunch of old episodes quite cheaply, so I got Castrovalva instead. One thing they say about movies is the timing has to be right, and while the timing of The Movie was clearly wrong for the rest of the world, it was absolutely right for me, and the major reason for that was Paul McGann. Sylvester McCoy was my first and will always be my favourite, but having been present for his debut, I think of Paul McGann as ‘my’ Doctor just as much and indeed the 8th Doctor inspired me in a way that the others never did. So many of my home-made Doctor Who’s were inspired by The Movie. Two of them were direct remakes, and on the occasion where I played the Doctor myself, McGann is clearly the one I’m copying. It amazes me how many kids do this kind of thing now and today they can upload it to YouTube and share it with the world. Me and Matt did this years ago and the most we could hope for was that when we asked our parent s to watch they didn’t leave the room in sheer boredom.


Christmas that year was a double bill of Inferno and The Green Death, which became my two favourite Pertwee serials. I was also given an aluminium replica of The Movie Sonic Screwdriver, ordered from The Who Shop. I know you can’t buy this particular model anymore, so for all I know it could now be worth more than the thirty pound my parents paid for it, which in itself was a tad excessive for a metal stick.

1997
A solemn year. Not only was there no new series, but even merchandise was sparse. Only five titles were released on video and the back catalogue was becoming increasingly expensive, Matt paid seventeen pounds for The Two Doctors, and it got worse before it got better. It was also the twentieth anniversary of Star Wars and so with little Who, I had to get my ‘geek on’ elsewhere and Star Wars was there. That’s right; I cheated on Doctor Who with Star Wars. Star Wars was back in cinemas, new scenes, special effects and music had been added for the modern age (this would be taken to excess in later years, but at the stage it was welcome) and where was Doctor Who? A teasing video release every two months or so! This was not good enough, although it did make it very easy to keep up and buy the tapes as they appeared on the shelf which was very satisfying.

Every fan had the same Christmas that year; The E-Space Trilogy, although some probably got the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition either as well as or instead of. Matt Did.


One thing that did come out of 1997 was Destiny of The Doctors. Not the audio series of the same name, but CD ROM that featured brand new footage of Antony Ainley’s Master and, a few years ahead of Big Finish, newly recorded audio of all the surviving Doctors (bar McGann). Something I find rather sweet about this is when Ainley said at a convention it was his favourite contribution to the series, and why wouldn’t it be? It’s essentially a Master spin-off. If anyone from Big Finish is reading this, I’d like to note that the dialogue he has is so ambiguous it could easily be incorporated into proper story. Hint, hint.

1998
Not much better, exacerbated by the fact that I was now a cynical and somewhat sardonic fourteen year old that had discovered other shows and girls. And as a cynical and somewhat sardonic fourteen year old can you guess who my new hero became? Edmund Blackadder! I became obsessed and devoured the entire series in months. Note that, months. The reason no series has ever been able to captivate me in the same way as Doctor Who is right there. Blackadder was repeated and within months it was all over and that was that. Doctor Who was rarely repeated, and when it was you would never get a whole series, I had seen plenty by this point but many still escaped me. There’s a strong argument there that much of its appeal is in its sheer longevity.


January 1998 was the first time I saw Timelash. Received wisdom had told me it was appalling, even Colin Baker didn’t champion it much on The Colin Baker Years so I went in with understandably low expectation. But the honest truth is I love Timelash. It’s like an unashamed flaw that your partner has that everyone else intensely dislikes but you forgive it completely because it is part of who they are, and Timelash is Doctor Who at its campest, silliest, cheapest and most melodramatic. ALL Doctor Who is guilty of at least one of these; Timelash just hits all the buttons in one go. Not an original observation; but an appropriate one. So if you forget that Timelash is an official episode of the Doctor Who canon and pretend it’s a tongue-in-cheek spoof version, it’s one of the most entertaining ninety minutes you can spend and although it was not received well at the time, twelve years later it would mean the world to this fifteen year old who couldn’t do his maths homework.

At this point in our relationship, it was becoming very difficult. I had long since seen Genesis of the Daleks so getting it that Christmas was not as exciting as it used to be and on top of that I was older, and aware of the cost of things and knowing that this thing had forty-five pounds spent on it stung a little. It wasn’t that I didn’t want it, of course I did, but this was way over the limit.

Tomorrow Dominic completes his journey through the Wilderness Years with the arrival of Big Finish and DVD, alongside DWM and its comic strips.

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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