Doctor Who: A Memoir Of The Wilderness Years - Part 3 1999-2003 - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: A Memoir Of The Wilderness Years - Part 3 1999-2003

Dominic Fellows completes the story of how he became a Doctor Who fan during the show's Wilderness Years.

Read part one here, and part two here.

The final year of the last millennium, and what does the human race instinctively do when a huge event commemorating the future come along? We celebrate the past. I don’t remember specifics, I just remember there being this general feel of nostalgia throughout the world. ITV showed every single James Bond movie (yes, Bond was added to my ever growing list of things of which I was a fan) there was a ‘Monty Python Night’ and I remember there being talk of Doctor Who repeats. This was more novel than exciting as I had seen most of them by now.

It was while holidaying in Florida again that I came across Virgin Megastore. Only this time, I had an NTSC video player. Like all fans, I have an instinct for finding anything with a Doctor Who logo on it. It doesn’t matter what shop in the world I go into, my instincts take over as I power-walk through, eliminating each isle as I go, coming to where I think they will be as my eyes immediately pick on what was then a diamond shape in red and yellow. I’m sure there was almost a full set there. I was emphatic that I wanted The War Games; my Dad was emphatic that I did not. A couple of months earlier I had paid twenty-five pounds for Terminus which had turned up in a massively over-sized jiffy bag that had clearly already been opened and certain contents removed. Absolutely no prizes for guessing what I should have had for Christmas that year, but we worked something out where I paid him back the allowance he gave me so I could have it in August. Anyway with that surprise ruined I did what doesn’t come around very often. I stood there in the shop, reading the synopsis of every episode and mentally cross referencing each one in relation to running time, when it was made, what others I had from that particular season and how much value for money I would get in relation to received wisdom, which I now had unlimited access to thanks to The Television Companion. The first choice was a no-brainer; An Unearthly Child. Yes, I had made it this far without ever seeing the very first broadcast episode. The second? The Deadly Assassin, another classic that had escaped me. Third? Enlightenment to complete The Black Guardian Trilogy and finally Shada - what is so irresistible about an un-broadcastable, incomplete story I will never know but I had to have it. I sat in the villa in Florida when everyone else went to a mall and watched all of them. And it was just like the good old days of ‘95 and passions were re-ignited. Having said that Christmas that year ended up being a bundle of Bond and Image of the Fendahl.

If 1999 had been a good year, then 2000 was even better. I met my first girlfriend, but something even more astonishing and unique happened. Not only was she aware of Doctor Who, but she actually quite liked it, owned a few books and could name all the Doctors in order. So what did we do on our first date? We watched Silver Nemesis. We had sort of bonded over this vague memory she had about a Sylvester McCoy episode where there was this statue and it screamed a lot which she thought was scary. Any fan worth their salt from that oh-so-brief description would know it was Silver Nemesis, and believe me it’s much better if you watch it at sixteen with a girl in your bedroom! This experience in fandom may be unique to me and although it may sound fantastic having a girlfriend that is accommodating it would come at a cost.

During the summer of that year I went to the Longleat event which was the first time I had ever met people from Doctor Who - Deborah Watling, Nicholas Courtney and Tom Baker.  Being my first time I got a little star struck and acted like an idiot. I’ve inadvertently insulted Colin Baker a few times down the years. I never meant to, I’m just very uncomfortable around people in general, when its people whom I admire I turn into a total wally. Tom Baker has clearly had to deal with this many times. We (Matt and another friend, Jim had come with me) had queued for an hour and when we finally got there he was about to take a break, but Gary Downie said he would let us through on account of us having turned up in costume. Not a hat and scarf combo mind, I wanted to be more original, but more on that another time. And so I meet Tom Baker who is naturally handing out Jelly Babies. Again, wanting to be original, I get in there first and offer him one of mine. He looks to the left at the massive pile of Jelly Babies and then to the right at his other pile of massive Jelly Babies. Then he looks at me and says ‘Yes I will, thank you’ and takes one. It’s going well so far.

I have him sign my vinyl copy of The Pescatons and then say ‘Would you sign this for my girlfriend’ handing him a copy of Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen. ‘Of course, what’s her name?’ This is where it goes a bit wrong. Her name is Welsh in origin, Rhiannedd, pronounced Ree-ann-eth. I make the assumption that if I say it he won’t know how to spell it. But explaining that to him would have been far too normal so instead I say ‘I don’t know’! Idiot fan boy alert. ‘What!?’ he says in that voice of his that is both an exclamation and a question ‘You don’t talk to her?’ I’m quite embarrassed now, but this is the moment when you realise that this is not the first time that someone has been this stupid to him, as Tom charitably says ‘you just call her daarling is that it?’ Yes Tom Baker, why not.

After the summer of that year I got very serious about acting and left the local school I was at in Bourne to go and study Drama in Melton Mowbray. Having been on film sets and performed on stage I now realise that actors are just people and there really is no need to behave in this idiotic fashion. It would be quite a few years yet before I learnt that.

The traditional Christmas slot was filled with a Cyber-theme that year, The Invasion, The Tenth Planet and Attack of the Cybermen. I remember being thoroughly confused by Attack in fact, I make a plea now, if anyone knows how that episode got through the censors with a ‘U’ certificate I would love to know. But dark times were ahead. After the whirlwind of ’99 – 2000, something was soon to give way.

We didn’t get a new series but we got the very best next thing. Paul McGann was to return to the role in four brand new audio adventures. I had never paid attention to Big Finish before, due to money mostly, but this really made me perk up and listen. This was as far as I was concerned a new series of Doctor Who that I could actually follow! I got my copy of Storm Warning at my very first convention in Coventry. I’m stood there at the hotel with Matt and Rhi in tow, naturally in full costume and I can sense that someone has crept up behind me. I have that nervous feeling you get when you know someone is in your personal space until I hear something familiar, terrifying and exciting ‘Why Doctor, what an unexpected pleasure’ it’s Antony Ainley. Nicholas Courtney was there so we met again, and Elisabeth Sladen. A group tinged with sadness now.

DVD was becoming very popular at this point and a few Doctor Who’s were available. I had resisted initially on account of A) not having a player and B) they had very little in the way of extras and I hadn’t developed into a picture snob yet so I was content with grainy VHS. Then Remembrance of the Daleks was released and I became a DVD addict. I found myself buying films I wasn’t even bothered about just to have them in this shiny new format.

If 2000 had been a summer of new discovery and amazement then the summer of 2001 was one of entropy and sadness. Rhi and I had only ever been able to see each other every other day of the week until that summer. And everyone knows what happens when a couple of seventeen years olds go from that to seeing each other every day. All I remember is that things seemed to end quite amicably and then went suddenly very bitter, and after a torrid house party I retreated to the only place I knew I would find comfort and watched The Sun Makers. It didn’t work; the good Doctor was not strong enough this time. To this day I still cannot watch The Sun Makers without wincing. Feeling alone, dejected and so damaged I was beyond the Doctor’s help, my next place of retreat was the stage. I threw myself into my college work completely; I’d stay behind or go in on Saturdays just to get away from my former life. I’d spent the summer working in a salad factory and so had a bit of money and bought Doctor Who wherever I saw it. It sounds great but I had all the good ones and I found that the ones I habitually picked up failed to excite me. This meant that this year, Christmas was Who-less.

2002 - 2003
I was eighteen and I was going to university. I had no real desire to go to university; I was just still reeling from the previous year and would have done anything to occupy my mind. Amazingly with little old episode left to discover and the audios sometimes proving pricey I turned to an area I hadn’t previously bothered with; the comics. Dad was driving me up and down the country looking at universities and whenever he did, he bought me a copy of DWM, a luxury usually reserved for Christmas and holidays. I started with Children of the Revolution and followed it avidly for the next three years.

During that summer something truly momentous happened. My brother was married on August 17th and in honour of being his best man, he presented me with a gift of The Web Planet and Doctor Who and the Silurians the only two available episodes I didn’t have and as I was buying them on demand this rendered my collection effectively complete. With this massive change in my life looming I felt very reflective. I had a conversation with a friend where I postulated that when you are a child all you want to do is grow up but as soon as you turn eighteen and you realise you are about to become an adult you develop this weird desire to re-discover everything from your childhood. Of course there is no mystery in this at all, you just simply don’t want to grow up and mask it badly underneath a fa├žade of irony.

As I began my time as a student I made a massive decision that would involve doing what I had never done before. I would watch every episode of Doctor Who in order from the start. I had done sequential viewings of adventures before, but never the complete series. I would have to plan this around visits home. Most people swap laundry, I swapped Doctor Who. I didn’t have audio versions of all the missing stories so some got skipped, but I made up for it by including what little Big Finish stories I had. Although I was at Uni and out partying and drinking for much of the time, I even met a new girl; it took me fourteen months to complete. I didn’t tend to watch it much on weekdays, but at weekends everyone tended to go back home and or stay in bed. On Sunday’s I could plough through as much as sixteen episodes. The most I ever did in one sitting was episodes 4 and 5 of The Deamons, Day of the Daleks, The Curse of Peladon and The Sea Devils.

Purely by coincidence I finished this mammoth journey in November 2003. It ended like it began, on a cold Sunday afternoon. I felt sure that this was an ending of some kind, I felt as if now I had seen it all and maybe my journey with the Doctor was over, but as always he found a way to draw me back. Shortly after the dust had settled on the 40th anniversary, it was announced. You all know what...

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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