Curse you, Hachette Partworks! Curse you all the way to the heart of a neutron star.
I swore I’d never become this sort of fan. And 36 years in, I can say with a vaguely desperate hand on heart that I’ve never been this sort of fan before. It’s taken Hachette, with its launch of The Complete History of Doctor Who to make me finally lose what scraps of tiny mind I had left. So, thanks for that.
The Complete History, as most of you will already know, is a partwork, a series of hardbacked books going into significant detail about two or three stories each from across the whole history of Doctor Who. You collect them up, you probably have to buy a new bookcase, they form a library of analytical articles on every story there’s ever been. You look at them there on your shelf and feel that glow in the pit of your stomach – the glow of the insane completist. That same glow that as we speak is making people who might be perfectly sane in the rest of their lives lose their minds because The Underwater Menace is finally out! No of course it doesn’t matter that The Underwater Menace is one of the worst stories ever committed to film – since it was recovered, it has represented a sudden, unendurable gap in the possessable Who universe, and a gap is a vacuum, and both nature and the Who fan abhor a vacuum like nothing else on the planet. So people will buy it, even though it sucks on almost every level, because it will restore that temporarily missing glow – everything will be all right again because the possessable collection will be complete once more.
But actually, the DVDs are an exception which proves the rule in Who fandom. They may well come shrink wrapped, but fans will have no problem breaking their seal and slipping them into their players. In this one area, the actual experience of the story is at least as important as the possession of the story.
Not so in most other areas, because of the shrink-wrapped insanity of fandom. You know what that is – it’s the idea that a thing that’s never been used is actually more valuable than one that’s been opened, looked at and enjoyed. The idea that pristine possession is actually more important on some level than the enjoyment of content.
To be fair, it’s not just Who-fans that have this form of insanity. Every fan of almost everything invests a kind of mystic significance to things that are ‘pristine’ – things that have never given the pleasure they were intended for. ‘Mint In Box’ and ‘Never Opened’ are among the treasured lines every ebay hunter longs to find.
Even Mr Spock understands that to open things ‘destroys their value.’
This obsession that the pristine is better than the even-slightly-used even makes its way into the real, non-geeky world. A brand new car loses hundreds, if not thousands of pounds or dollars of value the minute you drive it off the forecourt. To get extra creepy and sociological on you for just a moment, it’s even the same sort of logic that allowed men to tell women for thousands of years that their whole social and personal value would be ruined forever if they didn’t sufficiently protect their virginity – yes, I know, the concept of ‘Mint In Box’ and ‘Never Opened’ will never seem quite the same on the other side of this analogy, will they? Apologies for that – the point I guess is that geeks are not uniquely mad, we just take it to a whole new level.
But purge your mind of sociology if you can, and come with me back to my bookshelf. I took the ‘trial’ issue of The Complete History back when it was testing out its market, so when it launched properly, I got a few issues free. I never opened them, mostly because I didn’t have time to read them just then.
Now two more issues have turned up, and I’ve been charged for them.
Five issues is the start of a collection. You know that pull, don’t you? The pull that says ‘but I’ve got the start of the collection, I have to keep going now, or I’ll never have owned the whole thing, and that’ll just be pointless.’
I’ve never opened a single issue of The Complete History – but now, it’s only partly because I haven’t had time to read them. I’ve heard them variously described as ‘a sumptuously illustrated issue-by-issue encyclopaedia of on-screen Who,’ and ‘some old DWM features, tarted up a bit and stuck between hard covers.’ The point is, I’m in no position to weigh in, because on some fundamentally insane level, I now can’t bring myself to open the damned things!
Do I want to spend £9.99 a month on two issues of a partwork that I’m too paralysed with fear of depreciation to ever open? No, of course not, I’m not that insane. I’m not that kind of fan.
Except on some levels, I am. On some levels, we all are. I’ve got the start of a collection now, it feels like I’m committed to the whole damned thing. But I can’t open them up! Can’t pierce the shrink-wrapping because somehow that would devalue them – both in terms of resale value should I ever get rid of them, but more importantly because they’d no longer be an entirely unopened collection – whichever one I opened would be somehow less ‘valuable’ to me, even as I enjoyed its content.
I know I should just cancel the subscription now. I should take the plunge and open the books, and read them, and then get rid of them. Should stop the madness before it drags me into needing more bookshelves, along with the ones that contain my DVDs and my Big Finish CDs, and the gaps where the Big Chief figures I don’t own but could, one day, are.
I’m not sure I’m strong enough to break the thrall, to willingly, voluntarily stop a Direct Debit that will mean I opt out of a collection, and a Who collection at that – as though somehow that will prove not that I’m a 44 year-old man for god’s sake, but that somehow, I’m falling out of fan-love with Who, which isn’t in any way true. It’s almost like I feel the Doctor’s eyes looking at me, full of disappointment.
Can’t stop getting them, can’t open even one. That, my friends, is the shrink-wrapped madness of fandom.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk