It’s funny, you know. So many Doctor Who fans of a certain age have vivid memories of their first episode, or the moment they felt they became a fan, or something else that they feel defines them in relation to the TV series they love. Seldom, however, was there a still image or moving footage taken at the moment these events occurred. As much as I wish it were the case, no one ever photographed me running away from the theme music issuing from the TV in the late 1970s, or followed me with a videocamera into my local newsagent when I bought DWM 119. It’s probably quite different today. Parents probably stick their kids in front of Genesis of the Daleks and eagerly film their each and every reaction.
Which is why, several years ago now, I stumbled upon something on YouTube that I found quite amazing. You see, back in 1988 there was a Doctor Who convention in Sydney called Console 88. It celebrated 25 years of the show and featured guests including Mark Strickson and Katy Manning. I was hitting around two years of fandom at this point in time (versus being a passive viewer), so the chance to attend a convention with members of my local fan group and meet actual people from the series was right in my wheelhouse. So that ‘something’ I found on YouTube? It was an odd, but charming, home movie of the weekend. Odd, in the sense that the screen shifts and warps all over the place, and background music obscures sections of the video where it would actually be really cool to hear what was being said. I note in the comments section someone has enquired, Any chance of a re upload without the music? and the video owner replies, I would be happy to upload the original – except your request was too bloody rude. Fans, eh?
Anyway, this is all very notable because around the 54:10 mark on this video… I appear. Briefly, but it’s definitely me. In a queue for autographs, the camera lingers for a time on Frazer Hawthorne, a member of my local fan group, and then pans along the line. That’s when you see me. It’s exciting because, aside from an image in my local fan group’s fanzine of a BBQ I attended in 1987, this video is the first tangible footage of me getting out there and being a fan. This is a fixed point in time, as our hero might say, where I can not only tell you that 13 year-old me was there at Sydney University, waiting in a hot, stuffy line for a scribble from Mark and Katy… but actually show you the proof.
Why is this important? Because I think it’s the case that we, as fans, like to know where we fit in. We like to know where we were… and where we weren’t. More of than in a minute. I think we like to take our fandom and wear it on our sleeve. These are our memories. The big conventions our Woodstocks. These are the moments of our lives that mattered and which we can still go back to in our memories, any time we like. I just need to close my eyes and even without the aid of the YouTube video, I can feel what it was like to be in that room. And I like to share Doctor Who memories like that with fans. I also like to hear other fan’s memories in return. We’re all stories in the end is probably one of the truest and most utterly profound things Nu-Who ever told us. We are.
But what was that about places we weren’t? In the research for this blog, I discovered two things. One, that there is next to no information online about Console 88. It came a whole five years before I got online in 1993 as a fairly early adopter, so there’s not even Usenet posts by fans about it. Two – and this one actually hurts a bit – is that I discovered some online text for Zerinza Volume One, which seems to be a compilation of the old Zerinza fanzines from back in the day. It actually had some mentions of Console 88 in it – but more in relation to a discussion of the next big convention in Australia a couple of years later called Whovention, than information about Console 88 itself.
This discussion spoke of what fun Whovention was – Nick Courtney was a guest, among others – and even mentions members of my local fan group by name, in addition to the names of fans I have come to know in more recent years. But where was I? Well folks, 15 year-old me was burned out on Doctor Who. After going at it like a mad ferret for years – even making my own fanzine at one stage – I’d hit a wall, the show had finished on TV (which I think really put me off my stride), and at school I was thinking more about girls and getting a good School Certificate mark than going into the city and celebrating the show. Who was this person? I look back now and I think, OK, I get the girls thing… but you could have still gone to Whovention, you idiot! It’s one of those weird Sliding Doors moments where Junior Burger me decided I was no longer a super-fan of the series, yet had that gone the other way, I would have met Nick Courtney (and a lot more where he came from as the 1990s rolled on), I would have met a lot of Sydney-based Doctor Who fans and podcasters two to three decades before I finally met them, and I would have a lot more Doctor Who fan memories up my sleeve than I actually have. It’s a genuine and real regret I have to this day.
I know that many Doctor Who fans have their own personal Wilderness Years, so I’m not exactly alone in this. Unfortunately for me, by the time the show returned properly in 2005, I was now 30 years old. I was really enjoying the show (and indeed, had devoured the TVM back in 1996 and the Eighth Doctor range of novels from 1997-2005 as well as being active on Usenet Doctor Who groups), but it wasn’t the same as the old days. There was no local club. No one to really share the magic with. I didn’t feel at all like the same person I was at 13, calling Kate Orman incessantly to write something for my fanzine. I had moved on… and I had missed some good stuff in the process. I am painfully sure of that.
In many ways, however, it’s this background in and out of fandom that finally led me to making The Doctor Who Show podcast. Initially a comic book podcast, then the world’s first Star Wars and Doctor Who mash-up podcast, Who Wars, before finally settling on the show people listen to today. It’s been my way to crawl back and re-connect into fandom in a way I feel personally comfortable with, and a way in which interests me as well. I’m forever fascinated with the stats of the show; seeing what countries are downloading us. Wondering why we’re big in Cyprus (“British expats…” a colleague once told me with a firm nod), and chuckling at how I used to get excited at selling a dozen or two dozen fanzines to local fans taking pity on me, and now I can talk to people all over the world in the thousands, who actually want to tune in!
The podcast also led me to a working relationship with my co-host, David Kitchen. David, or Dave as I tend to call him on the show, is younger than me but came up through fandom in a similar era, particularly in the early days of his fandom with encouragement from his father. He ended up going longer and harder into fandom than I ever did and, even as an adult, ran the Victorian Doctor Who fanclub in the show’s 50th anniversary year. I said earlier that I love hearing other people’s fan stories and when Dave and I recorded a one-off podcast called Fandom in the 80s, 90s and Beyond, I was blown away with some of his stories.
I write these words today as a 44 year old who is sometimes deeply, stupidly in love with Doctor Who and, other days, wondering if it will ever be time to pack it in. And certainly when the series takes a shift like Series 11 did and it’s clear I’m not in the target audience for it anymore, it does give me pause for thought. Sometimes. But the way I lost time in fandom particularly between 15 and 21 still pushes me on, I think. There’s a feeling that I still have something to give, even if I’m not organising a local group, or waiting in line for a $200 autograph at the next big pop culture convention. I think the podcast is it and Dave and I have developed such an easy rapport (“You are a Holmes-ian double act!” a listener once graciously referred to us), that I see that going on for quite some time. I also truly believe in the format of the series itself. A Time Lord, who can change appearance, and travel anywhere in time and space? The story possibilities are limited only the imagination of each new wave of writers that emerge.
This piece of writing morphed over the course of an evening from a kind of, Hey look, I’m in this wonky old video on YouTube, and became something bigger. And I’m OK with that. We have told personal stories before on the podcast, but maybe this writing will be of some interest for people who want to know more about me in relation to Doctor Who, or maybe even for people who have never even heard the podcast. The world is full of Doctor Who fans and if I’ve been able to reach out to a new one tonight, I’d be absolutely delighted. Why not drop a comment below?