Doctor Who's Guilty Pleasures
It does what it says on the tin. The things and people of Doctor Who that bring twisted shame and perverse delights to being a fan.
Dimensions in Time
3D charity frivolity, Dimensions in Time, was for many of us a hard watch in 1993, and was felt to be more of an kick in the milknuts insult than a celebration of 30 years. It seemed to distill every wisecrack made about the show as some kind of cheap, tatty panto revue full of dead-eyed acting and shambling monsters. With the 21st century incarnation of the show enjoying its revived status as a jewel in the BBC's crown and a cult hit in the States, Dimensions in Time can be enjoyed more as the show's mad woman in the attic, rather than another nail in the coffin of a series that we now know wasn't dead, but merely resting. Twelve minutes of pure camp sees Kate O'Mara chewing quotably ripe dialogue with panto relish ("Pickled in time, like gherkins in a jar!"), the bizarre spectacle of Mrs Richard Dawkins hiding in the Mitchell brothers' lockup and Mike Reid's classic line, "Well, I've seen 'em thrown aht of the Vic but, ah, never dragged in…"
And talking of mad women in the attic… If modern fandom is all geek chic, relaxed enough to be able to laugh at the show's adorable shortcomings and accept expressions of fan love in all their diversity with tolerance and gentle amusement (anyone for cosplay?), then for fandom of old there's Ian Levine. A living embodiment of its worst excesses and at its most self-important, Ian is mad, bad and dangerous to know. Just this month a website devoted three hours of podcasts to our funny uncle - car-crash listening of the first order - as yer man Levine (58) relived 30-year old playground spats with the ghosts of Who past (let it go, dude!) and threatened to unleash on the world a THIRTY MINUTE EDIT OF A FIX WITH SONTARANS. Yes, you read that last bit correctly.
Those Insane World Distributors Annuals
Back in the '70s and '80s, when BBC Enterprises was run from a static caravan in TV Centre's car park, World Distributors published a series of "Dr Who" annuals that were quite remarkable for their surreal, pointless short stories by nameless hacks barely on nodding terms with the show and its characters, a baffling obsession with Greek myths and legends, a relentless barrage of 'space facts' and, most strikingly, utterly bonkers artwork that haunted the reader's imagination long after the prose was forgotten. The Tom Baker-era annuals were particularly memorable for terrifying stylised art that was clearly the product of the acid-ravaged hallucinations of failed, prog-rock cover artists. There would be Mad Tom, balefully staring out of clusterfuck montages of Lovecraftian tentacled behemoths and Universal Horror monsters, while the comic strips compensated for a lack of decent publicity photos for reference, by copying stills from Things To Come, A Clockwork Orange and old Lon Chaney films. The stuff of nightmares.
K9 & Company
In the long wait between Logopolis and Castrovalva, any new Who was better than none, and on paper K9 & Company sounded like a dream come true – a Christmas special reuniting everyone's favourite freelance journalist with that shooty dog thing. What we got, of course, was a twee hybrid of Midsomer Murders (minus the murders), Scooby-Doo and Ever Decreasing Circles, as SJS uncovered a satanic cult in a village named after the lead singer of A-ha. It's remains memorable for all the wrong reasons, namely a title sequence featuring Elisabeth Sladen auditioning for a sanitary towel advert (She jogs! She drives a Mini Metro! She can type while pissed!), accompanied by a tinny slice of Casio keyboard electronica. And not forgetting a subplot concerning our heroine's repeated attempts to dodge Pip & Juno Baker's overtures to join their swinging club. Don't believe me? When Juno Baker booty-calls SJS ("Of course, my dear, don't feel pressed - just come if you feel like it.") you can virtually hear the clink of car keys in the fruit bowl, and before you can say, "Stop honking, Brendan," the voluptuous Juno is urging SJS to "knock back" some of their Rohypnol-laced fruit punch. "Not as innocuous at it seems," cautions Lily Gregson, who clearly has some previous in this department.
Fanwank is the guiltiest of guilty pleasures. There's hardly a fan who didn't go a little bit moist at the mention of Androzani Major in The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe. The term 'fanwank' is often used pejoratively, spat out when continuity references are hamfistedly shoehorned in for the masturbatory pleasure of a hardcore minority. But – like capitals and exclamation marks – it's most effective when used sparingly. RTD was pretty deft at sprinkling those fan-seducing references in the background, such as the inconspicuous, blink-and-you'll-miss-'em mentions in Series 1 to venom grubs (from the novelisation of The Web Planet), kronkburgers (from the DWM comic strip, The Iron Legion) and the planet Lucifer (from a New Adventure novel we can't remember). They don't detract from the narrative, but reward the faithful by reinforcing the feeling that the story belongs to a wider mythology across numerous media. But even that is guaranteed to wind up puritans with uptight views about 'canon' (this is A Good Thing). Prime practitioners of fanwank as a fine art include Tony Lee, whose graphic novel, The Forgotten, is a multiple fangasm, Gary Russell (a past master at 'tidying up' loose ends that possibly didn't need tidying up) and the late Craig Hinton, whose penultimate novel, The Quantum Archangel, is a continuity overload – in Who fiction terms, the equivalent of the most gloriously depraved sex imaginable.
The Bitter Tears Of Lawrence Miles
As with Levine, 'Mad Larry' is another ghost of Who past, occasionally impressing himself into Who's present via his intermittent blog entries. Those blogs set the forums ablaze during the RTD era, when he fired off some intentionally incendiary critiques of new episodes (and occasionally pulling them offline when the shit hit the fan forums). Lawrence Miles is a very clever man, probably, and while his critiques aren't without points of merit and critical acuity, what made them compulsive reading was how these flashes of insight were riddled with an overwhelming sense of bitterness and egotism – he once famously declared he could piss a better script than Blink in his sleep. He also blew up Gallifrey before RTD did, but he doesn't like to talk about it.
The TV Movie
Well, obviously. We wanted to love it, of course we did. Only yer actual bloody Doctor Who back on the tellybox. Who didn't feel a shiver of pride and excitement at the "He's back – and it's about time" promo slogan? Except it wasn't, not really. This was Doctor Who, a property as English and eccentric as spam fritters, smoothed of all its quirks. From the 'Come back Keff, all is forgiven' John Debney theme arrangement, and flat-as-a-pancake Vancouver standing in for San Francisco, to the Doctor and oddball, maverick, ballsy companion with a side order of will-they-won't-they, it resembled every other prime-time, generic, American franchise. As with the Children In Need caper, it can be safely enjoyed with hindsight like the memory of a one-night stand: it's not without its highlights. Most of these are down to McGann's breathless enthusiasm, and it's enjoyable in a brainless, Channel 5, TV movie sort of way. Thanks to Big Finish, of course, McGann has now been playing the Doctor on audio for longer than Tom Baker did on television.
Classic Who DVD Commentary Bingo
The DVD range is now winding down after many years of wallet-bothering. For us commentary junkies, we'll miss the moment Terrance Dicks reads a chapter from his beginners' guide to misogyny, when Katy Manning is possessed - Linda Blair-style - by a helium-filled baby, and Janet Fielding doing her bit for radical feminism by complaining about her hair, clothes and high heels. We'll also mourn the loss of Deborah Watling being fruitlessly prodded for reminiscence by a long-suffering moderator, or any number of veterans wheeling out the observation that, "Of course it was all different before you had CGI…"
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