You kneel hunched in front of the dining room chair. Sitting on its seat is a cassette recorder: squat as a cat: chunky, black, a long thin tail of microphone lead. Forcing the record and play buttons down together – you speak,
“Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen”
“by Terrance Dicks”.
The book is from the library – a Target paperback bound into hardcover, an odd sheen to the cover makes it gleam under the lamp light.
You’ve had the book before. There are a dozen date stamps on the lending sheet glued into the front page. Three come from your borrowing. And now you have fourteen days. Fourteen days. And in those fourteen days you will read the book aloud, recording it onto C90 tapes.
Then you can have it whenever you want.
You turn up the sound. The television is boxy, small – a blue portable that heats up (eventually catches fire, but not yet – that’s years away). The reception is poor: a slight crackle, a hiss, the picture occasionally strobes. You carefully position the cassette recorder next to the speaker and press pause then force down the record and play buttons.
“And now on BBC 1 a new adventure for Doctor Who”
Pause depressed. The recorder whirrs and you lean towards the microphone as the music sounds,
“Attack of the Cybermen.”
And once it’s done you can listen to it whenever you want.
The book section.
You don’t like the neon logo. The best books have the old logo: Doctor: embedded in the curve; Who: large type. But it’s Cybermen. You’ve never seen the Cybermen. You know about them of course. The Making of Doctor Who by Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke told you all about them. But here: two Cybermen standing against a starfield background. It’s not their first story. And it’s not the name of any of the shows.
Doctor Who and the Cybermen?
It’ll be the second Doctor. You love the second Doctor. And Jamie. He’s Scottish. How fantastic that he has a companion that’s Scottish. But the kilt? No. Not the kilt.
Anyway, Doctor Who and the Cybermen by Gerry Davis.
They don’t have it at the library.
You speak to mum: “Is it okay?”s and “Can I?”s.
You come out with that and Doctor Who and the Daemons in a small bag.
It’s Children in Need night. After much persuasion your parents let you stay up to watch it. Five Doctors. Well, three Doctors. And a stand-in. And clips from the fourth. And a clip of the first. He looks younger than from the cover of Doctor Who and the Daleks.
It’s a bit like Carnival of Monsters. That has a great cover – a dinosaur attacking a sailing ship. Fantastic.
Your teacher hands the story back.
“Well, I’m not sure.”
You’ve covered the exercise book – drawn your own cover. The word “Doctor” appears in an arc; Who beneath in large writing.
It has monsters. Daleks. Cybermen. Fighting at last. They’ll never do that on the television or in the Target books. Never. And there are Ogrons, and the Master, and Silurians, and Draconians, and Yeti. The Great Intelligence has taken the Doctors into a miniscope, like Carnival of Monsters. He’s captured the TARDIS. And as each Doctor escapes he has to fight all of the monsters – but sometimes they fight each other and it’s so exciting. So exciting.
Your mum had said not to hand it in.
Your teacher stands there.
“It’s busy. Too busy.”
You’d given him the money for the book. The Time Monster. Pertwee and Delgado.
He brings it to you in the playground when you’re with everyone. Pulls it out of his bag ostentatiously. Flings it to you.
Gary starts to laugh. And Allan.
You tidy it away into your bag.
And it’s about time.
You and your flatmate sit down to watch the first new Doctor Who in seven years. You checked the video recorder was working, but the tape still misses the first minute or so.
You’re both a bit embarrassed by the start. Doesn’t really sound like the Daleks.
And there’s McCoy – you’d given up not long after he started: Time and the Rani was dire. But he’s not bad here. And then.
Gone. On the operating table.
Who’d have thought the monocled mutineer would play the Doctor.
It passes the time – but a bit too American.
Your first flat.
Your first video recorder.
And so you go to Virgin, into the TV shows section and there are two Troughton stories: The Mind Robber; and The Krotons. You’ve read both of course. The Mind Robber was pretty good. And by the man that wrote Crossroads.
You smile as you remember Glenda Brownlow’s eighteen month pregnancy, and go to the checkout.
That afternoon you watch the TARDIS explode, Jamie lose his face, and the most perfect little story. So much better than the Davison and Bakers and McCoys you’d watched years ago.
You were right when you were first reading the books. Troughton is the best.
You are in Waterstones in Glasgow. Months since you thought of Doctor Who. Working your way through the fiction you reach Paul Magrs’ books. He’s great. Magical realism in northern England. And there sitting with his books is a Doctor Who novel: The Scarlet Empress, with a little comment from Magrs on reading the Target books when he was young. You have to buy it then, don’t you? For your seven and eight year old self.
And when you finish this Arabian Nights style tale you put it down and smile.
And you’re eight again.
You check the e-mail again. Galaxy 4 can get you copies of the Faction paradox novels. Great. Lawrence Miles’s novels are completely unlike any others. Him and Paul Magrs. Their books tend to follow each other – but their styles are so different. Just like the series at its best – a multiplicity of styles and a multiplicity of stories. And Miles has set up his own spin off series with an American publisher. You like the sound of Lance Parkin’s new one. Warlords of Utopia.
Your wife looks a bit surprised as you unpack the boxes.
“How many Doctor Who books?”
“more than the videos.”
“I’m not joking.”
Shelves full of BBC books, Target novels, Virgin New Adventures, and Past Doctor Adventures.
And a box full of videos. Every era. McCoy’s not as bad as you remember, but Troughton’s still the standout. Apparently they’ve found Tomb of the Cybermen – but you’ve not got it yet. That was a great book – but the cover looked wrong. The Cyberman seemed to come from Revenge. But maybe it was the Controller.
Your wife’s dad’s bought you both a DVD player. You know what you’ll buy.
The Five Doctors is out.
But when you watch it, it’s not what you remember. There’s no black triangle. Odd.
It’s still like Carnival of Monsters, though.
Your son is 20 months old. Your wife nine months pregnant. And Doctor Who is back. With a proper actor. Chris Eccleston. You’ve loved him since Our Friends in the North.
Your wife clutches her stomach, groans.
“I think it’s started.”
“Well, it can wait for 45 minutes.”
Your first daughter is born later that week, the day Chris Eccleston’s resignation is made public.
You post on a forum that you’re not going to call her Chris. As a protest. Someone takes it seriously.
My son is off school sick. He has watched the whole of series 3 and series 4 in the past 3 days. And tonight, like every night, I am reading to him.
And tonight is special.
“And the Abominable Snowmen. By Terrance Dicks.”