“How many Doctors have there been?”, “What caused Jon Pertwee to regenerate?”, “Where was Tegan from?” We all know the answers. But what happens if we are asked “What was Steven Taylor’s second story?”, “How many viewers watched “The Edge of Destruction”? How many episodes did Derek Martinus direct?” What! You don’t know? But you’re supposed to be a Doctor Who fan! Are you the dimwit of the Academy? I jest of course, but we are dealing with a common problem. We are expected to know everything. But we don’t. We can’t. Each of us has our own personal Matrix, a repository of our Whovian knowledge. But there are holes in it and this time we can’t blame the Valeyard! Let’s have a look at why…
When we were we born.
We all start with a given Doctor. Mine was Tom Baker. As a kid, how could I know anything about the Doctors who preceded him? I didn’t believe my best friend’s older brother, when he told me the Doctor had been played by another actor. So it blew my mind when I saw the cover of his 1974 Jon Pertwee annual. Who was this white-haired, elegantly dressed man, not a scarf to be seen? I was utterly intrigued. This is our first problem – all the televised Doctors before our time are a haze. We have gaps in our knowledge right from the outset.
Availability of reference material.
Back in the Seventies we didn’t have DVDs or the Internet. How on earth could we find out about Pertwee, Troughton and Hartnell? However one day in WH Smith’s I came across the “2nd Doctor Who Monster Book”! New pics, new Docs, new monsters leaping out of the page! I devoured it. But I was still hungry. I asked if I could take a peek at my friend’s older brother’s bookshelf. I saw something quite magical and I was eternally in his debt when he actually gave me his 1973 Radio Times Special! This was pure, rock-solid Whovian gold. It was a massive info-dump and yet I longed for more. Then I discovered the Target novels. Now I could find out about each of the stories one by one, the plot, the characters, everything! Finally in 1979 Dr Who Weekly started up and week after week I was drip fed Whovian history. Slowly but surely I was becoming a hardened Whovian. Yet there were still gaps in my knowledge…
At first black and white seemed so mysterious and exciting. I couldn’t believe it when I first saw the “Seeds of Death” because…. it was so slow. “Revenge of the Cybermen” let me down as well. “Even the colour ones are boring!” I despaired. Years later I caught a repeat of “The Time Meddler”. Yawn! Being turned off by these old stories stopped me from wanting to learn about the others, which would lead to permanent gaps in my knowledge. Old prejudices die hard, even though today our improved concentration span and sense of duty allow us to endure the dullest of episodes. Yet I can tell you nothing about “The Massacre”! I own the Target novel, but never have brought myself to read it, put off by my negative childhood experiences.
Another form of resentment exists, which doesn’t apply to me. It is “not accepting a Doctor”. I know a young fan who started watching Doctor Who with Matt Smith in “The Eleventh Hour”. On seeing Tennant for the first time, he exclaimed “He’s not the Doctor! Is this Doctor Who?” A wavering fan or let’s say a “semi-Whovian” might give up on Who, if an actor doesn’t appeal. The fan loses his interest and his Whovian education stops there and then.
“I am the Doctor!” – Overblown Whovian Egos.
In the early Eighties I believed I knew practically everything about Doctor Who. No-one could compete with me! I felt no need to learn. Then one fateful day, innocently browsing the latest Whovian offerings bestowed on me by WH Smiths I came across Nigel Robinson’s quiz book and my world fell apart. There were so many things I didn’t know! I now felt obliged to delve even deeper into Whovian lore, even read about the boring black and white ones. I realised I would probably never know everything, but I still considered myself the bee’s knees. None of my peers could compete with me. Decades later, another shock was to come. Podcasts! People my own age, talking knowledgeably about Doctor Who and they were actually being listened to! I now realised I was just one of the many hardcore fans. I felt less special, but at the same time less of a nerd and less ashamed about discovering more about our beloved show. Let’s look at this point a little closer…
Who was not always cool. Strange to say, but Whovian bashing was a popular pastime in the Eighties. We were an oddball, geeky group of males obsessing about a programme that the general pubic thought was in terminal decline. Post “The Five Doctors” not a lot of good things were said about Who. We were not able to show off our knowledge of Who to friends and family, for fear of being thought of as weirdos. Some might have even abandoned Who out of embarassment. However, in my case, potential public ridicule didn’t stop me from wanting to learn more about Who, but made the whole experience more intensely personal. It became a jealously guarded private pleasure.
Whether the non-existence of episodes wiped in the Seventies has led to a decrease in the sum of Whovian knowledge or not is debatable. True, we can no longer see many black and white stories, but the increased mythos surrounding them makes us hunger for more. We want what we cannot have. I was desperate to see “The Tomb of the Cybermen” and devastated that I couldn’t. I avidly read and reread the Target novel. I looked in awe at black and white drawings of Cybermen breaking free from their tomb. I wanted to know everything about that story. Today the situation has changed. Thanks to modern day animation of missing episodes, such as “The Invasion” and “Reign of Terror”, these now complete stories have become more accessible. Now they are easier to study and of course enjoy!
The Situation Today.
Nowadays, thanks to the Internet, a Whovian’s thirst for knowledge can easily be quenched. We can watch almost every episode online. We have reconstructions on YouTube. DVD extras provide us with a wealth of interviews featuring cast and crew from the last fifty years. Podcasts and episode commentaries tell us everything we need to know. The modern day Whovian is ten times as knowledgeable than his Seventies counterpart.
There is, however, a modern day gap in our knowledge. There are the things we are not supposed to know. A conspiracy mentality exists. Why did Pertwee and Eccleston really leave? Why the sudden departure of so many behind the scenes crew? Was Martha only ever intended to stay for one season? Official sources on Who, quite understandably, will never spill the beans. Only Twitter, Private Eye and Internet gossip can enlighten us to a degree.
In conclusion, the next time you are asked a Doctor Who question and you don’t know the answer, just pipe up “You can’t defrag the Matrix!” You will be met with a puzzled look, but with Whovian reputation intact. There are always going to be gaps in our knowledge. We can’t make them disappear. Doctor Who is constantly growing, changing and evolving. It is impossible to know everything. I wish I did though. I’d be placing a £100 bet on who’s going to be announced the Twelfth Doctor tomorrow!