“Theres no point of being grown up if you can’t act a little childish every now and then?”
I was born in 1963, a cold year that would lead to one of the coldest winters in recorded history. A landmark year for many reasons, Dr Martin Luther King gave his historic ‘I have a Dream’ speech, the world was shocked as President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on that fateful afternoon in late November, and a day later the first episode of iconic television show Doctor Who made its premiere.
Doctor Who has played a pretty important part in my life since I was a small child and I will in this article go into just why!
My first encounters with Doctor Who are pretty vivid even now over fifty years later. Sitting in my grandparents living room as the show came on and as soon as I heard that iconic signature theme tune, diving for cover behind the sofa and not coming out till the music played again as the show finished. It sounds cliched now but it was true, just the sound of the music was enough to send me reeling and hiding for cover, and not being able to see the screen and only hear the dialogue and sound effects only added to my hightened sense of fear as my imagination ran rampant.
I had seen a few episodes and it terrified me as a five year old, my grandparents unsure as to why I would be scared of a television show aimed at children. It was a sheer chance of fate that changed all this and began a literal life long obsession with science fiction and technology.
My grandmother Edna was a wonderful lady, born in Cardiff and raised in the north west of England, she was strong willed and nurturing like most grandmothers tend to be, but she loved her shows on television (which drove my grandfather mad at times) and the television was a constant companion in their household. Anyway my grans cousin, my aunt Mary was the manager of an amusement arcade in Wigan, the town I was born and grew up in. As well as the usual run of the mill things in the arcade such as one armed bandits, and pinball machines (no arcade games this was the late 1960’s), the arcade also featured several childrens rides, one of which was a Dalek taken from Doctor Who.
Every single time I was taken into town on trip shopping we had to walk past this arcade (located across from the now legendary Wigan market, a mecca and hub of community of Wigan for many decades) to catch the bus back to my grandparents home, and passed my favourite toy shop too. I would kick and scream and do anything in my power to avoid having my gran take me past the arcade, often bursting into tears.
Being a practical woman as always, my gran put up with this for many weeks, till finally one afternoon she had enough and grabbed me by the arm and thrust me, a terrified young child towards this strange creature that sat menacingly in the doorway. Don’t get me wrong this was tough love, but tough love done just out of love and frustration. I can remember very clearly my gran trying to calm me as she dragged me screaming into the arcade while my aunt watched and then lifting me bodily (no mean feat as my gran was a very wee framed woman) into the seat and slamming a coin into the hopper!
There is a moment in life that someone has an epiphany, a moment of clarity that is hard to quantify, but changes ones life forever. One second I am screaming like a banshee, fighting to get away from this mechanical creature, the next I was taciturn and excited! I was almost six years old at the time and this moment had a profound affect on me that is still present almost fifty years later.
Was my gran wrong to do this yes? Yes! Did it harm me, no! I have often thought how my life may have turned out if my gran had not gone down this road of action, would I have turned out a different person, most likely! But it did happen and I am forever in my grans debt!
So finding out that this childrens ride was little more than the cars or other rides I was used to sitting in, was one thing, but being able to control the plunger, weapons arm and even the eye stalk something else. This showed me that it was all smoke and mirrors and began my life long obsession with science fiction. I was hooked!
So when Doctor Who came on that Saturday evening I was no longer hiding behind the sofa but sat with my grandmother at her side, watching eagerly. It was a Patrick Troughton episode during the end of his run (The Seeds of Death, most likely episode five!) and after the show was over my gran was then bombarded with questions for what must have seemed like hours to her, poor woman!
That was that really. I didn’t miss a single episode of Doctor Who from then on till around 1984, and it became a staple part of my life. As I have already mentioned in my obituary to the late and great Stan Lee, I am dyslexic and couldn’t read or write, which had lead to many problems least of which was being bullied relentlessly. This though did change once I learned to read and soon I devoured every single Doctor Who novelisation from Target Books I could get my hands on (allowing me to relive the stories from the years I had missed out on during the Hartnell and Toughton eras of the show).
So life goes on, I leave primary school and junior school and make my way up to middle school! My only other sibling is born and I now spend more time with my parents than at my grandparents home (though still stayed every weekend for many years). I would pour through books and comics and among my prized possessions was my signed copy of the Radio Times Three Doctors special (signed by all three Doctors in Smiths of Wigan) which soon became battered and dog eared.
Now other things began to appear on my radar, peek of these being Star Trek which made its debut in 1969 here in the UK, three years after its debut in America. Trek and Who both seemed to become staple parts of my life from this age on and soon I was drawn deep into a spiders web of stories from the fictional universes forever!
My first introduction to colour television was via Doctor Who, albeit in a round about way. I sat eagerly in the sitting room to watch the show (the only time my parents allowed me to do so on the larger television) and watched in sadness as the third Doctor (played by the amazingly talented Jon Pertwee) underwent his regeneration in the final episode of The Green Death! I was saddened that Pertwee was leaving though this was not a new thing by now, and I had already seen Troughton regenerate into Pertwee previously, but it still hurt none the less.
It wasn’t till the shows end credits began to roll that I noticed through tear streaked eyes that I was watching the show in colour! My dad had bought our first colour television and I was so engrossed in the show itself that I hadn’t even noticed. Its small things like that which only add to my love of the show!
By the time I was thirteen I was gone, I was so far into science fiction that there was no coming back. I would use money given to me by an aunt in America who I had never met, to subscribe to Starlog magazine and each issue that arrived was months out of date by the time it arrived here in the UK. I began to collect the Doctor Who comics and magazine, as well as 2000AD and Marvel comics, using all my spare money from my paper routes to fund my love of reading. Starburst magazine was launched in the UK in 1977 which meant less reliance on waiting for Starlog to arrive.
By now I was heavily into roleplaying games and one of my first home grown attempts at creating a game was based on Doctor Who, which went down very well with the group of friends I played with at the time, something that would eventually be released a few years later by American games company FASA.
I was now writing fiction a lot and for anyone who is dyslexic will attest, using a pen and paper can be a nightmare. These first pieces of fiction were pretty mundane and bland looking back on them, but they had an element of dramatic and my teacher at the time was keen for me to push my boundaries and write more and more. I wrote a short story for a competition at school and came in second place, a shock but a proud moment that featured me being taken back in time with the Doctor in his TARDIS and convincing Edgar Wallace to re-write the ending of the classic 1933 King Kong, to allow the titular character to live and avoid his terrible fate at the guns of the biplanes.
This story really made my teachers pay attention as I went out of the normal bounds and presented something that I held dear and personal. In later years my former teacher would confide in me that she thought it was one of the most touching stories she had read in her many years as a teacher!
By now the world is filled with science fiction. Shows like UFO, Space 1999 and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century filled the airways, cashing in on the high wave of success of the juggernaut that was Star Wars in 1977. The first conventions had started taking place and people would dress up as characters from Doctor Who and Star Trek long before the current obsession with cosplay was even an idea in the UK.
I was lucky enough to live very close to Blackpool and would visit both the Doctor Who Exhibition and the Gerry Anderson Exhibition many, many times (far to many the staff would attest too) over the late seventies and into the eighties and on my many visits to the Who Exhibition over the course of two years or so, I was lucky enough to meet with many stars from the show, including all of the previous Doctors at some point either at the Exhibition or signings, right up to Colin Bakers Doctor! I also met many other actors and stuntmen, learned more about how the props were created and much more. But I was growing up or so I was told and soon things like relationships and work got in the way and I made less and less visits to this once great mecca for Who fans!
I got married for the first time and in 1986 my first daughter was born on November 22nd (just an hour and a half before the 23rd the anniversary of the shows debut back in 1963) and she needed a name of course. Only one name came to mind and the world welcomed Sara Jane Farrimond that evening (dropping the ‘H’ at the insistence of my ex wife) named after my favorite ever Doctor Who companion Sarah Jane Smith played by the much loved and missed Liz Sladen!
Years come and go and time is the eternal river that we find ourselves flowing down. I remarry my wife of twenty-eight years Laura, and have two more children (with a third arriving in 2015) and move from England back up to Edinburgh in Scotland! 2005 comes along and Doctor Who gets a reboot with New (NU?) Who and my entire family starts to watch. As a family we do our own thing most of the time, I have my interests and so does my wife, but one thing that we tend to do together more than anything else is sit and watch the latest episode of Doctor Who, rather than watching it alone.
I become heavily involved in the convention scene during the mid 90s and here I really had my brush with Who and science fiction. At many cons I would be running demonstration games for games companies and as such had a large amount of time on my hands often, especially at the three day events. It was often during these down times that I would chat with the other stall holders, guests and demonstrators at the shows and it was during one of these cons that I first met Mr Michael Sheard. Michael was a well loved actor who had taken to the convention circuit as his long career wound down and had played characters in Doctor Who, Hitler in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Admiral Ozzel in Empire Strikes Back. He was a lovely gent and I got to be on first name terms with him very quickly and spent many, many long hours chatting with him into the night as he reguiled myself and others with his many tales of his interesting life in film and television.
My fondest memory of Michael however was his opening of the now legendary Vampire LARP at Gencon, delivering his lines in his deadpan baritone voice as his former Grange Hill French teacher character Mr Bronson! When Michael asked the gathered crowed of sixty plus gamers to ‘Pay Attention’ you could have cut the air with a knife!
We come to present day and Doctor Who is a huge cultural phenomena now, watched by millions around the world, and highly loved. When the actor playing the Doctor announces that they are planning on stepping down from the role, the whole media machine seems to go into a feeding frenzy of speculation and rumours about who will take the mantle for the next generation seems to be all over the place and as the show celebrated its 55th birthday last week, it seems that current new Doctor and first female to take the part Jodie Whittikar is about to step away from the role after just one season. Again this could be just hearsay only time will tell.
I have been extremely lucky in some senses. I have managed to work on games based on both of my passions Judge Dredd and Doctor Who over the years, made friends with stars and fans alike and been entertained and excited by decades of excellent (and some not that excellent) storytelling. I have been given the honor and privilege of making dozens of new friends at conventions, some real characters in their own rights and I am extremely proud to be a small part of this wonderful world! Some cosplayers take things to the next level and totally immerse themselves in the characters that they portray, like my dear friend Des O’Gorman (pictured as 10th Doctor below) and it is these wonderful people that bring to life conventions!
All this stems back to a small frightened child and a wise woman at the end of her tether and gran I want to thank you from the very bottom of my heart.
As I opened with a quote from Tom Bakers debut I will also close with a quote from one of the best actors to play the character Christopher Ecclesston
“You Were Fantastic, And You Know What…So Was I!”
The Parting of the Ways
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