Saturday, 11 June 2016

Adventures in History

I have been lucky enough to write for another Doctor Who Magazine special! Off the back of contributing to the special effects edition earlier in the year, I asked if I could help with any other upcoming specials and was asked to pitch for Adventures in History.

This is one of their big ‘bookazine’ specials, this time concentrating – as the title would suggest – on some of the Doctor’s adventures through Earth’s history. It came out this week, and I have been able to contribute three features – an episode guide for The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve; an accompanying interview with the story’s co-writer Donald Tosh; and a tiny little box-out feature to go with their piece on Gerry Davis, comparing the BBC’s 1964 Culloden with the Doctor Who story The Highlanders.

Many thanks again to the editor of the DWM specials, Marcus Hearn, for letting me contribute and smoothing out some of the bumps in my prose!

My recent work for DWM resulted in a rather special evening last Saturday, the 4th. I received an e-mail a few weeks ago from Tom Spilsbury, the editor of DWM proper, inviting me to a party they were having in London to celebrate the magazine’s 500th issue, which came out last month. I’ve done so little for them that I half-imagined I might have been invited due to some administrative error. I ummed and aahed about going, as I wouldn’t really know anybody there and might have felt like a bit of an interloper, and I’d have to get the late train back from London as I was working as usual on Sunday morning. But in the end I decided it would be a nice chance to perhaps meet some people whose work on DWM I have read and enjoyed for 20-odd years now, so I decided to give it a go.

And I am so glad that I did! I was nice to meet once again the magazine’s deputy editor, Peter Ware, who I met at the Adventure in Space and Time premiere back in November 2013 and is the reason I got to write for the magazine in the first place. It was very nice to meet Tom in person, too, and I very much enjoyed having a nice chat with former editor Gary Gillatt, who became editor shortly after I first started getting the magazine as a 10-year-old at the end of 1994. Gillatt is quite possibly the finest summariser of the experience of being a certain type of Doctor Who fan, with his editorials back in the cap capturing how it felt so well, with so many lines which stick with me to this day… “Doctor Who fans know who the Controller of BBC One is; normal people don’t, and don’t care…

I also chatted a bit with scriptwriter and novelist Paul Cornell, who I met 12 years ago back when the UEA hosted the National Student Television Awards, and he came along as a guest speaker for the event and I conducted the interview with him. Despite having only met him once, such a long time ago, he seemed quite happy to chat as if we knew each other rather better than we actually did. Also Alan Barnes – another former DWM editor who I’d interviewed down-the-line for my Sherlock Holmes documentary back in 2013 (he’s also the author of the book Sherlock Holmes on Screen).

There were several very nice people whose work I didn’t know or with whom I hadn’t communicated before, including many who were sickeningly much younger than me – I spent some of the evening chatting to the woman who edits the Doctor Who range for Penguin Books, who told me that she was 26. 26!! Bah… There were a few actors around, too – I was very pleased to get the chance to thank Sophie Aldred for her work on an era of Doctor Who which means so much to me, and had an amusing encounter with a cheery Daphne Ashbrook, who’d been collecting glasses and made a point of lining them up on the bar in front of me while I was waiting to be served. “I’m gonna put this one here… and this one here… and this one here…

I’d spotted that Steven Moffat, currently still the main man of Doctor Who, and Mark Gatiss, his collaborator on Sherlock and also a Doctor Who writer, were at the party, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk annoying them or embarrassing myself by trying to say hello. But at one point, as I was walking through to another part of the bar, I realised that Steven Moffat was standing right next to me, on his own, not speaking to anyone, so I decided to take the risk.

Hello,” said I. “You don’t know me at all, but I just wanted to say thank you for all of the great episodes of Doctor Who that you’ve written…”

I shook his hand, and I don’t recall exactly what he said but it was something along the lines of “thank you, you’re very kind.” I was rather thrilled!

I had a slightly longer conversation with Gatiss, shortly before I left and just as he was leaving. I thanked him for An Adventure in Space and Time, told him how I’d been in tears at the BFI premiere of it (“So was I!” he claimed) and told him a little bit about the feature on Donald Wilson I’ve hopefully got coming up in DWM at some point in the near future. He seemed quite interested, although I fear through nerves I ended up shaking his hand three times in quick succession, which probably made me seem a bit weird.

So I had a lovely time, met lots of lovely people and felt immensely proud and pleased to be even a tiny little part of the history of a magazine I have enjoyed so much down the years, and by extension an even tinier part of a programme I have always loved so dearly.

Plus, there was cake! So a fine evening all round!