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The Official Doctor Who Fan Club: Volume One REVIEW

BOOK REVIEW Confessions of a teenage Who fan

“Without you, none of us would exist”, reads an approving quote on the back of this look back at the early days of Who fandom. Nice sentiments, but utter nonsense: the series’ following would have eventually got organised, one way or another. However, Keith Miller certainly played an important role. Back in January 1971 (five years before the formation of the now better-known Doctor Who Appreciation Society), a 13-year-old Miller took over control of the official Doctor Who Fan Club. This book covers his activities throughout the Jon Pertwee years; a planned second volume will discuss the Tom Baker era.

The title isn’t exactly redolent with promise, suggesting a book likely to be as absorbing as a history of the Belgian sock-making industry. Thankfully, this isn’t a dry, pedantic, self-important account, but a very sweet, personal look back at one man’s teenage years. There’s little in the way of chronology or statistics (we’re not even told how many members the club had), no minutes of committee meetings (since there was no committee – Keith was the fan club). Instead, the book takes a much more intimate approach. Miller squirreled away all his youthful correspondence with the Doctor Who production office, which is reproduced here in full, in facsimile form. Also included are reproductions of the first 21 issues of the ODWFC newsletter, in all their poorly typewritten, clumsily screenprinted glory, errors and all (who is this "Brigadear Leth-bridge", exactly?). Amongst the contents: reviews, original fiction, and accounts of classic Hartnell adventures which take some rather, er, imaginative digressions. It’s not exactly Sniffin’ Glue , to be honest… Still, for hardcore fans, seeing Who ’s first fanzine holds a certain archeological fascination.

The book is rather over-priced, especially for something that’s very obviously been self-published. You shouldn’t expect too many insights, either. There are a few gems, mind you, most notably the revelation that The Thick Of It ’s Peter Capaldi was also a huge Doctor Who fan, and made repeated attempts to oust Keith from his position. The cad! It also comes as rather a shock to see producer Barry Letts’s secretary casually explaining, in one letter, that the BBC routinely wipes old Doctor Who stories. Oh Keith, if only you’d offered to stow the tapes in your wardrobe...

What’s really fascinating is how different the relationship between the programme makers and their embryonic fandom was four decades ago. Not only is secretary Sarah Newman happy for a 13-year-old she's never met to take over running the show’s fan club (and to send out his newsletters via the BBC post room), but she’s willing to give out the home addresses of stars like William Hartnell and Roger Delgado. As the correspondence continues, Newman’s letters become increasingly chatty, with her calling Keith a “clever boy” and impressing upon him the importance of concentrating on his school work. There’s genuine affection here, and it’s really rather heartwarming. Three reports from Keith’s visits to the Who set strike the same note (in the first, Keith is accompanied by his mum, who puts on her posh “telephone voice” and takes quite a shine to the producer…). They're a world away from professional journalism, but blessed with a great deal of charm.

Indeed, that’s the word that best sums this book up: charm. Even readers born many years after 1971 will probably experience a stab of nostalgia. You are transported back to more innocent times: before forum flame wars; before fandom had been commodified. This was a time when you could write to the Doctor and know there was a decent chance of getting a letter back; a time when Who fans had to make their own entertainment (one of Keith’s innovations was a “lending library” of hand-made, one-off novellas of old stories, available to borrow one at a time). You may find yourself wondering if we weren’t better off back then. Well, for as long as it takes you to remember your shelves groaning with meticulously restored DVD releases, anyway…

Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman

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