Exclusive extract from Paul Magrs’ Diary Of A Dr Who Addict – a fictionalised account of being a Doctor Who fan in the ’80s
Diary of a Dr Who Addict is kind of Adrian Mole for Doctor Who fans, but you can tell from the extract below that Paul has clearly drawn on his own experiences and memories. Here‘s the blurb: "It's the 1980's and David has just started secondary school. He's becoming a teenager, but still hanging onto the rituals of childhood, particularly his addiction to Doctor Who, sharing the books with his best friend and neighbour, Robert, and watching the TV show. But time moves relentlessly on, and Robert starts rejecting the Doctor in favour of girls, free weights and new music. Against a backdrop of Bowie, Breville toasters and trips to Blackpool, David acknowledges his own abilities and finds his place in the world."
And here’s the extract. Cue a wibbly wobbly screen effect as we travel back to 4 January 1982…
But everyone says that change is good.
Our new house is better than our old house. Mam says Brian will do his best to look after us, and be a new dad to me. Jacqui has moved in and that’s great, isn’t it? Having a new Nanna who lives with us, who likes some of the same things I do. Things are going to get better and better. This year I turn into a teenager, and that will be the biggest change yet. Mam says all of life will be different then. It is for everyone when you get to that age. You look at life through different eyes. I’m not sure I like the sound of that. But I think she’s probably right. Everyone around me at school is changing and growing up. That’s what they think.
The change I am thinking about today– this Tuesday early in the new year– is about the change in Doctors. And the start of the new season this evening. I’m thinking about the old Doctor, his body lying broken on the ground after his fatal fall from the top of a radio telescope. Having saved the universe again, at the end of last season, the Doctor sacrificed himself. We watched his life flash before his eyes, in the shape of all his old friends and enemies, and then his form started to shift and blur... It started to change... And all of a sudden he became the new Doctor. Young, unlined, bemused. Sitting up to confront his new life.
Now Robert and I are waiting for his first episode. Robert’s got special permission from his mam to watch the start of the new season around our house. We spend the afternoon trying to fill in the time, listening to records and flipping through back issues of Doctor Who Monthly.
This change of Doctors might not be a change for the better at all. We don’t know yet. But we sit all day Tuesday waiting. Things are moving on. Like they have to, apparently.
In the hour before The Show comes on, we finish our tea quickly. Then we’re experimenting with sound levels in my bedroom.
Mam made us a special tea, one of my favourites. She made it in honour of my having a guest around, and also because it’s a special day for us. We had potatoes baked in the oven till they’re almost black on the outside. Opened and scooped out and mashed with red cheese, and then put back and toasted and loads of baked beans poured on top. It was like she wanted to make us our favourite thing for the night of The Show.
I was hoping that she and Brian wouldn’t talk through The Show. The last time it was on – when they repeated some black-and-white classic episodes last summer – the two of them talked and it was hard not to tell them to shut up.
Upstairs Robert and I get the tape ready. I’ve got the Geoff Love version of the theme playing on my record player and Robert is pretending to be cool about it all. Being round at mine means he can’t make his own cassette recording of The Show tonight, but he shrugs like that hardly matters.
“Seeing it once is enough. I used to tape it and listen again and again last year and stuff, and the year before. But now I reckon just watching once is enough.” Yeah, I think, but he’ll probably be wanting to borrow my tapes pretty soon.
As we’re making preparations and talking about the New Doctor and everything, there’s a knock on my door and Jacqui’s popping her head in. “Hey guys,” she says, sounding impossibly exotic and American (I look to check that Robert is still impressed by my foreign new Nanna. He is, a bit! You can tell because he doesn’t say a word, the whole time she’s standing there.) “I got you these, specially for watching your show tonight.” She holds out a crumpled paper bag of sweets. Jelly Babies! “That’s what he eats, isn’t it? Your Doctor?”
I nod at her and she smiles, almost shyly back at us. I hand round the sugary babies and ask her if she’ll be watching with us.
“Uh, I guess so,” she says. “I’m pretty eager to, after the way you talk about it.”
Now the stakes are even higher. I hope it’s good tonight. If it’s not, I’ll feel like I’m letting Jacqui down, as well as feeling mortified in front of Robert. Why can’t I just watch The Show by myself? And check that it’s okay before I watch it with others – and have all the pleasure to myself first?
Jacqui goes and Robert says to me, “She’s not, like, your real Nanna or anything, is she?”
The tape recordings are dead important to me – even if they’re not to Robert Woolf.
We experiment to see how loud the sound has to be. The local news comes booming out of the portable, and onto the landing. We play snippets back on the tape. It has to be pretty loud.
I’ve even made cassette covers for the first few episodes. I’ve copied drawings from publicity stills in the Radio Times.
They’re good,” Mam said, when I showed her. “But... what if you don’t like the new episodes? What if you want to rub over the recordings afterwards?”
I looked at her. Don’t likethe new episodes? Rub over them?
To make tape recordings permanent you have to pop the little plastic things out of the corners of the cassettes. That’s what I’ll be doing with my tapes from The Show. I’ll have a whole collection for the new season.
We have to wait till the last minute and start recording upstairs just as the announcer comes on, saying what’s coming on next. Then we have to back away, making sure that the tiny spools are going round and everything is working. The telly is booming as we tiptoe backwards out of the room.
Then Robert and I dash down the stairs, me first, to the living room, where the same thing is playing on the big telly. Brian is sitting there, eating peaches drowned in Carnation milk. He looks up at us dashing in. Mam follows us down the hall, bringing a tray with mugs of tea. Jacqui is already in place, looking politely expectant.
There’s a pre-credits sequence! It’s going as we run into the room. We’re missing it! We’re not settled yet! I don’t even have to look at Robert to know that he’s as cross as I am at missing precious seconds of The Show. They are starting the new season with a pre-credits teaser. They are showing the regeneration again. There’s the old Doctor, lying almost dead in the grass, and surrounded by his young companions. Here’s the moment he says goodbye and starts to glow with that unearthly light...
“I don’t know,” Mam says, setting down the tray. “Telly blaring upstairs, all down the landing. The same thing on down here. It’s ridiculous! It’s playing upstairs with no one watching it! What a waste of electricity!”
“Ma-aa-aam!” I protest. Then I stop because I realise I’m sounding whiney, which I don’t want to do in front of Robert. The two of us are sitting on the floor between the telly and the settee. The adults are on the settee behind us, talking too much. Jacqui is in her place by her coffee table, watching with interest. I glance back now and then to see her frowning over her glasses in concentration.
“Why can’t you watch it upstairs?” Mam asks, right over the title sequence and music starting. I get that familiar gut-churning when I hear the music. And there’s the new Doctor’s face in the title sequence, forming out of the stars.
I’ve already explained to Mam what we’re hoping to do. Taping the soundtracks and making a collection. “It’s on upstairs for the tape, Mam,” I tell her, turning round briefly.
“Oh, yeah,” she says. “But what’s the good if you don’t see the pictures? You won’t be able to tell what’s going on...”
Which is sort of true in a way, but isn’t.
We drink the new episode in. We absorb every detail, and not even Mam and Brian chuntering on behind us can distract us now. We are storing up all the visuals and the story details and twists and turns and the expressions on the faces of our favourite characters... and we will play them back in our heads as we listen to the soundtrack again in the dark.
And the episode...?
It’s amazing! The Doctor’s got post-regeneration trauma. So he’s wandering about inside the labyrinthine corridors of the TARDIS, unravelling his old scarf and not quite sure who he’s meant to be. It seems so weird, seeing this different man in the old Doctor’s things. I love it when the Doctor’s mind drifts and he starts to think he’s his previous selves. He does impersonations of the earlier Doctors and refers to K9, Jamie and Vicki. I love all that stuff. Both Robert and I have read all the novelisations we could get our hands on, so we know all the people from the past he mentions. I wonder whether Jacqui has understood it all. It was maybe a bit complicated for someone new to it all.
“That was pretty good,” she nods. “Maybe I didn’t quite get allof it... I’m not an expert like you guys.”
And the Master is back! He had to be, after the end of the last season. In his black velvet outfit, abducting the Doctor’s companion Adric, and stringing him up in a huge spider’s web. Plotting further schemes to finish off the Time Lord. While the Doctor is at his most vulnerable, and recovering from the shock of changing his form, the Master sends the TARDIS spinning back through time to the beginning of the universe and the biggest explosion there’s ever been...
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Mam says. “It’s not very real, is it?”
That’s the end of the episode! The cliffhanger, with noxious hot steam starting to fill the interior of the console room. The music comes bursting on and Mam calls out: “So that’s the end of that! You’ll have to wait to find out what happens now!”
It takes a moment to disengage from the screen and the story. Mam’s getting Brian to pass her the remote. “Quick! Coronation Street is on!”
Robert and I are still thinking about the hydrogen in-rush, the Doctor’s new cricketing outfit and his disordered mind – and the way he mentioned Ice Warriors! Wouldn’t it be great if they came back? And we turn and run out of the room as swiftly as we came in. We want to check the tape came out OK. We want to run it back and listen again straight away.
“You keep that sound down!” Mam yells after us. “You’ll have them neighbours going mental at us!”
And now she’s turned to ITV, there are two channels playing full blast in our house. As we run up the stairs it’s suddenly really noisy round ours.