(Of the various "fandom and me" posts, this is a twofer.)
When I was a kid, we didn't get Doctor Who
on television in my area. Well, we had;
I remember seeing an episode of The Invisible Enemy
when I was little. It gave me nightmares as was its function. But then we didn't. So I got to know Doctor Who through the Target novelisations.
Being in the States, I early on read one of the Pinnacle imports with the Harlan Ellison introduction to Doctor Who for American readers. (I was going to say it was the first one I read, and that it was Terror of the Autons
, but as apparently that was not one of the Pinnacle editions, I will just say that my memory is confused. It's plausible that I read the introduction in one volume and then the story in another first.) I don't remember if I had already read, "Repent, Harlequin, Said the Ticktockman," at that point, but I suppose not. I had heard of Ellison, though, because I had a reprint of an Incredible Hulk story that he co-wrote with Roy Thomas.
Anyway, Ellison decided the way to sell Americans on Doctor Who was to make it out to be far better than the sci-fi we knew. So Star Wars was, in his characterization, mere adolescent space fantasy, and Star Trek would turn your brains to bat guano. Wait, here's a quote:
They could not have been more offended, confused, enraged and
startled.[...] But I stood my ground, there
on the lecture platform at the World Science Fiction Convention, and I
repeated the heretical words that had sent them into animal hysterics:
"_Star Wars_ is adolescent nonsense; _Close Encounters_ is
obscurist drivel; _Star Trek_ can turn your brains into puree of bat
guano; and the greatest science fiction series of all time is _Doctor
Who_! And I'll take you all on, one-by-one or all in a bunch to back it
I envy you your first exposure to this amazing conceit. And I wish
you the same delight I felt when Michael Moorcock, the finest fantasist
in the English-speaking world, sat me down in front of his set in
London, turned on the telly, and said, "Now be quiet and just watch."
That was in 1975. And I've been hooked on "Doctor Who" ever since.
Understand: I despise television (having written it for sixteen years)
and I spend much of my time urging people to bash in their picture tubes
with Louisville Sluggers, to free themselves of the monster of coaxial
cable. And so, you must perceive that I speak of something utterly
extraordinary and marvelous when I suggest you watch the "Doctor Who"
series in whatever syndicated slot your local station has scheduled it.
You must recognize that I risk all credibility for furture exhortations
by telling you *this* TV viewing will not harm you...will, in fact,
delight and uplift you, stretch your imagination, tickle your
risibilities, flense your intellect of all lesser visual sf
affectations, improve your disposition and clean up your zits. What I'm
saying here, case you're a *yotz* who needs things codified simply and
directly, is that "Doctor Who" is the apex, the pinnacle, the tops, the
Louvre Museum, the tops, the Colisuem, and other etcetera.
is puffery, yes? He even drags poor Michael Moorcock into it!
Anyway, I was a Star Wars fan (I'm of that generation; we all were), and a little offended; not yet a Trek fan for a couple of years, and willing to accept that characterization; and possibly too gullible for my own good. I devoured what volumes I could borrow from my uncle the Whoie (That's "hooey" as in Whovian, not "hwoy"), and ended up quite the fan of that series, and of Terrance Dicks, who wrote a bunch of them. So I was, for a big chunk of my youth, the Whoie who had barely seen Who.
As for Harlan Ellison, at some point I read and liked "Repent, Harlequin, Said the Ticktockman." So I went on a serious Ellison kick as a teenager. I enjoyed his non-fiction: there he seemed witty and likable; that drew me to him. Some of his fiction had a tender melancholy. Some of it, however...
I wish I had read "A Boy and His Dog" first so I knew to run screaming in the other direction. But no!!! I read so much stuff of his. At first I thought he was a science fiction writer, but he wrote a lot of weird horror, which was not a genre I was looking for at that age. The brain scars, the scars!
One thing about that Ellison kick is that I recognized his influence in Babylon Five.
Or when I heard he consulted, I could see the influence. His influence is strong in Joe Straczynski's Midnight Nation,
too. I let the Ellison (and the Ellison in Joe's work) get in my head too long I think.
At this age, I've gone to an active irritation at Harlan. Even his non-fiction raises my eyebrows. I now believe his journalistic integrity is non-existent; I think he just makes stuff up. Harlan Ellison is a depraved punk.
Anyway, back in high school, I met a girl from Lancs, and not knowing much about Britain, i said I was a fan of Doctor Who. She thought it was awful that I was a fan of a show like that.
And she was right! It was a low-budget, very silly show before; but in the 1980's, Doctor Who was definitely, incredibly
dire. But I wasn't a fan of the show, but of its (previous eras') derivative product--the novelisations, and original comics, and, well, what fandom make of it.
I'm not the first to make this formulation: Doctor Who is not really that great a show, but it becomes something in the fandom because of how much people invest in it. That was true before Russell Davies, and it's true now.
But girl-from-Lancs was right, and I had to admit it was childish stuff. Eventually my Whoie uncle (who was by marriage anyway) left my aunt, and my connection to Who was more or less gone. I heard about the TV-movie but didn't see it.
I later heard about Chris Eccleston being in a revival--after his season was over--and at some point I started reading a small amount of stuff online about the new Who. (Specifically, I believe I read a review on Television Without Pity of the episode that Tony Head was in. And not much else. I don't think I even knew what Billie Piper looked like, or her name.)
But one day, I was flipping past my local public TV station, and came upon something I didn't recognize, watched a bit of it, thought, "This sure resembles a Doctor Who story; could this be the revival?" And it was "Rose," with Rose running into some Autons before she met the Doctor.
And I was back in. My local PBS station only ever bought the Rose episodes, and not even the Christmas special! I joke that they're batchippers. But that was still kind of fun.
I long ago forgot how Ellison's introduction continued:
They are not classics, make no mistake. They can never touch the
illuminative level of Dickens or Mark Twain or Kafka. But they are solid
entertainment based on an understanding of Good and Evil in the world.
They say to us, "You, too, can be Doctor Who. You, like the Doctor, can
stand up for that which is bright and bold and true. You can shape the
world, if you'll only go and try."
So at this point, I'm sort of pro-Doctor Who, depending on the era; sort of anti-HarlanEllison (and sick of Joe Straczynski like the rest of comics fandom); and honestly, Michael Moorcock leaves me cold (though I'm grateful to him for some concepts in the Elric stories).