Nick Griffiths watched his first Doctor Who aged four and a bit. He would have hidden behind the sofa but it was back against the wall and his parents didn't let him move furniture so he hid behind a cushion instead. He's since been told by his mum and dad that they didn't have a sofa, only armchairs. So this book should really be called Behind the Armchair, but that didn't sound right.
And so began a life long obsession. When Doctor Who started getting rubbish (after Tom Baker basically) he nearly escaped into the world of music and girls until he discovered someone selling tapes of old episodes in the small ads and that was that again.
Only in the last few years has an anti-social obsession become something he can earn a living from as a journalist and happily this coincided with Doctor Who getting good again. Plus he has a son now so he can claim he's watching it for him. Oh and his son's called Dylan not Gallifrey or Davros.
"My earliest television memory is of the Doctor fleeing a giant cabbage, an image so terrifying that it has been burned into my mind for decades. Thanks to Griffiths's book and the marvels of the internet, I now know the name of the story. Readers, it was "The Seeds of Doom", surely one of the best titles for anything ever. If I am getting carried away, it is the fault of Griffiths's awfully charming memoir of boyhood and Doctor Who, with its deft evocations of eight-year-old invincibility and embarrassing school discos as well as arguments about Cybermen vs Autons or Jon Pertwee vs Tom Baker."–The Guardian
"... an unadulterated nostalgia-fest written with fun, wit and love. I'm a number of years younger than Griffiths and of a different sex, but I've rarely read anything that so reflects my own opinions and feelings about the series and more besides. If friends, parents and partners don't quite comprehend a fan's love for the Doctor, this is the book that might help them get there."–Doctor Who Magazine
"Even if you weren't a child of the 70's, you can't help but love this joyous romp through a life dominated by Dr. Who. Very funny and not at all geekish - honest!"–Waterstone's Books Monthly
‘My name is Nick and I am a Doctor Who fan.’
Don't let that put you off me, if you're not Who-inclined. I also love David Bowie, Interpol, Boards of Canada, Godspeed You Black Emperor and swathes of electronica. I'm a Tottenham Hotspur season-ticket holder, so I do get out. I don't own any black T-shirts with rubbery sci-fi logos that smear when ironed - actually, I would never iron T-shirts, or any type of clothing frankly - nor do I wear an outsized, multi-coloured scarf. I'm married, with a gorgeous son from a previous relationship - proof that at least two women have been prepared to do it with me - and his name is Dylan, not Gallifrey Davros Zarathustra. I don't spot trains and I don't own a single model of a Dalek.
No, hang on, that's not true. I just remembered the Palitoy Talking Dalek, which I purchased as mute and lovingly restored to its former ‘Ex-ter-min-ate!’ glory.
And the ancient Rolykins Dalek, which I picked up at a snip.
Equally, if you're a fellow fan, please don't think that I'd want to find a cosy corner of a convention with you, to discuss continuity errors in The Masque of Mandragora, Season 14, Production Code 4M.
(Don't be fooled: I had to look up those production details on the BBC's Doctor Who website - and in doing so got sidetracked into playing Attack of the Graske featuring David Tennant. The internet is a wonderful thing. This morning, I started writing my book and saved the universe.)
With admirable hypocrisy, I am actually wary of other Doctor Who fans. There's an unwritten Nerd Scale which ‘normal’ people apply to fans of any science fiction/fantasy and I'd like to imagine myself around their 2 or 3 mark. (That framed set of nine Tom Baker bathroom tiles on the wall behind me suggests the truth may rank somewhere higher.)
I fear that if I mingle with Whovians - other people are Whovians; I am a Doctor Who fan - around the 7 or 8 mark, my own rating might creep a little higher. Of course, most other Whovians are thinking exactly the same of me. It's a tough one.
Most frustratingly, because I love Doctor Who, people imagine that I love every other form of sci-fi. I would sooner bed down for the night among argumentative raccoons than watch an episode of Stargate. Star Trek bores the pants off me. It's so earnest. I put all Star Trek fans somewhere around 8 or 9 on the Nerd Scale, again the hypocrisy not being lost on me.
The over-riding reason that I regard Doctor Who with such affection is that it transports me straight back to my childhood. It's my own time-travelling Tardis.
Any time I'm feeling low, or admittedly sometimes for no reason other than errant laziness, I'll draw the curtains, pull out a classic Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker story and take myself back to a time before bills addressed to me landed on the doormat and girlfriends announced that they were leaving because I was barely more liveable-with than Pol Pot.
Rarely do I tell anyone about these video trysts. Doctor Who fandom is definitely a badge, worn with pride among fellow admirers and hidden from view on the high street. People make assumptions about you. Not always glowing assumptions. Some of them think you want to follow them home, bleating about Zygons, then sellotape their heads to a television screen while playing The Five Doctors on the DVD.
It hasn't always been easy, remaining accepted in society.
How did I get into this mess?
People will tell you they can remember their precise whereabouts when JFK was assassinated, the moment Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, or when they heard that Princess Diana had died. In my case, respectively: not alive; in bed asleep; and waking up after an night of cider abuse and resultant fumbling with a lovely/drunk woman in Stourbridge. That's three women who have slept with me so far. Feel free to keep a tally. Actually, don't, because the number doesn't rise significantly.
Personally, I like to tell people that I know exactly where I was when I first watched Doctor Who. I was on my parents' sofa at 63 Murray Road, Horndean, Hampshire, which I can state with certainty because I would have been four-and-a-third years old at the time and didn't get out much around dusk.
I recall the story vividly. It was Spearhead from Space, which was broadcast in January 1970 and formed Jon Pertwee's debut as the Doctor.
I remember Pertwee clowning around in his nightgown, I remember the Brigadier getting all official on his ass, but most clearly of all I remember the Autons. They were utterly terrifying. Deliciously so.
Faceless shop dummies with snap-down wrists, guns and denim suits, coming alive in shop windows, smashing their way out into the street and wreaking havoc on a defenceless small-town community. The bobby on his bike, horror-struck. I'm sure I had never seen anything like it before, death-and-destruction being low on the priority list of the writers of Mary, Mungo and Midge and The Clangers.
I was hooked. Jon Pertwee became my hero.
Did I hide behind the sofa? Since it was up against the wall and moving furniture around was frowned upon, disappointingly no. Instead, I made for the armchair in the corner and cowered behind that, peeking out at intervals to check when the coast would be clear.
Would an armchair have saved me from death-by-Auton? I certainly believed that it would.
The Silurians, the Axons, the Sea Devils - such a work of genius! - the Draconians, the Ogrons, the Daleks, inevitably . . . These are all imprinted on the relevant part of my brain and have no doubt seeped into less relevant areas which should have been reserved for Geography O-level revision.
Saturday teatime in front of Doctor Who became a religious experience. I devoured all of the Pertwee stories and was disturbed when Tom Baker took over. No child enjoys change and I distinctly remember my Mum voicing the opinion that Baker was ‘very silly’, which I initially took on board.
At least I quickly came to worship at the great man's altar of eccentricity and, as I grew older, realised that my mother was voicing the self-same opinion when we watched things like The Young Ones or The Smiths on Top of the Pops.
Contrary to popular opinion, never trust your mother. As Peter Davison, whom I had typecast as the kindly, bumbling vet from All Creatures Great and Small, took over, then Colin Baker, then Sylvester McCoy, I lost interest in the new episodes of Doctor Who. Music had taken a hold in my life, along with an unrequited curiosity about girls.
And it might have remained that way, but for two life-changing events.
One was the discovery, in London's Free Ads paper, Loot, of an advertisement for home-recorded archive Doctor Who stories - this was in the days before the BBC's commercial versions, and before I could afford satellite television and UK Gold's re-runs - which would open up the chance to relive those seventies glory days. Not only that, but I could catch up on stories I had missed, delve into television's monochrome era to find out what William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton were really like, even revisit the likes of Baker C's Doctor, whom I had perhaps judged harshly. (As it turned out, I hadn't.)
I remember receiving the list of available stories and it was enormous. The Green Death, The Claws of Axos, The Daemons, Planet of the Daleks, Pyramids of Mars, The Talons of Weng-Chiang - episodes I was dying to see again. That was my childhood writ there, within reach.
The second life-changing event was finding myself working, as a freelance writer, for the Radio Times. This was in the mid-nineties, when Doctor Who was in abeyance, when rumours of a revival abounded but came to nought.
The BBC and the Radio Times march inextricably hand-in-hand, like a giant marshmallow Auntie and Uncle, down the highway of good, clean, traditional, family entertainment. The magazine and the Time Lord maintain a magnetic association that dates back to An Unearthly Child, the first Doctor Who story.
One of my most treasured possessions is my Radio Times Tenth Anniversary Special, purchased on a shopping trip to Southsea in 1973, and read so many times that its cover has fallen away and its glossy pages are smudged with the greasy thumbprints from the bedtime snacks of ages. I adored that magazine.
Amazingly, fate decreed that I myself would write swathes of 1996's 16-page Time Lord Souvenir issue, published to coincide with Paul McGann's Doctor Who movie, as well as the similarly sized 40th Anniversary Special.
It meant that I would interview and meet most of my heroes, Doctor and companion. I once stood and chatted to Tom Baker. And - let's not try to sound professional here - the experience was jump-around-afterwards exciting, a bold, flourished tick in the box of Achieved Ambition.
Then, out of the blue, the series returned in 2005. I would turn 40 in the same year and was allegedly too wise to become excited. Anyway, history dictated that I harboured only minor hopes for it, with so many burnt-out shells of revivals littering the show's past.
I had not reckoned on Russell T. Davies and his team.
Christopher Eccleston, the new Ninth Doctor, had been in Our Friends in the North, fondly remembered, critically fawned-over drama which had won proper awards. He had done Shakespeare, while professing that he wasn't a big fan. That's so cool.
His companion, Rose, was to be played by Billie Piper, who at 15 became the youngest ever artist to debut at Number One, with Because We Want To (essentially a teen declaration of intent to run around a lot and play music naughtily loud, because she and her mates felt like it), and who had become an actress of note after an eye-catching performance in Chaucer's updated Canterbury Tale, The Miller's Tale, on the BBC.
She's bright, sassy and noticeably foxy. But at 40, I was allegedly too wise to become excited.
Since I still contribute to the Radio Times, now their unofficial Doctor Who Correspondent, the privilege of entering the world of Who remains. I remember visiting the Cardiff set before the series aired, gazing at the Tardis, actually twiddling its knobs and sitting in the swish new leather seat . . . and not being that thrilled. At least, not as thrilled as I should have been.
Had my Doctor Who mojo died? Had it heck as like. Later that same day I interviewed some Autons (a bizarre experience) and something inside the grey matter sparked.
The series began broadcasting and, along with most of the rest of the nation, by the time that weird old Victorian parlour-maid had risen from her death bed to walk towards the camera, moaning like a good'un, eyes all icy, in episode three, I was hooked. As, amazingly, was my son. Though you hope your progeny might follow in your footsteps, I could hardly have said to the kid, ‘Here, watch this twenty-six-episode DVD box-set of The Key to Time - my American version; there isn't a British one; consider yourself lucky - then go tell your friends how cool it is.’
As luck would have it, loving the new Doctor Who, which entire families did, was perfectly acceptable in noughties society. Encouraged, even.
History was about to repeat itself, somehow eschewing nerdiness.
Dalek-mania came back. Only the Talking Daleks of today speak more than one word, trundle around under remote control and would probably make your tea for you, if they could only stop exterminating the cat.
Once again, I find myself having interviewed most of the cast and crew.
I have met the Tenth Doctor, David Tennant, and he used the word ‘chutzpah’; I have spoken to Piper, while swooning anciently on the other end of the telephone; I have walked in the spaceship of the Sycorax and chatted with their leader in his trailer, while he changed his trousers.
And, best of all, there is more to come. It has been an incredible ride, this life with Doctor Who, filled with cosiness, quarries, tolerance and intolerance, hero-worship, unnecessary purchases of memorabilia, a slag heap made of Cornflakes scattered with peppermint cream Giant Maggots, and yes, probably even a little chutzpah, once I find out what the word means.
This is how it happened . . .