If you’re reading my blog/twitter/facebook/speaking to me in person like a normal human being, you will probably know that I’ve just embarked upon watching the entirety of Doctor Who, right from the opening episode, 'The Unearthly Child', with William Hartnell as the First Doctor. Why? All because of this book.
Queers Dig Time Lords is a collection of essays by LGBTQ fans about their fandom of the show. A huge proportion of the essays spend a lot of time dissecting what indefinable quality Doctor Who has to make it appeal to a gay audience; why does the show fit so well into the mindset of a gay man or woman? There’s a fair bit of academic analysis on that point, the overall conclusion being that (early on) it was the Doctor’s asexuality that appealed, leaving room for an adolescent gay identity to feel comfortable whereas the more obvious counterpart of Captain Kirk was off shagging his way around the galaxy. Later on it was the open accepting arms of Captain Jack that did it (and the all-round acceptance of gays in the show and around the universe.)
There’s also a great deal of personal stories told on these pages too. People who used the dream of escaping to explore the galaxy as a way through a confusing and difficult adolescence. People whose attraction to characters heralded the realisation of their sexuality. There isn’t a single essay in the book I didn’t thoroughly enjoy, but two of my favourites were Melissa Scott’s Long Time Companions and Emily Asher-Perrins’ Time Space Love. They’re both a similar story actually: two women’s realisation of their sexuality by falling in love with a best (female) friend, the connection with whom was forged by discovering Doctor Who. It’s fandom as the catalyst for love, and it is genuinely beautiful.
Completely suffused through the whole book is a sense of a powerful passion about the show. It’s so powerful in fact that it inspired me to sit down and watch the whole thing: I want in on that fandom and that passion. It might be a doomed exercise, trying to piggy-back on something that you really just have to discover for yourself, but the point is constantly underscored: Doctor Who is more than a TV show. It’s a cultural experience, whether mainstream or niche. Wait for me, I’m catching up!
I could spend the whole review listing the great things about all of the essays–I bought it for Hal Duncan’s essay, and was delighted to discover there’s a Paul Magrs essay in there too, which is wonderful as always. There were a few tear-up-pieces-of-paper-to-bookmark paragraphs though and they are as follows: ‘Perhaps though, this telescoping of time and collapse of linearity is just the state we live in now? Like living in our own TARDIS, dimensions in time are shifting, opening and closing as we live through them. All those old McLuhan truisms, Wildean quips, bon mots from Coward, and Things That Your Mum Said start to ring not hollow or witty, but true, and that’s terrifying.’ (Martin Warren, Bothersome Otherness.) I discovered Doctor Who when I was just leaving home, and this rings true, the idea that the further I move from my youth the more connecting dots, hardening to mythology, and unexpected narrative turns your life seems to take. The telescoping of time.
Secondly: ‘I grew up believing that fantasy was Lord of the Rings and that Science Fiction was Star Trek. I judged both viciously without ever having seen a minute of either. This is a letter to my teenage self, explaining that actually, sometimes ‘realistic’ tv holds less realism than the fantastical, and that Rachel and Monica of Friends are as mythical as Sontarans and Daleks.’ This struck a chord because I have always had an odd relationship with fantasy and science fiction: I grew up reading it, then I developed a university-cultivated disdain of it in literature. But on TV I’ve never had an issue with it, and love fantastical TV over drama. It’s a strange phenomenon, which I’ve only just started to move away from. The idea of drama being as much of a fantasy as anything else is definitely true, and, more important than anything else: fantasy as a vehicle to tell a story with honesty and emotion. Something Doctor Who achieves better than nearly any other show, in my opinion.
And, finally, to close, Hal Duncan’s bonkers/genius future finale for Doctor Who: So, I’d have the Master standing over the Doctor’s body shooting each regeneration in turn, and each time another regeneration coming, a defiance of every hidebound little Hitler and reassertion of the trickster’s glorious and irrepressible mutability. BANG! Regenerate. BANG! Regenerate. BANG! Regenerate. BANG! Regenerate. BANG! Regenerate. BANG! Regenerate. I’d carry it on as long as was dramatically sustainable, until the audience must surely have lost count, every regeneration a swing of a baseball bat, smashing the status quo into oblivion, out of time and space itself; and the very last regeneration would be a woman whose first words after taking the emptied, clicking pistol out of the Master’s hand and punching him in the face with a fierceness to make River Song look demure would be, straight to camera, “FUCK YOU!” How would I wrap up my tenure? Why, I’d give you a Master driven to madness finally somehow finally finding the one way to end the Doctor’s life. And finally, the maniacally weeping Master would fall to his knees, to regenerate in a universe empty of the Doctor, into an actor who looks unmistakable, unquestionably, the spitting image of a young William Hartnell. With a new moniker and mission to don. And a fez, of course. Fezzes are cool.