❉ An engaging account of one fan piecing together the story of Doctor Who during the so-called wilderness years.
“Hayden Gribble was one of the new fans who discovered the show in 1996 when for just one night Paul McGann was the Doctor, and he explores his relationship with Doctor Who from this time through to its triumphant return to TV from 2005 onwards in his book Child Out of Time: Growing Up with Doctor Who in the Wilderness Years.”
Growing up as Doctor Who fan wasn’t always the easiest thing to do. As a boy growing up in the ’80s who was unashamedly out as a Who fan, you had to be ready for the many, many comments about the show being awful, but at least we had the show on screen. Just imagine then how it must have been to discover the show during the so-called wilderness years where the show was either held up as something kitsch to be laughed at or just another piece of televisual nostalgia relegated to UK Gold.
Imagine, then, what it was like to be someone who discovered the show during this period. Hayden Gribble was one of the new fans who discovered the show in 1996 when for just one night Paul McGann was the Doctor, and he explores his relationship with Doctor Who from this time through to its triumphant return to TV from 2005 onwards in his book Child Out of Time: Growing Up with Doctor Who in the Wilderness Years.
Gribble beautifully describes the build-up to his first watch of the show in a way that probably speaks to many of us fans. His discovery of it through the supplement in the Radio Times the week of the TV Movie, being beguiled by the images in it of all the previous Doctors and trying to work out how they could all be the same man, followed by sitting down in a dark Travelodge room with his family, curtains drawn, waiting for his first story to begin. He writes evocatively about how the theme music, quite unlike any other drew him in to the adventure, which whizzed by in a blur of images and a convoluted plot his seven-year-old mind couldn’t quite follow. The age-old magic of Doctor Who embedding itself in another young mind and not letting it go.
The book takes us on Gribble’s fast journey from casual watcher to fan. We get to experience his wonder at seeing his first two old stories, Snakedance and The Android Invasion. His excitement at seeing these stories for the first time is wonderfully written. It’s very easy to be swept along with his enthusiasm for his first steps into the wider world of Doctor Who, as the sheer joy he felt at becoming a fan is so evocatively written throughout.
I really enjoyed the many stories of how Gribble slowly began to piece together the story of Doctor Who through his slow collection of the videos and his tentative steps into reading the books while shopping with his Grandad and buying his first few from a second-hand bookshop. The story of him discovering a battered copy of The Web of Fear novelisation in his school library is one that really spoke to me; as a young fan, the Target books were incredibly important to me and this one was a book I have really fond memories of. He was gripped by the story as much as I was when I was a similar age. I was pleased to read that it was still on his shelf, after he – ahem – liberated it from the school library and it was all the more poignant to read that he’d had it signed by Terrance Dicks.
It’s easy to forget as a slightly older fan that events like Doctor Who Night in 1999 were a huge thing for younger fans. Like the TV 60 retrospective in 1986 was for me, Gribble was watching and poring over the old clips in the documentaries on that wonderful night and trying to work out which story they were from. It’s easy to forget now that everything is so easily available to watch that things like this were so exciting. Gribble again captures that fan compulsion to drink in all the facts about the show so well.
His starstruck meeting with Deborah Watling and her father Jack at a convention in Clacton-On-Sea was another lovely moment, especially her few words with him about the copy of The Web of Fear he’d taken from school. That lovely piece of intimacy between her and young Hayden was wonderful, but it prefaces the moment that SATS, a new sibling, football and Holly Vallance overtook any excitement watching Invasion of Time could hold. Like many fans, growing up meant a falling out with the programme and it’s always sad to read about someone falling out of love with the programme.
It doesn’t end that way because, of course, Gribble’s love for the show was reignited by its triumphant return to TV in 2005. I loved this chapter immensely as he really captured the feeling of nervousness and excitement as Rose hurtled onto the screen. The joy he felt being able to share his love for the show with his peers is palpable and what had started as something he felt was his secret love now being mainstream is something I think many a Doctor Who fan can relate to.
Gribble’s story finishes in 2013 with the show’s fiftieth anniversary and an unexpected call to appear on BBC Breakfast to talk about Matt Smith’s departure from Doctor Who. It’s a triumphant end to his book, where suddenly his hobby and his job collide beautifully, even if it doesn’t happen quite as planned. As he says, “What luck!”
I really enjoyed reading this book. It’s very easy to be swept along with Hayden Gribble’s journey and I found myself comparing it to my own experiences of growing up as a fan through the ‘80s and 90s. While it is just Gribble’s story of growing up with the Doctor, there’s so much in here that feels universal and that makes it a very fine book indeed. All of us Doctor Who fans are a child out of time inside.
❉ Green-fingered librarian Simon Hart is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.