❉ We chat with Chris Stone about his affectionate parodies of Doctor Who raising money for Children in Need.
“Sometimes the Professor is a woman, sometimes a man, but one thing is for certain, the Professor isn’t very good at anything very much. He/she travels through time and space in a huge flying saucer which is much smaller inside that out. Often either sheer luck or the resourcefulness of the companion gets the Professor out of trouble.”
There’s a long tradition of Doctor Who being spoofed. In fact, Doctor Who has been spoofed for almost as long as it’s been around, with the very first send-up coming in December 1963, on Michael Bentine’s BBC show It’s A Square World, mere weeks after the show’s debut. Other shows picked up this baton over the years including Crackerjack (CRACKERJACK!), the Doctor Where sequences on the 1970s educational programme Mathshow, The Lenny Henry Show, Victoria Wood As Seen On TV and The Krankies Elektronik Comic. Even Doctor Who’s cancellation in 1989 didn’t stop the spoofs coming with Lily Savage playing the role of the Doctor in her BBC show in 1998 and of course Steven Moffat’s peerless Curse of Fatal Death for Children in Need in 1999.
Joining this long list of illustrious parodies are the Professor Howe books. These books affectionately lampoon the show we love and came about due to another Doctor Who parody, the novel Doctor Whom by Adam Roberts. Christopher Samuel Stone, creator of the Professor Howe range and its first writer, explains, “I had recently read Doctor Whom, which was supposed to be a Doctor Who parody and I was so disappointed with it; it lacked jokes, humour and anything remotely of worth. I thought that I could do better. So, I had a bash and wrote Professor Howe and the Toothless Tribe. I tried to cram it with as much humour as possible, as well as a coherent plot. As with all the Long Scarf Books, we published it and sent the profits to charity. It went down pretty well and other people were interested in writing one. There was plenty of mileage in it, so I decided to go down that route.”
Stone describes the character of Professor Howe as “an alternative universe version of the Doctor. Sometimes the Professor is a woman, sometimes a man, but one thing is for certain, the Professor isn’t very good at anything very much. He/she travels through time and space in a huge flying saucer which is much smaller inside that out. Often either sheer luck or the resourcefulness of the companion gets the Professor out of trouble.”
Professor Howe and the Toothless Tribe introduces the character in a story not unlike the first Doctor Who story, An Unearthly Child. Unlike that story, this one features a sentient Chesterfield sofa who runs a library, a pair of librarians as companions, one of whom possibly wears the mystical Cardigan of Power and rather surprisingly, some caveman politics aping the Trump- Clinton battle for the American presidency. As Stone explains, “each adventure in the range is based loosely on a specific Doctor Who story but there is a twist with other elements of film, tv, popular culture and even politics thrown in to spice the story up a bit. You don’t have to know the Doctor Who episodes each book is based on, but it helps with some of the jokes.”
One of Stone’s favourite books from the range is the most recent release, Professor Howe and the Holy Hotel by Paul Driscoll. As Stone says, “I had been trying to get Paul to write one for quite a while and was absolutely chuffed to pieces with his effort.” This novel takes the Eleventh Doctor story The God Complex as its inspiration. The Professor in one of her female incarnations takes her companions Oliver and Mo Lake to a hotel in space for their honeymoon only for it all to go disastrously wrong in many hilarious and sometimes moving ways.
Driscoll writes well, keeping the plot moving at a frantic pace throughout. The story humorously subverts the plot of The God Complex in some surprising and humorous ways. I really enjoyed his take on the Amy and Rory characters in Mo and Oliver, especially Mo’s constant griping about Professor Howe’s hold on her husband. For a piece of spoof fiction, the characterisation is really strong. All the characters are really well drawn, from Colin the Clownfish who works as a counsellor to Raz, the investigator who sees the whole thing as a ruse by the Russians. I chuckled at the Professor’s constant grooming of him of a potential future companion which was really well written.
It’s very clear that Driscoll has real affection for the episode he’s taken as his inspiration. This isn’t a mean-spirited piss-take of the source material, instead it is a loving subversion of the things that are great about The God Complex. The novel, like the episode, has much to say on belief and faith, only it’s wrapped in some very funny prose this time. If you enjoyed the episode, then I’m certain you’ll enjoy this novel. I certainly did!
I asked Christopher Samuel Stone about how they go about choosing which episodes to spoof for the series. “Sometimes,” he says, “it’s the authors suggestion as to which story to do, other times it is my suggestion. You really need to have a good strong take on it to make it different enough to work as a book in its own right, but still hark back a little to the episodes which inspired it. For instance, if you were having a go at writing a Professor Howe version of The Daleks as we did in Professor Howe and the Terrible Tarrants you need to have an abandoned city, some plunger carrying aliens (though not the ones you were expecting) and a yawning chasm.”
Stone has some favourites from the range so far. He says, “Probably my favourite is Professor Howe and the Shanghaied Scientists by Jamie Hailstone which is a parody of Time and the Rani. The plot has our first “recasting” in it and from them on it twists and turns expectation more than an anaconda playing Twister. And as for the ones I have written, I really enjoyed writing Professor Howe and the European Exit, which is based on The Curse of Peladon. In it, I have chronicled the politics of the country of ‘Poeland’ (it’s an anagram – get it?) which clearly has nothing to do with anything in the news whatsoever.”
The next release in the series takes one of the most popular episodes of the revived series. Stone explains, “The next release will be Professor Howe Goes Mostly Missing. If you buy this one, you’ll get a free book called WINK to accompany the novel. Obviously, it’s based on ‘Blink’ and I’m really not overselling it, by saying it might be the best Doctor Who related piece of fiction I’ve read in the last 20 years. Kingsley Clennel White has done a marvellous job of pulling this together from my brief and I couldn’t be happier.”
Clearly the range is going from strength to strength and Long Scarf Publications has so far raised over £4000, £1100 of which comes from sales of the Professor Howe range alone, which is a tremendous success. The range now has a Patreon option where for a mere £5 a month you can pick up a paperback of each release as it becomes available or chose the hardback option for £9 a month. Each book is also available from the Long Scarf website where there are also subscription options available for the range.
So, what does the future hold for Professor Howe? Excitingly, there’s a chance for new authors to be involved in the adventures to come. Stone explains, “as well as taking pitches for full length books (25-35k words), I thought such a big project could be intimidating for some. So, we’re trying something a bit different. For next year we are planning a short story collection (circa 2k words) based loosely on The Mind Robber. Rachel Redhead is heading this one up (she is writing a full novel for next year too) and you can contact her or the Professor Howe page on Facebook for the submission guidelines. If this proves to be a success, we might try other stories in this manner.”
Right now, what could be better than a fun read that will leave you with a smile on your face? If that’s what you’re after, then the adventures of Professor Howe are just what you need. They’re affectionate, funny reads that also help raise money for Children In Need. What more recommendation do you need? Try one and be delighted!
❉ To find out more about Long Scarf Publishing’s Professor Howe series visit https://professorhowe.mystrikingly.com/
❉ Green-fingered librarian Simon Hart is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.