I found these ventures satisfying, if something of an endurance test, and can imagine seasoned fans have often been reduced to comparing their viewing battle scars over a small port in their local hostelry. I was fortunate in that I was accompanied by my husband in the trawls through Doctor Who's memorable triumphs and utter failures. It confirmed he was as obsessive as I was. For me the experience led down a corpse strewn road to what was then known as Outpost Gallifrey, where as an innocent in the lions' den of online fandom I decided to review each of the stories. Just to see if I could do it.
To paraphrase Neil Perryman in the opening to his book Adventures With The Wife In Space: Living With Doctor Who, we underwent a form of aversion therapy akin to Dr Brodsky's infamous Ludovico Technique. Safe to say, listening to Ludwig Van was otherwise unaffected. The upshot of my own trawl was the birth of the very blog you are now reading. When OG ditched its review sections I soldiered on for a while and then had a light bulb moment when I decided all the reviews would be better off on a blog.
To date I've still not covered every Doctor Who story (sorry to have failed you, dear reader) so I'm mightily impressed by Neil and his wife Sue's commitment to their blog Adventures With The Wife In Space. When I heard Neil was about to watch the entirety of the classic series (but with a difference - he asked his wife to join in) I ruminated over the question that had previously plagued me: Would his love for Doctor Who endure? More seriously, would his marriage survive?
Their blog is that rare thing, a commentary where the series and the fans are seen through the eyes of someone, Neil's wife Sue, who had seen very little of the original series and had no concept of why Neil really loved the series. Sue has attained something of a cult status with her very amusing, no holds barred conversations with Neil as they watched everything from 1963 through to 1989 and many a diversion from the canon, including Doctor Who - The Movie, the Cushing films and even, rather bravely or foolishly, Dimensions in Time.
In the process, some sacred Who cows have been sworn at and received fan wisdom has had cushions thrown at it. And all this because rewatching Doctor Who was the preferred option to seeing that dog's arse and feather duster open the titles of another dull episode of Downton Abbey and Neil was, as Sue suspected, looking for a reward after spending ages living in a static caravan as she fulfilled a cherished desire to build her own house.
Neil's book, Adventures With The Wife in Space: Living With Doctor Who, is not simply a regurgitation of the hundreds of blog posts he and Sue diligently put together. Don't worry, you haven't entered a recursive occlusion in print. Incidentally, in an alternate reality there's a Buzz/Aldrin Perry(woman) probably conducting the same experiment with their next of kin where the Doctor was played on television by Charlie Drake.
While the book contains a soupçon of the blog, an evaluation of its impact in the last third of its pages and some apposite epithets peppered through the early sections, the emphasis is firmly on the 'living' part of the book's title. In an honest way, sometimes revealing personal details almost to the point of vulnerability, Neil takes us back to his childhood and the eventual disintegration of his parents' marriage, where its decline instigated his leaving home and, like all of us, facing the world with all of our, and its, insecurities.
The 'Early Years' of the book will strike a number of familiar chords with Doctor Who fans of a certain age. Neil's earliest memory of the series is the Third Doctor and Jo's encounter with the Drashigs in the cliffhanger of episode one of 1973's Carnival of Monsters and from there he waxes about many subjects, ranging from Pertwee's grumpiness in the revamped 1974 title sequence, a fear of toxic giant flies, the struggle to draw the infamous diamond logo, to recreating the Doctor's adventures at school with the help of Beverly Sharp whose urge to realism meant she wrapped sellotape round her hand to recreate Noah's infected arm in The Ark in Space. I wish I'd had friends like that at school.
He also revives the horror of missing an episode. If you weren't in front of the telly on a Saturday night in 1975 that was it. You couldn't record it or toddle off to BBC iPlayer. I remember being quite horrible to my parents when they dragged me to a wedding and I missed episode two of The Invasion of Time. At the time I probably thought they'd committed a heinous crime but these days I regard it as something of mercy killing on their part. As well as the trauma of missing episodes, either through the demands of a social occasion, a terrible injury or a truculent parent demanding to watch the news instead, Neil also eloquently captures how often we separate ourselves from our obsessions because we need to.
More seriously, he demonstrates how his own attempts to mature often coincided with a period where Doctor Who wasn't necessarily appropriate for dealing with those stressful situations life tends to chuck at us. To quote Nicholas Parsons in The Curse of Fenric (with nods to Corinthians and cf. the chapter 'Words I Learned from Doctor Who'): 'When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.' Hormones and a traumatic encounter with the Myrka triggered estrangement from Doctor Who and, in one of the book's signature moments where the reality of adult relationships bursts into Neil's life, his parents separation culminated with him leaving home.
Again, the book is all about touchstones which we (and I suppose I mean those of us who do track our lives against certain cultural artifacts like films and telly programmes) share. I returned to watching Doctor Who avidly in 1980 but by 1986 I'd again stopped watching. I'd lost my mum, packed my job in and had decided to go and get an education. Trying to watch The Trial of a Time Lord with my cynical housemates just seemed to underline how out of kilter I was as an adult with the programme I had once loved. A traumatic attempt to 'come out' to my dad (not as a Whovian, I hasten to add) also sealed the deal and I was out there in the big, bad world on my own.
However, like Neil, it was Remembrance of the Daleks that brought me back into watching the series. I've not stopped since despite the BBC's insistence in 1989 that it took a brief retirement break for 16 years. But what about Sue, I hear you cry. Where does she fit into this scheme of things? Sue does contribute a chapter to the book as a counterpoint to Neil's peregrinations through student life, feminist girlfriends and listening to Tangerine Dream. Sue's recollections are really rather beautiful. The words 'Doctor' and 'Who' do not feature in the chapter at all, which is something of a relief for her internet stalkers.
Rather that they could make each other laugh and they both knew how to use an edit suite seemed to be the deciding factors in Sue's decision to invite Neil, 'a raving feminist who looked like Jesus, who couldn't hold his drink, who was hopeless at pool and couldn't count people back onto a bus', home for dinner. Like she says, 'Neil was quite a catch'. What shines through at this point is that mercurial, indefinable, mysterious thing called love. How Neil and Sue forged a relationship then underpins the rest of the book.
That relationship faced many challenges. Neil became step-dad to Sue's four year-old daughter Nicol and introducing her to Day of the Daleks lost out to The Breakfast Club on a constant loop. He met Sue's parents and, in a surreal moment, they appeared to be Jon Pertwee and Dennis Taylor off out for a night at the bingo. For Neil, it was time to stop worrying about U.N.I.T dating controversies and get paranoid about the Millennium Bug and mayonnaise. And writing his PhD and convincing his students that watching old Doctor Who was a very good thing.
Among the highlights - which will either make you laugh or cry, or both - are: Sue's phone call to Tom Baker, much to Neil's horror, during a Doctor Who themed edition of QVC (I remember the feverish intensity of watching their Star Trek hours as they flogged lots of tat to people with more money than sense); her searching Hartlepool high and low for a pair of 3D glasses so that Neil could watch Dimensions in Time in all its grisly detail; Neil's devotion to Sue crystalised in his dilemma about watching the early VHS release of Doctor Who - The Movie without her. It's an epic love story retold in charming, affecting prose and I swear you'll have tears in your eyes when Neil asks Nicol two very important questions.
This warm-hearted book concludes with Neil's lovely reflection on Doctor Who and his marriage to Sue. In the middle of the night, an insomniac Neil decides to watch The Horror of Fang Rock. Clearly concerned about the effects of the experiment on his own appetite for watching Doctor Who (Wilde's observation from The Ballad of Reading Gaol of 'each man kills the thing he loves' is appropriately referenced) he actually discovers that his love for the series is undiminished and it has in fact been enhanced. He not only taps into his childhood nostalgia, the undying fan love that Tom Baker often refers to, but also his love for Sue and the touching, funny adventures he has now been sharing with his wife in space.
Right, I'm off to read what Sue thought of The Enemy of the World... she's indomitable, after all. Meanwhile, this comes highly recommended for married obsessives everywhere.
Adventures With The Wife In Space: Living With Doctor Who
Neil Perryman (with interruptions from Sue Perryman)
Faber and Faber
Published: 7th November 2013
Paperback, 304 pages