Doctor Who Fanzine Musings

Inspired by the efforts of a new Facebook group (The Doctor Who Fanzine Database) I’ve recently been digging back through parts of my own collection for the first time in a number of years. Pre-internet, these zines – sometimes glossy A4, sometimes photocopied A5 – were the beating heart of fandom. It was just as easy to start a heated debate within the pages of a fanzine back then as it is today on Twitter. The only difference is that the responses would appear over a number of months, rather than minutes ….

The first DW fanzines I can remember buying were issues six, seven and eight of Private Who from London’s Forbidden Planet in 1987. At this stage it hadn’t quite transformed itself into the prozine it would become (later it would attract bitter criticism from certain quarters thanks to its enthusiastic cheerleading of the McCoy era). This incarnation of Private Who was willing and able to lob a few brickbats in the series’ direction (issue six featured a thumbs down review of The Trial of a Time Lord).

Since at that point DWM (my only resource for DW news and reviews) was a very non-controversial publication (the arrival of John Freeman, who began the process of beefing up the tone of the magazine, was still a year away) this review was slightly eye-opening. Although as I was shortly to learn, Private Who‘s negative viewpoint was mild compared to the vitriol that the current series attracted from other quarters ….

I had and have a love/hate relationship with DWB.  I loved the in-depth articles and interviews which documented the series’ past but hated the editorial tone which delighted in trashing the series’ present at every opportunity.  Gary Levy/Leigh was hardly alone in disliking the way DW was heading, but the endless personal attacks directed at JN-T were very wearying. And yet, since the good stuff outweighed the bad I  simply tutted at the more hysterical ravings and passed over to the next interesting article.

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The lowpoint of the magazine has to be the extensive Eric Saward/Ian Levine interview from the early nineties which, even by the magazine’s own standards, was a breath-taking hatchet job aimed at (who else?) JN-T.  Especially disturbing was the way that certain people who had passed on (Robert Holmes, Douglas Camfield) were cited by Levine as hating the direction JN-T had taken the series in. Other zines (like Skaro) were quick to find the use of the dead to bulk up their arguments more than a little distasteful.

Mind you, even pre-eighties Who could sometimes find itself under attack. Paul Cornell’s DWB review of Terror of the Autons (he didn’t like it, not one little bit) chimed with the then current trend of early nineties fandom, which tended to give the Pertwee era a good kicking at regular intervals.

One major attraction for taking out a regular subscription to DWB (the only magazine I can remember which used to send out a strip of blank address labels and requested that you filled them out!) was the fact that it ran adverts for many, many fanzines.  So DWB was incredibly important to me as it opened up a conduit into the wider world of DW fandom (and beyond, as it became increasingly common for zines to cover a variety of different programmes).

Purple Haze and Perigosto Stick were two which really struck a chord. Often these zines (almost always A5) only lasted a few issues, but that didn’t seem to matter as more titles always seemed to pop up to replace them. This era of DW fanzines had a very definite identity and style – irreverent and with a keen desire to slay some sacred cows (which more often than not meant poor old Jon Pertwee).  The recent new Time Team squabbles (some people aghast at the fact that a bunch of twentysomethings have the temerity to offer their opinions about old Who) rather overlooks the fact that back in the early nineties that particular generation of twentysomethings were even more outspoken about eras of the programme they were too young to have watched the first time round.

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The battle between the A5 photocopied zine and the A4 glossy seemed to concern some people (but then Doctor Who fandom loves nothing more than a good fight).  Some – like the relaunched Skaro – were able to mix the feel of an A5 with the production quality of an A4, thereby creating the best of both worlds. Second Dimension also ended up as a glossy (a far cry from its early days as a bunch of loose sheets stapled together) without sacrificing too much of its tone.

Even though I loved the slapdash nature of many of the A5 zines, it’s possibly In Vision which remains my favourite of the 1990’s era (and certainly the one I come back to the most).  Although new research has invalidated some of the facts presented (even more so with its predecessor, Space and Time) I-V is still a treasure trove, which became even more detailed as it began to cover the 1980’s stories.  Tip of the hat to The Frame as well – although sometimes criticised for being bland, if you dig through a complete collection there’s more variety than you might expect.

One interesting thing about skimming through the FB group is realising that so many of these zines had very limited print runs (a fair few in the tens, rather than hundreds).  Given this, it’s a pity that more material hasn’t been collected in book form or otherwise made available.  There are some publications out there (Keith Miller’s, for example) but this only scratches the surface.  It would be nice if more classic DW fanzines were made available, otherwise this fascinating era of creativity is in danger of being lost forever.