Although I’d love to say that my first copy of Doctor Who Weekly (as it was back then in 1979) was the Fantastic First Issue, I was something of a latecomer – with issue nine (featuring an iconic picture of a Zygon that I spent far too much time staring at!) being my starting point.
Now that Doctor Who Magazine has reached its Fantastic Five Hundredth Issue it seems like the ideal time to stop and reflect exactly what the magazine means to me. For good or ill it made me into a Doctor Who fan (so I don’t know whether to thank it or blame it!) Fanzines existed in the late seventies, but for an eight-year old they were pretty much out of reach. The Internet wasn’t around and the number of Doctor Who reference books was incredibly small. I had the two Doctor Who monster books and a battered edition of the Piccolo Making of Doctor Who, but that was about all.
From humble beginnings with Doctor Who Weekly, the Marvel title drip-fed a constant stream of behind the scenes detail and photographs. Today we know just about everything about the classic series and few photographs from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s are unfamiliar, but back in the eighties all this stuff was certainly new to me and I delighted at slowly being able to piece together the production history of Doctor Who.
Even though the series went off air in 1989, during the nineties the magazine went from strength to strength. As the readership reduced to a smaller, but very devoted hard-core, the magazine was able to cover the nuts and bolts of the series in even greater depth – and was unafraid to air controversial opinions and comments (the outspoken views of Gary Downie and Trevor Ray, for example).
After the series returned in 2005, there was an undeniable feeling that the magazine had somehow become slightly less “ours” as we now had to share it with a new readership. Circulation certainly boomed during the David Tennant years, but for me I found less of interest in many of the issues. There’s only so many set reports you can read (which basically ended up all saying the same thing) before a sense of deja vu sets in. I have to confess that during 2007/08 I was something of a lapsed reader.
In recent years I’ve been much more impressed with the mix of articles served up by current editor Tom Spilsbury. Not everything is going to appeal to every reader (since there are so many different types – those who only watch the original series, those who only watch the current series, those who mix and match, etc) but the blend at the moment feels about right. We’ve had detailed features on the latest episodes but there’s also been room for some fascinating articles on the original run, such as John Williams’ piece on Malcolm Hulke.
In some ways it’s easy to foresee that interesting content may be harder to come by in the future. For one thing, the number of cast and crew from the original series will continue to diminish but also it’s notable how a number of interviews now are little more than puff-pieces for whatever product the actor, writer, etc is pushing. DWM is therefore in the same position as a modern chat show – access to quality guests, but the downside is that you have to accept the price you pay for their co-operation is allowing them free publicity for their wares. Recent interviews with David Tennant, Catherine Tate and Sadie Miller, amongst others, have all fallen into this category. A far cry from the old days, when people seemed to be happy to be interviewed with no ulterior motives. But as long as DWM can balance these pieces with analytical (and also fun!) articles then I’ll be happy.
Highlights during the past thirty seven years? The comic strip is an obvious one, and the nostalgic in me still loves the early strips (The Iron Legion, City of the Dammed) although the mid eighties John Ridgeway strips are also something I return to on a regular basis.
There’s a number of things to thank John Freeman, DWM’s sixth editor, for – and inviting Andrew Pixley to contribute has to be top of the list. Pixley’s archive features were the backbone of the magazine for many years and he unearthed a fascinating source of production minutia that often made me look at familiar stories in a new light.
It’s difficult to pick a favourite era of the magazine, but Gary Gillatt’s editorship (from 1995 – 2000) has to be close to the top. Gary Russell, his predecessor, had favoured factual content, whilst Gillatt chose to take the magazine down a slightly more fun and “fanzine” route. This was certainly the time when DWM was preaching to the converted, with a stream of in-jokes that probably would have been baffling to an outsider. But for those die-hards who’d stuck with the magazine it was a golden age.
Interview-wise, there’s far too many to pick from – but over the years there’s been some memorable encounters with all the Doctors, bar Hartnell of course. Tom’s been, well, Tom, Peter’s been (sometimes) less than flattering about the series whilst Colin’s (sometimes) been in a huff about something.
David J. Howe’s series of articles on Target Books (later developed into a rather fine book) was yet another highlight as was Gary Gillatt’s encounter with a class of schoolchildren and a copy of Terror of the Zygons on VHS. The Watcher, Tim Quinn and Dicky Howett, Jackie Jenkins, the UNIT hotline, the list could go on and on – so many memories.
I’ve written three letters to the magazine (in 1985, 2014 and 2015). Yes, I know there was a bit of a gap between the first and second letters. Amazingly all three were published and the most recent one also picked up the letter of the month award. It’s one of my small claims to fame and I’m now a little weary of writing a fourth letter just in case my run comes to an end!
John Freeman’s excellent Down the Tubes website has a lovely piece on his editorship of the magazine here, Gary Gillatt’s Squabbling Rubber collects some of the best of his DWM reviews whilst you can find out here which cover of DWM was voted as the best ever.
Happy Times and Places, DWM!