DWM 456 Sons of Mine
So, we were playing the alphabet game. I expect you’ve played it too, one of the simplest passing-the-time games there is: a subject is picked and either collectively or in turns everyone has to name something relevant to that subject for each letter of the alphabet. On this occasion, the subject chosen was Doctor Who. It was when we got to the letter K and our five-year-old son – who claims not to be a fan of the programme – came up with ‘Keys of Marinus’ and ‘Kit Pedlar’ that I realised the atmosphere he was growing up in may not be quite as that of other households…
In 1998, I wrote my first professional piece of work, the script for ‘Oh No It Isn’t!’, which was also the company Big Finish’s first audio production. Also in 1998, a 23-year-old man from Bournemouth became the very first person to place an order with Big Finish, for that very play. Perhaps in anticipation of the slogan ‘subscribers get more at Big Finish’, he went on to marry the writer.
Funnily enough, on my first date with the man who would become my husband, the subject of Doctor Who didn’t really come up. The fan thing was just taken as read, in the same way that you don’t sit down with someone and go, ‘wow, you wear shoes? Hey, I wear shoes too! That’s amazing!’ It was finding other things we had in common that made us click, not the acknowledgement that we both knew the production code of The Monster of Peladon.
Anyway, after a year or two we decided to do the mature thing – combine our Target book collections. I mean, get married. (Our friend Jim made bride and groom Monoids for the wedding cake.) The next step was to start a family. ‘Will you be making them like Doctor Who?’ we got asked fairly frequently, in the same way they said ‘will you be making them be vegetarians?’, as though the passion for a programme was a simple lifestyle choice. ‘They’ll rebel!’ we were warned, as pictures were painted of surly teens munching on burgers as they watched Star Trek DVDs with malice aforethought.
Gary Gillatt’s seminal articles on the subject of ‘The Fan Gene’ were published in Doctor Who Magazine in the very year we got married. Was there a genetic component to fandom? Probably. But was the subject of that fandom necessarily preordained? Does nurture necessarily add to nature? Will constant exposure lead to love or hatred? My parents met at a folk club in the Sixties. I grew up surrounded by folk music and I still love it. My sister can’t bear it, however she has seen the musical We Will Rock You 43 times (this is quite true, I am not exaggerating for comic effect), and I can be 100% certain that didn’t come from any childhood influences.
So what should we do about Doctor Who? Should it be an ‘adult’ subject, discussed only when the children were in bed so not to influence them – or would that just make it ‘forbidden fruit’? Would they turn out to be fans whether they were exposed to it early on in life or not? If they suddenly started playing Daleks in the playground, should we encourage or discourage it? My parents didn’t like Doctor Who and didn’t like me being a fan, but would it really have been better to be told ‘I don’t care if you are playing with your Pippa Dolls, you will sit down and watch Masque of Mandragora Part Two right now and you will *like* it’?
In the end, we didn’t make a plan. Doctor Who was just there, part of the family, and accepted as such (and by the glory of the great RTD it’s no longer the embarrassing old relative who calls you by your childhood nickname and gives you a big sloppy kiss in public). It’s true, one may think the die had already been cast when the birth of our sons was actually announced in Doctor Who Magazine and I accept that not every child is taught the alphabet via a dodgy old telly show (‘A is for Adric who won a gold star, B is for Bessie a sprightly old car’), but what actually happened is that the children just liked what they liked. It turns out that, at the time of writing, one is as crazy about Doctor Who as both his parents, the other prefers SpongeBob and Moshi Monsters (but yet still has absorbed, by what I will call Whosmosis, more knowledge on the subject than is usual – see opening paragraph). A Fan-Twin and a Non-Fan Twin. (I won’t name them, so in years to come when some schoolfriend unearths this column they can pretend it was talking about some *other* twins who just happened to be born in coincidentally almost exactly similar circumstances to themselves.)
Where do we go from here? Currently, Fan Twin is planning his own 50th Anniversary celebration story, compared to which The Five Doctors seems as continuity-lite as the 1967 Doctor Who Annual. Non-Fan Twin is just as excited about the upcoming ‘The Snowmen’ (or rather ‘Terror of the Killer Snowmen’, which he thinks sounds cooler) as the rest of us. Will this shared lot of experiences as a family, this frame of reference, bring us closer, or just cause later embarrassment? Only time will tell…
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Cake by my very clever Auntie Ros. Monoids by the also very clever Jim Sangster.