Feature: 'The Book That Dare Not Speak Its Name' by J.R. Southall


The Book That Dare Not Speak Its Name

For the last several months, I’ve been working on a book. It’s finished, and yet the chances are, even after devoting the better part of the last year to it, it will never be published and you’ll never be able to read it. That’s a huge shame, but possibly not for the reason you’re thinking.

The reason it’s such a shame is not because I’ve put in so much time and would be disappointed not to be rewarded for it, but because it’s An Important Book, one that I believe deserves and perhaps even needs to be published. One that ought to be read.

So, what is this book, you’re asking? It wasn’t an idea of my own, but once the project had been suggested to me, it was something I leaped at.

There’s this funny thing that goes on within Doctor Who fandom, you see, this weird level at which it’s acceptable for the fans to hate the thing of which they’re a fan. It’s not just Doctor Who, either, and that was the appeal of the project, the fact that it would be an opportunity to shed some light on a wider malaise, something that’s almost certainly a by-product of the internet age, but to do so using my favourite TV programme as the tool. The book would almost, in some respects, act as an exposé of a certain kind of activity, an activity that’s in some ways almost hidden in plain sight. We all do it (or it seems that way sometimes), we all take to the public forums, the social media, in order to blow off some steam. But what we fail to take into account when we do so, is how that steam might affect other people. I’ve known fans that have left certain forums because their enjoyment of the series was being seriously undermined by the things they were reading about it, the opinions that were being expressed. That’s quite damaging; not to Doctor Who itself, which is in perhaps its rudest health since the glory days of the 1970s, but to the way in which we, the people closest to it, understand and appreciate it.

I don’t have a problem with people expressing opinions, of course. But the way in which they do so and their lack of appreciation for the feelings of others (and occasionally this can also mean the people who work on the show, who are very often also fans and who might very well have a presence on the forums and social media outlets themselves) is something I find hard to reconcile.

So I was asked to keep a diary of fandom and the way it reacted to Doctor Who in the anniversary year, with the idea that it could subsequently be published and maybe, just maybe, enable one or two of the people who post their thoughts without really thinking about it first – and particularly those who do so under the anonymity that comes of using pseudonyms and fictitious avatars – to stop and consider what they’re doing before they press the enter key.

It’s important to point out at this juncture that the people whose quotes I assembled in the book aren’t the problem themselves, so much as they’re a symptom of the problem. They are, to all intents and purposes, the innocents, who are merely acting and behaving in a manner that has become the “norm” in the internet age. I’m quite certain that they have the courage of their convictions and would happily argue their points in the most reasonable manner if asked to do so – but the problem is, they aren’t being asked to do so. Maybe this book would’ve helped with that.

Hell, I wouldn’t even argue with the points they were making, if it wasn’t for the way in which they were making them, oftentimes.

Re: Does anyone not like Day of the Doctor?

"It was a bloody sight better than Time of the Doctor."

Chico, Gallifrey Base, 10th February 2014

"I preferred Time of the Doctor as a story if I'm honest, but I also really enjoyed Day.

It's not how I would have done it myself, but I think if I judged any Doctor Who story by those standards then I would be overly-critical of almost everything. I try to enjoy these things for what they are rather than what I wish they were."

Not the Mind Probe, Gallifrey Base, 10th February 2014

There is a habit, you see, of confusing the subjective point of view with an objective overview. It is becoming increasingly common for fans to assume that because the programme doesn’t always reflect their own tastes, that is a fault on the show’s behalf rather than simply an example of the series doing something different. Doctor Who has always thrived on change, and there will always be bits we like less than others; this doesn’t mean those other bits are any less valid – or any less “good” – than those bits we like the most. These are personal preferences, rather than deficiencies in the current regime’s production.

I was listening to a podcast recently (no, I’m not going to name it), in which one of the guests expounded the theory that fandom will collectively emphasise the negative during any current incarnation of the series, and then – later on, once people have had the distance and the opportunity to reassess what it was that they once had such a problem with – those stories will be re-evaluated and the positives will become much clearer. It happened during Season 17, he said, and then again during the JNT years, with first Colin Baker’s tenure and then Sylvester McCoy’s. It had even happened with the recent Russell T Davies showrunnership, he added. And then, without a trace of irony, he stated quite emphatically that Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who would be an exception to the rule.

In other words, he was convinced of the “fact” that Steven Moffat’s vision of Doctor Who was objectively Bad as opposed to simply being something that he himself didn’t like. There are a surprising number of people who think the same way.

Re: New Doctor Who 'more like classic series'.

So, by being "more like the classic series", are they admitting that in terms of tone and direction, the last nine awful, messy years of their reimagining/spin-off-imposter have been just that, a reimagining! Or are they just saying series 8 is going to have the lead actor actually play the character of the Doctor properly, and have some well written stories without any "romance" "comedy" farce?

"I too will believe it when I see it."

Glitz, The Hive, 5th February 2014

"They mean like Series 24 on a budget like the last 7 years then..."

Rob Filth, The Hive, 8th February 2014

It’s a truism that the loudest complaining comes from the smallest number of people, and that’s pretty much what I found when compiling the book. Throughout my research, it was just the same, small number of people making the most noise. Which is not to say that they might not necessarily have a point, but to compile several hundred pages of text comprised mostly of 10/10 reviews of the latest episodes saying little more than “I enjoyed that” wouldn’t have made for a very interesting read. It was the conversations that ensued that were the most fascinating. It’s surprising how few threads ever get started on internet forums to praise elements of the show; people only tend to start threads if they have something to moan about – and even when people do start threads in praise of something, it usually isn’t long before the ones who dislike what’s being praised start to dominate the conversation. There are only so many ways of saying you like something, but it seems that there’s an infinite variety of ways to pull apart something you don’t. And so Doctor Who forums, just I suspect like any other forums, are replete with threads started by people who have something they want to get off their chest.

The biggest problem with the book (which I shan’t name; let’s just call it “TFO” for now) is that it probably reads as a diatribe against all of Doctor Who fandom – and nothing could be furthest from the case.

For example, there are quite a large number of people I like and whose opinions I have the utmost respect for quoted within it (on both sides of “the fence”), and yet I have no doubt that were the book to see the light of day, almost everyone quoted would be characterised as just as “bad” as one another. In fact, there are huge tracts of the text that present interesting arguments well thought through and expressed in reasoned terms. A lot of the quotes chosen might well represent a point of view that I don’t agree with, but it wasn’t the job I set myself to agree with the arguments presented with. I saw it as my task to try and represent what Fandom en masse were talking about (and you only have to go search out the forums and their threads to see quite how many of these conversations are happening). But unfortunately, I strongly suspect that everybody I’ve quoted would be tarred by a single brush in the minds of many – if not most – readers.

"What's the betting it doesn't have a clip of Jenna Coleman having a shit on a khazi?"

The Walrus, Roobarb’s Forum, 17th February 2014

Further than that, a lot of the book is extremely funny – and usually not unintentionally so. Even in cases where the arguments being presented were to my mind spurious, they are very often presented in a deliberately humorous manner, and there’s every chance that because of what the arguments are, and because of the volume of debate, this might be misunderstood. It was never my intention to point the spotlight at people in order that they might be laughed at; rather, what I was attempting to show was that even intelligent, literate, witty people can get caught up in the flow of anonymous “banter” and sometimes go perhaps what some might consider too far in their online repartee (as the above example perhaps demonstrates). I happen to think that “TFO” is an extremely amusing read, and for all the right reasons; it has been written by people who know exactly how funny they want to be, and are intelligent enough to accomplish that. It’s a terrific read, in fact; engrossing, engaging, and entertaining.

But also extremely controversial and quite shocking on occasion, too. Perhaps the trouble is that it’s difficult to gauge which quotes have been included because I found them intelligent and well-argued and witty, and which were included for their sheer bloody-mindedness. I would like to say that it’s for the reader to judge, but in this age of online debate, no doubt how people think about the book prior to reading it would no doubt colour their response to it if they did.

There are also a number of sections which are purely funny because their authors were having a bit of fun, and given the weight of the text that is balanced towards “moaning”, it might not be apparent that the inclusions purely for wit would be easily recognisable as such.

And then there are conversations like this:

Re: Setting Up Characters and Then... Nothing

"How about The Dominators. They controlled 10 Galaxies!!!! Now admittedly after just watching DMP they did have some confusion when it comes to galaxies, universe, solar system etc... But still.... 10 freakin' Galaxies and only one episode!?!?"

Pantsking, Gallifrey Base, 15th February 2014

"Only one STORY.

One EPISODE is part of a story (in this case, a sixth of the story)."

Bumbles, Gallifrey Base, 16th February 2014

"This again? Where I come from we call stories episodes. I've tried to call them "stories" just to appease all of the people that have a problem with it, but sometimes it just slips out."

Pantsking, Gallifrey Base, 16th February 2014

This is only a short exchange, but highlights something else that might be considered one of the problems of the internet age, that the people posting can become so focussed on the tiniest and apparently most irrelevant parts of a conversation, and ill-will can be bred and magnified and very often soon find itself out of control – and all because one person doesn’t have the facility to self-edit or choose their specific words in the wisest way. When what we post isn’t moderated by an Editor (as it would be in a newspaper or magazine – and the moderators on internet forums only have a certain amount of influence when balancing the right of the individual to free speech against the need to keep tempers even on their forums), then it is entirely down to the individual to say what they mean clearly and without any room for misinterpretation. Let’s be honest, very few people have that capability and yet everyone can make themselves heard on an internet forum. Of course that’s going to be problematic; if anything, this book was going to be a plea to forum posters to try and make the moderators and administrators of these forums’ lives easier. I doubt the administrators or moderators would see it that way, though; no doubt the book would read as an attack on the forums themselves, and that was absolutely not the case and not the spirit in which it was compiled.

"I enjoy debate and I appreciate others' points of view but I feel that your own and Ewan's posts came across immediately as aggressive and personal. Some people on here have a passive aggressive way of posting "Some people must think this" appears a lot when directly referencing a post - not naming the person but aimed at them. Your posts dissected mine to a level that was not needed. A simple "I don’t agree because” would suffice."

SID RAT, Roobarb’s Forum, 18th February 2014

A question raises its head when considering the people who are posting’s lack of a self-editing facility, though, and that is the question of the mental health of the people who are making the comments. This is a very tricky area to get into, and there’s little doubt that the evidence of many forums suggests a certain amount of obsessive-compulsive behaviour among their residents.

Mildly obsessive-compulsive behaviour is hardly unhealthy, though; we all indulge in it and so not only is it quite “normal”, it can also be positively beneficial. There are any number of areas in life, any number of occupations even, when behaving in a moderately obsessive-compulsive manner can be useful and even advantageous. The trouble is, this level of behaviour can appear magnified when expressed on an internet forum, and one potentially huge problem with the book is that it might take what could be considered extremely normal behaviour elsewhere in life, and misrepresent it to the point at which it appears unhealthy and even harmful. This was not the intention, certainly not to focus the thrust of the prose in such a way that this might be the case; nevertheless I must admit that to certain readers, “TFO” will no doubt look like it quite deliberately focuses on such behaviour to a point at which it is made to appear far unhealthier than it really is. This was absolutely not the case, and I was very careful in choosing which posters to quote by reading the rest of their output throughout the year, and focussing most frequently on those I was quite certain were quite capable of both constructing a reasoned argument if they were being asked to do so, and that were most likely to have the conviction of their argument if it was called into question. In other words, the book generally focuses on those who have the most conviction and who are the most capable of qualifying that conviction. The problem, if anything, is that people often aren’t called to qualify their convictions in a reasoned manner, and instead arguments break out that might involve heated debate rather than reasoned discussion.

The biggest problem with “TFO” from my own perspective is that it will inevitably look like an attack on the new series, or even on Doctor Who in general – and of course, nothing could be further from the truth. As a Doctor Who fan of several decades’ standing, and as someone who writes about it and already has two published books on the subject, the last thing I would want to be responsible for would be a book that throws the series itself up in a bad light. Of course, the fact that the contents focus so heavily on attacks on the programme might be read in two ways, firstly as a reaction against the amount of negativity. But conversely there would no doubt be certain quarters that regarded even the mere existence of such a volume as a comment on the series itself.

The fact that it’s a small press publishing company that ultimately wouldn’t be making a terribly great wave especially in the consciousness of the greater public at large wouldn’t affect the reaction against “TFO”, and that would perhaps be the greatest problem with publishing the book in the first place. Among the friends and “foes” whose quotes are contained within the volume, there are any number of posts quoted from people who make up the publishers authorship and its customer base. Personally, I didn’t see it as “fair” to ignore certain voices because they were people that I either knew or else knew had some involvement with the publisher either as writers or buyers. But of course, a small press publisher cannot afford to displease a finite and narrow foundation of writers and customers, and “TFO” might very well be seen as doing just that, even if that really isn’t the case. As I said above, it’s most certainly not the people whose posts are quoted that I see as the problem, rather it’s the culture of posting anonymously and without regard to who might be reading your words that is to blame (if such a word as “blame” is appropriate). Yet if the publisher were to be at the brunt of any backlash on account of the book, that would be not only incredibly undesirable but also extremely unfair – and not only would I not want to be responsible for that, I can also fully accept that from their point of view, publishing such a book – even one that they themselves were quite keen on initially – might be seen as far too big a risk. The intention of the book, the desire to highlight a problem that is far wider than Doctor Who fandom in general or the publisher’s readership specifically, would probably be forgotten as people’s concentration focussed on it as a potential attack on the forums in general and certain individuals in particular.

It’s a book whose intentions would no doubt be misread, and whose conclusions would no doubt be misrepresented. It would be far too big a risk for any small press publishing company to take. And for that reason, I am becoming resigned to the idea that a year’s worth of work and the possibility of making even a small amount of what I would consider positive change, might never see the light of day.

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0 #4 Simon_200 2015-06-08 07:41
I'll echo some of Farsighted's comments about the idea that most fans in forums are witty, intelligent and considerate. But not the but that has a cheap dig at Number 6 (shame on you for that!)

Number 6, is spot on, of course. Forums are for opinions. All opinions. The author is deluding himself here. If anything, fans on forums exhibiting mental issues are the ones that cannot abide this fact. The ones that take issue in the idea that each post isn't a gushing 10/10 endorsement, and need to make up stupid excuses (like you might hurt the feelings of people who work in the show!), or spend a year writing a book about it, would do well to spot the irony of their ridiculous, preachy, cod psychology.
-3 #3 farsighted99 2014-11-21 18:08
Number 6 - well, you read the article didn't you? Why do I have this gut feeling that you might just be the type of person he is trying to reach out to?? :D

I find that over the years that I have been a fan of Doctor Who, and having read several Doctor Who internet forums on regular basis, that most of the people who find their way to these forums continue to amaze me with their intelligence, wit interesting points of view. For some reason this show attracts these kind of people. And yes, there is a lot of complaining, and the occasional loonies and trolls, but along the way, I find it all an incredibly entertaining experience. I've learned a lot about others, and how they think and react. I've learned a lot about the UK, and how the British view Americans. And I've learned to speak a bit of "British"! And Bob's your uncle!

Someone should put this all in book, if they can do it.. But it's a daunting task to get it just right.
+8 #2 Number 6 2014-04-13 18:30
--continued from above--

Or perhaps no one wanted to publish this project because they quickly realised that wholesale selective quoting of people who posted on various forums in good faith, taken without their knowledge or consent for your own financial benefit, is at best manipulative, & at worst dishonest & a potential legal minefield.

Not to mention the fact that the very type of people you are allegedly writing the book in order to reach & change are also the type of people who would never, ever read such a book in the first place. Let alone pay good money for the privilege of doing so.

Also, preaching at people in print with the rather foolish hope that you can change them into behaving the way that you wish them to be, rather than how they actually are, doesn't make your book important, it merely makes you seem self important and borderline delusional. People are who they are, for better and for worse. And no book will ever change that.
+7 #1 Number 6 2014-04-13 18:20
Perhaps no one wanted to publish this project because they realised pretty quickly that quoting selected snippets of conversations, debates, & arguments from online forums completely out of context does not present reality in any way, shape, or form. It is, instead, the deliberate manipulation of reality in order for you to make whatever point it is you are seeking to make.

Free from any such context, & without reader knowledge of the people being quoted, their individual styles, their personalities, & the tone of the discussion being selectively quoted from, you can make those selected snippets you have carefully and deliberately chosen mean & sound any way you wish. Which is not exactly honesty in print.

--continued below--

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