Book Review: THE OFFICIAL DOCTOR WHO FAN CLUB, VOL 2 - THE TOM BAKER YEARS

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Review: The Official Doctor Who Fan Club, Volume 2 - The Tom Baker Years / Author: Keith Miller / Publisher: Pegimount Press / Release Date: May 1st

Volume 1 of the 'memoirs' of Keith Miller, the first 'proper' fan of Doctor Who, released last year, was riveting reading. Miller, who founded the official Doctor Who Fan Club in the early 1970s and ran it from the bedroom of his parents' home in Edinburgh, enjoyed then-unprecedented access to the BBC studios and the show's production office; his various visits to the set of Doctor Who in the early 1970s, his encounters with Jon Pertwee, his strained relationships with other ambitious fans of the show and, of course, his early writings in the form of his primitive newsletters, turned Volume 1 into a fascinating and really quite important document of a very special time not only in Keith's own life but also in the history of Doctor Who.

Here comes the eagerly awaited second volume and it’s all change. Pertwee has gone, producer Barry Letts has been replaced by the young firebrand Philip Hinchcliffe and Keith has lost the close and friendly links he’d enjoyed with the show’s secretary, Sarah Newman. Volume 2 is a very different affair; apart from one slightly-strained lunchtime meeting with Hinchliffe, Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter (who played Harry Sullivan in the series for a short time into Baker’s era), Keith seems to have enjoyed little direct contact with the production under its new regime. Hinchcliffe maintains an arm's length correspondence with Keith for a while, but his enthusiasm for merchandise and conventions never comes to anything as he becomes engrossed in the business of actually producing the TV show. In-depth visits to the studio are replaced with perfunctory reports of visits to BBC TV Centre with disinterested friends and a production team who took no real interest in them or the Fan Club. Keith remains cheerfully enthusiastic throughout as his primitive newsletters morph into the well-remembered Doctor Who Digest, a photo-driven magazine full of reviews, fiction, comic strips and news. But as the issues of his magazine roll by, Keith’s dissatisfaction with the series becomes more and more evident. The show is moving in directions he's not altogether comfortable with and his magazine reviews of the stories make no bones about voicing his disappointment. 1975's Revenge of the Cybermen is dismissed with just 'yeauch' and, like most fans of the time, he's appalled by the liberties taken with the Time Lords and their society in 1976's The Deadly Assassin.

It all comes to pretty much a dead stop in the aftermath of a terse cease-and-desist letter from the BBC dated 2nd February 1978 from one Nigel Graves of the BBC's legal department. Keith's Doctor Who Digest had been illustrated by screencap photographs and one of his club's services was to offer up for sale (on a non-profit basis) copies of episode soundtracks recorded from the TV (this, remember, was still a year or so before the first domestic video recorders became available). "Unless these practices stop forthwith we will be forced to take matters further", the letter ominously warns. It's the end of the line. Keith admits that he had little or no time for then-producer Graham Williams (he was even reluctant to review the stories produced under his stewardship) and by now he had virtually no contact with anyone on the production team and certainly set visits were a thing of the past. Keith wound down the Fan Club and issue nine of his Digest was the last, and Keith bows out telling his readers how he's just no longer convinced by the show and its place in a post-Star Wars sci-fi world. 

Where Volume 1 was a joyous, boisterous, innocent voyage of discovery with some lovely, evocative behind-the-scenes detail, Volume 2 is a more bittersweet affair. Much of the text is made up of reproductions of the Digest and, as time wears on, correspondence from the production office dries up and we're left with supporting letters from merchandisers promising pre-publication review copies of forthcoming books and assorted goodies. Only a few pieces of correspondence from Lis Sladen offer a reminder of the warmth and generosity of the earlier days of the Fan Club.

But fortunately there's a happy ending. Keith's gone on to forge a successful media career, he's a father to two daughters and he's back in the fold as a die-hard fan of Doctor Who, 21st century style. He's also the author of two books which, between them, are an important chronicle of the early days of Doctor Who appreciation and Volume 2, despite its occasionally downbeat tone, is ultimately pretty much as essential as its more pioneering first volume for casual fans, historians of the phenomenon of Doctor Who fandom and those who, like this reviewer, were there for at least part of the fun.

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