Book Review: The Doctor Who Fan Club Volume 1 - The Pertwee Years / Author: Keith Miller / Format: Paperback / Publisher: Self Published / Release Date: Out Now
In 1972, Keith Miller inadvertently created a monster. The 13 year-old Edinburgh schoolboy had written to the BBC enquiring about the existence of a Doctor Who fan club and within weeks found himself taking over a long-forgotten club which had been in existence since 1969. With the full co-operation of the Doctor Who production office - specifically then-producer Barry Letts' secretary Sarah Newman - Keith set about organising a Doctor Who fan club along the lines of Marvel Comics' Merry Marvel Marching Society - complete with newsletter, badges and assorted paraphernalia. The great beast known as Doctor Who fandom was born...
Keith's self-published large-format book, The Official Doctor Who Fan Club Volume 1 is a fascinating and charming exercise in unashamed nostalgia for Doctor Who fans of a certain vintage. The book largely takes the form of one-sided correspondence - Newman to Miller - chronicling the beginnings and the development of Keith's Fan Club. Newman's letters are incredibly informal as she offers Keith personal advice and encouragement and makes the resources of the BBC available to him for the production and distribution of his lively, primitive newsletter. Keith was even encouraged to make reverse-charge calls to the BBC so he could speak directly to the production office whenever he wanted (imagine the furore if the Daily Mail got hold of that one...). In his monthly newsletters Keith collated news and reviews of episodes, wrote original stories and made the first real attempt to detail the history of the series by way of vaguely-accurate descriptions of the show's earliest episodes (until then-Doctor Jon Pertwee put his foot down and demanded that the newsletter concentrated on his stories).
There's a treasure trove of hitherto untold anecdotes here as Keith clashes with other Doctor Who fans jostling for BBC recognition (including, incredibly, acclaimed Thick Of it/Doctor Who/Torchwood TV star Peter Capaldi who, as a young Doctor Who fan, was clearly a huge thorn in Keith's side - and not to mention an irritant to the BBC too). Keith's vivid descriptions of his numerous set visits during the Pertwee years paint glorious pictures of the BBC at the height of its creative powers and Newman's correspondence to Keith is often beautifully indiscreet and there are moments of huge poignancy, such as Keith's letter from Master actor Roger Delgado explaining that he was planning to make only one more appearance in Doctor Who before being phased out, a letter (later stolen by another Doctor Who fan) written not long before the actor was tragically killed in a traffic accident in Turkey.
Keith also has the distinction of being the first Doctor Who fan to be professionally published - his uncredited Pertwee story The House That Jack Built (for which he was paid the princely sum of £9) appeared in the 1975 Doctor Who Annual and is reprinted in the book. From such little acorns today would grow a future showrunner.
Keith's book is a diary of different, much more innocent times. For anyone with any interest in Doctor Who at all, especially its early days and the origins of the monolithic monster that is now the show's fandom, this is an essential purchase. It might not have the slick design and lay-out of new series publications, but it effortlessly exudes the same innocent enthusiasm of the Fan Club it celebrates. I am beyond excited at the prospect of Volume 2 and Keith's experiences during the early years of Tom Baker. Bring it on.