I only came across Neil Perryman’s fabulous Wife in Space blog earlier this year, which is unforgivably tardy of me, but I’m pleased I did at least find it in the end because it’s a proper jewel of a site.
Essentially, the blog is a record of long time Doctor Who fan Perryman watching the classic episodes with his wife Sue, who has hitherto been totally resistent to the charms of viewing the first 26 seasons of the show. And they don’t just watch an episode here or there, either, but every single one. In order. Including the fan reconstructions (recons) of the hundred or so missing episodes long wiped from the BBC archives and not available for DVD release.
Now, I consider myself a reasonable Doctor Who fan as a look through this very blog will quickly confirm, but I’m far from having seen every episode. There are some of the oldest black and white stories from the Hartnell and Troughton era that I’ve still not seen, and an embarrassing number of Tom Baker stories (including I fear most of the “Key to Time” season) where the pre-teen me was boycotting the show on the perfectly reasonable grounds that Baker wasn’t Jon Pertwee. So the scale of the Perrymans’ project to see every episode over the course of some four years is just mind blowing to me in its sense of fan commitment to the show; and the idea that someone who isn’t even a fan to start with would agree to go along with it, and indeed be the indispensible reason for the project in the first place, is just astounding.
And the result is absolutely terrific. It could have gone horribly wrong if Sue had hated everything about the show and ended up just poking fun and savagely shooting down every episode, but she doesn’t. She certainly doesn’t hold back when there’s something that irks her, even when it’s on one of Doctor Who’s sacred cows than fans never dare to disparage; but there’s also plenty of things she likes and praises, even about episodes that hard-core Whovians detest. The unpredictablity and the sudden warmth of the successes makes up for the withering nature of other comments, and by and large when you take a step back and take a dispassionate view of what Sue is saying, she’s clear-eyed and spot-on an uncanny amount of the time. Thanks to Perryman’s ever-entertaining write-ups of their viewing sessions, you come away with a genuinely new perspective on the show that you thought you already knew inside and out.
But this review isn’t about the website (no matter how much I also recommend that you head over there and start reading as soon as possible) but about the new book by Perryman. When I first heard about the project, I wondered what on earth he would do: he could hardly take the contents of the blog and empty them all into print: at around half a million words, that would be one hefty tome. Moreover why would anyone buy the book when they can read the website for free? And you could hardly shutdown the blog to get people to buy the book as the backlash would be formidable, and besides that it’s the best shop window for the book in the first place.
Fortunately Perryman has come up with the perfect solution: this is the book that basically fills in all the gaps that there wasn’t room for in the “just the reviews, ma’am” blog. It’s the story of Perryman’s life growing up and his relationship with Doctor Who ever since he can first remember it, which is pretty much the first time he can recall anything at all. It’s also the story of how he came to meet and marry the remarkable Sue, whose sharp wit and insight as filtered through Perryman’s warm and playful writing is the star of the show in both print and online.
When specific classic stories are mentioned, the book features a few side notes drawn from the blog as extra commentary; there’s a section in the book dealing with the writing of the blog and what the project felt like to the Perrymans as they progressed through season after season; and finally some appendices of statistics which contains the surprising revelation as to which Doctor gets the highest marks in total from Sue. That’s enough to make the book feel very much part of the same project as the website, but without anyone feeling short-changed by duplicated material. It could hardly be better judged as a ‘spin off’ project, in fact.
Like the website, the book is just a wonderful way to spend time with the Perrymans – people I now feel I know so well from reading about them that it feels downright odd not to call them Neil and Sue in this review as though we’ve been friends for years – which is exactly what it feels like. When Neil recalls his 70s childhood it’s so close to my own that I genuinely feel we must have grown up in the same street and gone to the same school without realising it. When I got to the final pages – far too soon – it was like saying goodbye to friends who were moving away and I might not see again for a long while.
That’s testament to some seriously good writing, which is both emotionally from the heart (almost painfully so at times) and also witty and light-footed. In the packed world of Doctor Who-related merchandise crowding the store shelves – and never greater than in 2013 for the 50th anniversary – I don’t think there’s anything I would recommend as a more essential purchase above this wonderful volume.
(There’s more detailed info about the book over at Cathode Ray Tube.)
Available from all good book sellers, as the saying goes – I got mine from Waterstones at the RRP of £12.99. Also available in Kindle format from Amazon.co.uk, but then you won’t get to appreciate the lovely cover cartoon artwork on the printed edition.