I was born the day before A Holiday For The Doctor, the first episode of the Doctor Who story The Gunfighters, went out on BBC One. William Hartnell was the Doctor back then, but it would be another six years and two more Doctors before I finally caught up with the show.
The Gunfighters isn’t the best Doctor Who story to have right next to your birthday, but it’s certainly not the worst either. Watching that first episode, which I admit I only did the once when I bought the DVD, it was strange to think that when it went out I was less than 24 hours old.
Doctor Who was the my main source of engaging televisual storytelling when I was a kid. Mine was a childhood of the Britain, and west coast of Scotland, of the early to mid Seventies. The days of only three channels and the Test Card, of Heath & Wilson, the Miner’s Strike, the Three Day Week, Glam Rock and a great time for some classic telly.
Not being a total anorak, I did watch other things when I was growing up, shows like Catweazle and Timeslip, Michael Bentine’s Potty Time and Robert’s Robots, The Double Deckers and The Banana Splits [Rozan Kohbar! Size Of An Elephant!], UFO and Space: 1999, The Avengers and Department S, Blake’s 7 and Sapphire and Steel., The Feathered Serpent and, of course, The Flashing Blade! All great shows I enjoyed at the time, but now? Well, let’s just say that buying the DVDs of this sort of stuff from Network isn’t always as good an idea as your nostalgia tells you it is!
I was around for the original Star Wars in 1977 but despite the best efforts of Luke, Han and Leia, it didn’t make me forsake the Doctor and become a SW fan instead of a DW one. Although the visuals were fantastic and the storytelling was Hero’s Journey 101, not that I knew that at the time, it still didn’t come close to telling a story the way that Doctor Who did. Mainly because an X-Wing Fighter isn’t a TARDIS. Yes, Darth Vader was unforgettable, but something that was both a spaceship and a time machine was unbeatable. In some ways, it still is…
School for the 11 year old me was Heathfield Primary and soon it would be Prestwick Academy. The former was a converted prison built in 1906 [as I discovered for a research project in Primary 7] and the latter has been so completely rebuilt as to be unrecognisable by me today. School wasn’t exactly fun when you looked like The Milky Bar Kid, as I did back then, and I soon learned that the best way to deal with the bullies was to hide how clever I was and make them laugh enough to stop hitting me. Mostly, that worked. Probably the first indication that acting might just be my thing now I think about it…
I wasn’t a bookworm as such but I did do my fair share of reading too as well as watching the telly. Yet although I loved and enjoyed The Phantom Tolbooth, Jennings and Derbyshire, Just William and The Mouse And His Child as well as the classic stuff like 1984, Brave New World, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Day of The Triffids and, of course, The Time Machine, it was the Doctor Who novelisations of Terrance Dicks that really caught my imagination. IMHO the man should be given an OBE for services to child literacy. And I say that as the only kid in my class who actually enjoyed having to read books out loud.
Back in the days before the Internet, the technological Dark Ages before Streaming, Blu-Ray, DVD or even VHS, the Target Novelisation of a Doctor Who story was the only way you could either relive an adventure you’d recently seen on the telly, or find out about one that had happened before you’d started watching the show. Which, in the case of everything that came before The Gunfighters, included all the ones that had been shown before you were even born.
Television was seen as disposable in those days, and watching it was regarded as being like going to the theatre. It happened, you saw it, and it was over. Gone. With a live show, you could always buy another ticket and watch it again if you really wanted to. With telly however, though you might get another chance to watch something the Beeb regarded as prestigious & important, like Peter Cushing in 1984, for the most part it went out once and was never seen again.
And then, in an act of short-sighted cultural vandalism, the tapes were wiped to be used again for something else. Which means a lot of stuff, including Doctor Who and Quatermass, is probably lost forever. There were hardly any repeats of Doctor Who for the first eight years of its existence and so the books were the main way fans like me engaged with the show back in the day. Or they were until Doctor Who Weekly came along in 1979…
I started watching Doctor Who on, I think, the recommendation of my then best friend at primary school. William Hartnell was mostly over by the time I was born, I was too small to remember Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee was already underway when I discovered the show. The story that started it all off for me was The Sea Devils, which involved turtle men in string vests attacking a naval base, something that’s a lot more exciting than it sounds when you’re only six!
I always date myself as having started watching Doctor Who from The Sea Devils onwards as it’s the first one I can remember watching as it went out on its original transmission in March 1972. Those six episodes of Doctor Who had no Daleks and no TARDIS, but something about them still managed to grab my attention, capture my imagination and inspire me to eventually write stories of my own…
By 1974, when Pertwee had been replaced by Tom Baker, I’d been bitten by the acting bug and as a result wanted more than anything else to become an actor, a desire no doubt motivated in part by the idea that maybe one day I could get to play the Doctor myself. For real, not just in the school playground.
As we both now know, I never did get to play the Doctor for real. That dream came true for David Tennant and Peter Capaldi, but not for me. I would get to finally play the Doctor though, just not in the way that I expected…
As an actor & performer I’ve always been pretty fearless in front of an audience. Christmas and Birthday presents were always something performance related and soon I was doing the usual school plays etc and making the most of every opportunity to perform that came my way. That even included attempting to entertain my classmates with magic shows or ventriloquism or puppetry, anything to get the teacher to give us time off from doing lessons like Maths, which I had no aptitude for. English, on the other hand, was much more my thing.
I was the strange kid who actually enjoyed writing essays and that led to writing stories, which didn’t all involve the Doctor. I recorded many of them on an old tape cassette recorder and wasn’t totally weirded out by the sound of my own voice. As well as being able to stand up on a stage without stage fright getting the better of me, I’d always been good at voices and accents, though not proper impersonations as such. In 1982, having grown in confidence, experience and skill as a performer and voice artiste, I recorded what would be the first of many radio commercials.
It was exciting to get paid for doing something I loved for the first time at 16 and in early 1983 I joined Cumbernauld Youth Theatre, where I would do what I loved without getting paid for it, and do it gladly. This was the era of John Haswell, Robert Robson & John Baraldi and for the next four years I worked at Cumbernauld Theatre as Unpaid Assistant to Stage Manager Bill Winter.
I wrote my first one man show, Dracula Revisited, in 1984, with the first performance taking place ten days before my 18th birthday. Then in 1987 I gained my cherished Equity Card with Cumbernauld Theatre Company, appearing alongside Willie Elliot & Annette Staines as part of the company for that year’s pantomime, A Christmas Carol, written & directed by Robert Robson with music by Alan Tall.
Over the years that followed there was more voice work for Oxfordshire’s Fox FM, and more acting and performing. As well as becoming an accomplished public speaker to any audience of any size, when not working as an actor (you always have to work at something else when you’re not working as an actor) I always managed to find some way to use my acting skills out in the marketplace. I soon found that having those skills gave me an advantage in all those soul-destroying Retail, Sales & Customer Service jobs that the rest of them didn’t have.
At the encouragement of fellow Doctor Who fan Rintu Basu, I wrote my first non-fiction book, Sell Your Self!, in three months from September to December in 2009. Following the book’s publication by Joe Gregory’s Bookshaker in March 2010, working with my local Business Gateway led to me returning to Full Time Education as a mature student, resulting in my finally going to University at the age of 46.
I attended the Ayr Campus of the University of the West of Scotland and would graduate with a First Class Honours Degree in Contemporary Screen Acting in 2014. In tandem with my academic studies whilst a student, I finally achieved my childhood ambition of playing the Doctor when I wrote, directed, produced and starred in the fan film Doctor Who – Project: Fifty. It had only taken the best part of 40 years, but I got there in the end!
Being awarded Best One Act Play of 2014 at UWS for The Fandom Menace led to me attending the University of Glasgow, graduating with a Masters Degree with Merit in Playwrighting & Dramaturgy in 2016. My one act play Mrs Mackintosh, written for the course under the guidance of professional playwright Douglas Maxwell, was shortlisted for the 2016 David MacLennan Award. It didn’t win, but it was nice to come close. Which brings us up to where we are now…
Having got interested in self-publishing, thanks to Mark Dawson, Nick Stephenson & Chandler Bolt, I decided that I should give it a bash. But what to write, that was the question. Another non-fiction book or bite the bullet and finally write my first novel?
In the end, the answer was obvious. If you’re going to write anything, you should write the Making Of book of Project: Fifty. So that’s what I did. And that’s what’s coming up next…
Taken & Adapted from the Introduction to my upcoming book, A Fan Film Adventure In Space And Time.