A Life in Doctor Who magazines

It’s mid-afternoon on Saturday 13 October 1979. I’m seven years old and I’m in the living room of my grandparent’s house at 85 Kenilworth Road, Aston, Birmingham. Out the window I can hear the crowds at the Aston Villa ground roaring in appreciation of another goal. When I hear the unmistakeable final roar that signifies the end of the game, I will turn on the telly for the football results and Grandad and I will sit there as he fills in the pools coupon and finds, yet again, that he’s not won a penny. Once that ritual is complete it will be time for the exciting third episode of the current Doctor Who story, City of Death. Earlier that morning Grandad and I spent a happy hour recording an improvised radio play on audio tape. He played Long John Silver and I was Jim Hawkins. We battled pirates and brigands, survived the curse of The Black Spot, fought swashbuckling cutlass fights, and retired to the Admiral Benbow Inn for ale after our exertions. Grandad is now tending his homebrew, which bubbles and belches under the kitchen counter where he hides it from my Gran, who tolerates it but disapproves. Left to my own devices, I’ve taken the eiderdown from my bed upstairs – no duvets yet – laid it on the floor and put the sheepskin rug on top of it. I’m lying there on my tummy, reading.  The gas fire warms the soles of my feet. Next to me lies a pile of Doctor Who stuff. Patrick Troughton stares seriously over the top of his 900 year diary... read more

Doctor Who and The Massacre (of St Bartholomew(‘s Eve))

Occasionally I lose my tiny mind and I pick a lost Doctor Who story, grab up everything about it that I can and devote a week to deep diving into it. This week it was the third season historical The Massacre, produced under the aegis of script editor Donald Tosh (who Loose Cannon interviewed about the story) and producer John Wiles. I have read the shooting scripts, watched the Loose cannon reconstruction, listened to the narrated soundtrack, listened to Peter Purves’ reliably brilliant reading of the novel, read the Pixleyana entry in the Complete History, read James Cooray Smith’s excellent and illuminating Black Archive book on the serial, read Rob Shearman and Toby Hadoke’s take on it in Running Through Corridors, moaned that there isn’t a Fact of Fiction feature on it yet, and rummaged through all the existing photographs. I’m not sure I have anything new to add, but these are the things that occurred to me, noted down as much for the benefit of my memory as your edification. For those who don’t know the story, here’s a précis. The script was substantially (totally?) rewritten by Donald Tosh because he felt John Lucarotti’s scripts were historically inaccurate – so all the historical inaccuracies in the script are Tosh’s own. In the process of rewriting, possibly due to time pressures, large parts of the storyline, particularly the Doctor’s role, become completely incoherent. In episode one I think it’s most clear what Lucarotti intended. When the Doctor is leaving Steven alone in the Inn, he is noticed by Roger, a Catholic. From what we can gather from the script, Roger... read more

The DCMS rebrand (and me)

Yesterday the Department for Culture, Media and Sport renamed itself the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. I ran digital comms for the DCMS for about a year 2009/10 (honest, I did), a period which covered the last six months of the Labour government and the first six months of the coalition. During the first half of my time there, we redesigned & rewrote the website, but we couldn’t launch our shiny new digital efforts (long since replaced by the much better gov.uk) till after the election. As the extended purdah negotiations ended, and the new government was announced, we launched the new site and rebranded our Twitter account, which at that point had a few thousand followers. Despite my presence, I often had a hard time convincing some of my colleagues in the Press Office about the importance of digital communications. This scepticism was reflected upstairs after the election. Upon being shown the department’s new digital presence, one newly minted Tory minister, who will remain nameless, asked me, incredulous, why we even had a website, let alone social media accounts, and wanted to know why we needed to ‘communicate to the public’ at all – he thought digital communications was completely irrelevant to his job or his Dept. One of the few times in my life I’ve been genuinely left speechless. Anyway, as the new ministers were appointed that first day, I monitored Twitter and saw a rumour beginning to spread. According to sources, the Dept was going to take responsibility for the Olympics (true) and was going to rebrand as the DOCMS, requiring an expensive rebranding... read more

Return to the Afterblight

My first trilogy of novels, collected in School’s Out Forever, were set within the shared world of Abaddon’s Afterblight Chronicles. They’re pretty good, and you should totally pick up a copy (hint! hint!) Ahem, anyway… this August a new Afterblight omnibus is released containing three novellas: Fall Out by Simon Guerrier, which is a sequel to my trilogy, and picks up with the St Mark’s gang a few years after Children’s Crusade – we spoke about the book in this interview Children of the Cull by Cavan Scott, which is a sequel to the two books that kicked off the series, The Cull by Simon Spurrier and Kill of Cure by Rebecca Levene Flaming Arrows by Paul Kane, which is the fourth story in his Hooded Man series (which crossed over with my books a bit) Check out the cover, and pre-order it now, if you fancy checking in on a world I had a whale of a time playing... read more

A load of old cobblers

Twenty five years ago I visited a town in Poland called Starachowice. Since WW2 it had been a town that produced trucks – Star Trucks – and almost nothing else. When I visited, in the early 90s, the factory had closed and unemployment was through the roof. The town felt lost, abandoned, the populace shocked and confused. Even today, the town receives special economic privileges, still reeling from the loss of its industrial heart. It’s not just in planned economies that towns specialise, and ultimately pay the price. Northampton, which I visited this week, was a town of cobblers, and something about it put me in mind of Starachowice. How or why a town organically comes to specialise in a particular industry without Communist central control, I don’t know, but Northampton made shoes and boots, enjoying a boom that lasted from the Napoleonic Wars until demand died away between the world wars. And even though its main industry pretty much died away decades ago, there is a feeling about some parts of the town – not all, but definitely some – that it’s still a bit lost to itself, somehow not entirely sure what it’s for now, like an old soldier sat in the corner of the pub, ignored because nobody wants to hear his stories anymore. Echoes of Northampton’s past as a town of shoemakers abound in the tangle of streets where I’m staying this week, from the abandoned factories, like Waukerz Boot Factory- an oddly punk name in 19th century stonework… …to the house names… …to this tile, randomly stuck halfway up a wall – a small, oddly formal piece of... read more

Timebomb – Introducing Lord Sweetclover

Cornwall, England, 1645 Lord Henry Sweetclover was woken by Sarah’s cries. There was a dull ache in his head, his bones felt heavy and old, his mouth gummy and foul. He reached over to the other side of the bed, but found it cold. This wasn’t unusual. His wife was an early riser and normally left him to sleep away the morning. Last night’s revelries had been particularly drunken and energetic, so he had expected that she would break her habit and lie in with him as she sometimes did on those occasions when the wine flowed freely. She had proved herself immune to most things, but a hangover was not one of them. He rubbed his forehead, which made bright flashing lines appear behind his eyes, so he stopped that, groaned and rolled over, burying his face in the pillow, trying to blot out the noise. He wondered what could have made his wife rise early after such a night. He thought back, trying to recall whether she had given any indication as to her intended business this day, but he could bring nothing to mind. Except, now he thought about it, she had seemed slightly out of sorts earlier the previous day. Her demeanour had worsened throughout the afternoon such that he was sure he was due a long evening of silent reproach and frosty disregard. He was pleasantly surprised when she produced the cards and the wine as the sun was setting, and even more pleased at what followed after. But on reflection there had been an edge to her revelry. A hint of determination, recklessness,... read more

Timebomb – Introducing Kaz

Cornwall, England, 2014 Kazik Cecka was cold, wet, tired and hungry when he finally decided to stop running and find somewhere to rest. The cloudless night was full-moon bright, the raindrops picked out in flashes of silver, and the air was fresh with the first chill of autumn. Kaz pulled his tattered jacket tight and considered his options. He was miles from the nearest town, in open countryside. He could see a copse of trees on the other side of the field, a dark interruption in a horizon which stretched away as far as the eye could see; undulations of ploughed fields and pasture. He had hoped that by now he would see the welcoming orange glow of a small town or village, but there was nothing; if there was a town nearby, the clear skies and full moon were swamping its light pollution and keeping its location a secret. Sighing, he decided that the copse offered his best chance of shelter. He trudged across the field, avoiding the sleeping cows. At least he was wearing the new Gore-Tex boots his father had bought for him before their fight, so his feet were warm and dry. Unlike the rest of him. This was not the adventure he had been hoping for when he’d run away from home. Not for the first time he replayed the afternoon’s events in his head, questioning his actions, wishing that just this once he’d managed to keep his cool and not shoot his mouth off. But even as he chided himself for his temper he found his pulse quickening and the sense of injustice... read more

Timebomb – Introducing Dora

Cornwall, England, 1640 Theodora Predennick failed to stifle a yawn. She wasn’t accustomed to rising so early. Being dressed and busy in the pre-dawn gloom felt unnatural. All her life, summer and winter, she had been woken by the first rays of the rising sun, and had retired to bed as the skies above her village turned black. Her grandmother had warned her about the things that walked abroad after dark: goblins, werewolves, fair folk, and girls with wickedness in their hearts. Good girls were safely tucked up behind stout wooden doors come sunset. Dora had always been a good girl. Her new dress pinched at her ribs. She adjusted the wretched thing to try and reduce the chafing as she worked the lump of dough on the table before her, kneading and pounding the mixture into submission. The logs on the huge kitchen hearthstones crackled and spat as the damp bark was scorched away. The newly dried wood began to catch alight, billowing fresh smoke up the chimney and casting a warm glow that lightened the gloom. When Dora was satisfied that the dough was ready she set it by the fireplace in a cloth-lined wicker basket so it could rise in the spreading warmth. It was time to light the fire beneath the baking oven. She had just lifted the iron tongs, intending to prise a log from the main fire and use it to spark the smaller one, when she paused. Had she heard something? No. Not at this hour. The master was still abed and cook wasn’t likely to rise for some time. She’d only... read more