All The Young Dudes
The Diary Of A Dr. Who Addict
(Published March 4th 2010 - Publisher Simon & Schuster - ISBN: 978-1-84738-412-6)
Being a late developer (stop sniggering at the back there) and coping with your transformation into a teenager must strike a chord with quite a large proportion of Doctor Who fans. Old fans and new fans. On the coat tails of the recent regeneration of Mr. Tennant into Mr. Smith, with no doubt a whole generation of kids bursting with hormones now threatening to abandon their love affair with the series, comes Paul Magrs rather smashing book The Diary Of A Dr. Who Addict.
Cleverly, he takes a feast of Proustian nostalgia that will warm the cockles of any 40 year old (and older) Doctor Who fan and weaves it into a story brimming with universal homilies about the teenage condition. Whilst using The Show (as he refers to it) as a cultural framework, along with memories of acquiring your first VCR to record Time Flight (in 1980 that was as revolutionary as getting your first iPod for those of you still in small trousers), visits to Blackpool's now sadly defunct Doctor Who exhibition on the Golden Mile and Target novelisations, he also tenderly explores the growing pains of his main character, David.
David lives with his mum, step-dad Brian and Brian's mum Jacqui on a Durham estate. He's just started secondary school and his best friend is Robert. He and Robert share a passion for Doctor Who and the Target novelisations. However, Robert is maturing faster than David and like many of us, and our friends, he's becoming more interested in music, girls and his own sense of identity and The Show is, for him, far too representative of the child he's rapidly leaving behind. One of the strengths of the book lies in the way that Magrs uses the characters passions for the series to signpost their respective journeys through puberty, the discovering of your identity and sexuality. It's no better symbolised in the scene where Robert, bare chested and flaunting himself to the young girls next door, ritually destroys his entire collection of Target books. The swine!
Magrs is equally committed to exploring David's burgeoning homosexuality and, in a similar way to how he treated the emergence of such identities between two young male characters in Strange Boy, he very subtly teases the subject from his characters through conversations and thoughts. There's a great scene where David and Robert spend their school break-time in the Art Room making thumb-pots from clay and David plucks up the courage to ask Robert about what other people are saying about him. Robert comes out with an hilarious definition of why people think David is 'puffy'.
The Show is used as a catalyst for these revelations and for other developments and one scene that leaps off the page as strikingly true was where David, having now befriended a like-minded creative soul in Karen, is caught in the crossfire of a conversation between his Nan and Mum when they discuss 'courting'. I was forever being asked by my own parade of relatives, 'Are you courting, yet?', a question demanding a reply that would act as a signifier that I was clearly 'normal', and David's inner monologue at this point completely and utterly sums up my then confusion as a young gay boy to be.
"What if I said to them, right
now, over the noise of their barbed chatter and the background murmur
of Sunday football, 'Actually, I don't like girls. Not in the way you
think. Not in the way you expect and assume. I'm never going to do any
of the things you are scared of. No one will get pregnant. You won't
have another early marriage to arrange. You won't have some new
daughter-in-law to hate. There'll be none of them upheavals. Nothing
like that from me. So, stop it. You don't know anything. I don't like
I don't like girls
And even though I don't shout this out, I'm shocked that I've even thought it inside my head."
This coming out saga also drags in betrayal by David Bowie (the ever changing musician equally at home to regeneration), his parents opinions of Larry Grayson, Jon Pertwee's regeneration into Tom Baker, Baker's into Davison, the death of Adric and several amusing and odd conversations with Robert about growing up, girls and being a Goth. That pivotal moment in the series, where one Doctor hands over to the next, is used to great effect by Magrs to explain to his younger readers that changes in their own lives, and bodies, are all part of the life experiences that form us as adults and we should embrace them. Along with sexuality, he looks at David's journey, as a 'puffy' outsider somewhat confused by Robert and Karen's rapidly developing maturity, in terms of self expression and finding your identity. It's also a self realisation that there are actually other gay boys in County Durham and he isn't alone. Even better, there are gay boys who still love Doctor Who and have aspirations to write.
David's love of The Show is my love of the series too. At the same age, I bought those shiny red Silvine exercise books and promptly filled them with strange Doctor Who stories where I was the Doctor's companion and, yes, we would end up in genre busting crossovers with Star Trek and Planet Of The Apes. Magrs understands the importance of fan production and how genre shows such as Doctor Who inspire young writers to blossom and use their talent. It's such a positive aspect of David's story, along with Robert's similarly exultant discovery of his own sexuality and creativity in music, and confirms that such a love of The Show is not time wasted, is not a misspent youth. Magrs tracks David's development of his writing talent from exercise books filled with monsters and mayhem through to intelligently observed portraits of family life as offered up in a chapter full of letters he writes to his friend Karen.
It's a beautifully observed, witty and warm book. Quite how the Facebook and iPod generation will react to this will be interesting to find out as it references a Doctor Who that they know little of beyond the generation spanning act of one Doctor becoming another. It shouldn't matter because in the end it's more about how the cultural references of any era (here it's Bowie, Kate Bush, goths, VCRs and Pot Noodles) shape and influence your development and, equally, how families, friends and environment have as much to do with the adults we become as do novels by Terrance Dicks and Marvel comics.
A lovely book that offers its readers a 'Journal Of Possible Things'...