Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

It may be forgotten today, but the original series of Doctor Who was pretty popular too.

Heck, it was so popular that it ran for an incredible 26 years, and remained universally-loved for a good 22 of them. For those last four years, it was pretty much just fans who loved it, and even then just some.

In fact, once the show had been constructively-axed in 1989, a curious phoenix-like thing happened:

Fans carried-on making the show themselves.

Virgin Books, BBV videos, the Marvel comic strip and Big Finish CDs... the proliferation of new Who material was colossal. If you don't believe me, just go to, and see how long it takes you to scroll-down through the entire list of 214 eighth Doctor stories, only one of which actually went out on TV.

Undoubtedly the advantage here was the love. The BBC had clearly filed for divorce from Doctor Who back in 1985, but the fans who were writing, drawing, recording and producing these new adventures all adored it. Even if they were rubbish, they tried hard. Much like the original TV show.

And hey – since all those people respected both the show and other fans, what could go wrong?

Unfortunately, familiarity is well-known for breeding contempt. Success is great at going to one's head. And power is famous for its corruptive properties.

Ultimately fans turned-on the original series which had begotten all these spin-offs. Of course, we had always known that the original Doctor Who series had been pathetic. All these new tie-in stories were clearly garbage as well. Even other fans of Doctor Who were obsessives for liking it so much, unlike one's own moderate and balanced interest, of course. Hey - this was the cynical 1990s.

But you know what? I don't think anyone meant it. We chuckled at the infamous hand under Sutekh's bum, passionately debated the "UNIT dating controversy", and enjoyed chanting together Professor Zaroff's cliffhanging 1967 declaration that "Nothing in the world can stop me now!!"

Doctor Who, in all its forms, wasn't thought of as rubbish out of hate, but out of love.

We hated it because we loved it.

Into this arena, in 1996, was published Chris Howarth and Steve Lyons' book Doctor Who - The Completely Useless Encyclopedia.

It's a tongue-in-cheek A-Z of the show's most intricate trivia, which can only be understood, and enjoyed, by the very fans who it is lambasting.

Entries include:

'CRAP': Peter Davison's considered opinion of his entire run on Doctor Who, as given on the video The Doctors - Thirty Years of Time Travel and Beyond.

DAY OF ACTION: That fateful date, 30 November 1990, on which frustrated fans (not us) jammed BBC switchboards with requests to bring back their favourite programme (or Doctor Who, in many cases). Faced with such a force of public opinion, the Beeb avoided capitulation by the simple expedient of adjusting the number of calls received (allegedly).

DOWNTIME: Appropriately titled video spin-off: if you spent seventeen quid on its initial release, chances are you'd feel pretty down by the time you'd watched it.

'INDEFINABLE MAGIC': A term coined by fans who cannot for the life of them explain why they watch a tacky, cheap kids' show. 'Well, it has that indefinable magic, dunnit?'

LONDON (FICTIONAL): The unlikely target of 99 per cent of invasions, which was lucky for Earth as UNIT happened to have a big base there with a good scientific adviser. Had any malevolent ETs hit upon the idea of attacking, say, Dublin, we might now be living under the yoke of alien oppression.


As you might gather, it's essential for any fan reading this to be able to laugh at themselves, or at the very least, to be misguidedly conceited about all other fans. (and Peter Davison) Even the Top Ten lists can be quite scathing:

Ten Tried And Trusted Ways Of Bringing Fandom Into Disrepute

Ten Sad Items Of Merchandise

Ten Popular Continuity Errors To Pick Over At Your Leisure And Slag Off With Your Friends

In such an already hostile environment, it carries a lot of punch when the authors get tired of repeatedly knocking themselves, and instead put all that bile to good use, by uniting with the reader against a common enemy.

'SCIENCE FICTION ISN'T POPULAR': Famous line employed by BBC 1 Controller Jonathan Powell when attempting to justify the cancellation of Doctor Who and the absence of all telefantasy series from his channel. So long as you ignore the viewing figures, the Audience Appreciation Index and the sheer number of fan clubs around the world devoted to SF in its various forms, you can almost start to believe that he had a point. Upon leaving the BBC, Mr Powell became Head of Drama at Carlton Television and thus probably has a better idea of what 'unpopular' means now.


Ten years later, in 2006, the old show had finally clawed its way back onto BBC-1 again, so it was about time (cough) for a second volume.

Or was it? The market into which this volume was being released was decided different. As the writers themselves admit in the opening About This Book section...

Ten years ago, we also noted that it was the job of of the committed fan to rubbish any new Doctor Who before eventually accepting its merits in hindsight. However, this too has changed - thanks, we expect, to the series' sixteen-year absence from our screens and the fear that, if we fail to appreciate it enough, it might go away again. Now, you criticise a new episode at your peril, especially online. As you can imagine, this isn't much fun for us, so we've chosen to stick with the traditional approach. As a sequel, this book will of course be less funny than the original anyway...

Alas, though surely written with the best of intentions, I indeed found the second book to slightly less funny than the first, but really because the bite was missing.

T: Did you know that Russell T's middle initial doesn't stand for anything? He uses it to differentiate himself from some radio presenter. Though, after enduring 'The Long Game', we thought of at least a couple of appropriate words.*

* Terrific, tremendous, talented. What did you think we meant?


Still, a very funny second volume, and I do hope that 2016 brings a third. Heck, Love & Monsters is just asking for it.

Lastly, as mentioned above, despite their tone, both these books are a huge embracement of Doctor Who, and fandom, in all its forms. Nothing is intended seriously, except the bits that are, and if you're that interested in reading it, then you already the difference.

The bottom line is this: Doctor Who was created to entertain, coins to formalise a system of barter, trains as a method of transport, and stamps as a means of funding the postal service. People find entertainment in all four. Which is the most understandable?

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