Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

For most enthusiasts, to be a fan of something is an opportunity to be happy.

However perhaps the surest test of your happiness is to then become a part of that thing.

After all, it's well-known that a minority - and indeed an individual - will often compare themselves favourably to a majority. Popular theory holds that this is to compensate for insecurity about themselves. Churches, scientists, bloggers... it's hard to think of a community in which this doesn't happen. On some level even this paragraph is having a go at it.

So many Doctor Who fans have progressed to working on the series, only to then look back at those who are still 'just' fans as therefore comparatively less than they are. Just look at all the smugness on display throughout Love & Monsters. And so the love dies.

In 1980, teenager Matthew Waterhouse made the transition from fan to actor, and apparently lived through it all. This book is his autobiography, told in the third person.

But before we get to that most illuminating year of his life, back in part one Matthew relates in great detail the happiness of growing up as a young Whovian. (retrospective term - I blame Peter Davison) I found this section unexpectedly interactive. An awful lot of young Matthew's Doctor Who related merchandise also features in my own collection, and so for me it's possible to read his intricate descriptions of several childhood items whilst literally examining such details in front of me.

Part two is then about his time getting to play the companion Adric opposite the legendary Tom Baker. Matthew's illusions of his hitherto hero quickly collapse, and within a couple of months he's telling his colleague to f*** off. In fact, here Tom suffers a no-holds-barred character-assassination.

However Tom's not the only one seen here losing the battle for integrity. There's everyone else. Yes, pretty well everyone.

'Shortly before work started on Logopolis, there had been a Doctor Who convention, at which both Matthew and Peter Grimwade had appeared, along with a busload of other Doctor Who people. Peter would not stop bringing it up.

"Those sad gits! What do they want my autograph for?" This was a fair question, which Matthew had asked himself. "It's pathetic."

Peter was unwilling even to accept a compliment from a fan.

"A woman wrote to me saying how much she liked my direction of Full Circle. She said it had made her weekend. Silly cow!"

Peter shared with Tom an antipathy to the story called The Robots of Death. He had worked on these episodes, though not as a director. (Was he the Production Assistant?) This story would be brought up as proof of the chronic ignorance of 'fans'.

"You remember that piece of crap, The Robots of Death, Tom?" he would ask, in his offended curate's voice. Tom Baker said he did and looked pained at the thought.

"Christ, wasn't that a complete mess?" Peter went on. "That was the worst piece of writing I've ever seen! And those fans think it's an absolute classic!" He would emit a snorty laugh. "They keep voting it the best story ever! They haven't a clue!"'

You can see Matthew's daily dilemma while working on the show - stand his ground over what was always going to be just an opinion, or join in.

Perhaps more sadly, the lens through which Matthew recalls these events today suggests that some of this pain may still be with him. In writing this book, he has painted a picture of an industry in which everyone hated the show, no-one wanted to work on it, and fewer still enjoyed watching it.

'Strangely, though Matthew was outrageously happy to be in Doctor Who, his new, important agent, Kerry, wanted him out.

"You're a talented young man," he said. "You're too short ever to be a leading man, but you could potentially be a very good working actor. But not if you get stuck with Doctor Who, you'll never escape it. I would like to get you out of it as soon as possible. I know John quite well and I'm going to ask him to let you go."'

'More concretely, in 1966, one actor of very high calibre had been approached. The part of the Second Doctor had first been offered to Michael Hordern, long before he became Sir Michael. He turned it down flat.

"If I'd done that, I'd never have bloody worked again!"'

'At the end, the Viewmaster man said to Matthew that Doctor Who had been the worst experience of his working life. This was a pity.' [p.202]

Part three covers his happier time performing opposite newcomer Peter Davison. Well, it sounds happier.

'On the last day of The Visitation, hovering a few feet from a set, he [Michael Robbins] said to Matthew out of the blue, lips drawn down and eyelids lowered,
"This is the worst job I've ever done."'

In part four he recounts his association with the show after leaving - touring convention circuits, signing autographs in shopping centres and recording DVD commentaries.

By the end of the book it becomes evident that Matthew's missed (passively avoided?) all but six episodes of the recent über-popular revival, and has presumably written these recollections still in the habit of the rubbishing of the series that became fashionable throughout its 16 years off screen.

At 423 pages, this book could easily be half its length, but the sheer totality with which Matthew appears to have exhausted his memory on the subject is just what makes it so worth reading. There are plenty of occasions in here where he has remembered overhearing a remark, only to years later find a use for it in this book. Sometimes he recounts events which he has not himself witnessed but heard about, and again the world which is constructed sounds quite miserable.

'A make-up girl told Matthew that while she was in Tom's dressing room combing his hair and dabbing him with powder, he would rant on loudly and odiously about "that bloody woman" though that bloody woman could hear every furious utterance, because she was in the next dressing room, divided from Tom only by very thin walls.' [p. 185]

I'm disappointed that he doesn't cover Ghostlands - the only thing I've had the privilege of seeing him do outside of Doctor Who - especially since it's also the closest that I've heard of him coming to appearing in a spin-off. Perhaps one day it may even get released…

I suppose that apart from Matthew's brother, the most tragic figure in here would have to be producer John Nathan-Turner, who throughout is portrayed as a really nice guy. So why so tragic? (apart from because of his awful early death at 54) Well there are two ominous things that Matthew remembers him saying back in the day:

'John said,
"I want to be Controller of One by the time I am forty!"
Controller of BBC One!! Everyone gasped at the scale of this, yet knowing that it was not impossible: it just might come true…'

'John Nathan-Turner at this time took a purely practical view. "Until they [the fans] turn on me, I'll be polite to them." Did he suspect that one day they would, in spades? But he was not dazzled. "Think of the most vicious, bitchy queen you've ever met. The worst of the fans are much, much worse."' [p.258]

What a nightmare that John would later have to take the fall for the guy who did become Controller of BBC One, and whose interference plunged the show to its least popular era ever.

Then again, Matthew's memory doesn't seem to be that reliable, as comparison with actual TV clips bear witness. His recollection of his appearance on Top Of The Pops is funny, but bears little accuracy to what was transmitted. A shame he didn't research himself there.

Opinionated, joy-filled, friendly, unfriendly, a bit bleak… Matthew's involvement with the big blue box seems to have covered it all, and the only criteria for an event's inclusion in here appears to be no criteria. If Matthew remembers it, then it's in. As such, this book is a goldmine of unvarnished recollections. The picture Matthew paints may not be a pleasant one, but it's a valuable push-back against the luvvy versions that actors usually maintain.

A shame then that he doesn't seem to remember why his time on the show ended, which is a big obvious question, not covered at all.

Definitely for hard-core fans who grew up watching the original series. I was thoroughly absorbed reading this, and couldn't put it down. I'm usually quite a slow reader, but I stayed with this in enormous chunks.

I hope Matthew never writes a sequel though. I'd hate to hear that my own childhood happiness cost others even more misery than this.

Available from the publisher here.

Labels: , ,

0 comment(s):

Post a Comment

<< Back to Steve's home page

** Click here for preceding post(s) **

** Click here for following post(s) **