TV It’s the late nineties. I’m standing in the gift shop of the Doctor Who exhibition in Llangollen having spent the past couple of hours being smacked around the eyeballs with nostalgia wondering how it is that I’ve never visited before. My friends are waiting outside for me but I’ve realised I can’t leave without buying something.
The exhibition piggybacked on the side of Dapol’s factory, Dapol being the then current licensee for the action figures which they manufacture, just about, in conjunction with Hornby’s model railways. The displays inside the factory show an especially British mix of steam engines, public police call boxes and men in Edwardian frock coats.
But I don’t want any of that. I’ve already picked up an unpainted cast off moulding of the Seventh Doctor’s umbrella and that was enough for me. So after glancing around the shop at all the books (so many books), I decide to go to source and choose a video of one of the stories.
I select The Keeper of Traken, for no other reason than it is the cheapest at £7.99. Even to this day, when faced with a massive selection to choose from of whatever it is, I always tend to buy the cheapest because it saves me from making that selection. Plus it always tends to be what I can afford. I’m always poor.
During the transaction, the clerk asks me if I’ve enjoyed my day and I giddly set about describing all the things I’ve seen which he presumably already knows about because he works there. He asks me why I'm choosing Traken and I tell him I vaguely remember the statue thing on the cover. “The Melkur”, he says knowledgeably.
Then the conversation takes a curious turn. As he puts the video in a bag, and I don’t remember the details of how reach the subject, but I says it is a shame that the TV Movie with Paul McGann didn’t go to series.
Then he says something, which is the reason I remember this whole incident as vividly as this. He leans across the counter, conspiratorial like, and says, it’s coming back. I ask him what he means. They’re making new episodes he says and that I should watch out for them.
Before I can ask him anything else, another customer turns up behind me and he simply tells me to have a good day and turns his attention to them, leaving me with a mix of curiosity and ecstasy as I leave the shop. I remember repeating the news to my friends as we get in a car. Neither of them are too convinced.
Weeks, then months, and no public announcement of the return of Doctor Who, at least to television and to this day I’m not sure what he was referring to. Big Finish began releasing a couple of years later. I suppose it’s possible he was simply relaying the news of that from Doctor Who Magazine at a time when I wasn’t a reader.
But I was briefly given some idea of what it must have been like to be a proper fan during the wilderness years, when every rumour was pounced on as a small piece of hope that some day it might come back in some form, when even The Curse of the Fatal Death looked like an example of how to make it viable.
Watching The Keeper of Traken was the moment when it came back to me. I wasn’t a “proper” fan again yet, but it was enough to make me curious enough to want to watch plenty more of them and I did, recorded from UK Gold by my tolerant auntie, not everything, but enough for me to see what I was missing. Thanks Melkur.