Books One of the more unusual Doctor Who book genres to develop in the past few years, mostly since Jane Trantor lied to Mark Thomson about the extent to which the production process on the new series could be halted because Michael Grade of all people had asked him, is the fan memoir. These are generally split into two categories. There’s the relatively straight discourse on a love affair with the programme of which Toby Hadoke’s Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf is arguably the most prominent example and the record of opinions based on watching the series in a marathon session, Hadoke and Rob Shearman’s Running Through Corridors: Rob and Toby's Marathon Watch of Doctor Who, Philip Sandifer’s multi eBook series TARDIS Eruditorum and the efforts of Doctor Who Magazine’s Time Team, efforts which have led to “Time Team” becoming a kind of weird verb when it comes to these marathon rewatches because boxsetting doesn’t seem quite right even though “I’m time teaming it" doesn’t either – for one thing it’s two words.
Neil Perryman’s Adventures With The Wife In Space (with interruptions from Sue Perryman) combines the two but it’s entirely unlike all of them. Most of the straight memoirs seem to have been written by Forrest Gumps of Who fandom, A-listers who somehow managed to have watched every episode when they were broadcast, read every Target novel on publication day, saw all of the stage shows, attended every convention including Longleat and were in the room for the first hearing of the eye-patch joke. Neil on the other hand is writing from the perspective of the rest of us, with a quite naturally oscillating interest in the series who missed out on all of these things because life intruded, discovering girls, finding a job and most importantly meeting Sue, who for much of their life together was quite happy to leave Neil to his curious interest and all of his videos (even though she was happy to put up some shelves when they moved in together and entirely tolerant of his attempts to get Nicol to stop watching The Breakfast Club in favour of Day of the Daleks.
Then and this is where Adventures With The Wife In Space, also differs from the kinds of fan commentaries about marathon Time Teaming sessions (see what I mean) – much of that commentary is provided by non-fan Sue. Almost every night for two and half years, Neil and Sue watched their way through the whole of the classic and sometimes not terribly classic series and he’d keep a record of her comments and post them up on the blog, the fan introducing the series to a non-fan experiment played out in public. Which is genius because as Neil and everyone reading quickly identified, Sue's opinion of the series was always at variance with the so-called fan consensus of which she had little or no knowledge or interest. In combining the two Neil intersperses the decades leading up to the experiment and those two and a half years with fragments from the blog and they’re absolutely hilarious. Just as the Doctor says he needs a companions eyes because he’s stopped seeing “it”, Sue allowed us to enjoy it from a fresh perspective.
At which point it’s probably worth explaining that I’m not someone who can come to the book or experiment entirely fresh. I’ve known Neil, at least online, for many years. He was kind enough to write this guest post for Review 2005 about Doctor Who coming back and 2005 in general, which will give you some idea of the tone of the book. There’s a chapter in which he lists his various blogs and online ventures pre-Wife in Space and I read most of them and even contributed to one of them, Behind The Sofa, for six years (which merits a single paragraph which is fair enough I suppose). My point is there are sections of this book which have been like revisiting old stories and will have been entirely unlike someone coming to Neil, Sue and everything else entirely afresh. Much of the time it’s been like a fond reminder of times past, all the Tachyon TV podcasts listened to, meeting his friend Damon for a coffee in Manchester and discovering that they all really did exist and of course the many hours spent reading The Wife in Space blog itself.
Yet it’s also interesting how much, despite all of that, I didn’t know, the disparity between what you find out about someone from what they post online and everything else. You don’t really know me and it seems I didn’t really know Neil and that’s probably the real strength of the book, just how emotionally raw some of it is to a point that I’m not sure I’d have the courage to reveal. For all the humour, on occasion it reads like the Who fan equivalent of Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman and although it isn’t as downbeat in places (even when we discover the fate of some parts of his boyhood Who collection) or uncircumspect in others (though there is a chapter called “I Wasn’t a Teenage Whovian”), Neil isn’t afraid to enlighten on the darker corners of what having the fan gene can sometimes mean. Time and again I found myself nodding or rolling my eyes and giggling as patterns of behaviour I could easily see myself following revealed themselves. Neil’s surprisingly honest about himself, especially in relation to how often he wanted the experiment to end.
But thanks to Sue’s determination he didn’t and couldn’t and wouldn’t and it’s Sue’s participation in the memoir which also makes the difference from others. As well as excerpts from the blog, she drops in now and then with comments about the text and even has her own chapter and what gives Adventures With The Wife In Space its crossover potential as book which isn’t just for Who fans but partners and spouses and friends of Who fans and fans in general, the ones who have to put up with tons of merchandises clogging up the living room, the VHS tapes boxed by era in the loft and dvds carefully collated in story order on bookcases, wondering why the hell someone would need to buy a few of them twice. There will presumably be many partners and spouses and friends of Who fans who’ll be receiving a copy of the book this Christmas, proffered in the hopes that they’ll understand their significant other better and perhaps, perhaps a few of them will look at the dvds carefully collated in story order on bookcases and decide to repeat Neil and Sue’s experiment to see if they can replicate the results.
Neil Perryman’s Adventures With The Wife In Space (with interruptions from Sue Perryman) is published by Faber and Faber on the 7th November 2013. Review copy supplied.