What a responsibility!

TV This month, Doctor Who Magazine reaches its 400th issue after twenty-nine years of unbroken publishing and I thought it deserved at least this late night ramble.

My first issue was 13 (3, Jamn 1980) but I wouldn’t become a regular reader until 279 in 1999 (the cover featured Tom Baker on a unicycle, a free cd and a roundtable interview in which the likes of Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat talked about what a new series would be like should it ever be made "What a responsibility!" said Rusty). Though I watched the programme right through to the bitter end, I didn’t become a real fan again until the late nineties, when my then love Star Trek had disappointed everyone but the most forgiving with Voyager and I was looking for something with a sense of its own history and which reflected back on mine. I’ve been nostalgically gazing at my navel ever since.

Official magazines are interesting beasts. Most these days are published by Titan Magazines and have a production line flavour; there’s little doubt that the editors and writers are passionate about the subject, but as they pick over the minutiae of their subject, all too often they seem like paper dvd extras, interesting without being controversial and hardly ever critical of their source text. Doctor Who Magazine by comparison, and the reason I love it so, almost as much as the series which spawned it, has retained its editorial freedom, even in the lean years unafraid to look at some piece of franchise tat and laugh at it for all its rubbish qualities. Of all the franchises, Doctor Who is most likely to laugh at itself and the magazine reflects that.

It’s written by fans, for fans, young and old, new and jaded.

How else could it, in 1990, when faced with the cancellation of its parent series and no new television episodes in prospect at all in the foreseeable future simply shrug and keep turning out new issues for the next five years, business as usual, still somehow filling its pagination with new material for months on end, then after another failed relaunch in 1996, sigh again and continue doggedly publishing for another nine years until the show returned properly. It succeeded because as well as glancing backwards it was forever looking forward, changing its focus from television to the merchandise, the books and later audio stories, with the same prominence as a new series, with author and editor interviews filling the spaces left by script writers and producers.

DWM is the reason why Paul McGann, the eighth Doctor is treated with such affection by fans. The BBC Books, the Big Finish audios, the magazine’s own comic strip, offered countless adventures for this character who only had one tv outing and fifty minutes of screen time. When I say he’s my favourite Doctor, its because through this spin-off media he became as vivid an incarnation as Jon or Tom if not moreso and DWM was at the forefront of that with Paul appearing on the cover with the same regularity as his colleagues often because of the launch of some new storyline on page or cd, in much the same way as the magazine still makes a splash of the each new television story.

In 2005, the magazine did change its focus almost exclusively to the new series, just as it should so as not alienate new readers, backing the television series better than ever (when Peter Davision was announced as the fifth Doctor it took a whole seven months before he appeared on the cover and then they spelt his name wrong!), but it was still the same magazine and it still is and has been across the decades because of the shared purpose of talking about the best show on television, even when it hasn’t been on television.

In this latest issue, Russell T Davies talks about how Doctor Who is so big now that the character has become a folk hero of the order of Sherlock Holmes or Robin Hood, Peter Pan or Alice, and he's right. It will keep going now, in some form or other, forever.

And with any luck, Doctor Who Magazine will still be there to write about about.

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