World Distributors never bothered to credit authors and artists with their work on the original Doctor Who annual range, so when I was running my original Doctor Who Review website (explanation here) I was very excited to be contacted by one of the original writers. John White wrote the majority of the 1986 annual (Time Wake, Davrrk’s Expreiment, Retribution, The Fellowship of Quan and Interface), and here are his memories of that time.
Did you watch Doctor Who as a child?
My first TV memory of any sort has to be Pat Troughton running from the Cybermen in London as they invaded the city through the sewers – yes it was The Invasion. It may have been a small start on the road to being a life long fan but it sticks in my memory along with Yeti in the underground from the ‘monster years’. My brother loved the show and I think that’s how I started watching it when I was around three years old!
What made you decide to write some Doctor Who stories?
I adored the annuals as a child – they were a christmas treat and then in later years (pre VHS,DVD or the internet) the annuals and Target Books were really the only way to keep in touch with the show. I dreamed of writing for the programme and asked John Nathan Turner if I could send a script as I think he had commissioned one for a Tom Baker series from an unknown writer. He politely declined. Then I thought I would try the annuals as he was bound to see them at some point.
What response did you get from World International from your submissions?
The letter was fairly cheeky from myself: I explained I was a fan and that I thought I could write better stories than those I had read! It was in part bravado and in part honest as I didn’t always think previous stories respected the ethos of the show or were even `factual` in their respresentation of it. So I sent five stories and to my eternal joy all five were published with the princely sum of £75 being sent to me!
How did you get your ideas for your stories?
One movie had a strong influence on me for Retribution: The Creeping Flesh is a Hammor Horror movie and anyone who has seen that might identify some Hammer referencing here! It features Peter Cushing (Dr Who in the two 1960s films). I think too by then I had seen the Caves of Androzani and I wanted a story that had an edge. Davarrk’s Experiment has an influence that might surprise you: the Secret Garden and Moondial from BBC TV. They had the common theme of a mysterious garden and although in such a short story this might not seem to be a strong theme, in my mind it was another character, such was its vivid presence in my imagination. I think Timewake was in its own way influenced by a classic Dr Who ‘historical’, namely The Visitation. Although the link is subtle the idea of aliens changing history is appealing to me and credible.
Was your writing edited at all for publication?
Not at all apart from some very minor changes. I’d made sure my word count was accurate too so when I saw them my jaw dropped at how true to the originals they were. What a delight!
What did you think of the final result when you saw the annual?
I was hugely proud and even decades later if I open an annual it makes me so happy. This is the programme I’ve adored for years and when my free copy appeared without warning well it was one of the best days of my life (and it made my Mum happy too!)
Did you have any input into the artwork?
No and in a way that was even better because it was such a surprise to see someone conceptualise what was in my mind. I thought the artwork for some of it was very good. Even now it is interesting to see how the artist interpretated my writing. I wish I knew who she or he was.
I may be wrong, but I think I can detect the influence of the Target novelisations on your writing. Were you a fan of the Target books?
Yes they did in a considerable way. I had all of the Target books (sadly not now) for years. My first Target book was Frontier in Space although I think the book was titled ‘The War In Space’ (Doctor Who and the Space War – ed.). It was from a book fair at my school. It was a magical experience: Doctor Who from an earlier time plus in book form, wonderful. Robert Holmes’s Target books were extraordinary – the use of his language amazed me and I needed a dictionary at hand to keep up! I loved the artwork too and it was just like the annuals: rather hit and miss, but anyone who was brought up with target books probably still has the same excitement at seeing some of the classic covers.
Did you ever consider a career in writing, or writing some more for Doctor Who?
Yes, I actually submitted two manuscripts: one was an original drama for Radio 4 (about the same time) and then in later years while I was studying to be a mental health nurse I submitted one to Virgin Books for their Missing Adventures series (I really liked Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor). I was in touch with the BBC to request the copyright for the Wirrn for the novel, which they agreed in principle. I was politely declined with some criticism for the technical side of the manuscript (I did some reading on this as a result) and some positive feedback about the originality of the story. After that life took over or rather my career in nursing but just occasionally I’m tempted to write again.
Have you watched Doctor Who since its return?
Oh yes avidly. It’s better than ever in fact Russell T Davies is the best thing to ever happen to the show. He and his Doctor Who can do no wrong for me and I adore what the show has become. It’s truly stronger and more popular than ever. I’m addicted to Doctor Who and Torchwood and I even have a soft spot for Sarah Jane. These are golden years for fans like me! I could wax lyrical for hours on this theme – the show has the kind of acting, stories and production values that make this incarnation of Who the best show ever on TV.