I have to confess to not being a very fast reader, mainly due to laziness. I can often judge how good a book is by how long it takes before I give up and turn on the telly instead, or sometimes fall asleep. I read the first hundred pages of Who Goes There in one sitting. Within a couple of days I had read the whole book.
First, a little explanation of what the book is about. Nick Griffiths has travelled around the country visiting and photographing Doctor Who locations, and Who Goes There is a diary of his adventures. But that would be to sell his book short, because the best bits of Who Goes There are not the descriptions of the locations themselves, but the people and places he encounters on his way. It makes you realise just how amazingly diverse this country still is: how much of our history still remains unchanged, but also how much has changed in a relatively short time. The most wonderful moments Nick describes are the less-trodden paths (and nettles) and the unexpected discoveries, and he gives us plenty of background history along the way. There are also some very funny moments that will doubtless strike a chord with many readers, such as the queue-jumping biddies!
Interspersed with Nick’s travelogue are asides (he often calls these ‘interludes’) where he muses on his life and remembers the past. Although the nostalgia will probably only strike a chord with those who share a Seventies childhood, you cannot help but become emotionally involved as you read the book, particularly in the times of great sadness or happiness in his life. The message throughout is that Doctor Who can be a great ‘comfort blanket’, but family and friends are much more important.
The book is split up into twenty trips, with the last four in Wales for the new series locations, and all the rest from Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker stories. It is a good job that Nick’s writing is so entertaining, because it takes a very talented author to make so many quarries sound interesting: The Mutants, anyone? There are also the more obvious, famous locations such as Aldbourne, but it is a shame that there is nothing Sixties (particularly) or Eighties (perhaps) in the mix. Fair enough, this is a personal journey with locations that mean something to Nick and give him a nostalgia kick, but another volume would be worthwhile.
Nick’s lack of research before visiting locations is a tactical move, and a good one, because it creates more of a spirit of adventure in searching out the locations and discovering whether they have changed or not. On two occasions he finds out about the ‘Now and Then’ DVD features after visiting locations, which could have helped him immensely with his searches if viewed beforehand. This adds comedy value, particularly during his visit to the house where Pyramids of Mars was filmed, which is of course privately owned. Only occasionally does the lack of research become slightly irritating (for example ‘John Franklin’ – not everyone who filmed at Aldbourne was called John!), but I am nit-picking there really.
An innovation for Who Goes There is the companion website. This offers pictures, links etc for those who are interested. Personally, I would rather have had the photographs included in the book, as I do not wish to either (a) read my book sat at a computer, or (b) keep getting up to look at the website. That said, I realise that there are obviously financial implications to including photos in books, but I would have loved to have been able to flick to the photos in the book while I read.
So, has Who Goes There inspired me to follow in Nick’s footsteps? No, not really, but I am very glad that somebody has taken the trouble to visit all these wonderful (and some not-so-wonderful) Who locations and written about his experiences. Now I don’t have to. Maybe just a trip to Paris to shout ‘bye bye Duggan’ at the foot of the Eiffel Tower…
The article above first appeared on The Doctor Who Review website (explanation). I also interviewed Nick, and the following is an extract from that interview.
How did you get into writing as a career?
Somehow I ended up taking a degree in Electrical & Electronic Engineering. Actually, by ‘somehow’ I mean: I was a bit addicted to fruit machines as a youth and did the degree with the sole intention of making my own. (Honestly.) But I’d read voraciously as a kid – being an only child – and was always writing short stories. Come the third year of my degree, it finally clicked: I hated Electrical & Electronic Engineering and was going to become a Journalist! (How? While editing scientific journals I penned a speculative Tin Machine review, in summer ’89, for now-defunct music mag Sounds, which they liked and offered me freelance work. It went from there. Snail-paced.)
When you are conducting interviews, such as your reports for the Radio Times, do you get star-struck by the people you meet?
Very occasionally, but yes. My real heroes. The icons. The national treasures. Richard E Grant – I’m a dyed-in Withnail & I bore. John Thaw – I adored The Sweeney as a kid, sitting atop the landing after I was supposed to be in bed, as that siren-song theme tune drifted upstairs and I’d call down, “Daaaaad…”. David Bowie – a long-term addiction. And of course Tom Baker. And I’ll admit I still get slightly starstruck when I’m in a room with David Tennant. Can’t help it – he’s the Doctor.
‘Who Goes There’ focuses on Doctor Who locations from the Seventies, which you remember from your childhood, and also from the recent Eccleston and Tennant stories. Did you watch Doctor Who at all during the Eighties and what is your opinion of that era of the show?
I did, not often. I’d reached the music-and-girls time of life, when we leave childish things behind (only to return to them when we realise that music-and-girls can be hard work). I also bought some Peter Davison vids long after he’d gone; some of his stories I found eminently watchable, and Davison’s too good an actor not to make a decent Doctor. Colin Baker – I couldn’t get past his costume. What were they thinking? And I bought some Sylvester McCoy vids, test the water, as he seemed to me to have potential… but by which time the show was shockingly poor. Pantomime.
Would you consider a follow on to ‘Who Goes There’, perhaps with locations from Sixties and Eighties stories? How about Paris, Amsterdam, Lanzarote and Seville?!
I definitely would, because I enjoyed the traveling, the discovery and the writing so much. Indeed I was watching The Time Monster this week and thought: I’d love to visit that castle! Seems I’m hooked. And there are so very many more locations worth a visit. I took the point in your Who Goes There review, too: I’d definitely consider some iconic 60s locations, if perhaps not the 80s. As for those exotic places you mention, I fear the budget may not stretch that far. ‘Bye-bye Duggan!’ would be lovely.
Do you get much feedback on your books from readers?
I do, via my website and through bookseller-website reviews. It’s such a solitary life, writing, and to hear what people think – obviously, the more positive, the more heartwarming – is always welcome.
In ‘Who Goes There’ you mention how busy you were with deadlines for your books. Do you ever find writing a chore or is it always enjoyable for you? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Never a chore. I love sitting here, tapping away. I don’t suffer from writer’s block – I think that’s a fallacy, particularly as someone who has to earn their living from writing – but I do sometimes suffer from an ideas block. I’m currently trying to plot the sequel to my novel, In the Footsteps of Harrison Dextrose, and it ain’t easy.
Now that you have published your first fiction book, would you consider writing for Doctor Who itself, either in the form of a novel or a script?
Hoho, I’d kill to write for the TV show, but that feels a loooooooong way off. As for the novels – though I enjoyed many a Missing Adventure while the show was off-air – I don’t know. Maybe I would.
Which is more enjoyable to write – fiction or non-fiction?
They’re equally enjoyable, but fiction is harder and slower because it eats up those ideas. The non-fiction books sort of write themselves, since the ‘ideas’ bit has taken place in real life.
As well as the trips to the locations, ‘Who Goes There’ also includes what could be described as a diary of your life over the period of writing the book, which was at times very funny but also quite moving. Do you find that writing helps from an emotional point of view, perhaps to put things into perspective?
I’m not entirely comfortable with it, because I’m never sure that anyone will be interested, so I try to keep those parts anecdotal. It’s also very personal, which I just about cope with. But I wanted to write about my mother’s death during the Who Goes There trips, because I wanted to remember her and, well, how could I leave that out? It affected everything. It definitely helped my recovery process, writing it down – a catharsis. I typed each of those passages in a splurge, through a haze of tears. It’s easier now.
Of all the locations you visited, which was your favourite?
There were very few disappointments, which, considering the relative mundanity of some, and the years that have passed since Doctor Who visited many of the locations, was a pleasant surprise. The English villages – East Hagbourne and Aldbourne – were both perfect, and I adored the ancient history of Four Barrows. Bulls Bridge railway bridge and Stargroves both proved deeply exciting, for different, strange reasons. But the one that really took my breath away was Binnegar Quarry. It was late, we were tired and hungry, we couldn’t find the sodding thing – a half-mile long sandpit, gone missing! – until we came upon those signs: ‘Danger Deep Excavation’, ‘Danger Deep Excavation’… And when I climbed that bank and saw that sheer, crazy, beautiful expanse of sand… Skaro! I was so elated – at finding a sandpit.
You have delved into the history of many of the locations you visited. Is history an interest of yours, or is this something which grew out of the writing process?
Another surprise was the richness of history – of all the sites, even the funny little ones like the railway bridge – and the stories the locations had to tell. Great stories. History-teaching at my school was so one-dimensional, so rote-learned. The dead people stayed dead. But I’ve found myself buying historical non-fiction, to discover what I missed out on, so the interest was there. The tales that emerged from my Who Goes There research only encourage me to delve further.