Sunday, April 12, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The TV That Shaped Me (Part 10)

Doctor Who (2005-present (and 1963-1989, 1996))

Time for the final part of my Ten TV Shows that had a massive impact on my life, and chronologically we reach Doctor Who. Sure, I'd watched it prior to this, but it was the revival that had the biggest impact on me, changing my life in a major way.

I'd watched Doctor Who off and on since I was little. My mum was a big fan of Jon Pertwee so would watch anything he was in - including Worzel Gummidge which scared the bejezus out of me as a kid. I mean, he kept taking his head off, and Aunt Sally was a right git to him all the time...

Anyway, as Doctor Who was on in the house, I watched it. My earliest memory is probably that of Invasion of the Dinosaurs (1974) which to a very young kid at the time looked awesome. I mean, it had dinosaurs in it. When Pertwee left and the Doctor regenerated into Tom Baker, my mum wasn't so keen. So it didn't go on the TV. Simple as that. I hardly watched any of the classic Baker era, but I remember John, one of "The Eight" (our RPG group) being very into Doctor Who and talking about it. John used to run the old FASA Doctor Who RPG for us, with a different Time Lord (The Collector) - heavily inspired by the scary Hinchcliffe & Holmes era. Was great, felt very Call of Cthulhu at times...

When Logopolis aired in 1981, the final story of Tom Baker, the Radio Times was full of talk of the forthcoming regeneration and that it was going to be something we shouldn't miss. By that time, I was really into my SF, watching anything that was on like that (Space: 1999, Blake's 7, etc.) but I never tried to get back into Doctor Who. But, there was a regeneration on TV, needed to be watched, and the Radio Times said it was a great jumping on point for new viewers.

And so I did - and that's what happened. I started watching Doctor Who properly about then. I watched all of the Peter Davison episodes, and continued into the Colin Baker era. When Bonnie Langford joined as the new companion, I had horrible memories of Just William, and I'm sorry to say that kinda put me off. I regret to say that I stopped watching for a bit. But again, John was there to reassure me and to tell me it was worth watching when this cool new companion joined called Ace, and she was awesome. I remember giving Doctor Who another try for Silver Nemesis (1988), and stuck with it from then onwards. The Seventh Doctor was pretty cool, though I had weird memories of him from Vision On, but this seemed strangely darker and a bit more sinister...

And just as I was getting back into it, it was gone. Cancelled.

John continued to entertain us with his VHS purchases of old Doctor Who serials, and I went off to University and didn't really give it much of a thought.

The TV Movie happened (1996) introducing Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, and I remember watching it when it aired on the BBC mostly out of curiosity than anything else... and again, it kinda faded from TV and from my mind...

I started working at Ottakar's bookstore in 2000, and I was put in charge of the SF/Fantasy section, as the management knew that was an area I was interested in. It wasn't long before I noticed we were constantly asked for Doctor Who Audio by Big Finish, and the BBC Books of the Eighth Doctor sold really well. The fandom was there, and was crying out for more. I ordered in everything I could, even getting in the unofficial DVDs from BBV, The Stranger, The Autons, and so on. We were contacted by a place in London that distributed radio controlled Daleks, and they sold really well.

The top brass at Ottakar's were brilliant. The MD of the company is one of the nicest chaps you could imagine. I don't know whose brilliant idea it was but they decided to install lifesized Daleks in a number of their shops around the country. Big, custom made ones, by a company called This Planet Earth. They had remote controls to make them speak, and I was particularly happy when the black Dalek (I called Salvador) arrived at our shop...

But then things changed. They announced a new series. With Christopher Eccleston as the new Doctor, and Billie Piper as the companion. I read some magazine articles about it, and learned that Russell T Davies was the creative force behind the series, and that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was quite an influence on how the new series was being tackled. Sounded interesting.

I had to give it a go.

It was one of those strange things where I really enjoyed Rose, the first episode of the return, but it wasn't until Dalek (episode six) that it really hit home for me - and then I loved it. There was just something about the chemistry with the characters, the real danger from a single Dalek, and Eccleston's genius and underrated performance as The Doctor - being able to switch from laughing and revelling in the wonder, to dark, brooding and menacing in a second.

Awesome. By the time we got to the massive finale of that series, with the revelation of Bad Wolf that had been cleverly teased throughout the series, and that epic ending. I was sold. Great stuff. But Eccleston was leaving (absolutely gutted) and the Ninth Doctor regenerated into the Tenth, and the popularity of the series continued to grow with David Tennant's enthusiastic grin.

It was about this time, as I was watching the popularity grow both online and in the bookshop, that I had those mind-wandering thoughts that I still have to this day - "Wouldn't it make a great RPG?"

You could see the appeal with the kids. At the bookstore, for years we had that Dalek standing there and the kids saying "Mummy, what's that?" That was gone with the new series, with Daleks back on the screen the kids were coming in to see it. If only you could get kids that keen about roleplaying games again...

It was after Conspiracy X 2.0 came out that I'd spent years working on for Eden Studios, that I received an email completely out of the blue from Chris Birch. We started chatting over emails, and we were discussing how the RPG world needed a popular license that could appeal outside of RPGs to get more people playing. I said, something along the lines of, "Yeah, it would be great to have a roleplaying game of James Bond or Doctor Who that new audiences would like." As it would happen, Chris had worked with BBC licensing in the past with his t-shirt company...

The incredibly rare pitch document we sent to the BBC
The introduction chapter, explanation of the products
and the rules, printed in full colour. I think there are
about 20 of these in existence.
"But we'd need a publisher to do this with," I said...

"I know a new company that may be up for it." Chris had the contacts, and strangely, one of the names that came up with Angus Abranson who I knew from those days in the Camarilla.

One thing lead to another, and soon (with the help of Fred Hicks doing some amazing graphic design layout) we were pitching to the BBC knowing we didn't stand a snowball in hell's chance of getting anywhere...

We all went in, suited up, ready to be laughed out of the door, but instead they were really nice. They listened, they were interested, but there was a snag. In my briefcase I'd brought along the Buffy The Vampire Slayer RPG as an example of a licensed RPG and the format we'd hoped to produce. But the BBC explained, it's basically a book and there may be some issue with the licensing agreement with BBC Books...

Luckily, I also had in my briefcase a copy of the boxed Xena and Hercules RPG complete with dice and extra bits. If we went for a boxed set, that would remove that issue straight away - and once things were rolling we could resolved the books issue further down the line.

It all felt really positive, and we couldn't believe we'd even got that far... but didn't think we'd get any further.

But, it did! And after financial negotiations were sorted (I wasn't in on that bit), the deal was done and in 2007 at Dragonmeet, we announced the game.

(L to R) Me, Dominic McDowall, Chris Birch, Angus Abranson, and Fred Hicks at Dragonmeet 2007
announcing the Doctor Who RPG "Adventures in Time and Space"
And the rest, as they say is history...

Or is it?

Well, the weird thing about Doctor Who, it just kept having an impact on my life...

Meeting Nicola Bryant,
Yes, a little star-struck...
Ottakar's was bought out by HMV (who owned the bookchain Waterstones at the time) in 2006 and I really wanted to get out of there. There were now two branches of Waterstones in the city, and I felt one of them was bound to go. They stopped ordering the cool weird SF merchandise we sold and concentrated on the books. And then, the BBC closed all their shops. At that time I was constantly checking out the Doctor Who forums, especially Outpost Gallifrey, and spotted an advert on there for management for a new shop in my city that wanted to specialise in Doctor Who, and other film and TV merchandise. As I was unsure about the future of the bookshop at the time, I applied, and (again, thanks to Doctor Who) moved to work there (and have done ever since).

At the shop, thanks to the boss' connections with a number of the actors in Doctor Who, I've met a whole host of them (and have a lot of the DVDs signed by them). I've met Tom Baker multiple times and he's a genuinely lovely chap, though you have to be on the ball mentally to keep up with him! I've also met Colin Baker a few times - again, a really lovely chap. In addition to that, I've met Sylvester McCoy, Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier!), Peter Purves, Sophie Aldred, Deborah Watling, Katy Manning, Nicola Bryant, Gareth David-Lloyd, Kai Owen, and loads more.

In the end, Doctor Who has probably had the biggest impact on my life. Weird, huh?


Well, that's the last of the Ten TV Shows that had an impact on my life. I mentioned on my Facebook page that I'm finding this a great motivational tool to get up and write - to clear the cobwebs and push all the worries and fears of the current situation aside - before I settle down to do some real game writing. I asked what I should do next, to keep the tempo going, and general consensus is to just keep going with all of the other media.

Not sure whether to go for comics, movies or books next... tune in tomorrow to find out!

Until then, stay safe.

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