27 September, 2013

I made it through the Wilderness

Ten years ago something quite extraordinary happened. Doctor Who came back.

Around midday on Friday 26 September 2003, New Zealand time, a news story appeared on the BBC news website, announcing that Doctor Who was returning to BBC television, as a multi-part series developed by Russell T Davies. 

I don't recall now how I first found out about this news, but I may have been tipped off by my friend and fellow fanzine editor Adam, who had better connections in the UK than myself and had likely been given a heads-up about the news on the BBC website. I in turn alerted my friend and fellow fan Jon Preddle. I phoned him at work but he wasn't at his desk. He phoned me back a short while later but also missed getting hold of me. So we discussed the news via email.

Here's a few of the emails from that afternoon:

From: Paul Scoones | To: Jon Preddle | Friday 26 September 2003 14:30
Subject: News
So, thoughts on the new series news just announced today? I'm cautiously excited but there are so many hurdles to just that it remains to be seen whether it'll actually get to our screens.
From: Jon Preddle | To: Paul Scoones | Friday 26 September 2003 15:04
Subject:  RE: News
I'll believe it when I see it - as I said to your answer phone!

From: Paul Scoones | To: Jon Preddle | Friday 26 September 2003 15:23
Subject: RE: News
I'll believe it when I've got the DVDs, the novelisation and the Corgi toys all gathering dust on my shelf.

That exchange hardly seems like the reaction you would expect of a couple of life-long fans of the series. Although we were excited by the prospect of Doctor Who’s return, we were also somewhat cautious about getting our hopes up and just a little skeptical of the series actually going ahead.

Jon and I had spent years following all of the various rumours and speculation concerning the potential return of Doctor Who to television throughout the 'wilderness years' period when the series wasn't in production. We’d got our hopes up on numerous occasions, only to have them dashed. In 1996 Paul McGann was cast and Doctor Who went back into production, but what looked at the time like it might be the pilot for a new series disappointingly turned out to be no more than a one-off television movie.

In 2003 Doctor Who reached its 40th anniversary year. I had been editing Time Space Visualiser, the fanzine of the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club for 13 years.

It was challenging to find new and interesting things to say about the series. With no new television series to talk about, TSV was  increasingly focused on the BBC novels and DVDs, and the Big Finish audio dramas. Some readers started grumbling about the predictable nature of the content, and the readership was gradually dropping away. 

I felt the time was right for a new editor with fresh ideas and a new approach. By mid-year I’d reached a decision. I announced that I would step down and passing the zine on to Adam, my new co-editor.

The issue featuring this announcement went to print in the third week of September. The news that the series was coming back broke one day before I was due to collect copies from the printers. I hastily put together a one-page 'TSV Extra' covering the announcement to include with the issue.

I remember thinking how extraordinarily weird that timing was. After so many years of editing TSV with no new series news to report, the revelation that the series was to return came just after I'd committed in print to stepping down as editor! I had been TSV editor since the beginning of 1991, which was just one year after Doctor Who ceased regular production. I’d documented the series in print throughout its ‘wilderness years’ and now that it was coming back I was no longer required.

Ten years on from that wonderful news of the series return, a row of new series DVDs are sitting on my shelves. I've just checked; yes, there is some dust on them. I'm ready to believe.

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