This is my introduction to the forthcoming book Single White Who Fan, from Hirst Books. It’s a collected volume of Jackie Jenkins’ diary columns from Doctor Who Magazine (with five new diaries entries that bring her story up to date). For more information, and to order, go here. It’s out next month, the publisher tells me.
‘The Wilderness Years’. That’s what some now like to refer to the time – the 1990s and early 2000s – when Doctor Who wasn’t being made for television. A bizarre description. It’s certainly not how it looked from where I spent a good chunk of that period: the editor’s chair of Doctor Who Magazine. What I saw was a time of unprecedented creativity as fandom rushed to fill the refreshing vacuum with comedy and commentary; with articles, comics, books and audios. At DWM, it was enormous fun to help lead the conversation, without having to worry about set visits, actor access or cross-platform brand synergy. The lunatics ran the asylum, and we partied till the new dawn.
Before my time, DWM had, in the main, been in the business of ‘facts’, of interviews and archives. It was all brilliantly done, but it became clear that we already knew everything that was to known about Doctor Who – or, at least, it was clear that what we didn’t know was now such a vanishingly small commodity that it couldn’t fuel a monthly magazine. Instead, what came to fascinate me more were DWM’s own readers: Doctor Who fans. This was because, in my experience, if you chose two readers at random and put them in a room together to discuss what they liked about the programme, there would be blood up the walls before an hour had passed. (I’m speaking figuratively, of course. No actual fans were harmed in this thought experiment.) But – and this is what nagged – these readers should surely have so much in common. They would have done so many of the same things, at the same time, perhaps without knowing it. They’d have learned how to spot a Target Books logo at 50 paces. They’d still experience a Proustian rush at the smell of cheap white chocolate, thanks to childhood over-indulgence in Doctor Who Candy Favourites. They’d be able to list each and every time a trivial family event – the funeral of a parent or some such – had caused them to miss an episode of Doctor Who.
The wonderful – still never-bettered – fanzine Skaro was already tapping into this shared experience and celebrating the ties that bind, so I shamelessly set about stealing my favourite of their writers – Matt Jones, Dave Owen, Vanessa Bishop. They brought fresh vim and vigour to DWM. Matt’s bold and confident Fluid Links column was designed to engage with the happy/sad of what we might call “the fan experience”, but when that had run it course, I knew it was time to go deeper. What DWM needed was a plucky reporter out in the field, a brave soul who could send back blood-stained letters from the trenches of Doctor Who fandom. DWM needed a war poet. It needed Jackie Jenkins.
I first met Jackie in the bar at a Panopticon convention in Coventry. (The most committed of fans spent an altogether unnecessary amount of time in Coventry in the 90s). She was sat, brow furrowed, between two handsomish boys, who were arguing furiously across her. I couldn’t catch what the discussion was about, but Jackie suddenly held up one hand and said, loudly and firmly: ‘Insect movement by Roslyn de Winter!’ Both boys silently nodded their acceptance of this vital point, their debate at an end. Intruiged, I engineered an introduction, and Jackie soon proved herself witty and wise beyond my all hopes. And later, she showed she could write. Boy, can that girl write.
To my mind, Jackie Jenkins is greatest writer about Doctor Who there has ever been – the cleverest, the wisest, the most honest. And so, the book you are holding is, quite simply, the best book ever written about the dark art of Doctor Who appreciation. It’s a bittersweet love letter to fandom that celebrates our strengths but doesn’t shy from naming our weakness. It’s also the funniest book ever written about Doctor Who. We’re laughing at ourselves as we laugh at Jackie, Chas and Nigel. They’re so perfect a team that if they didn’t exist, and you tried make them up, no one would believe you.
And there’s a thing… Writing for DWM brought certain pressures to bear upon poor Jackie. As a beautiful woman – probably – with an understanding of the subtleties of UNIT dating, she attracted, as you might expect, her share of admirers. And by ‘admirers’, I mean stalkers. It all became difficult for her – all that being followed around WHSmith – until my very clever successor as DWM editor, Alan Barnes, had a brainwave. In a moment of genius he claimed, in an editorial, that Jackie was a fiction, that we made her up! It was a gamble, but it worked, and Jackie found some peace again. But now, for the record, I’d like to tell the truth. Jackie Jenkins is real. (Alan Barnes, however, is entirely fictional.)
This was all a long time ago, of course, and it’s been a perfect pleasure to catch up with Jackie again after so many years. We lost contact when she moved to America with that awful Darren, and by the time she returned I had left DWM and drifted to one of the colder extremes of my own eternal, elliptical orbit of Doctor Who. And a lot had happened since her last diary for DWM, back in 2004. The Doctor Who universe has expanded beyond measure – whole eras have come and gone – and there are now fans without number, of all ages, in all places. The world teems with them. It’s impossible to hear the whole conversation any longer.
But some things remain fundamental to the fan experience. Fans will still share the frustration at a Doctor Who news story misheard from the radio and garbled by well-meaning parents – even if they now rush to the internet rather than to Ceefax for the truth. Fans will still scour shops for favoured collectibles – even if now for a Genesis action figure set rather than a Genesis novelisation. And all minds will surely boggle that the credit: “JO JONES: KATY MANNING” can appear on TV in 2010.
So while we will never agree on a list of the 10 best Doctor Who stories, you and I, or even the 10 best Doctor Who logos, let us instead stop to celebrate the million things we have in common – the million uniquely fannish pleasures and pains that unite us, whether we’re a Jackie, a Chas or a Nigel.
This book is a reminder – should any reminder be needed – of what a wonderful thing it is to be a Doctor Who fan.
Here, in these pages, is the truth of it.