Jackie Jenkins, an introduction

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.

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‘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.

Stand by your man

This is an article I wrote for Attitude magazine in 2006, to tie in with the broadcast of the first David Tennant season. Attitude is a magazine for the gays.

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It was clear from an early age that I was destined to be the perfect boyfriend.

At the age of eight, when most of my male classmates spent their lunch break kicking a semi-deflated football against the junior portakabin, I was on the other side of the playground, skipping merrily through time and space with my best friend, Ruth.

With hindsight, I guess that Ruth already had issues of her own. She kept her hair cut military short, decorated the backs of her hands with fake tattoos from Tiger and Scorcher comic, and took to the role of Leela, Doctor Who’s jungle-savage companion, with alacrity. Bringing Ruth to mind now, I see her with bottom teeth bared like an irate Jack Russell, stabbing at the air with a plastic spatula as she hissed her familiar catchphrase: “Doctor! I’m going to slit this miserable fool’s throat from ear to ear.” Even at kid, Ruth was more butch than I’ll ever be. Wherever she is today, I’ll bet she’s always first to stack her pound coins on the side of the pool table.

Oh, but the adventures we had! In wondrous travels across the universe, we vanquished evil at every turn, armed only with a multi-coloured scarf and hearts brimming with imagination. An alien beech tree with designs on global domination was swiftly dispatched with an invisible laser gun (designed by me), and a brutal kick (dispensed by Ruth). Then, with a parting bon mot, we’d race off to my trusty TARDIS – a lord of time with his brave companion in tow. Eight years old I was, and already the most desirable boy in the school.

Twenty-six years may have passed since Ruth and I defeated the beech tree invasion of Blackpool, and while I suspect that she’s now busy with rugby practice at weekends, I still thrill to a trip through time and space every Saturday evening. Judging by the surging ratings for the sensational new series of Doctor Who, it seems that millions more are coming along for the ride – perhaps you’re one of them? If, like me, you’ve been a fan since childhood, you’ll already have come to terms with your own intense sexual magnetism. However, if you’re a more recent convert, you’re probably trying to understand why so many men are suddenly flinging themselves at you. Well, that’s simply because everyone knows that you can’t find a better boyfriend that a Doctor Who fan – because no one knows more about commitment, compromise and passion.

This bold, bright, brilliant new take on Doctor Who may have rightly taken its place among the most popular shows on the box – but for the devoted, it’s been a long wait. Although the series was must-see TV throughout the 60s and 70s, it fell severely out of favour in the following decade, and was cancelled in 1989. And while that seemed to be the end of the road for Doctor Who, the show’s fans were not willing to give up without a fight. Indeed, many of the crew of the new series – including the show’s guiding light, Russell T Davies, and its star, David Tennant – were the among the most ardent fans of the old, and it is their passion that has helped the programme to become the success it is today.

And there’s the first reason why every gay men need to find himself a lover who knows his Daleks from his Drashigs. You see, Doctor Who fans had to live through the fear and misery of those dark years when the show was off air – but in the end, our loyalty was rewarded. So if there’s one thing we understand, it’s the importance of commitment, of standing by your man. And this is not ordinary commitment I taking about, this is total commitment – an eternal, Until The Earth Falls Into The Sun And Civilisation Has To Rise Again On A New World commitment.

This isn’t a cold, unfeeling obsession I’m talking about. This is a love affair born out of pride and passion – with all the ups and downs, delights and disappointments of any long-term relationship. If you’re a recent convert to Doctor Who, I can promise you that the series hasn’t always offered sexy adventures in space with the divine David Tennant and the beautiful Billie Piper. There was a time in the 80s when the headline cast comprised a shouty man in a coat made out of old tea towels, accompanied by a squealing Bonnie Langford. Together they conspired to annoy the merry hell out of any viewer who accidentally stumbled into their path – and Doctor Who was about as sexy as sick. Those were dark days indeed, but we fans lived through them! So you see, the Doctor Who boyfriend also knows about taking the rough with the smooth. Treat him badly, let him down, wear a bad coat and make friends with Bonnie Langford – he won’t hold it against you. He’ll be fortified by the sure and certain trust that better times are on their way, even if he has to wait for 20 years. Doctor Who fans are a terribly sanguine bunch, and incredibly patient.

I don’t know, perhaps you find all this staunch and steadfast behaviour slightly scary. Worry not. Even if you’re not looking for a lifetime partner, just a four-month fling, a Doctor Who fan still has plenty to offer the discerning homosexual. Any man who can, off the top of his head, list every monster the Doctor fought, and in the precise order they attempted to conquer the Earth, has got to be useful for something. Some people call it autism, but they’re just jealous – with a memory like that, he’ll never forget your birthday, or what needs to be picked up from Asda at the weekend.

But this is still just about dreary old relationships, you say – what about the sex? Can a Doctor Who fan be relied upon for a decent shag? Well, of course they can – there’s no one better. They understand that any decent adventure lasts for at least 50 minutes, always has an slow, teasing beginning, and ends with a big explosion – what more can any boy ask for?

So there you have it. It’s time to get out on the scene of your choice and find yourself a part-time Time Lord. They’re easy to spot – just look for the guy at the centre of the coolest crowd, all hungry to hear his opinion about the true origins of the Cybermen, or the breeding habits of the Loch Ness Monster. Of course, even better than dating a Doctor Who fan is to become one yourself – which as easy as switching to BBC1 this Saturday evening. You’ll soon learn what an exciting, sexy, ridiculous place the universe can be – and this newfound sense of joy and adventure will make you simply irresistible to others.

But that’s Doctor Who fans for you.

Like the TARDIS, we may look ordinary on the outside, but great wonders are hidden within.