Naturally, we all bring our own life experiences to the table when we read somebody else’s memoirs. Like Neil Perryman, I spent most of my adolescence as an obsessive Doctor Who fan; I spent more time in junior high school wondering what Commander Radnor in The Seeds of Death would have looked like than I did going out on actual dates, and I was more moved by the death of Wainwright in The Curse of Fenric than I was by the death of… what’s his name, you know, that one person who was killed in the final act of Hamlet? Yeah, that guy.
I started reading the Wife In Space blog fairly early on; I heard about it, I think, just in time to catch Sue’s take on The Gunfighters, which she loved about as much as I do. It was, and still is, a brilliant idea for a blog: an obsessive Doctor Who fan brings his non-fan (or, to couch it as a Who reference, “Not-We”) wife into a marathon re-watch of the entire classic series, 1963 through 1996, surviving 108 missing episode reconstructions, Nightmare of Eden, and post-cancellation fan projects like Downtime. I didn’t miss an entry after reading that first one, and, like everyone else, I felt a profound sense of loss when the Perrymans reached the end of their journey. Sue’s insights never failed to lend an extra layer of appreciation (or, when appropriate, scorn) for an old TV episode that I thought I already understood inside-out. When the blog returned to take on the rediscovered The Enemy of the World last month, I felt a sense of completion about the story that, in some regards, even watching the episodes for myself had not achieved. If nothing else, their take on the story was much funnier than my own.
While I feel as if I know the Perryman family — Neil, Sue, Nicol, cats, dog, Gary — that is obviously a false Internet-based familiarity. Neil grew up in the UK and watched Doctor Who on its original transmission; I was a slightly-younger American kid following along on PBS. We both spent far too much time on rec.arts.drwho, although our respective heydays as posters did not really overlap. I didn’t make much of a splash as a commenter on the Wife in Space blog — which is fortunate, because I can promise that none of the embarrassing posts repeated in the book, came from me. I did leave an annoyed comment when Sue clearly failed to comprehend the genius that is Logopolis (and I posted that comment in the middle of a beach vacation, so, really, which of us is more worthy of scorn?). And, like the Perrymans, I also have a Classic Series episode review published in Outside In; again, Sue’s take is much funnier than my own. So the book version of their blog rocketed to the top of my Amazon wish list quite some time ago.
The format of Adventures With the Wife in Space: The Book is quite a bit different than the blog — obviously, because the blog is still on line, every word and every review. The book, then, at first takes the shape of a Who-centric biography of Neil Perryman himself. This is followed by an introduction to Sue, and then a condensed overview of the blog experiment, as seen from Neil’s perspective, with all the highs and lows that it entailed for him personally. The experiment caused him to re-evaluate his own Doctor Who obsession, and the book ends with one final, not-available-on-the-blog, entry, that is about as funny and insightful as you’d have expected.
Made up of about 30 short chapters, the whole thing reads very quickly. Other Who marathon books – Running Through Corridors, and the e-book editions of Philip Sandifer’s TARDIS Eruditorum blog — contain much deeper analyses of individual episodes, and far deeper reflections on Doctor Who‘s philosophic and cultural meanings. What Adventures has, then, is Neil Perryman’s dry and self-deprecating wit, and Sue’s refreshingly non-fan perspective on the TV series — a much-needed perspective for those of us who obsessively watch the show in the way that Neil did before the experiment began. Although, unfortunately, the book does not contain a copy of Sue singing her score for The King’s Demons. Not even for the Kindle edition!
Neil has a very charming and engaging writing style, and a gift for turning awkward or embarrassing moments into emotionally compelling chapters. Like the time he nearly shattered his leg trying to race home to catch a rerun of An Unearthly Child and then, after limping home a bloody mess, having to convince his dad to change the channel over to Who in the first place. The chapter where he describes trying to convince Nicol, age 4, to watch Doctor Who with him, is almost as devastating to read as it must have been to write. I’d wager that just about every Who fan has experiences similar to these — risking physical injury just to watch a rare episode, or that sinking feeling when the person you’re trying to get to watch the show with you, simply doesn’t get it — but Neil’s writing elevates such moments into a unique brand of tragicomedy.
Individual memories about particular Who stories are interspersed with corresponding excerpts from the blog. Neil’s observations about Classic Who will strike a chord with most readers, such as his remarking on Matthew Waterhouse’s awkward postures, or the humor value of the term “megabyte modem”. We also learn that Neil has more vivid memories from the final two seasons of the Jon Pertwee era than from the rest of his childhood, and that his favorite Star Wars action figure was Bossk, the bounty hunter (it was mine, too, until my younger sister snapped its head off… I was very upset, even though Bossk was hardly the most relevant character in the original trilogy…).
Apart from the interspersed blog-entry excerpts, Sue doesn’t enter the book as a character proper until about the one-third point. But Neil clearly still loves and worships her, almost 20 years later, and she presents as something of a supernatural figure. Prank-calling Tom Baker. Nurturing Neil through his Y2K fever. Actually finishing the blog experiment, even after surviving the lows of the William Hartnell years, and actively encouraging Neil to let her watch the reconstructions of the
108 106 97 (82?) missing episodes. One of the recurring features in the book is Neil’s lists of six things, and the list of six things Sue has made him do is can’t miss (especially #6 itself). And, of course, as everyone who read the blog remembers, Sue’s infamous encounter with John Levene John Anthony Flake Blake himself is recalled here, only with even more horrifying detail..
But, mostly, Neil writes about how much he loves Sue: “She is special and funny and ever so slightly mad… She must be indomitable; after all, we are still married.” While the book is a pretty solid addition to the ever-more crowded Who non-fiction publication table, it is also quite possibly the best wedding anniversary present that an author ever wrote for their spouse.
As the Adventures blog is soon to spin off into Blake’s 7 territory, I will almost certainly come along for the ride, even though I’m not nearly as familiar with that series as I am with Who, and even though I’ll still be mired in the doldrums of The Evil of the Daleks by that point in my own Who marathon. But it won’t matter much if I enjoy Blake’s 7, as long as the Perryman perspective comes with it. Thanks to first the blog and now the book, the Perrymans have practically proven that you can write a funny and moving and sweet book about watching paint dry. Which, with some old Who episodes, is quite literally what you are doing.