Five Things We Loved About Writing “Doctor Who – Who-ology”
by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright on June 28, 2013
It seemed such a simple request. Albert DePetrillo, commissioning editor of BBC Books, phoned us up and asked us if we would like to write Doctor Who’s official miscellany. We obviously jumped at the chance. Fact number 1: Doctor Who fans like facts. Fact number 2: We’re Doctor Who fans. Fact number 3: The opportunity to write a book full of Doctor Who facts was too great to ignore.
And so began six months of watching episodes, re-watching them the following day, compiling lists, having another look at the episodes just in case we’d missed something the first couple of times and reading through literally hundreds of Doctor Who magazines and books. Who-ology consumed our lives as we gathered the data and shifted through the trivia. We even dreamt about it at night.
But we also loved every moment. Here are the top five things we loved about compiling the book.
1. The questions that should never be asked…
There were plenty of mornings like this:
Cav: Mark, did the Doctor really marry River Song?
Mark: Yes, we saw him do it.
Cav: But wasn’t that part of an aborted time-line?
Cav: So they didn’t really get married then?
Cav: But why do they refer to each other as husband and wife?
Mark: (PAUSES) Let’s tackle something less complicated. Does the Doctor like apples?
Cav: No. He can’t stand them in “The Eleventh Hour.”
Cav: Of course, he seems to love them in “The God Complex.”
Mark: I think I need another coffee…
Then there were the questions about companions. What makes a companion a companion? Is it the amount of time they travel with the Doctor or how much the actor/actress is paid? What about the companions from the other spin-offs? These were conversations we had time and time again, both with each other and also with our editor Justin Richards. Is Sara Kingdom from the “Daleks’ Master Plan” counted as a companion? (No!) Grace from the TV movie (Yes!) What about Wilf as played by Bernard Cribbins? (Sometimes!)
But all of this pales into insignificance when we tackle the thorniest subject of all. Is 1993’s charity Doctor Who two-parter “Dimensions in Time” canon? That one went on for at least three weeks. (What? You want to know the answer? Well, we decided that it definitely does. Except when it doesn’t. Nothing’s simple with Doctor Who!)
2. Counting Daleks
We love the Daleks. I mean, really love them. Which why it seemed to be a good idea to count the amount of times they screamed the word “Exterminate” and any of its iterations. We divvied up the episodes with Daleks in, came up with a big spreadsheet to count this and the times they also shout “We are the superior beings” and “I obey,” and set to work. Cue lots of sitting under a blanket at 5 am in front of the television, scratching tally marks in a notebook. Then getting strange looks from our families. In fact, much of the writing of Who-ology involved strange looks from our families.
Now, we know why Daleks are despised across time and space. It’s not because of their need to conquer every planet they set their eyestalks on, or their complete and utter xenophobia. It’s because they’re constantly talking over each other. Seriously guys, shout “Exterminate” as much as you want, but can you at least do it one at a time? There are people trying to count what you’re saying here!
Of course, joking aside, there were a few times when we had to pinch ourselves. “You mean we’re being paid to count how many times the Daleks offer someone a drink?” There are worse ways to make a living.
(Of course, the enormity of this task finally convinced us that perhaps counting the number of times the Cybermen say “Delete” or “Excellent” might have to be put to one side if we had any hope of writing the rest of the book. And retaining our sanity in the process.)
3. Ben Morris
One of the best things about writing Who-ology was working with Ben Morris on his brilliant illustrations. Nothing cheered us up as when an email pinged in containing his latest batch of drawings and charts. Who else would interpret a pie chart about Monsters as a giant, blood-shot alien eye? His family tree of the Doctor is a thing of beauty, and the illustration of the Tenth Doc covered in kisses should be made into a valentine card. Fact!
4. Research, research, research
The Doctor once said that a Time Lord is the sum of his memories. By the same token, a book like Who-ology is the sum of its research – and there was a LOT of research. Without the huge cataloging and chronicling of the Doctor’s adventures on screen and behind the scenes by a great many learned Doctor Who fans, we’d have still been writing Who-ology come the 100th anniversary.
There is such a wealth of information out there to aid research, and none more richly detailed as the ongoing Doctor Who Magazine Archive feature. Since 1988, writer Andrew Pixley has been the architect of an ongoing research project to compile and collate detailed information on the production of every Doctor Who story, presenting it as a series of features in the pages of the magazine. In recent years, Andrew’s work on the most recent episodes of Doctor Who are presented as a series of Doctor Who Magazine Special Editions, under the Complete Series banner.
Without a body of work like the Archive to be able to cross reference facts against, pinpointing the date of a letter sent to the BBC by future Fourth Doctor Tom Baker asking if there might be any work available, or the date of the lunch where Verity Lambert and Waris Hussein persuaded William Hartnell to accept the role of the Doctor, would be nigh on impossible.
To Andrew, and all scholars of the worlds of Doctor Who, we salute you!
Above all the many things we loved about writing Who-ology – and there are many – the laughing that punctuated the months of furious scribbling is what we’ll remember in the years to come. Laughter at two in the morning when the craziness of compiling a detailed timeline of River Song’s wibbly-wobbly life suddenly hit. Laughter during a Skype chat while rating the madness of the Master’s plots for universal domination, realising that in “Logopolis” he effectively holds the universe to ransom with a Walkman. (We also came to the conclusion that we couldn’t argue with his plan to avoid the Time War in “Utopia”). Laughter at how many ridiculous names the Doctor has been called over the years, or how easy it seems you can kill a Dalek. Laughter when we suddenly stopped and looked around our offices at the piles of Doctor Who magazines, books, DVDs, audios and comics strewn across the floor and stacked in teetering piles (cue more strange looks from our families).
Doctor Who is a serious business, but it is never, ever short on laughter.
And after the laughter, when we sat looking at the completed manuscript of Who-ology, came the wonderment and admiration. Wonderment and admiration for a television programme that perhaps we’d begun to take for granted. Doctor Who is always there, always available to watch with the push of a button in this digital age. Writing Who-ology, exploring the entire history of this wonderful series from start to finish, and the work of all the talented people in front of and behind the cameras, made us remember just why we fell in love with Doctor Who in the first place.
Here’s to the next 50 years – and more “Exterminates” to count…