There's something that has annoyed me for a while about fandom and I've struggled to work out what it is. At least, I've struggled to understand exactly what it is, until tonight. It's this: the smugness of a certain aspect of fandom that's trying to prove how clever and cool it is.
As fandom has grown up it's assumed a kind of self-satisfied middle-age that chooses to show its superiority to other fans using a white-hot scorn that's directed at people who don't like the way that the new series of Doctor Who has embraced sexuality, self-referential mythos, soapy character arcs and a heavy dose of emotional manipulation.
The way this tends to be expressed is to suggest that the kind of people who dislike this modern form of storytelling in Doctor Who and other genre stuff are probably emotional cripples or sexual inadequates who take themselves far too seriously.
This latter suggestion is particularly prevalent in fandom wars and it's the one I find most interesting. While there are undoubtedly plenty of joyless virgins in genre fandom, I think it says a lot more about the accuser than the accusee: you are joyless and haven't had much sex - I look down on you because I am full of joy and have lots of sex. Of course, thanks to the McGann movie, we all know what Freud might say about this.
I've seen this primarily in Doctor Who fandom, as it's the only sort of fan circle I'm really part of (I've yet to locate a Blake's 7 fan circle) but it's been quite noticeable on social media recently in discussions over Sherlock. While I'm not the greatest fan of this latest vehicle for Moffat and Gatiss to indulge their childhood fantasies, I've appreciated the slickness and general wit of the reimagined series. However I thought the cop-out of The Empty Hearse and eye-watering smugness of The Sign Of Three were very weak and see the series echoing Doctor Who's collapse into its own mythos and clever-clever post-modernism.
On Twitter the latest episode saw a polarised reaction and one of Smug Fan's most identifying – and annoying – traits: A kind of glee at the fact that other fans did not enjoy the episode. Here's one example:
Wriggling with delight at how annoyed the Internet will be at this week's Sherlock.
To me this kind of statement is thick with a horrible superiority; implications and inferences that judge one person in relation to another. Let's be honest here, if we're tweeting our reactions to Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes we simply ain't that cool – and the implication of a certain hierarchy in science-fiction fandom is as funny as it's tragic.
There's another aspect to this. The loudest voices in this scorn-pouring are frequently professional fans – the kind who write stuff for Big Finish or even the new series – lording it up over the rest of us mere mortals by sucking up horrifically to Moffat and co and telling everyone else that they're not allowed opinions if they happen to conflict with their own. This is, in many ways, understandable even if it makes for one of the least edifying sights on the internet.
Tonight's Sherlock was frequently very funny; plots are skillfully woven together and its impeccably cast and directed with real verve and imagination. But rather like Doctor Who (lead character = lonely, tragic, unreachable, impossible hero; unrequited love; pleased with himself; winks at camera) it's in real danger of disappearing up its own fundament.
Most of the stuff I object to most in Doctor Who and Sherlock can be summed up with 'look at us; aren't we clever'? Tonight the latter spent 90 minutes giving its two main characters a metaphorical handjob while wearing a deerstalker. The Whoification of Sherlock was complete – on television and online.
There, I said it. We've all been thinking it. Even you Mark Gatiss. I bet you have. If you haven't, you should - you really should you know.
I quite enjoyed all of the New Adventures up to Nightshade. Even John Peel's opening one. And I loved Uncle Terrance's Exodus, which is fast and economical but gripping too. Nigel Robinson's one was decent and Paul Cornell was a delight to find (Ace has suffocated on the moon, believing it to be Perivale - the afterlife receptionist thinks it unique, according to the blurb on the back).
And then I hit a stumbling block. I couldn't get past Marc Platt's Time's Crucible - a shame as I was deeply impressed by his novelisations of Battlefield ) making it much better than the televised story) and Ghost Light (making it make sense - kinda).
Then Cartmel's first book of his NA trilogy. Cartmel comes in for a lot of stick these days (much of it of his own making) but his New Adventures were genuinely superb books. Andrew Hunt's (?) Witchmark didn't leave much impact on me - I think I thought it was OK.
And then, I'm fairly sure, was Gatiss' Nightshade. It was the first book that me totally gripped, with what I thought were the right amounts of old Doctor Who, the 'too broad and deep' philosophy of the New Adventures, humour, wit and - importantly - horror.
Gatiss' first book has terrors to send your arm hairs up on end, afraid to look under the bed and unwilling to turn off the light. The concept of a monster that feeds of fear - and thus becomes that which people fear the most - is not especially novel but I don't remember an instance of it being pulled off so well.
The Tar Baby and the drowned, dead brother are horrifying creations described wonderfully - the former's sticky arms reaching out from beneath the bed - and its victim's lack of surprise - is a masterclass in horror writing.
And then there's Professor Nightshade. If the story had been made into a TV serial the monster would have been enough. But Gatiss uses the form to delve into a meta sub-plot about a retired actor who played a character not at all like Quatermass in some BBC serials (I think). Because - in Nightshade - peoples' fears become reality you basically get an episode of Quatermass played out within a Doctor Who story. Irresistable.
Rather than delving into big space opera battles or cyberpunk - or the sex-and-violence that some tried and often failed - Gatiss uses the broader canvas to simply do something clever with the opportunity. The setting was good too. A cold, colourless northeast seaside town if I remember correctly. I always imagined a Marske or Whitby rather than a Teesside town - somewhere near the Moors.
I liked the novel immensely. I reckon I read it a few times. I re-read it a few years ago - when I revisited the range - and found that it had not aged. Others I found very much less impressive second-time around.
It strikes me that this would make an excellent two-parter with little tweaking. It's a good story for the Doctor, if I remember correctly. While Gatiss sketched out the seventh very well I don't remember it being exclusively about the seventh incrantion especially. Ace has a good story too - and nearly has a romance with a man called Robin ( I would have been willin') - and there's a great character actor part in Professor Nightshade.
Beyond that I can't remember. But I am sure the story would stand the transfer well. The BBC does period well, some nice location stuff would really drag the series back out of its self-satisfied America-and-space routines of the last series - and the tower block mise-en-scene of RTD's tenure. For all of its promise I'm not sure the new series has really explored the 'anywhere, anywhen' template much
Importantly, for me, the story is frightening. Doctor Who is all abut frightening for me. Sure, some fans think it's hilarious when Tom and the guest cast spend 90 minutes twatting about, or the Doctor snogs someone or the Daleks and Cybermen have a war.
Maybe those things are good, but I don't think they're the reason kids get into Doctor Who. Our programme has been great at scares over the years. It has spawned some of the most famously frightening things that exist in fiction. It is a scary show - and it's usually at its best when its being good at being terrifying. You've heard of 'behind the sofa' - I vividly remember spending the end of the first episode of Caves of Androzani under the sofa.
Nightshade is a very scary book. I'd also stick my head above the parapet and say that it's the best thing Mark Gatiss has done on the show, including his other novels, audio plays and his TV scripts.
While I found The Unquiet Dead very enjoyable, it's been a case of diminishing returns with Gatiss' scripts, culminating in the obviously hacked-up Victory of the Daleks and the very weak Night Terrors.
Gatiss is clearly someone who could be a future show-runner, if the series has a secure future. Should Moffat continue it seems reasonable to expect more Gatiss episodes. He has one of the best Doctor Who stories ever written at his disposal - and he wrote it. Cornell did the same for Human Nature - and Marc Platt's wonderful Spare Parts was mangled to make Rise of the Cybermen (probably best we forget that) but Nightshade's simplicity, its neutrality, its very Who-ness would make it a classic.
It may be a very old adventure - but to a legion of New Series fans it could be new once more.
The second photo is - I think - from when BBC Online started to reprint a few of the NAs. I've also found a prelude to it - DWM had an excellent featurette that prefaced all the novels in those days, a reflection of how important they were. You can read it here.