Thursday, 11 February 2010

Hanging On To My Ego - Shooty Dog Thing by Paul Castle and friends

First a declaration of egotism and self-interest - I've written a fairly significant chunk of this book. So the review which follows is going to try to avoid judging all of my bits. Because I don't need to tell you how great they are, obviously...

I've been writing for fanzines for years - first off the stuff no-one gets to see (and I don't have copies of any more!) for a local Cult TV group, then a couple of reviews for Stone Circle and Strange Skins and, more recently, excellent Canadian 'zines Whotopia and Enlightenment. Most of which involved burbling on about Doctor Who one way or the other. But my main work's been done for the inestimable Paul 'Brax' Castle on - you guessed it - Shooty Dog Thing. Brax started the zine up in the wake of the Regenerations 2006 con, partly due to there being a lack of fanzine activity, and partly as a way to get to meet people. It must've worked wonders, certainly I made it a priority to reacquaint myself with him at the same event a year later (we'd had an all too brief meeting in 2002 and hung around the same mailing lists). And we spent a pleasant afternoon bonding over a shared love of Licence Denied, talking about the zine and kicking ideas around, ending with both of us going away buzzing and me promising him a couple of ideas. And I've been writing for him ever since, and he's become one of the best mates anyone could wish for.

Shooty's a modern zine, in outlook and production. It tends to concentrate on the old series, but with a modern outlook. Without wanting to sound too tediously hippyish, it wants to show what's great about Doctor Who, regardless of when it was produced or what form it came in. The real stroke of genius thugh was to become the first non-print Doctor Who 'zine, instead it was published as a quarterly PDF formatted for reading or for printing.

So we were socialising down in London in November when Tim Hirst, eminence gris of Hirst Books, collared Brax and asked him if he was interested in putting together a Best of Shooty Dog Thing for professional publication. ISBN, Amazon listing and everything. You might think Brax snapped his hand off on the spot but nope, after some deliberation and a revisit to make sure he had enough for a book that he'd be proud to put out he agreed. And frankly worked his arse off to pull everything together before Christmas. For my part, I was one of those he asked for extra material, initially for the tie in review section with Hirst Books other planned Christmas release, Colin Baker's Look Who's Talking, and a Bernice Summerfield Inside Story review to complement an already published article. And, madly, I managed to pitch him a piece about how the Sixth Doctor had been successfully evolved since his time on screen ended. At least that's how I pitched it, but it ended up being a massive overview of the evolution of the Sixth Doctor's character right from the start. I think that it ended up being a long article was that I was conscious of it being for publication in a book rather than a fanzine, and therefore having more space to flesh out the ideas in. I'm always trying to keep actual fanzine articles relatively short, as a) the longer ones fill up a hell of a lot of page count and I don't want to bore readers and b) with a lot of the zines I write for being prepared mainly for online consumption now, several thousand words can mean one hell of a lot of concentration and eyestrain.

Postal strikes and revisions meant the publication date slipped back to January, but that allowed a couple of articles to be switched and a stronger, changed running order of articles. I did a late proofread of the book and, despite it being late and knowing a lot of the material, found myself being drawn into it.

So what is it exactly? Well, it's a great big fuck you to the narrow minded concept that the best Doctor Who is exclusively the telly show. It's a love letter to the diversity of Doctor Who out there, the books, comics, audios, spin offs, conventions, plays... essentially about how damn great it can be, and how great being a fan of it can be. It's introduced by two Doctor Who alumni, first the multi-talented Paul Cornell, editor of original fanzine collection Licence Denied, and a quite wonderful and moving tribute to fanzines in general from ex-fanzine writer and editor and proprietor of Telos books, David J Howe. It's almost worth the cover price of the book alone. And it finishes with a loving tribute to Doctor Who and its fandom from 60s Doctor Who actress Anneke Wills. In between those pieces, all Time Lord life is there. There's fan theorising, edgy humour, convention reviews, directions to some sorely neglected corners of Doctor Who, holding fandom itself up to a mirror... it's an extended love letter to being a fan, the creative possibilities of fanhood and an exhortation to be as open-minded as possible, because otherwise you might miss something brilliant. It's perhaps less eclectic and anarchic than the collection that inspired it, but that's probably as much to do with the pieces all being drawn from one source, and possibly a certain generation of fandom being a little more mature, if still not short on mockery.

While the enthusiasm's one of the major selling points, it doesn't detract from the quality of the writing. Obviously excepting myself for egotistical reasons, it's excellent. Paul's an intelligent, genial host, knowledgeable, but never wanting to intimidate or show that off, wanting to share it instead. And his cadre of writers follow that lead, sometimes seriously, sometimes tongue in cheek, but always with a love of Doctor Who first and foremost in mind.

I'm proud to be part of it.

Buy Shooty Dog Thing here. And check out a few of the other fine publications from Hirst Books while you're at it.

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