Tuesday, 9 August 2011

This Girl I Used To Know - Single White Who Fan: The Life And Times of Jackie Jenkins

I only knew Jackie Jenkins for a couple of years - appropriately, fannishly we only met once a month, where she told me about what had gone on in her life. We laughed about the little things that we did, that all fans do. And then, suddenly she was gone. Upped and left one summer day in 1999, running off after another man. I could've told her he'd be no good for her. She blew back in briefly on a winter's night in 2004 before disappearing again. I thought she'd gone for good.

And yet she didn't. She came back one last time for a few days of good company, letting me know what she's been up to and how happy she is now. An old friend returning, laughing, finally happy and lighting up the room again.

This is a series of postcards from the inter-series years, when we had to make own entertainment. We began being hopeful, but ended up jaded and cynical about any official pronouncement, even when we had the show back for one night in 1996. I was there when the New Adventures began, and for the publication of the last BBC book. I was there for BBV and Big Finish. And I was there for DWM all the way, from the days of David Burton's claims of being the new Doctor to Christopher Eccleston actually being the new Doctor. When the BBC took the toys they gave us away, we made our own entertainment.

DWM was simply magnificent during the wilderness years, adapting to the absence of a parent show with wit and style. It became effectively a professional fanzine, given as much to new fiction (the comic strip and NA previews) and opinion pieces as the interviews, news and making of pieces that had always been its staple diet. The magazine shamelessly hired the best fan writers, becoming by the fans and for the fans as the novel and audio ranges also became. That's primarily due to the editorships of the two Garys, Russell and Gillatt, who had the foresight to realise that the magazine needed changes with a lack of new material from the parent show. That it survived, prospered and eventually became the world's best-selling SF magazine after the launch of the new series is to their eternal credit.

The Jackie Jenkins column was part of Gary Gillatt's vision for the magazine. The natural comparison would be to Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones Diary, then a novel based on the columns Fielding had written for the Independent and Daily Telegraph. I'll freely admit that I couldn't stand Bridget Jones then and I can't now, reading through the odd column in the university library copies of the paper and wondering with the callow naivety of youth who the hell read this rubbish.

And then along came the Jackie Jenkins column to educate me.

The problem with me reading the odd Bridget Jones column was that it wasn't anything I'd experienced and frankly, given the subject matter, was pretty unlikely to experience. Jackie Jenkins may have been of the opposite sex but as re-reading the columns reminded me, often managed to nail the foibles of fandom precisely as well as providing a story to reward anyone paying attention. Going back to them over a decade later they seem even wiser, funnier and truer than I'd remembered them being. I think it's because I can look at those fannish eccentricities now and see them for what they are rather than cringing and falsely denying that I'd ever done anything like that. Incompetently hacking away towards attempting to get published? Recording any snippets with actors who had a speaking part in the series? Searching Ceefax for vague rumours? Such was the lot of the 90s fan, and Jackie reminds those of us who were there for Doctor Who's 1990s of all our yesterdays almost too painfully.

But such a series of observations alone would be nothing more than the written equivalent of a Tim Vine routine - a series of jokes which might be funny by themselves but don't necessarily relate or build to a greater whole and therefore don't really satisfy. Instead, by giving Jackie a life outside fandom the series gets a depth and coherence that's held up surprisingly well over the years. It's a simple but classic boyfriend-girlfriend tale spiced up by the presence of a bad boy. Yeah it's very Bridget Jones but it's better because it's lensed through the prism of Doctor Who and it's a scientific fact that any story can be improved by introducing a Doctor Who element. How much better would Bridget Jones have been if her bessie mates were fans and the Hugh Grant bad boy was comparable to the Master? It's have been halfway watchable anyway... There may be the odd continuity smudge about when she became a fan but hey, what's a Doctor Who related book without some finer continuity points to argue about? And can we argue about which dates are canon please?

The new diaries are a mixed bag - those related to the show itself coming back don't fascinate anything as much as the ones which continue Jackie's story. The 2007 entry which apparently resolves the Darren storyline (for at least four years anyway) and the 2010 entry, which strikes an appropriate note of hope, are the highlights for me, almost certainly because as the story's gone on I found myself far more interested in Jackie and her life than the Doctor Who content.

So thanks Jackie. Thanks for coming back one last time and reminding me of the good times. You were fantastic. And you know what...?

Nah, I'm not going there.

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