Thursday, 10 March 2011

Blue Box Boy

Blue Box Boy
By Matthew Waterhouse
424 pages
Hirst Books

As promised last week, it's time to take a look at another volume from Hirst Books.

‘Have you ever wondered what it is like to work on the set of Doctor Who, alongside Tom Baker and Peter Davison? Like a Tardis, Blue Box Boy takes you there...’

Matthew Waterhouse (pictured above, at Dimensions 2010) played the character of Adric in the early 1980s, bridging the final season of Tom Baker and the first of Peter Davison. A mathematical genius, cut off from his home universe, Adric’s unsettled time aboard the TARDIS was brought to an explosive end in a story called ‘Earthshock’. It was (and still is) rare for a companion of the Doctor’s to die.

Adric - and Matthew - have both had to absorb criticism from some fan quarters over the last few decades. Hirst Books have pulled off something of a coup by publishing Matthew’s book, which is ‘A Memoir of Doctor Who in Four Episodes’.

The writing style is peculiar; Matthew writes his own story in the third-person. Such an approach can easily fall flat but despite initial concerns it actually works extremely well.
The use of ‘Episodes’ instead of chapters is another unusual technique, but fully in keeping with the TV show.

Episode 1: An Unearthly Child

Matthew’s story of his early life should resonate with Doctor Who fans of a certain age. At a time when the most important things in the world were Target novelizations of TV episodes, comics and collectible cards from packets of Weetabix. By the end of the episode, the schoolboy fan has progressed to the stage where he has actually got one foot on the door of the TV series itself. From virtually nowhere, he suddenly found himself in the nervy situation of awaiting a very important phone call.

Episode 2: Technocothaca!

When the Producer of Doctor Who, John Nathan-Turner, said the words Matthew was longing to hear: ‘We’d like to offer you the role of Adric’, it was the start of a remarkable journey. Soon enough, the press were happily misquoting him (some things never change) and he even managed a guest spot on ‘Top of the Pops’, promoting the single release of the Doctor Who theme tune. It was an eye-opening experience:

‘Matthew was saddened to find out that all the ecstatic cheering every week on Top of the Pops as each act mimed to its hit was just as fake as the performances’.

The real meat of the episode - indeed, of the whole book - comes when Matthew describes, in great detail, exactly how it was to be working with Tom Baker and Lalla Ward (The Doctor and Romana), with the studio virtually split into two opposing camps a lot of the time (one for each of the warring regulars). Tom’s eccentricities and inconsistent moods were probably made worse by the fact that he was nearing the end of his time on the show. People say, ‘Never meet your heroes’. Tom Baker was Matthew’s hero. It was a very mixed experience
('Why don't you p*** off?' was an early exchange ) - but unforgettable.

Episode 3: Forth To Doomsday

When Peter Davison became the Fifth Doctor, the TARDIS was a crowded place. Adric was one of three companions; Tegan and Nyssa had joined the crew at the very end of Tom’s tenure.

Matthew, at that point the longest serving TARDIS member, found out by accident that his character was going to be killed off. He caught sight of Peter Davison’s advance copy of the'Earthshock' script and ‘shock’ turned out to be an appropriate word.

In this episode, Matthew reveals his thoughts on his fellow time travellers and provides, among many other things, his own version on one of the most repeated stories about his acting career. Did he, or did not, deign to offer Richard Todd acting advice during the filming of ‘Kinda’? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out, although it is worth noting that this ‘official’ version differs from the version given by Matthew himself on the audio commentary of the ‘Kinda’ DVD.

Episode 4: Survival

The final episode summarizes Matthew’s career after leaving the show and offers an insight into two Doctor Who developments. Firstly, the rise of conventions, which are still going strong today. Secondly, he offers his opinions on the new version of the show.

Of course, not all of Matthew’s life has revolved purely around the world of Doctor Who. Having a high profile created opportunities in other directions:

‘One of the nicest things about being on TV was that it made it easy for Matthew to have lots of sex’.

There's a lot of Doctor Who related merchandise out there right now. 'Blue Box Boy' is definitely one of the most interesting of all items. Matthew is dishing some dirt, but it never comes across as vindictive in nature. It's a very readable and enjoyable account of his time on a remarkable show, with a huge amount of behind the scenes stories that will be new to all readers.

Undoubtedly, this memoir will ruffle one or two feathers along the way but Matthew has waited a very long time to present his side of so many stories and it is good that he has finally taken the opportunity to do so. It's never less than entertaining from start to finish and I think it's true to say that there has never been a Doctor Who related book like it.

There are three versions of 'Blue Box Boy'. The deluxe hardback edition had a very limited run and sold out quickly. The standard paperback is still available, as is an audio book, read by Matthew himself, with some bits and pieces that were not in the printed version. Full details of Matthew's memoir (and his new novels, 'Fates, Flowers' and 'Vanitas') can be found over at the Hirst Books website.

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