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09 August 2010 @ 03:33 pm
Who Goes There  
I'm guessing Who Goes There by Nick Griffiths was supplied by a relative. I don't think it is the kind of book I would purchase myself any more. I spent a lot of the book trying to puzzle out what exactly it was trying to do. Ostensibly its the tale of Griffiths' visits to various Doctor Who locations.

1. It's not a guide book. A guide book to Doctor Who locations was published in the 1980s, called Travel without the TARDIS by Jean Airey and Lauried Haldeman, two female American Who fans who I don't recall ever hearing of again. I was mildly charmed by it, though mostly by the fact the authors appeared to have no conception that anyone non-American might be reading and so supply lavish advice on getting to the UK and operating while here, including about two pages of entertaining invective against the then British phone system. Anyway it's full of facts, addresses and directions. Who Goes There is devoid of much helpful information for locating these places and all too frequently contains the injunction that, actually, you shouldn't visit such-and-such a place because Griffiths was trespassing when he did so. Not a guide book then.

2. It's not a travel memoir. OK, so I'm not really a connoisseur of travel memoirs but Griffiths a) doesn't like people much (nothing wrong with that, I don't like people much, but the interesting people met along the way often form a large part of the few travel memoirs I recall) and b) doesn't like sight-seeing much. He works up a fair old enthusiasm about some of the Who-based locations but, during the course of the book, his wife insists they visit various non-Who related tourist attractions which he, without fail, finds too dull for words.

3. I think maybe it's meant to be a personal memoir, a kind of rite-of-passage book. The anecdotal style, recounting Griffiths' trips to various Who locations, is interspersed with very personal passages in which he discusses the death of his mother and his reactions to this. He's already published one memoir, Dalek I loved you which, I gather, described growing up as a Who fan and I'm guessing this book was intended to be more of the same. With less material to cover, the wander around Who locations provides a substitute for the passage of time.

The problem with treating it as a memoir, really, is that its selling point has to be the way it connects to the experiences of existing Who fans and Who Goes There sits alongside Jackie Jenkins in presenting a face of Who fandom in which I identify with virtually nothing. Jackie Jenkins was a column in Doctor Who Magazine which (I recently discovered) was based on Bridget Jones and purported to chronicle the life of a female Who fan. I had no points of identification with the bright young thing, booze and party lifestyle it presented. Similarly I found little to identify with in the pub-and-club fandom described by Griffiths, in which women are long-suffering and often sceptical bystanders, and you freely refer to some of them as "stupid bints". Moreover the Who fans I know are typified by an attention to detail and a tendency for in-depth planning. Griffiths launches himself into the project with minimal preparation (apparently deliberately so). He often knows nothing about the locations he is visiting, occasionally not even being entirely sure where they are, or when they might be open, or how long it might take to get there. He is supposed to be taking photos as he goes, but often only has his mobile to hand or, on one occasion, has to go and buy a cheap camera in Argos*. I really don't know many Doctor Who fans like that. If I'm not being cynical about this (i.e. assuming the lack of preparation is indicative of a lack of interest in the project as anything beyond a money-making exercise) then I suspect it is supposed to be a kind of endearing point-of-identification with the inept, planning-incapable audience except, as I say, I don't really know any Who fans like that. It felt contemptuous of the reader but maybe it is just the laddish face of Who fandom.

The passages about Griffiths' mother sit, more awkwardly than anything else, among the ramshackle anecdotage of the rest of the book.

4. ... one of the super-sekrit Doctor Who mailing lists I am on (as opposed to the, no doubt many, super-sekrit Doctor Who mailing lists I know nothing about) has a tendency to refer with distain to mechandise aimed at those Doctor Who fans who will pay money for anything with the logo on the cover, regardless of the quality or effort put into the contents. More than anything else, this felt to me like something in that category. A cheap throwaway piece of writing (several sections are cut-and-paste from websites - mostly whenever Griffiths feels he ought to give a bit of background information on a location), following a manic and ill-prepared dash about Southern England and Cardiff. Only the passages about his mother feel like they are coming from someone investing more than the bare-minimum of effort and they belong, I think, in a different book.

*These pictures are not in the book but are, apparently, online somewhere. I can see why the publishing decision was taken to do this but I'm not convinced it is at all successful. A lot of words are spent in achieving these "money shots" but I can't say I've been inspired to actually attempt to find these photos (especially given how many are, apparently, blurry efforts taken with a mobile phone). In five years time (or whenever) when e-books are better established, I can see something like this working. As it was the regular, in text, references to (pic 7.2) were more off-putting than anything else.

I was actually surprised how alienating I found this book. Obviously Who fandom isn't a monolith by any stretch of the imagination, but I this was the first time I've read something by a Doctor Who fan with whom, it would seem, I have virtually nothing in common.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/15481.html.
Greg McElhatton: Doctor Huh?gregmce on August 9th, 2010 03:47 pm (UTC)
Wow. This book sounds amazing...ly bad. A slow motion car crash of a guidebook. I find myself kind of hoping to see a copy at Gally next year just so I can flip through and marvel at the badness, but then be able to walk away from it. Fortunately your copy was a gift, at least.

I like to think, based on your description, that there's a sequel written by his wife called, "Why my husband is horrible to travel with and I'm realizing that he's not all that and oops he just fell off a cliff."
louisedennislouisedennis on August 9th, 2010 03:57 pm (UTC)
His wife comes across as a saint (albeit one with a temper and the ability to stand up for herself). To do him credit, he recognizes that fact :-)

It must be said I swung rapidly between thinking it was a cynical money-making exercise and thinking I was just being a very harsh judge because I found the tone so off-putting. I have no idea really. I didn't enjoy it, but I can imagine that if you like his writing style, you would.
parrot_knight: Ecclestonparrot_knight on August 9th, 2010 04:13 pm (UTC)
I think that this book (which I've not read) is more a piece of personality journalism than anything else, somewhat like an extended newspaper column. It seems very much a mainstream book, with Doctor Who as part of the bedrock of identity and nostalgic affection for those of us who are somewhere around the age of forty, to be lightly mocked in celebration. For a serious guidebook, the committed fan is going to dig out Richard Bignell's Doctor Who On Location, supplemented by Chuck Foster's online locations guide. This one is written as disposable entertainment, I suspect.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on August 9th, 2010 05:36 pm (UTC)
That makes a lot of sense actually. I was vaguely puzzled by the brief summaries of Who plots accompanying the locations wondering who on Earth thought that anyone purchasing the book would need such - although given the divide I sometimes feel between the Old and the Nu Who fan...

Is there really a mainstream market for this kind of thing though? I can see that Dalek I Loved You marketed as a memoir of a seventies childhood might gain a wider audience but honestly a middle-aged Who fan touring Dr Who locations? There are odd bits in the book where he talks about discovering the quirky side of the British countryside but for that to suceed he really needed to be, well, keener on meeting people and more interested in the other sites along the way. As it was, he seemed much too focused on the destination, as opposed to the journey.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on August 9th, 2010 05:43 pm (UTC)
As far as I can tell from Amazon, it's probably sold about as well as his earlier book did, given that it's been out for less time. I'd need to have read it to say more, I suspect; but it has had a couple of Christmases to be a stocking-filler.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on August 9th, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC)
I'm 90% sure I acquired it as a Christmas present. But, of course, my family know me as a Who fan.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on August 9th, 2010 05:48 pm (UTC)
I think that the market includes people who know about Who enthusiasm but don't really know the fan literature. These can include relatives of fans and enthusiastic viewers who know the stories as 'the one with...' rather than by title - watercooler fans, to borrow a terminology which I think I first came across in newspaper articles explaining the success of Friends. I'm reminded of a colleague at The Great Work who suggested to me that I be relieved of one of my Who-related articles there because one of his contributors in the twentieth century, an actor, had appeared in a Dalek story and was interested in taking the article on; when I explained that I had all the bases covered, he exclaimed "Oh! There's a literature!"