writer of Doctor Who Pocket Essential
What propelled your interest in Doctor Who and can you recall the first episode you ever saw, and did you view it from behind the sofa?
Mark: My first definite memory of ‘Doctor Who’ is the trailer for ‘Carnival of Monsters’, probably broadcast an hour or so before episode one, on Saturday 27 January 1973. I was six: the perfect age to be drawn in by the magic. I remember ‘The Three Doctors’, but only the unmasking of Omega so this may have been a clip from another programme, and also ‘The Sea Devils’, but I’m certain this was a repeat omnibus, either from 1972 or 1974. Of ‘Frontier in Space’ I remember nothing, but from ‘Planet of the Daleks’ onwards, I rarely missed an episode.
I never watched from behind the sofa, but I have a vague feeling I may have sat on my mother’s lap and watched it through my fingers sometimes. The mid-70s did shock-horror-monster-reveals very well! And the theme music and electronic incidental score added immeasurably to the scares.
I love the Pocket Essential Episode guide, it’s what I call my ‘bible’ in terms of discovering little snippets of information that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise known. It gives every piece of detail that has helped me write up ‘Birthday Shout Out’s’ and also when writing articles about the Daleks. I can’t thank you enough for writing it.
Mark: Thank you, you’re very kind.
How long did it take to compile the episode guide and why in the case of Peter Davison’s reign as the Doctor were you not able to list the days the episodes were broadcast, bearing in mind some episodes were over the period of a week?
Mark: I seem to remember spending about four months on it, when it originally came out in 2000. It was a very different beast then. 96pp, ridiculously tiny print, 35,000 words max. My brief was to be irreverent, so I’m afraid that’s why I wrote that very wicked introduction. Perhaps I was in a bad mood that day? I don’t know. I look back on it and shudder. It was supposed to be funny, but actually now reads as rather juvenile.
Not sure what you mean by Davison transmission dates. I did them the same as all the other stories; first and last dates only. I think I may have got a couple of dates wrong, but they were corrected in subsequent editions.
You’ve written two Who books, the episode guide and Doctor Who the Complete Guide which on viewing briefly on Amazon seems no different to the episode guide, just reformatted with a different front cover, unless you covered beyond the 10th’s reign by covering all of Tennant’s first season right up to Matt Smith’s 11th regeneration. (it only shows me about 10 pages, and it’s a paperback not a hardback which again is different to the episode guide.) If it extends past the first season of Tennant I may buy it.
What was the reason for the relaunch?
Mark: Nothing to do with me! Authors are the last to know what’s happening with their books. I was searching on Amazon one day for my name (as you do) and saw this book called ‘The Complete Guide’ with my name on—which was news to me, as I hadn’t written a book called ‘The Complete Guide’. An email to my editor at Pocket Essentials soon revealed that they had sold the rights to Constable & Robinson, without telling me, and so this was a new version of an old book. So I contacted C&R and managed to update a few bits and bobs, but essentially it’s exactly the same as the hardback Pocket Essential guide with Matt Smith’s first season in.
It’s rather complicated, but to date there have been eight unique editions of my book. Here’s the history:
‘The Pocket Essential Doctor Who’ (PE, 2000, 96pp, PB) — Up to ‘The Movie’
‘The Pocket Essential Doctor Who – 40th Anniversary New Edition’ (PE, 2003, 96pp, PB) — ditto
‘The Pocket Essential Doctor Who’ (PE, 2005, 190pp, PB) – Up to ‘Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways’
‘Doctor Who - The Episode Guide’ (PE, 2007, 192pp, HB) – Up to ‘The Runaway Bride’
‘Doctor Who – The Episode Guide’ (PE, 2010, 224pp, HB) – Up to ‘The End of Time’
‘Doctor Who – The Episode Guide’ (PE, 2010, 224pp, HB) – Up to ‘The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang’ + new Afterword
‘Doctor Who – The Complete Guide’ (C&R, 2011, 257pp, PB) – ditto
‘Doctor Who – The Complete Guide: Fully Revised and Updated’ (C&R, 2013, 292pp, PB) – Up to ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’.
Have you written any books outside of the Whoniverse?
Mark: Yes, for Pocket Essentials I have written guides to Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes and the Carry On Films. I’ve also just published a guide to proofreading primary school reports for Kindle.
The world of Who monsters is quite a list and we all have our favourites, I would imagine you have yours, but to make it harder perhaps, which are your top 3 favourites, the ultimate obviously taking the top spot?
Mark: By ultimate, you mean the Macra? But seriously, if you take out Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans as the Top 3 (which presumably would be most people’s), then the next three are much more interesting to think about. For my money, the ‘second division’ of great monsters would be Ice Warriors, Sea Devils and...don’t laugh...the Zarbi/Animus! I adore ‘The Web Planet’, it is so wonderfully, self-consciously ‘alien’. Imagine the Carcinome being done with CGI embellishments on today’s budget. And the Zarbi! It would be staggering. I suppose one must slip the Weeping Angels in there somewhere, but I’m getting very bored with the way they are being shoved into any old story these days. As a one-off, ‘Blink’ was superb. Every time the Angels re-appear, however, their appeal — for me — is diluted.
Daleks for me are always going to be number one but close second are the weeping angels, with the Silence bringing up the rear, although there were some creepier Classic ones that gave me nightmares, including a creeping sleeping bag in bubble wrap (am certain it wasn’t in Blake7) were there many monsters/aliens that kept you up at night as a kid?
Mark: Sounds like you’re thinking of the Wirrn pupae from ‘The Ark in Space’. Yes, the monsters that kept me up at night were probably the maggots from ‘The Green Death’. For me it was their believability that was so terrifying. As a child, I knew aliens, especially ones who spoke RP, were fictitious. But hideous, slimy maggots that spat poisonous green goo at you? They seemed frighteningly real, and you couldn’t negotiate your way out of danger. Like the poisonous goo that the ‘eye plants’ spit in ‘Planet of the Daleks’, it was the inevitably of death/disease once you’d got infected that I found particularly sinister. Still do, it must be said! The Drashigs again I found very scary — for much the same reason. They seemed very ‘real’ and just would keep coming after you till they found you! Also their Radiophonic screams were particularly bloodcurdling. Other monsters? For some reason Lynx from ‘The Time Warrior’ was the one who sent shivers up my spine. The squat, PVC-clad body, the fleshy head (all very Freudian!) and Kevin Lindsay’s magnificently malevolent performance were key ingredients.
My first Time Lord was Jon Pertwee, I remember him with Betsy the yellow car and Jo Grant. My favourite Time Lord however is David Tennant, which did you grow up with and who is your favourite Time Lord?
Mark: Like I say, Jon Pertwee was my first. My favourite? Tricky. Whoever I’m watching at the time! Tom Baker is pretty hard to beat, although I do think Peter Davison and Patrick Troughton are hard to beat. They never gave a bad performance, despite some of their stories being total dross.
You’ve listed quite a few episodes with 10/10 but which is your absolute favourite episode?
Mark: ‘The Caves of Androzani’ and ‘The Androids of Tara’ I could watch again and again.
As a fan of Who did you ever collect memorabilia, magazines, figurines, books, the mugs, pens, that kind of thing, and if you did, what is the best item you have in your collection? I’m a collector of the TARDIS and Daleks.
Mark: I’m not into ‘ephemera’ as such, but I certainly collected all the Target novels, and I have every Doctor Who Weekly/Monthly/Magazine since issue 1. Nowadays I collect the DVDs (although they’ve practically stopped now) and plug the gaps with the BBC soundtracks. When the series came back in 2005 I did start collecting the figures, but have reigned back on those now, as the new 3.5” figures are ghastly and the ‘classic’ sets tend to be very expensive. I’ve got about 50 of them I suppose, including all the Dalek and Cybermen variants.
Are you writing any new books at the moment and can you tell us anything about them?
Mark: I am working on a few projects, but it’s all hush hush at the moment!
To collate all of the information regarding the Episode Guide must have taken a considerable amount of time, how long did it take and were there some portions of the guide that you had difficulty in obtaining, such as the Peter Davison side of the guide for example?
Mark: I think I’ve sort of answered this one already. But I did have to persuade my wife I wasn’t just watching telly, I was researching stuff!
When you’re not writing how do you relax?
Mark: Reading books. I’m currently working my way through Charles Dickens and Stephen King in chronological order. I enjoy watching tatty old horror and science fiction films. I collect 1970s UK humour comics, so I enjoy perusing ‘Whoopee!’, ‘Shiver and Shake’ and ‘The Beezer’ and the like.
What was the first book you ever wrote and had published? Do you always write factual books, have you written fictional pieces?
Mark: The ‘Pocket Essential Doctor Who’ was my first book, but I’d had lots of magazine articles published before that. I always have plans for fiction, and I did submit proposals for the Virgin and BBC original fiction lines, but they were all rejected. I enjoy writing short stories and plan on getting an anthology published for Kindle.
The other ‘Doctor Who’ book I’ve written is called ‘Dimensions in Time and Space’ and it’s a huge thing, 410pp of tiny print, going very in-depth into the TV series and also covering all the spin-offs: comic strips, radio shows, plays, TV spin-offs etc. The last edition was published in 2005 but I don’t think the publisher has any plans for a new edition!