Andrew O’Day
The Time Beetle: A Life With and Without Doctor Who

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        In 1991 I left for Canada in order to study for a B.A. in English Lit in Montreal and drifted away from the Doctor. But when I returned for a visit in 1996 it was Tim and James I contacted. This led to my having a minute role in their video production Iron Law, about a future corrupt State. While we have had fallings out over the years, Tim has remained a constant pillar of support to this day and we get together to natter and watch lots of television programmes - including, of course, Doctor Who - with food and wine, as well as to work on my website. James I am in touch with on a more irregular basis as he has distanced himself from us.

        When I returned to England in 1997 I also started attending Doctor Who conventions again where I made friends and foes. I consider myself blessed to have struck up a good friendship with actor Nick Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart) in the late 1990s; to have been taught at RADA by Gregory de Polnay (D84 in the 1977 story The Robots of Death) as part of my Theatre Studies M.A.; to have interviewed Verity Lambert and Barry Letts at their homes, and John Nathan-Turner at a convention; for my Ph.D. thesis; and having the launch of the book Terry Nation which I co-wrote with Jonathan Bignell attended by Lalla Ward at Café Coco in Oxford. I have recounted my recollections of these people (sometimes humorous) on my website: the fact that I, and other fans, had lunch with Nick in my hometown of Oxford; the fact that at first I didnt realise who Greg de Polnay was until my eyes almost popped out of my head when watching I Was A Doctor Who Monster and seeing him on screen; my spilling red wine on Barry Letts couch which was thankfully protected by a plastic sheet; and Barry promising me lunch but not cooking for us but rather taking me to the local supermarket for a sandwich - a SANDWICH! To this list, I can add all the stars I, with other fans, have had convention celebrity dinners with (for example, Anneke Wills and Debbie Watling). There is no denying that these have been great moments which have brought joy to my life. However, they are just moments - special moments and ones when one is on ones best behaviour - but Doctor Who has had a further-reaching impact on me in adulthood than these encounters.

        As you can tell from the discussion here, my childhood was very much one where I found solace in the television set and in my love for Doctor Who. I carried around a secret - even from Tim and James - that I am gay and I lived in fear, fuelled by the media, of one day dying of AIDS. I had no girlfriends or boyfriends and grew up believing also that I was the boy who would never have sex. I was continually taunted at secondary school as to what a Durex was and whether I would one day get to use one with a girl. Yet I was deeply physically attracted to boys - I remember being magnetically drawn to the drawing of a naked boy rather than that of a naked girl in The Facts of Life book, I fantasised about boys on the television set (such as in Grange Hill) and about a succession of class-mates that had begun at Special School with Raymond. I just couldnt take my eyes off him sitting at a distant table at lunchtime but when the opportunity came to do something with him at his house I was too shy, one of my many regrets. I tried desperately to fit in with other boys and was afraid that my secret would be discovered. At Special School, one boy, Barry asked in the taxi which took us all home what the word Fuck meant and I replied that it was what a man did to a woman; while another boy Nicholas, asked me at break time if I knew what gay meant. I timidly replied that it was when a man slept with another man, to which he responded that it was when a man loved another man. At another normal school that I had been placed in in Oxford, one boy asked me if I preferred to be friends with boys or girls, and as I left that school to go and live in Milton Keynes most pupils were aware that I had a crush on a boy named Simon. Once on the bus home from secondary school in Milton Keynes, one boy, Bruce, who was admittedly hot, tauntingly came and sat by me with his friends surrounding us and asked if I would like to go to bed with him. When I was in the sixth form at an annual ball I was accused of being gay by a boy named Rod who I was attracted to as though it was something to be ashamed of. By that time, even though I put on a pretence of being interested in a girl named Claire (not the first of my charades involving females), a lot of the sixth form had figured out I was gay since I was attracted to a boy named Peter and was desperate to move into his tutor group. This caused problems and I hid my sexuality from a psychiatrist I was forced to see. I continued to deny my true sexuality when I fell in love with a boy named Erik on an educational holiday in the South of France at age 17 and after I visited him at his home in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Canada, and we had fallen out, I ran away from home across the Atlantic at age 18 to try to make peace with him. This was unsuccessful but my desire for adventure and excitement was satisfied.

        My pent-up desires for men were also later unleashed in Montreals gay village when I was taking my B.A.. In some ways, I was living the great life, especially during the summer holidays. Every day I would sleep under a powerful fan, blowing in my face, and every night I would go to strip-clubs and watch nude men and especially boys dance to pop songs (from Michael JacksonHeal the World to The Scorpions Wind of Change to MadonnaLike a Prayer) both on a main stage and in private; I would visit Peep Shows, with booths where one paid to view pornographic movies and where all the rent boys hung out; and I would end the night in one of the saunas - that is when it was not in someones flat, hotel room, or car. These saunas were like another exotic world and I would exit into the light of dawn and the ordinary world every day. It would be no exaggeration to say that hundreds and hundreds of men had their way with me. One of my partners joked about the fact that I carried a tube of KY in my jacket pocket; I had a large collection of boxes of condoms in my apartment cupboard; and I was dazzled by the point that I could hardly walk through the village without passing someone that I had slept with. All those nights are now blurred in memory. I also remember visiting the gay village in Toronto for a week in 1995 where I actually stayed at one of the saunas. When I returned to England, I did not say farewell to my promiscuous ways, though I was now more openly gay to people. But my academic interests, including my interest in Doctor Who, and my desire to succeed, have played an enormous part to this day in my practicing (mostly) safe gay sexual intercourse with partner after partner. Thats what one needs in order to combat HIV/AIDS: confidence in oneself and goals which make one want to continue living. As we learnt at university as undergraduates, John Milton had a desire to be a successful poet yet feared premature death and much was the same for me. It is in this way that Doctor Who was tied to my gayness as opposed to any conscious connections I had with the Doctor as outsider and individualistic.

        There have been those moments of experiencing the ‘buzz’ of discovering new academic information. Interestingly, the first time I realised that Doctor Who could be taken seriously as an academic study was at the end of my time in Montreal in 1997 where I had started an M.A. in English Lit. This was a difficult time in my life - I was terrified that I had contracted HIV; I had been dumped after having an affair with a man at university who I was very much in love with; and, after retaliating badly, found myself hospitalised for mental health problems with my education seemingly over. What is important is the fact that at this point the Doctor came in and saved me. I watched videotapes of old Doctor Who stories again and again which I had come across in a couple of stores in Montreal and learnt how close original readings could be done. This, and the fact that I was forced to return to England, would lead to my taking an M.A. and then in 2000 a Ph.D., largely on Doctor Who, supervised by Jonathan Bignell.

        So what would life have been like for me in an alternative universe where Doctor Who had never been made? The more optimistic side of me would like to think that I would have gone on to join the Blue Peter Appreciation Society and have gained a Doctorate in Blue Peter Studies (Prior to my Doctor Who fanzine, I had worked at producing a Blue Peter magazine but never for sale!). Or maybe as a teenager I would have grown out of Blue Peter and would have gone on to join the DAS (the Dallas Appreciation Society) instead of the DWAS (the Doctor Who Appreciation Society). In the DAS, I would have met Tim Harris, who also loves the drama of the Ewings of Southfork. We would have fiercely debated which was the better episode Things Aint Goin Too Good At Southfork or Things Aint Goin Too Good At Southfork Again and who was the sexiest star to grace the programme (in my opinion, Sasha Mitchell obviously). Slippery characters could have sold barely watchable copies of old episodes, much as happened in real life with Series 1, 2 and 3 of Dallas (King-Size Audio Tapes as James humorously called them), and I could have edited the fanzine DT (Dallas Times), shouting out DTeeeeeee! as loudly as possible from my Oil Barons convention fanzine table in order to attract customers. In this scenario, I would be asking what life would have been like had Dallas not been made and comparing it to the scenario in the final episode, Conundrum (1991), where, in a rather poor take on Its A Wonderful Life (1946), the devilish J.R. Ewing is shown what life would have been like for those around him had he never been born.

        However, the more pessimistic side of me would either consign me to a list of teen suicides due to the endless bullying I endured at school; or would place me on an AIDS quilt since I would not have had the reason for living and mostly practicing safe gay sex with my partners that Doctor Who gave me. Maybe I would never have gone to Montreal and with little education - having been kicked out of school - have become a Piccadilly Circus rent boy. These were just a few possible fates that awaited Little Andrew in a world without Doctor Who (and in this alternative universe the term Little Andrew had, of course, never been coined). I certainly would never have met my Ph.D. supervisor Jonathan Bignell back in 2000 and gained a Doctorate; I never would have met my fellow academics; and in one possible scenario I would even not have met my good friend Tim Harris. I would not have gone on do what I did: to work for The Whitechapel Society or as part of Terrence Higgins Trusts gay mens team, or studying at Birmingham Law School. Certainly there have been fights between myself and other members of fandom but the good outweighs what could have been by far. The whole world is different because of Doctor Who. Someone has been manipulating the timeline - maybe Dalek Caan?  and my timeline and that of Doctor Who are hopelessly intertwined. Everything that happens now happens because Doctor Who was made. I’m sure my life would be different if I had never, for example, met Erik and moved to Canada or been forced to return to England - lots of meetings and actions shape our lives in important ways - but Doctor Who has still had a profound influence on my life. All this is a legacy which Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert handed down to us by creating, and producing, the programme respectively, and this legacy is much more than one individual moment.          

Barry Letts promised me lunch but took me to the local supermarket for a sandwich. There is no denying these have been great ‘moments’ but Doctor Who has had a further-reaching impact on me than these encounters