Firing Loose Canons: The First Shot

November was meant to be novel writing month or some such. That bothers me, it’s always bothered me, but it bothered me more last year than in previous ones. It’s not the suggestion that a novel is something that should be blurted out in as short a space of time as possible or that social media seems to have trivialised novel writing as a gimmick for one month out of twelve. No, it’s annoying me because it reminded me of my own stalled project. Not a novel as such, more of a reference guide.

‘Loose Canon – An unofficial guide to the unofficial Doctors.’

And it’s stalled; I began this back in the heady days of a certain site whose name begins with a “K” and ends with an “asterborous.” But we’ve moved on now and here I am on the DWC, enumerating the same troubled thoughts.

It is, in theory, going to be a guide to all the Doctors out there that haven’t had top billing in the main series. We’re talking about alternate Doctors – the Peter Cushings, Shalkas, Valeyards, and Watchers that are out there. I’ve been a fan of these kind of Doctors for a long time, ever since Battlefield in fact when the knights discussed a future incarnation of the Doctor that they knew as Merlin. But it was when I was browsing through a copy of The Gallifrey Chronicles by John Peel (not the DJ, despite what Amazon tells you; also, this book has the same title as the final BBC Books Eighth Doctor story from 2005 by Lance Parkin) that the obsession started to take hold.

That was where I found the Valeyard.

I wasn’t quite old enough to remember much of Colin Baker’s era with any great clarity and I only had a handful of Target novelizations to hand and none of them mentioned the Valeyard at all. So, you can imagine how shocked I was to discover this whole new version of the Doctor that I’d never heard of before. It was especially encouraging to read about the Doctor’s future at a time when it was becoming more and more apparent that he probably didn’t have one. Anyone that has read any of my work will appreciate just how much of an influence the Valeyard has proven to be to me over the years.

I spent hours reading and re-reading his entry in The Gallifrey Chronicles (I’ve just gone and ordered a copy on Amazon. Right there. Dammit.) and hunted through the rest of the book to try and unearth any other references to him. The closest I could find was the entry for the Watcher, yet another uncertain version of the Doctor. After The Gallifrey Chronicles, I picked up a copy of The Complete Guide to Middle-earth by Robert Foster and started a love of reference and guide books that took me through The Discworld Companion by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Briggs to The Babylon File by Andy Lane (which I’ve replaced half a dozen times. Great book, lousy binding) right through to getting a copy of the The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia when it was finally translated into English. It’s a point of pride for me that I own a copy of the book that finally knocked 50 Shades of Grey off the number one best sellers list.

For years now I’ve been desperate for a reference book that deals with all the other Doctors not completely covered by canon. It’s been driving me mad that the few references I have to them are scattered over different books.

Then I wrote An Infinite Number of Doctors and that seemed to go down quite well with a number of folk (I’m twisting arms around DWC Towers, and the editors have relented; the feature will be reprinted here sometime soon) and the idea occurred that maybe I could expand my knowledge into a full blown reference guide and so work began.

However life and other miscellanea conspired to get in the way and the project got shelved temporally.

Until now.

I’ve decided to return to it, but I needed something to keep me motivated, to keep me at the keyboard chipping away at it. Poring through other people’s reference books, reading the ’91-’05 books, listening to the Unbound range (again), and maybe even watching a few episodes of Doctor Who. And have you heard? Big Finish have drafted David Warner back into playing an Unbound Doctor later this year!

The result is this column. See, this is hopefully going to be a regular feature from now on. I’m going to be writing about my experiences as I put Loose Canon together. I’m going to be writing about hunting down obscure Whovians items for research, sitting through Scream of the Shalka and the Cushing Movies, being rejected by publishers, and anything else that crops up along the way.

Shall we begin?