Book Review: Adventures with the Wife in Space

(27 comments)

Adventures With the Wife in Space is, as we’ve already talked about, an absolutely wonderful blog. But reading it over the years, one also often gets the nagging sense that it’s been a troubled blog, and troubled largely because of Neil Perryman’s ambivalence regarding the project.

It’s both an interesting and brave decision, therefore, that the book of the blog goes so far away from the blog’s apparent wheelhouse. For all of us in fandom it seemed obvious that the real point of The Wife in Space was the reviews. It was Doctor Who as reviewed by a not-we - a normal person. Sue was our great reasonably sane hope; the person who would tell us what bits of the classic series we could actually be proud of and what bits were as rubbish as we feared.

Because this is a thing. Tat Wood, in About Time 7, accuses the new series of suffering from anorakaphobia. This seems a bit of a leap for a show that includes easter eggs about The Sensorites on more than one occasion, but it does get at something real, which is that ever since the new series fandom has had a sense of non-trivial anxiety about the classic series. On the one hand, Doctor Who was suddenly popular. This was fantastic. Suddenly we weren’t freaks for liking it any more. But there was a clear divide between the new series and the classic series. The popularity of the new series didn’t magically make it remotely normal to like The Claws of Axos.

Beyond that, fandom had learned its lesson. Doctor Who fandom, especially in the UK, was characterized by loving snark. Or, sometimes, unloving snark. Being a Doctor Who fan meant knowing “not the mind probe,” or the bubble wrap in The Ark in Space, or the bits in The Monster of Peladon where it was obviously Terry Walsh and not Jon Pertwee, or all the Billy fluffs. This didn’t mean hating the series. But it meant loving it in spite of itself, with a slightly embarrassed look. And nothing about the popularity of the new series erased that problem.

This is baked into the entire premise of Wife in Space: the fact that watching the classic series is slightly embarrassing. Hell, I’ve had the problem with my wife, who does identify as a Doctor Who fan and was genuinely interested in having me show her bits of the classic series. My reaction was roughly, “what, reading my blog isn’t enough? You want to see them? Why?” Not because I didn’t love them so much as because it is vaguely incomprehensible why anyone else would. (Then again, my wife also adores our blind cat who routinely sneezes explosively and sprays snot all over our house. And, for that matter, me. Even The Web Planet is easy to love in comparison.)

But there was a problem with all of this, and it’s one that quickly becomes clear when reading the book version of Adventures of the Wife in Space: Sue is not even a little bit normal. The point where this becomes blatantly obvious is on the first page, where Neil Perryman describes living in a caravan for three and a half years because his wife wanted to build her own house. Watching all of Doctor Who, in fact, is presented as the equal and opposite version of this; the complementary act of weirdness.

So the notion that Sue could provide the normal person’s eye on Doctor Who was, from the start, absurd. And of course it was. There are no normal people. There never have been. There’s just people. And that’s what the Wife in Space book is actually about. It’s not an episode guide or a compendium of Doctor Who analysis. It’s the story of a guy sharing his weird love with his equally weird wife.

This is the meat and matter of the book. Not Sue’s opinions of Doctor Who, but the way in which watching it together and, more to the point, publicly doing so affected them, and particularly Neil. He talks about the ways in which seeing his wife flamed by angry Doctor Who fans unnerved him. And he talks about their marriage and their shared interests. It is, in the end, not so much a book about Doctor Who as a book about life and marriage.

This is occasionally slightly off-putting. There are moments where it feels like the book is not 100% clear on what it wants to be. It’s not a book with a sharp focus on its topic. It meanders and swerves as it grasps around, trying to find what it wants to say. But this isn’t a fault; it’s the terms the book demands to be approached on. It manifestly isn’t a book about definitively nailing down the nature of Doctor Who. Or about definitively nailing down the nature of anything at all, really. It’s a book about marriage and and life and all the messiness that those things entail.

This makes it unlike any other Doctor Who book I’ve read. Which, given that there’s an awful lot of Doctor Who books, can only be a good thing. There’s a maturity to this book - in the sense of genuinely being about real people and  their lives - that is lacking in… essentially every other piece of Doctor Who-related writing ever. It not a good Doctor Who book; it’s a good book period. One that happens to have a comprehensive set of ratings of Doctor Who episodes at the back.

I can’t wait to find out how Blake’s 7 changes their lives.

Adventures With the Wife in Space is out November 7th, though it looks like the Kindle edition is out a week earlier. Here it is a Amazon US and UK.

Comments

Scurra 4 years, 1 month ago

"There are no normal people. There never have been. There’s just people. "
This. You could save so much time on a sociology course by just pointing this out at the start and then going home. (I'm not singling sociology out for ridicule here; some of my best friends are sociologists. )

Of course, the real killer is when an individual gets stuck in their solipsism and concludes that their "normality" is the only correct one and that it should therefore be imposed on everyone else. It's even worse when they then go into politics or religion and can actual begin to do it. (We've got it bad in the UK at the moment where our Education Secretary has decided that because he was good at high-pressure examinations, everyone else must be good at them as well and no alternatives should be offered.)

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Matthew Celestis 4 years, 1 month ago

Maybe parents expect to see some achievement from our children? I don't see anything wrong with wanting to drive up the standards of our education system.

Examinations are a good way of measuring attaintment. In the recent years, our education system gave too much role to coursework, which was unherently unfair as it gave parents the opportunity to boost their children's success. Exams are a much more genuine test of achievement.

I think Michael Grove is doing a fantastic job of challenging and improving our schools.

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Matthew Celestis 4 years, 1 month ago

It's pretty significant that Sue is a media studies lecturer and thus very skilled at watching and analyzing television. That does mean that we get a somewhat different perspective on the show than we might expect from an average Josephine watching the series.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 1 month ago

Michael Gove's pathological aversion to the concept of nuance ought disqualify him from making any decisions whatsoever about education.

I mean, this is the same Michael Gove whose chief advisor advocated for the idea that genetics are more important than teaching (i.e. that poor people are just genetically inferior), no?

Yeah. I think not.

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Neil Perryman 4 years, 1 month ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Neil Perryman 4 years, 1 month ago

Sue doesn't teach media studies. She teaches practical media production. She doesn't analyse TV for a living, honest.

Thanks for the review, Phil. Much appreciated.

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The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca 4 years, 1 month ago

I think high-pressure examinations are a great way of seeing how well people perform at high-pressure examinations. They're an echo chamber that provide no meaningful insight whatsoever except someone's ability to answer multiple choice and essay questions in a two-to-three hour period, skills that have no relevance to how lives are actually lived.

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elvwood 4 years, 1 month ago

Exams are a good way of testing how good you are at taking exams. Or, slightly less glibly, of a narrow range of skills that contribute towards that and come up far less often in real life (e.g. cramming, coping well under extreme time pressure). I am smart, but the fact that I got the best 'O' Level results in the history of my school had more to do with the fact that I could temporarily hold a lot of stuff in my head, a talent I have had little use for since.

My daughter is also very good under time pressure, whereas my son hates being rushed. Both can do amazing things, but they don't get equal weight attached to their different skills. My wife is a midwife; one of her colleagues who she rates highly nearly didn't qualify (even though whenever she was assessed on her practical skills she did particulary well) because she struggled with the academic side of the course - most of which had nothing to do with midwifery in the field. There are all sorts of skills for which exams are a much less genuine test of achievement.

Oh, and regarding unfair parental influence? In the Primary school my son left last summer, the only two pupils in the entire year who achieved level 6 in the maths exam were the two who had mathematicians for fathers. That's how much of a leveller exams are.

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Matthew Celestis 4 years, 1 month ago

Oh, pardon my error. But she obviously has a greater insight into television production and technicalities than most people.

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Neil Perryman 4 years, 1 month ago

Now that is very true.

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Anton B 4 years, 1 month ago

@Matthew Celestis
'I think Michael Grove (sic) is doing a fantastic job of challenging and improving our schools.'

MULTIPLE CHOICE

A This is a joke isn't it?

B Assuming it isn't may I also assume that you are neither a teacher , lecturer or teaching assistant or have any children of school age.

C If any of the above is incorrect then you are a Tory spin-doctor web-bot tasked to trawl the internet for references to Gove (or even Grove) and big him up (as the kids say).

D Or, more disturbingly, you are Michael Gove the education minister and secret fan of deconstructivist Doctor Who blogs.

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peeeeeeet 4 years, 1 month ago

And there was me thinking she must be a carpenter...

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Daibhid C 4 years, 1 month ago

Exams are a good way of testing how good you are at taking exams. Or, slightly less glibly, of a narrow range of skills that contribute towards that and come up far less often in real life

This. Absolutely this. Michael Rosen has an exellent piece on the 11-plus, and of particular relevence here is how it worked (or rather, didn't) for his friend Brian.

http://michaelrosenblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/schools-in-1950s.html

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Ross 4 years, 1 month ago

I can’t wait to find out how Blake’s 7 changes their lives.

It frankly amazes me that anyone can watch Blake's 7 for the first time in the 21st century and have any kind of reaction other than being incapacitated for about a week with helpless laughter the first time you see Servelan wearing a dress that appears to be made entirely out of a lemur.

(I actually introduced my wife to Blake's 7 a bit before we started trying to watch classic Who in earnest. She liked the occasional line but did not find it overall engaging, which is also fairly close to her reaction to classic Doctor Who, plus or minus the occasional screaming at the screen for Susan to be less of a peril monkey. What I did not expect is how much my 2 year old son would get into it. I think it's the theme music that gets him.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 1 month ago

Anton B,

Re your multiple-choice test: how much time are you giving him to answer? Undue pressure could skew the results.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 1 month ago

She teaches practical media production.

Which gives her a good sense of when a prop/costume/effect was the best one could reasonably hope for on a low budget, and when it wasn't.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 1 month ago

Confession: apart from a few clips I have not yet watched Blake's 7.

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Triturus 4 years, 1 month ago

I persuaded my wife to watch all 4 seasons of Blake's 7 with me a couple of years ago. She'd never seen or heard of it, so I made her promise not to look up any spoilers while we were watching it.

She enjoyed it up until the last episode of series 4.. at which point I felt very guilty indeed. Obviously I hadn't been deliberately trying to upset her, but because I knew how it ended and hadn't warned her, I did sort of feel like I'd led her into a trap.

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Bennett 4 years, 1 month ago

Performing under pressure is a skill that doesn't come up in everyday life? On what planet do you live, and can I come to stay?

And cramming is not a requirement of the examination process. It is simply the last refuge of students that don't commit to integrating the subject content within their working knowledge during the months beforehand.

Of course, examinations are predominantly focused on the theoretical side of a subject and can be unfairly weighted towards lower order cognitive processes. And they're definitely more suited to some subjects than others. They just have to be part of a diverse and comprehensive assessment plan that covers other learning aspects. If this Gove fellow is suggesting anything otherwise, then he's a prat.

But I tire of seeing the examination bogeyman stories that get routinely trotted out. If you struggle with the exam format, stress management and metacognitive learning are skills that can be taught and should be learned.

Oh, and I adore Adventures with the Wife in Space. It should be prescribed material for all Doctor Who fans.

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 1 month ago

Neil, I do hope you've given her a chance to admire the carpentry on "Enemy of the World"... ;-)

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elvwood 4 years, 1 month ago

Bennett, I've raced deadlines many times in my career and It's almost always involved sustained concentration over long periods - days or even weeks. Judging that through exams is like deciding who should be entered for a marathon based on a 100m sprint. There are jobs which are more like the sprint, but I would guess they are very much in the minority - even roles like firefighters which require short bursts of concentrated excellence are not like exams, where you build to a peak and can forget large swaths of what you've learned straight afterwards.

Oh, and to make it clear: exams have their part to play in a healthy education system. It's just that I believe they only have a small part, rather than dominating the process, which is the direction Mr. Gove is pushing things.

Regarding cramming, the current content of the secondary school exams is something I don't have enough information to comment on properly, but it used to be that you needed to learn lots of facts that (these days) I would always look up on the Internet. If it is now entirely skill-based then cramming is, as you say, not the way to go; but when I were a lad it made sense to cram the useless stuff, like (for instance) dates in history.

I agree stress management can be taught, and it should be (along with other broadly-applicable skills such as, well, thinking). But I believe there are better ways to do this than simply piling on exam pressure.

I'll carry on agreeing with you regarding AwtWiS, which is awesome and the only other Doctor Who blog I (used to) read regularly. If my finances improve I will buy the book.

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peeeeeeet 4 years, 1 month ago

If you struggle with the exam format, stress management and metacognitive learning are skills that can be taught and should be learned.

So much for mental disadvantages - what about physical ones? Hard as it might be to believe, being left-handed led to my dropping a whole grade lower in certain exams. A 3½ hour written exam is bloody torture if you're exhausted after about 40 minutes. (I'd love / hate to see my Part II prac crit paper again - I have a vague memory of going into a bit of a fugue towards the end, which given how much bollocks I talk at the best of times must have been really something...)

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Anton B 4 years, 1 month ago

BezerkRL

Re your multiple-choice test: how much time are you giving him to answer? Undue pressure could skew the results.'

Unfortunately I had to fail him as he was unable to answer in the alloted time.

On a serious note, many people, like myself, are 'exam-phobic' (perhaps there is a correct clinical term for this... Anyone?) and freeze or have panic attacks when placed in a written test situation. I am now a Drama Studies and English teacher in post-compulsory education, having taken a degree and post graduate training as a mature student. I failed the eleven plus (a written test to determine 'choice' of secondary education) and was advised to leave my under funded Comprehensive school at sixteen because my exam results were poor. Every day that I teach I see students who, despite obvious intelligence, struggle to retain facts to regurgitate in exam papers. Huge progress has been made in accomodating students with difficulties such as dyslexia etc while Gove and his odious cronies are turning the clocks back to re-create some mythical 'Golden Age' of education.

On a less important but no less serious note - I love Adventures With the Wife in Space, was an irregular commenter on the blog and will, having been intrigued by Phil's review, be buying the book.

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David Anderson 4 years, 1 month ago

Gove's overreliance on exams is hardly crazy compared to proposals to keep children in school until six. (It's not as if state schools are there for anything other than glorified childcare for the lower orders.)

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David Anderson 4 years, 1 month ago

You have seen the latest update to Neil's blog?

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Matthew Blanchette 4 years, 1 month ago

...no, I hadn't. Guess that was my "wan chonce", then. :-P

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frankymole 4 years, 1 month ago

"There’s a maturity to this book - in the sense of genuinely being about real people and their lives - that is lacking in… essentially every other piece of Doctor Who-related writing ever. It not a good Doctor Who book; it’s a good book period." Thanks - that's what I was grasping for, when my review said that the blurb for once wasn't exaggerated and there's something moving about Neil Perryman's account (with lovely interjections from Sue). There are lots of Who books about what Tom calls "fan love" towards the show itself, or even its actors/makers. There are precious few - I can't think of any others - that manage to integrate fan love and the warp and weft of real life love. i.e. the life of an enthusiast combined with stuff about actually being in a relationship / family. This book manages that and so earns its space (and time) because it gets closer to what the show is - half of it is the work up to broadcast, but the other half is how it affects us, on the more important side of the screen.

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