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.