A Conversation with Neil Perryman

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Neil Perryman is the man behind Adventures with the Wife in Space, the story of a fanboy husband and his not-we wife (Sue), on a hilarious mission to watch the classic series of Doctor Who together from the start, including the bits that don’t exist. For two years, Sue skewered sacred cows of fandom and cursed the name of Terry Nation, while Neil fought his corner and dodged thrown cushions.

“The Experiment”, as it was known, began life as a blog, and has since spawned a book, published by Faber and Faber in 2013 (oh look, a review).

Neil and Sue have since taken on Blake’s 7, and are now three series into their Adventures with the Wife And Blake.

Neil and I meet on Skype on a Sunday afternoon. We quickly establish that the weather is too nice in both Bournemouth and Durham for us to be indoors, but have a nice chat anyway…..

MR: Tell me about the experiment, were you nervous at embarking on Who with Sue?

NP: On the actual blog? Not really, cause I didn’t think it would take off, I didn’t think for a minute it’d become as popular as it became so I didn’t really feel any pressure when I started it, I just wanted it to be a bit of a lark, it was a blog that hadn’t been done before that I was looking for really, just something to keep me occupied with my online stuff. And, I’d sort of run out of things to say about Doctor Who. So, no, I didn’t feel worried at the beginning, the pressure came later (laughs).

MR: How’s your nose doing? You took a lot of cushions to the face over that time, didn’t you?

NP: Yeah I’m still getting the odd one now for Blake’s 7, but yeah, nothing too violent (laughs)

MR: I first caught on to the blog probably about…Planet of the Daleks, then went back and started from the very beginning, then by the time I’d reached that point, you’d finished watching it all! I’ve tried watching old Who with my own girlfriend a few times, and we’ve not been together anywhere near as long as you and Sue, but we kind of had the opposite result to you. I was thinking she’d like the more recent stuff, but she’s not really having the modern series, she’s not averse to selected cuts of Pertwee and Tom Baker every now and again though.

NP: She doesn’t watch the new series then?

MR: No, she doesn’t like it, she watched The Day Of The Doctor with me, but that was an exception. It’s just not really her thing. It is much more female-friendly these days, and I suppose a lot of young women might watch Doctor Who just because they fancied Tennant or Matt Smith…

NP: Yeah, yeah, that’s why Sue watched it, I think (laughs) I think, if it hadn’t been for the new series, there’s no way that I would have done this thing, as I think the fact that Sue liked the new series made me feel like she might have been open to the old series. It was much easier for her to go into the classic series having had a grounding in the new series, if you know what I mean.

MR: Yeah, it gave you a way in.

NP: Yeah, she was vaguely a little bit more interested than she would have been. If it hadn’t have come back….if I’d have asked her to do this in 2002…..you know…….I just can’t see it happening!

MR: I’ve often thought of Doctor Who as being the other woman.

NP: Yeah, that was it, that was the thing, I was getting bored of sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to watch Tom Baker. You know, as you do. So, you know, I think we’ve all been there, we’ve all tried it. When I first moved in with her I tried to get her into it, I tried to gently get her into Doctor Who, but it didn’t take, but most people have that problem I think.

MR: Yeah, I’ve yet to try anything black and white on my girlfriend….I don’t feel ready for that yet..

NP: Oh, well, you can’t go straight in with a black and white, the only one you could probably do it with would be just the first episode. You could probably just about get away with it but I wouldn’t recommend it! Start with a classic in the colour era…Genesis of the Daleks….

MR: Yeah I started her off with Pyramids of Mars. That went down quite well.

NP: Yeah that’s probably safer actually because it’s four parts.

MR: Yeah, four parts and colour, anything that’s more than four parts and NOT colour…..

NP: Did you try them all in one go?

MR: At first I tried splitting it up, but then she was like, let’s watch the next one. So I was like, a girl is willing to watch old Doctor Who with me, ok, let’s see how this goes until we hit a bump in the road….

NP: I know exactly what you mean, I think we’ve all been there.

MR: So, the book, did it come easily for you, having done the blog?

NP: (laughs) No…. I think I was on Peter Davison when I finally signed the contract, which meant I had to write the book and the blog at the same time, which was pretty difficult, as for obvious reasons they (Faber and Faber) wanted the book in the anniversary year. Even though the whole marketplace was gonna be swamped with Doctor Who books, it seemed like a good idea, but, no….it was really difficult, because I’d never written anything like this before, most of the stuff I’d written had either been academic, cause I used to teach at University, and academic writing is completely different from what I had to do in this book. Also, I was trying to find that balance between not just taking the blog and sticking it in a book, but something a bit different, so…..no it was really hard (laughs).

MR: Well, if it’s any consolation, it doesn’t come across as hard, it’s a really good, easy read…

NP: Well good. That was the hard part, making it look effortless! That is the hard bit.

MR: There’s very much a beginning, middle, and end to it.

NP: Yeah. Always, the problem was trying to get the balance right between those who knew a lot about Doctor Who, and those who didn’t know as much about Doctor Who, and trying to make it as accessible as possible, and also as accessible if you hadn’t read the entire blog….to give you a flavour of the blog, because the blog was half a million words….you’re talking about six or seven books….Also, the weird thing about it was writing about myself, you know, rather than about Sue, so that was a bit weird.

MR: Reading the book, I saw a lot of parallels, I’m a little younger, but…some of my earliest memories of Who are a regeneration as well, you know, Tom into Peter. I’d also had a girlfriend who had a daughter from a previous relationship before….I’d attempted to sneak on The Curse of Peladon as well….normal behaviour isn’t it? (laughs)

NP: That makes me feel like I’m not completely crazy now.

MR: You Are Not Alone (laughs). Are you planning on doing any more books of any sort?

NP: Well, the plan is, we are going to put the blog in a series of books, but I’m just going to self publish those, and that’s just for people who want them. Once that’s finished, I’ve always toyed with the idea of a novel set in a University, so that’s sort of my dream project, do a campus novel, drawing on my experiences, which I’ve only barely touched on in the book for lots of different reasons! (laughs) So yeah, that was a weird thing about writing the book as well, you know, worrying about writing about people that you know, existed… I think I find it much easier to write stuff that’s more fictional rather than based on my life.

MR: Yeah, some people find it easier to go from that sort of personal standpoint, or just a thinly veiled version. I’ve just finished reading Gareth Roberts’ version of Shada, and couldn’t really shake the feeling that Douglas Adams wrote the Chris Parsons character in as himself, especially with the Cambridge setting.

NP: Yeah, a lot of writers do that. They call it the Mary-Sue thing, don’t they, where they insert themselves into the narrative. Yeah, if I did a campus novel, it would be a thinly disguised work of fiction (laughs). I’d probably have to do it under an assumed name! Obviously, I left my job a couple of years ago, it was just coincidental, I didn’t leave the job to write a book or anything like that. It just happened to fall at the right time. If I could make a career out of writing, that’s what, hopefully, I’d love to be able to do.

MR: You and Sue live-blogged The Day Of The Doctor for The Guardian. How was that?

NP: That was the most terrifying day of my life. It was absolutely terrifying, cause, what they told us afterwards was that it was very unusual for The Guardian to do stuff, especially drama live. What they usually do is they get it a few days in advance so you can watch it, make notes, and comment on it as it goes. And, The Day Of The Doctor was one of those ones where there was no release at all of any kind to the public, so we had to just go off what was happening on screen. And when we turned up…..it was just like you imagine the Guardian office to be, this huge expanse of computers. And the TV they wanted us to watch it on, was on the other side of the room…so it was like, half a mile away.

So, I had to keep putting my glasses on to look at the TV, and then take my glasses off to type on the screen, which was then being moderated by somebody else sitting behind me, to make sure I wasn’t writing anything libellous, probably. So, I was trying to watch TV, listen to Sue, type up what Sue was saying, have it moderated by somebody else behind me, and the person behind me was then asking me like “What do you think of this?”… I couldn’t follow what was going on! (laughs)

Quite clearly, it was impossible! I think a lot of people struggled with it if they were focused on it normally. I was trying desperately, and desperately trying to keep the thing interesting, so it was terrifying, the whole thing. I think we got away with it though.

MR: I hope they took you for dinner afterwards!

NP: Oh it was terrible, we went back to the hotel and tried to watch it on iPlayer, and concentrate on it, and I think we fell asleep. But yeah, it was a great episode.

MR: Yeah, I really enjoyed it, I went to the pictures, I was quite lucky to get a ticket in Bournemouth.

NP: Well, that was our original plan, we were gonna see it in 3D at the cinema as well, but we had to give our tickets away in the end. I bet it looked great in 3D as well…

MR: Yeah, yeah, it did. They should have done another run a week later, for people who couldn’t make that day…

NP: They should have done it for the whole week, I think. I don’t know why they didn’t do that, I’d have seen it the next day if I could have, but, I couldn’t.

MR: It was a great experience at the pictures, completely rammed out, there was people dressed as Clara in the red dress, and there were assorted Ponds walking about….

NP: It’s just bizarre isn’t it, to think, when I was growing up, if someone had told me that in 2013 people would go to the cinema and see this big thing simultaneously, not just in England but around the world. You wouldn’t have even believed that if they’d have said it in 2005, 2006…..That was a weird month for us cause the book came out that month, so me and Sue were sort of jumping on the back of all the coverage, because obviously these local radio stations were desperately trying to fill time about Doctor Who, so we did a lot of radio. So, that whole month was just madness, absolutely insane.

MR: I went with a good friend who’s another lifelong fan. We had about three pints before we went in, then disappeared to the pub afterwards, and ended up banging on feverishly about Capaldi’s eyes…

NP: Capaldi’s eyes, god yeah. Fantastic, yeah, cool. It seems like so long ago now. Capaldi will be back on TV before we know it.

MR: Yeah, August. Are you looking forward to him? How do you think he’s gonna be?

NP: I think he’ll be great, I think he’ll be fantastic. He’s a great actor. I just don’t know how he’s going to play it. I’m hearing rumours he’s going to do it quite dark…I don’t know if that’s true or not. It’s really difficult to know until you see him out and doing it.

MR: Yeah. I wasn’t sure about Matt at first when he was cast….I thought, oh…too young…

NP: Exactly! I mean, Matt Smith’s young enough to be my son (laughs) It’s just like….what…the….hell…. so yeah, I was praying for Capaldi.

I remember that day very vividly, when they announced him, I remember thinking, god, you know…. I think all the money switched at the last minute to the other guy….I remember thinking, ah, what a shame, but, thankfully, it was Peter Capaldi. It was a different reaction to the Confidential when they did Matt Smith, and most of us were just going….

NP and MR: …Who…? (laughter)

NP: I remember the name Matt Smith suddenly appeared in the betting at the last minute, and I just didn’t know who the hell this person was. I remember being quite confused….So yeah, I think Peter Capaldi will be really good, I don’t know how many seasons he’s doing, I think he’s only signed up for one, we’ll see.

MR: Yeah I’d hope he’d sign up for more, but, you never know really.

NP: They’re going back to the old…I think they’ve got two companions I believe. They’re both teachers, one of them’s another teacher at Coal Hill School, so really you’re gonna go back to the original where you’ve got the two teachers, and I think there’s another character, another companion, so maybe he’s harking back to the first season again.

MR: I’m really interested to see how he comes out. To me, the Doctor is that Terrance Dicks “Never cruel or cowardly” character at heart, which is why I don’t really get on with Colin Baker’s Doctor…

NP: Yeah, you say that, but there is a fair few times when the Doctor is quite cruel and cowardly, to be fair (laughs) Pertwee shot loads of Ogrons….couldn’t stop killing them!

MR: Tennant could be a bit of a genocidal maniac…

NP: Yeah, Sylvester McCoy blew up the odd planet…

MR: I’ve been really enjoying Wife and Blake…

NP: Good!

MR: I was looking forward to seeing what Sue made of The Harvest of Kairos…cause that is so immensely dodgy and sexist…

(For those unfamiliar, you really have to see it. Or, just read this.)

NP: Yeah, the thing is, she upset the Blake’s 7 fans so much that the official Blake’s 7 fan club organised a protest rewatch of The Harvest of Kairos.

MR: You have to do that?

NP: (laughs) Yeah, they had to rewatch it, together, to protest at Sue’s 0/10, which I thought was quite generous…actually, I don’t mind it so much, at least it’s entertaining, as it’s so ridiculous. It’s not one of those boring ones, as quite a few episodes of Blake’s 7 are quite dull. You can’t accuse Harvest of Kairos of being dull.

MR: It’s insane.

NP: (laughs) It IS insane. But then we had Vila get a 9/10 for City at the Edge of the World, so that made up for that I think.

MR: Do you think Sue’s finally warming to Terry Nation?

NP: Yeah I don’t think she minds him so much as a Blake’s 7 writer. And, to be fair when Terry turns up to do Blake’s 7, they’re actually quite good episodes. Ridiculous, but entertaining. But yeah, I think she appreciates Terry a lot more than when she was watching Doctor Who, that’s for sure. I think it’s more his kind of programme, he invented it so he’s got a vested interest in it. But the whole thing of who wrote what…..it’s always the same with Terry Nation. Anything good….people automatically assume someone else wrote it for him, anything bad…..oh yeah, that’s Terry…..He has the same problem with Chris Boucher. We watched Rumours of Death yesterday, so that’s where we’re up to, so we should be finished soon.

MR: Sarcophagus is up next, that’s a good one.

NP: I haven’t seen that one for ages. That’s what’s been interesting for me, doing this, as I’m not as big a fan of Blake’s 7 as Doctor Who, it’s something I watched when I was growing up and I remember the odd episode, but it didn’t stick around as long, so it wasn’t something that permeated every part of my life. So there’s certain episodes I haven’t seen very much at all and some I probably haven’t seen since they first came out. I’ve watched all the classic ones over and over again, the ones that people always talk about, but there was loads I hadn’t seen, loads…

MR: Yeah, there’s 52 in all.

NP: 52, yeah.

MR: I saw it when I was little. Mum and Dad probably shouldn’t have let me watch it…

NP: How old would you have been when it was on?

MR: It finished when I was five. I watched the last episode of Blake’s 7 when I was five…..

NP: Don’t say anything! Because my wife’s in the kitchen.

MR: I won’t say a thing except they shouldn’t have let me watch it. (Neil laughs)

NP: I remember watching….the first series was 1978, so I would have been eight when it started. And that first episode, that was what surprised me going back again, how grim it is. Child molestation charges…..it’s very bleak… I remember being really excited as a kid when it started, I remember it being a big deal. And certain images definitely stuck in my mind.

MR: I probably saw about the last series and a half as a kid. Then I got into it in the long teenage gap of “No Doctor Who” and watched a lot on VHS, just filling a bit of a void really.

NP: Yeah I never bought the VHS’s. A lot of my friends did but I never felt the compulsion.

MR: I think it was something else to fill up a void, I wasn’t so much a Star Trek guy really.

NP: I watched a bit of Star Trek: The Next Generation in the 90s (chuckles), I wrote a letter to DWB where I complained about Doctor Who and said I was gonna watch Star Trek from now on….it was very embarrassing….That is a terrible moment…I look back on that with shame…..but yeah, Blake’s 7, it’s a weird programme. One minute it’s really bleak, the next minute it’s like a pantomime, literally…like a pantomime, and you just don’t know what you’re going to get from one week to the next.

And I think that’s the reason we did it, the reason I decided to risk it as, at least with Doctor Who it’s continually different every week, a different story, and I think Blake’s 7 has that same kind of “What the hell’s happening this week?” kind of vibe to it, so we’ve just about got away with it.

MR: Definitely. I’m quite a fan of the third series, actually, I think it’s the most insane of the lot.

NP: It seems to be scoring the highest marks so far compared to the other ones, I know we’ve got a few to go, I think Sue’s definitely finding it better. It’s funny it’s since Blake’s left! (laughs)

MR: She was bang on about the find-and-replace thing with Tarrant and Blake in Kairos.

NP: Well, yeah, it’s just all in the hair, isn’t it? Look at the silhouette of them, exactly the same.

MR: I remember watching that one on VHS at about seventeen and thinking…..hang on….why do they care about Tarrant all of a sudden?

NP: Yeah he’s suddenly the big leader, the big threat, that no-one’s ever heard of before….It’s weird, again, when you watch them in order like this you sort of pick up on those weird kind of things.

And I suppose what I’m also noticing is the impact it had on Babylon 5, I’m a big Babylon 5 fan, and there’s so many references and influences you can see sprinkled throughout it, you know, like a telepath…the guy who wrote it, bar one episode which Neil Gaiman wrote…he was obviously brought up on Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, The Prisoner, and the references are all over it. It was fantastic in the 90s, it’d be interesting to see how it holds up today….

MR: Probably holds up better than Doomwatch……I gave that a go as well.

NP: Yeah I couldn’t get on with Doomwatch. You see, I used to teach Science-Fiction at University, and I used to teach not only Doctor Who, I used to teach Doomwatch. I used to show them the one with the rat. And they just used to fall about laughing. They just couldn’t take it seriously. To me it was terrifying!

MR: The bit at the end is gruesome.

NP: Yeah, isn’t it?

MR: Absolutely horrible.

NP: 70’s TV was very bleak. I love the original Survivors, especially the first two series. It went a bit boring in the third series.

MR: I do like a good Terry Nation apocalypse.

NP: I hope they remake Blake’s 7, that’s what they should do, they keep saying they’re going to remake it. I don’t know who owns the rights, B7 Enterprises or something, I’m not sure. It seems silly not to do it really, what with Doctor Who being as successful as it is. And there’s no Torchwood anymore, so why not. Gareth Roberts loves Blake’s 7, just give it to him!

MR: I think he’d make a very good showrunner for that.

NP: Exactly, why not give it to Gareth Roberts, you heard it here first.

MR: Are you listening Gareth? Well, hopefully once I’ve typed this up….

NP: He said recently on a tweet he was a bigger fan of Blake’s 7 than Doctor Who, and we all know how big a fan of Doctor Who he is, so there you go. If they can remake The Tomorrow People and make a right balls of it……..We did a kickstarter thing, and one of the extras for people who backed the kickstarter is to watch an episode of The Tomorrow People, so I thought I’ll get her into the new one. And she enjoyed it, obviously, as it’s just loads of young men running round with their tops off. Whereas the original is just loads of young men running round with anoraks on…..you’re too young to remember The Tomorrow People, I expect.

MR: Yeah it finished when I was quite small. I never saw it. My memories of Doctor Who start very early though, from three years old, 1979, Destiny of the Daleks, and then I was immediately into it.

NP: Did you ever go to Blackpool or anything like that?

MR: I went to Madame Tussaud’s when I was about four, and went to Longleat when I was six….

NP: You went to Longleat?! In ’83? Wow. I’m jealous, obviously! Was it as chaotic as people have said?

(I’ve just realised that Neil is now interviewing me. This is what happens when Doctor Who fans talk for more than 30 minutes at a time)

MR: It’s funny, I don’t remember it being chaos, but I suppose, when you’re a small kid, everything’s chaos and you just go with it, I remember queues but not being in them for hours. I’ve got some great photos, I’ll send some on to you.

NP: Yeah, do that.

MR: it’s been a pleasure Neil, thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

NP: Cheers mate, enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Adventures With The Wife In Space is published by Faber and Faber, and is available in bookshops and on Amazon. Follow Neil and Sue’s adventures with Blake here.

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3 thoughts on “A Conversation with Neil Perryman”

  1. Great interview. Have never got on with Who since Tom Baker left apart from the season with Chris Eccleston who had a similar darkish madness. Got much too ‘clever’ and ‘The Doctor is God’ and too knowingly humorous for my taste in the Tennant days and if I’m honest I never really fancied him! Hoping Peter Capaldi will return us to the old days (well not the Pertwee years) Re-boot Blakes7? Oh yes! I don’t care if it’s Blakes700. Avon’s still got it for me.

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