The Doctor Who Ratings Guide: By Fans, For Fans

Licence Denied

Author IBSN #
Paul Cornell 0 7535 0104 X

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Summary: Rumblings from the Doctor Who underground: a collection of fanzine articles from fandom throughout the ages


A Review by Robert Smith? 21/6/99

I was quite looking forward to this book. As a collection of essays, articles and rumblings from the heart of (mostly UK) fandom, I was anticipating something of a celebration of fandom. However, that's not what we got with Licence Denied.

Instead we got something far better, something far more gritty and wonderful and angry than anything as superficial as a mere celebration. This is fandom as it really is. Proud, sad, furious, inspired, creative, brilliant and self-indulgent.

To say that I could not put this book down is an understatement. I couldn't let go of it, because this book is me. And thousands like me in that special and wonderful and strange thing called fandom.

Paul's links are very helpful, especially for fans outside the UK. Many of the links are deliberately confrontational, in that wonderful way Paul has of invigorating fandom in the face of its own complacency. Paul's position, that of someone from inside fandom looking out is, I think, far more useful than a supposedly objective observer looking in. For one thing it prevents the possibility of the observer deliberately distancing themselves from fandom in order to appear 'above' it. For another it means the links are more than just a dry and dusty introduction to the next article and instead are worthy material in their own right.

The articles themselves are of such a diverse style (despite Paul's introductory implication that there was a sort of 'house style' for UK fandom) that it makes for very interesting and exciting reading. Even those articles I'd already read (and there were a surprising number!) were of such quality that they deserved not only a re-read, but a place outside of their original fanzine where they could be cherished by a wider audience.

Perhaps most fascinating of all is Jan Vincent Rudski's infamous Deadly Assassin review, a review so pivotal and defining that its fame had spread far and wide throughout fandom without actually being read by that many people. Other notable pieces include wonderful piss-takes on the serious DWM style cataloguing of the Doctor's activities with a look at the use of hot beverages in DW, an article on Adric's nose (!), a lofty and inspired piece on the science in Whitaker stories, a lot of Graham Williams era analysis, a very interesting article on the origins and explanations for Pertwee bashing, fall-down funny articles on conventions and the art of being a fan, set visits in the Troughton and Pertwee eras, a brilliant analysis of the homosexual undercurrents in The Happiness Patrol, suggestions on how to 'come out' as a fan, poems and simple sheer adoration pieces like Kate's seventh Doctor piece de resistance. Plus a hell of a lot more.

There were only two problems I had with the book. The first and most important was the lack of non-UK or Australian fan contributions. Although Paul claims the articles he sampled were too different to warrant inclusion, I have to disagree with this. Surely the strength of fandom, as so well illustrated by Licence Denied itself, is its diversity? Yes, American (and other) fandom is different, but I don't see that this inherently excludes it from inclusion.

The other problem I had was Nick Cooper's PanoptiCon 1990 'review', the last 'proper' article. This wasn't nearly as funny as it thought it was, nor was it particularly insightful or even interesting reading. Overlong waffling can sometimes succeed (the Horns of Nimon article elsewhere in the book comes to mind), but only if the quality of the writing is up to scratch. I felt particularly annoyed that this was essentially the closing article, making it something of a lacklustre closure to an otherwise excellent book. However, I'll put my cards on the table and cheerfully admit that, as I said earlier, the strength of fandom is its diversity, so who am I to complain that I didn't like one of the articles? :-)

The various illustrations throughout the book worked wonderfully, I thought, although I must admit that I enjoyed the humourous ones much more. Fan art has (with a number of notable exceptions!) less to do with accuracy and more to do with inspired brilliance, meaning the various parodies, cartoons and mock advertisements were far more impressive to a fan eye than the detailed (often photographic source derived-) 'serious' art.

One interesting aspect of the book and one which has already made its presence felt on rec.arts.drwho is that much of the fan controversy is now able to receive a wider and more international audience. The articles and the links embody some outrageous views at times (and I for one am particularly uncomfortable with Daniel O'Mahoney's suggestion of the homophobic undercurrent to the telemovie), but it's only right and proper that fans everywhere should be stirred in their complacency.

I thought I'd never say this about anything, but Licence Denied is literally a must-read for Doctor Who fans everywhere. A second volume is not only welcome, it's required. To misquote Paul from a different book, Fandom isn't sad, it's angry. And we love it to death.

A Review by Rob Seulowitz 18/6/00

One sentence review: Buy this book!

Paul Cornell, a fanzine editor and writer who hit the big time with several NA entries, has been writing about his favorite TV shows for years. He has published program guides for The Avengers, X-Files and Star Trek, and his Discontinuity Guide is, no doubt, sitting next to the VCRs of many obsessive-compulsive DW fans. But this book is a breed apart. It is a celebration of fanzines and the people behind them -- but it's a wild, funny, broadly sweeping celebration that glories in the strange and often ridiculous world of fandom.

Concentrating on DW fans in the UK (with nods to Canada and Australia but no US material), Cornell does a simply magnificent job of introducing the zany spectrum that modern DW fans encompass. He describes early fanzines of the sixties and seventies as "gosh wow!" -- and proves it with a visit to the set of Carnival of Monsters so breathless it nearly dies of asphyxiation. From those days of innocent reverence to the sarcastic, sardonic scribblings of university students and professional conventioneers is a long, windy road. Cornell sketches merely the outlines of that journey, collecting works from various times and people (mostly favoring the mid 1990's), to show off some of the best writing he could find. That it leaves the reader hungry for more is precisely his goal.

Highlights include the infamous TARDIS review from 1976 of The Deadly Assassin (which I'd heard about for years but never actually read). To say that it rips Robert Holmes a new one is being too kind; it wasn't until I began catching up on Doctor Who websites that I recalled how people could be so morally outraged over DW in the 1970s. Compare this to David Darlington's impassioned defense of Davison's work, or Kate Orman's love-letter to Sylv McCoy, to see how fans can revel in the pleasure of their experience with little or no shame over the fact that we are, after all, talking about an admittedly silly TV show.

He doesn't shy away from the dark side of fandom, including several articles that snipe at fellow fans or the show's producers, but that sort of material is easy to dismiss for the whole that fanzines have to offer. So he balances the arcane with the mundane, the intellectual with the grotesque, and the fanboy with the fangirl. The examples of analysis run the gamut from brilliant (Tat Wood on the use of science in the early years, Thomas Noonan on conventions in televised narratives, Matt Jones on the gay subtext of The Happiness Patrol) to flat-out bizarre (articles on the symbolic uses of hot beverages, Adric's nose and why the Trial of a Time Lord season was merely our imagination). There are wonderful spoofs and gags, including mock exams, a scandalously funny form-letter for inviting former stars to your convention, and, one of my faves, a guide to writing your own Jon Pertwee story. There are pieces that indulge the continuity commandos (how many regenerations were there before Hartnell?) and for closet cases (how to let your roommates know you're a DW fan before they catch you at it). All this and an entirely accurate index!

What these disparate bits have in common is, simply put, terrific writing. It's imaginative, articulate and engaging throughout. At some points the subject matter becomes almost incidental to the enjoyment one can take in reading well-written, personal essays by people with endearing personalities and generous senses of humor.

There is, incidentally, a lovely interview with Tom Baker that, unusually, is written in the form of a continuous monologue. Usually, the Q&A format is employed to demonstrate the cleverness of the interviewer, but Ness Bishop allows her side of what was obviously a conversation to go unrecorded, and as a result Baker's essence is presented undiluted. Anyone who was not already enamored of him before reading this piece could not help but be charmed.

I could complain that the book is too brief, but that's really beside the point -- and for the price, it's more than a bargain. A familiarity with British slang isn't required but it doesn't hurt: he defines "menky" and "Olympiads" helpfully, but if you don't already know what "A4 format," "BSB" or "taking the piss" mean -- not to mention half the acronyms for various fan and SF publications or people like "Mr. Benn" and "Su Pollard" -- you're on your own. ["A4" is a size of paper, slightly longer than US standard 8.5x11. "BSB" is British-Sky-Broadcasting, Rupert Murdoch's satellite network. "Taking the piss" is what David Letterman does to his guests.] He hints that a similar collection of American fan literature may be forthcoming. One can only hope! In the meantime, especially for us Yanks who rarely if ever got to see the original 'zines Cornell has scoured, Licence Denied is a delightful excursion to a universe that is still thriving outside of Shepherd's Bush.

It's All About the Fanzines, Baby! by Tammy Potash 5/9/00

I'm a rabid fan, but I gave up reading DWM a while back, I'm of two minds about radw, and I've never read a fanzine. This book has stuff I would never have seen any other way. While it leaves out American fandom entirely, it's still got plenty of stuff for your perusal. Some of it, a lot of it, is side-splittingly funny, like the discussion of Adric's nose and "The Use of Hot Beverages in Doctor Who," which blurs the line irretrieveably between seriousness and parody. Some of it, though not a lot, is lost on the non-Brit, like the cartoon which opens the book, "Carry On Cyberleader.' Some of it will make you a bit uncomfortable; being a fan is equated to coming out of the closet.

But it's not all in fun. There's a discussion of the Master which is very well done indeed. The defense of Peter Davison, who seems to be one of the most maligned of Doctors for a reason incomprehensible to me, is the sweetest thing I've ever read. It's amazing to see those who would later make it big in the Virgin and BBC lines writing as fans. You won't agree with everything here, but then again that seems to be the definition of fandom, as Cornell points out. I don't quite get the title, but I do recommend getting the book.

A Review by Terrence Keenan 17/6/02

A very interesting book. Rantings and ravings from UK and the occassional Aussie Doctor Who Fanzine.

It runs the gamut from the downright silly -- Adric's Nose by Jac Rayner -- to the venomous -- The Deadly Assassin review by Jan Vincent Rudzki. A lot of of the articles come from future bigwigs in DW novels -- Lance Parkin, Justin Richards, Kate Orman, Gareth Roberts.

There is a little something for everyone, with Paul Cornell dividing the book into sections, depending on the topic covered. Among my own personal favorites were Gareth Roberts's wonderful article on the Graham Williams era, Lance Parkin's anorak-tweaking piece on the many lives of the Doctor, and David Darlington's piece on Peter Davison. The coming out game was a hoot as well.

Although geared toward the hardcore fan, methinks Licence Denied would make for interesting insight as to what makes Whovians tick. And it shows why our fans are much more interesting and varied than the Trekkies.

Good fun stuff, worth looking up a copy.