Toby Hadoke is a stand-up comedian whose work includes two Doctor-Who-themed comedy shows. He will also be familiar to any Doctor Who fan with an internet in the house from his Who’s Round series of podcast interviews. I spammed his inbox for a day in an effort to turn the tables.
EL: Obviously, you’re well known as the Who fan’s Who fan. Can you remember when you became a fan of the show, or has it just been a part of you as long as you remember?
TH: Doctor Who has always been part of my life. I suppose if there was a Damascene moment it would be my getting Doctor Who – A Celebration for Christmas. My brothers and sister had all watched Doctor Who and liked it – we had a few dozen Target novels and The Doctor Who Monster Book – but I think this is where my interest and knowledge deepened and became entrenched and I became a fan in the “I know who wrote The Savages” way as opposed to a fan who just watches the show. That book really made me want to experience those amazing-looking days gone by.
EL: What’s the first episode you remember watching; the first that really stamped itself on your memory?
TH: The Invisible Enemy part one. It must have been a repeat because I remember the opening scene with the astronauts on the bridge and my brother saying “This is the one where their faces turn furry” and lo and behold they did! I have mental snapshots of Leela and K-9 zapping about the white corridors too, and a bald man whom I now know to be Michael Sheard. And I remember the Doctor’s confrontation with the Nucleus in part three. I quite like the fact that a rather dreadful story is what got me hooked. There’s beauty in everything if you care to look.
EL: It’s a cliché to suggest that children get into science fiction as an escape from loneliness. It’s also a cliché to suggest that clichés get that way by containing a lot of truth. But what do you think the appeal was to you in Doctor Who?
TH: Yeah. I was the youngest of four and the others were closer in age. I lived in the middle of nowhere and whilst I appreciate the countryside I’m not a builder of bivouacs or toiler on the land. My Dad had gone and Mum had to work a lot in order to keep the house. And we had a place that was full of books; and a few of these were Doctor Who books. So when it wasn’t on telly I devoured these and tried to find out about the show’s past. I certainly wasn’t cool at school: when Dad left, a charity paid for me to go to a boarding school where everyone was posh except me; so when I was old enough Mum took me out and sent me to the local comp – where I now sounded posh. So I didn’t fit in from both ends of the spectrum. Doctor Who played a huge part in school essays and reading: it was part of my learning and of my leisure. I have a good vocabulary and respectable general knowledge and I attribute both to Doctor Who.
EL: How did you go from being a fan to making part of your living from Doctor Who? Were you active in fandom as a young’un, going to conventions and so forth; maybe (hint) a member of the fan club?
TH: I wasn’t really part of fandom. Doctor Who was always a – ahem – solo pleasure though there was the odd friend at school I could talk to about it. I did briefly dally with a not-so-local group in the West Midlands but I soon encountered the silly internecine wranglings that seem to blight any potentially joyous meeting of minds, be it in person or (now) on the Internet. So I quite happily decided to back off as I was perfectly secure about my love for the show; I didn’t need other fans trying to prove that they were better or cooler fans than me. I’ve never understood that – we’re all fans: it’s a subservient role. There shouldn’t, therefore, be a pecking order in fandom. And anyway – trying to be the coolest Doctor Who fan is like trying to be the sexiest leper: you’re on a hiding to nothing. I did go to a couple of conventions: two Panopticons in London. We queued really early for one and Andrew Beech let us in as it was freezing and allowed us to use the Green Room which was very kind – I know Andrew quite well now and it was nice to remind him of his generosity many years later. He remembered the incident but hadn’t realised it was me.
EL: Who was the first Doctor Who alumnus you met and what impression did they make?
TH: I started at the top – I met Colin Baker in his dressing room at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton. He couldn’t have been nicer. I came back two days later and did a long interview (he gets his five minute call and I’m still chatting away!) for a fanzine that never emerged. I saw him with some kids not long ago and he was just as good with them – managing to put them at ease but still be awe-inspiring because he’s the Doctor. I’m full of superlatives for that man – how appropriate then, that he generously agreed to be in the radio version of Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf…
EL: Ah yes, a quick salute to our Hon Prez. Actually I got a text from Colin Baker on Saturday about the football and thought “If I could tell my ten year old self that one day…” Do you have similar thoughts? Is there anything you wish you could go back and tell your younger self?
TH: I don’t know because much as I found childhood difficult I think in a way that shaped the part of me that strives for things to be better. I’m very lazy yet I did Who’s Round and have put on plays and organised shows; and all the industrious stuff comes from the more vulnerable part of my personality, I think. I wish the younger me had been a bit happier though: and I think he would have been delighted that I have, say, an umbrella given to me by Ulf from The Time Meddler or that I would have Bernard Kay and Frazer Hines reunited for the first time in 30 years in my house living room.
EL: Your first Doctor Who stand-up show was Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf. Was Moths (or something like it) part of the plan all along or was it an opportunity that came up and couldn’t be resisted?
TH: Hamlet at the RSC was part of the plan! Comedy was never a plan – it was all an accident. And then mixing Doctor Who and comedy never really seemed as obvious a thing for me to do as it does in retrospect. I got the title from a real event – moths did eat my Doctor Who scarf – and my good friend Mark Attwood suggested doing it (though there wasn’t an “it” at that point, there was a title) as an Edinburgh show. My first Edinburgh show as it happens.
EL: Mitch Benn described Moths as the definitive Doctor Who stand-up show (I know he did because I was there). Following [recent sequel] My Stepson Stole My Sonic Screwdriver, are there any plans to round out the trilogy? Or will it be a case of looking back in a few years and seeing if you’ve got another new perspective to look from?
TH: I think things are done as trilogies now aren’t they? I think I’ll do a third show at some point but there are no immediate plans. Stepson worked because it used Doctor Who to tell a different story from the one told in Moths but one that still had an emotional core. I’d matured as a writer too and I think it’s a better show. Hopefully when I get an idea for a third it will be something that is effective and not just a rehash – I was surprised by the success of the previous two and I don’t want to undo all that good work by doing something that is average.
EL: Despite having run conventions and met Who stars before, my first phone call from Peter Davison was met with screams and giggles. Do you remember any particular “permission to squee” moments – and do you still get them?
TH: I am horribly nervous. This may seem a contradiction when viewed in context with my job but whereas most people couldn’t contemplate speaking to 300 people via a microphone they are perfectly able to make a phone call. I’m not. I’m hopeless. With Who’s Round I prefer organising it by letter or email as phoning – even if someone has very happily said “call me on this number” – ties my stomach in knots and causes me all sorts of jitters. It’s pathetic really and you’d think I’d be over it by now. But it’s the process and not wanting to bother people that makes me nervous, not the people themselves. As a professional actor I’ve worked with all sorts of famous people and you have to behave professionally so I’ve always been OK in that regard. And come on, you’ve met me, do you really think me and “squee” are bedfellows? I feel sick just saying the word* .
EL: Fandom can involve a lot of internal politics and infighting. Have you run up against any problems like that and, if so, how do you deal with them?
TH: It’s just sad really but it doesn’t bother me because being a fan to me is a totally personal thing. I used to get irritated by the Internet because when something’s written down it seems more official. Even then I’ve been relatively lucky bar a couple of individuals who have taken it upon themselves to be twats, but I am quite zen about it now. They’re clearly terribly unhappy but I don’t take any notice of them or read what they have to say anymore. You wouldn’t go to the house of someone you knew was going to call you a twat all day would you? Although that’s a bad analogy, as if you were in their house they’d never have the balls to call you a twat and probably wouldn’t be as robust without the protection of the keyboard. And it’s not just Who fandom that produces this kind of behaviour: we sometimes think we’re blighted by oddness and weirdos more than everyone else because we’re Who fans, but we’re not. I bet there are wankers on stamp collecting forums too. As far as I am concerned I am a Doctor Who fan and I like talking about Doctor Who to other fans. If one of them starts being a dick I’ll just stop talking and go somewhere else where no-one is being a dick. It’s my hobby and an enjoyable pastime: I have no battles to fight and am not interesting in provoking any. Other people are welcome to do that but whilst they are I’ll be having a drink or kissing a girl – much more fun!
Toby Hadoke is a writer, actor, comedian and fan’s fan in Doctor Who. I caught up with him on a tram to continue our conversation from last month’s issue.
EL: As a high-profile fan I’d value your opinion – what are your best-of-bests from Who? Let’s start in the obvious place…
TH: My favourite Doctor is … a tie! Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker. Baker was my Doctor and is just brilliant – he was literally born to play the part. The synthesis of everything – that costume, that face: huge, bulging, quizzical, childlike, fascinated eyes, that mop of curly hair, that dazzling, disarming smile.
Because we all know and love him we forget what are fiercely dramatic actor he could be in those early years – his face-off with Scorby in The Seeds Of Doom, his scenes with Davros in Genesis. But it’s the unpredictability – that offbeat sense of humour that makes him so fascinating. He slightly loses points though because later on when he’s bored it clearly shows in his performance. Naughty. Troughton, on the other hand, never gives a bad performance. He’s mercurial: childishly funny at times, an innocent in outer space. But that innocence, that pixie-like curiosity, masks a grave, searingly intelligent, otherworldly man. It’s a performance of great depth. It’s a fantastic conception character-wise and I’m not too sure how he reached it. That’s what makes it even more fascinating to me as an actor – that he chose to create this hobo character when picking up the mantle from Hartnell. In doing so he really defined our conception of who the Doctor is.
EL: And how about stories? Which ones appeal to you as a writer?
TH: Favourite stories. So hard. 10 out of 10s have to be the obvious – Web Of Fear, Power Of The Daleks, Genesis, Talons, Seeds Of Doom, Robots Of Death, Deadly Assassin, Caves Of Androzani, Revelation Of The Daleks, all of season 7, including Ambassadors Of Death. The latter is the most underrated story of all but it’s in good company with some of my less obvious choices for favourites like The Myth Makers, The Massacre, The Macra Terror, Carnival of Monsters, The Time Warrior and The Androids of Tara. And that’s just the classic series! I don’t have a particular story type that I like but I’m a sucker for a base under siege – I think Season 7 and the Hinchcliffe / Holmes era are when the show is consistently at its best. I can watch stories from any era and find delight in them though. I generally think Season 24 is awful but I shoved Delta And The Bannermen in the player a year or so back – hadn’t seen it for years and suspected it’d be awful, and I had a whale of a time.
EL: How about the new series? How do you think that’s holding up so far? And which of the new Doctors was the real deal?
TH: I love the new series. It’s funny though, a few years ago everything would stop for Doctor Who and it really was a sacrifice not to watch it go out live but that is something I’ve done less and less recently. Viewing habits really are changing. Of course that means avoiding the Internet until I have. There are also loads of recent stories I’ve only seen once. There’s no way I have any more knowledge of latter series episodes than your average viewer if I am honest. I’ve been too busy. I am looking forward to spending my retirement swotting up on the Moffat era! It’s nice, it means there’ll be all sorts of info to uncover and all sorts of actors to track down. Some of them might have to come to me so I can interview them in my bath chair in my old people’s home.
I’ve liked all of the modern era Doctors but at the moment I think that Matt Smith is currently my favourite. Capaldi is threatening to overtake him though. I would happily watch any of them so they’re fairly evenly matched. I think the casting of Capaldi after Smith was a master stroke and proves that you don’t have to be below a certain age to be a leading man in a show like this.
I think the return to a spiky Doctor has been a great move and I think Capaldi is a fabulous actor. But casting Eccleston in that first year and dispelling the notion that the part had to be given to someone dandified or middle class and eccentric was a good move and showed just how different the possibilities are for this character, this part. And then Tennant took the role and series into the stratosphere whilst remaining the nicest man on the planet; that takes some doing. So, yes, they’re still splendid fellows, all of them.
EL: I know a lot of us have, say, an “upbeat” story that we bang on when we’re in a good mood. Sometimes there’s another for when you’re feeling low. Do you have particular episodes you dip back into whenever you feel a certain way?
TH: I’m not sure I have stories that match particular moods – I just get the feeling that “ooh, I’d like something with a bit of action”, or “I’m after a romp today”, or “Bottle of wine, languidly-paced bit of Hartnell sci-fi please landlord”. And that’s the beauty of the show. There’s an episode to always suit your needs because it is such an eclectic series. If I’m showing someone else an episode I’ll usually pop on Blink or The Girl in the Fireplace.
EL: You did a great job keeping your appearance in Adventure in Space and Time quiet. Was that hard? Did it feel like really stepping back in time and meeting Verity? What’s it like being a fan and working with these people professionally (rather than just at cons)? Has anyone ever been a disappointment?
TH: Well, because it was just a tiny cameo I decided the best way for it to make an impact with everyone was to keep it under wraps. As a result everyone went “Oh look, it’s Toby” whereas if we’d made a big song and dance about it everyone would have said “Was that it?” Someone did blow it with a small group of my friends about two days before but generally the secret stayed that way apart from a few fans who knew because they were involved in the production. Funnily enough, one of the first pictures that appeared on Internet forums was a blurry one of the bar scene from above and I am in it but no-one noticed it was me (it was very blurred but I could tell!).
When I arrived for filming I saw David Bradley leaning in the door of his caravan with that Astrakhan hat on and got goose bumps. I was desperate to take pictures but I’m a professional and you have to remember that and not get all fanboy-ish. One wants to work again and not being a dick is a good way to ensure that. I wasn’t really like meeting Verity because she was a fellow actor and there was work to do and the set and everything were so minimal that it was pretty clear that we were making telly. What WAS great was that I got talking to Bradley outside and asked about his preparation for the role. He said he’d seen the newly discovered interview footage that hadn’t yet been released on The Tenth Planet DVD and when I said I hadn’t seen it he produced his tablet thingy, opened it up and held it while I watched. The actor playing William Hartnell holding a screen which enabled me to get my first glimpse of the real William Hartnell. Loved that!
A great moment was when Mark Gatiss nipped across the floor and said “What’s your name?” suggesting that “Barman” wouldn’t look so good on the credits and IMDB. I came up with Les (after Leslie Bates, who is “Shadow of Kal” at the end of the first episode), as they’d already called the policeman at the beginning of the film the name that would have been my first choice: Reg (after Reg Cranfield, who is the first person seen in Doctor Who – the copper in the opening of An Unearthly Child). I then realised that Les was too close to Len, the ultra-keen guy who – in the drama – plays the Cyberman, the Dalek and the excited caveman. So then I suggested Cyril after perennial guest actor and fussy scientist extraordinaire Cyril Shaps.
Funnily enough, when the thing came out lots of Internet sites thought I WAS the excited caveman. Except IMDB, who I saw recently are still saying it is Tony Robinson. No! It is Roger May as Len, the keen bit-part actor, who is the smoking Tenth Planet Cyberman at the beginning, the cramped Dalek, Roboman, Meoptera etc. There’s a running gag that this glorified extra keeps trying to big up his part so they’re all the same guy. And that guy, to reiterate, is Len, played by Roger May (whose real-life wife, fact fans, played Peter Capaldi’s wife in Torchwood).
It just goes to show how you shouldn’t trust the internet. One guy watching goes “Oh, he sounds a bit like Tony Robinson, sticks it on IMDB and there it remains uncorrected and presented as a fact on a much-used resource, for years! I Tweeted about it the other day and some doughty Internet warriors are getting it removed.
The other great thing about that day was being invited to have lunch upstairs on the catering bus with Mark Gatiss, producer Matt Stevens, Caroline Skinner and Waris Hussein. Funnily enough I had done Waris for Who’s Round the week before. It was quite moving being there on one of the days that the director of the first episode of Doctor Who came to watch the filing of a drama about the making of it.
One regret I have is that one of the extras I got chatting to had been a Foamasi and we hung around for a lot o the day and I finally went “Shall we do an interview?” and he agreed, and we immediately got called to film and didn’t stop after that. And then I really struggled to get The Leisure Hive covered until the very last couple of weeks of Who’s Round!
Now, as for being a fan and working with people professionally: it’s a delight. It’s actually great having a job to hide behind – whether as an actor for Big Finish or an interviewer at conventions – because the need to do a good job overcomes the fanboy nerves. I don’t think anyone has been a disappointment but I probably wouldn’t tell you if they had been. In the same way that there are some comedians who I think are pricks – I may discuss that with other comics in a green room but wouldn’t share it with someone not in the business or a journalist. You don’t want to spread unpleasantness or speak ill of people publicly because it’s not really on.
Everyone in Who is great though. The surprises have been people like Maureen O’Brien who is rarely interviewed and is always reported as someone who hates Doctor Who so I thought she’d be tricky. She’s not! She’s bloody lovely – one of the nicest of all of the Who people and we still exchange emails every now and again. She’s enthusiastic and kind and fabulous. Janet Fielding: having seen interviews with her and witnessed her forthright and – let’s be honest – somewhat repetitive contributions to the DVDs I thought she’d be a bit of a handful. I did a Big Finish with her and she was brilliant. A hoot! In no way domineering but just vivacious and funny and engaged. And because I was doing an Aussie accent I was worried that she’d take the piss a bit and I was a bit nervous but in our first scene together she leant around and gave me an approving thumbs up and so I didn’t worry for the rest of the day.
Unexpected geniuses? Well, Who’s Round has thrown up some of those – you never forget a carafe of wine with Brian Croucher at St Pancras Station. What a top fellow he is – a right old laugh. And I just adore Richard Martin: a jolly, batty, charming, funny and wonderfully potty-mouthed fellow.
I have been very kindly treated by all of the Doctor Who family which is something I find extremely touching. I wasn’t a particularly happy child and Doctor Who was what guided me through the darkness. Now I’m grown up and life is no less complicated or scary but it’s nice to remind myself that now I get to spend time with my heroes in the flesh. I am very lucky: though when people tell me how lucky I am to be doing all of these things I do mutter under my breath that it was the sort of luck that has involved a heck of a lot of hard work for no reward for quite a few years! And, I hope, some ability!
EL: And finally (for now) – what’s the ultimate ambition for Toby in professional Who? Playing the Doctor? Playing the Master, maybe?
TH: I would love to play the Doctor but I think that ship has sailed. Yes, they have cast fans like David Tennant and Peter Capaldi but that was probably more to do with their whacking great and illustrious CVs than the fact that they’ve seen The Sensorites. I would like to be in the show proper one day though. I mean, it’s about bloody time frankly.