Over the last few years I’ve written a few Fact of Fiction articles for Doctor Who Magazine. They’ve all been little labours of love, hard work but sheer pleasure, so it’s a source of a little dismay to read in certain dark places of the internet that some readers don’t like them, that they think they are merely retreads of information presented in the earlier Archive series.
Well, everyone is entitled to an opinion, but I’d say the Fact of Fiction articles were far from being retreads. Of course there is inevitably going to be some overlap, but the crucial difference is that the Archives were about the production of a particular TV story, while the Fact of Fiction articles concentrate purely on the story itself, its creation, its themes, its strengths and its flaws, its references to other works and its inconsistencies. In short, they’re about the script, and while the Archives did cover the creation of the scripts, they usually only afforded them half a page’s worth of text at most. The Fact of Fiction articles mean the story can be explored and critically analysed in greater depth, in a manner rather like the Arden Shakespeare series (but much more worthwhile and highbrow). But they don’t cover the ins-and-outs of production, whether an actress lost a shoe during filming at Frensham Ponds, whether a studio day had to be remounted because of industrial action, whether they used mirrorlon or jabolite. For that you would need to dig out the Archives.
Of course, when researching a Fact of Fiction, one of the first ports of call is the original Archive feature, along with trying to track down as many different versions of the script as possible and any other relevant paperwork. And whilst I may, reluctantly, repeat some information from the Archive in the interests of completeness, I treat the Archive as a starting point only, a baseline, with the challenge being to find out new information, new facts that haven’t been revealed before. Whether that’s by examining the differences between different drafts, or interviewing the writer, or checking a story against its sources and the history books, comparing it to the novelisation, and so on, and so on. The mission is to seek out stuff that even Andrew Pixley doesn’t know.
But, yes, as some of this information may have been covered in brief in an Archive there is a small amount of reiteration, though as many of the Archive features were published over twenty years ago, I think that’s forgivable. And the fact that some of them are so old tends to mean that lots of new information has come to light in the meantime; without wishing to impugn Andrew Pixley’s exactitude, it’s sometimes a surprise how much the original Archive gets wrong, just because he was by necessity making inferences based on limited material (maybe just a camera script and a shooting schedule) within a limited wordcount. Since then both Andrew and others have uncovered far more information, a rich seam exploited by the Production Notes on the DVDs (which are also very good for detailing the fates of mislaid shoes in Frensham Ponds) and the Fact of Fiction articles. There is still a lot to be found out and to be said about these old stories.