Saturday, December 05, 2009


Another review for Vector, this the full version of one published in #260 in August.

Wiffle Lever to Full by Bob Fischer
Reviewed by Simon Guerrier

In November 2005, Bob Fischer braved a Doctor Who convention in his home town, then spent a year at events related to his other favourite TV shows and films.

Having not been wowed by Dalek, I Loved You (see Vector #257), I didn’t expect much of another memoir about watching TV. Fischer seems to model his book on those of Dave Gorman and Danny Wallace: a silly quest that lets him get drunk with new people to his girlfriend’s despair. Yet despite these misgivings, I was quickly engrossed. Fischer has a keen eye for detail, describing a panel of Doctor Who guest actors discussing their other work on Bergerac and Tenko as "like watching a touring stage revival of Pebble Mill at One." It’s exactly what a Doctor Who convention is like.

The book really hits its stride when Fischer attends his second convention – for Star Wars – and starts comparing fandoms. There’s the attendees themselves and the proportion who’ve come in costume. We learn which fandoms are most commercial, or the heaviest drinkers and which have the most pretty women. There’s the different strategies for meeting your heroes: mumbling, gabbling or slapping them on the back.

You sometimes feel he’s trying too hard with the jokes, but I loved his description of the James Bond film Moonraker: it "somehow managed to bridge the cultural gap between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Carry On at Your Convenience".

He’s good at providing background on the films and shows in question, the history of conventions and of viewing habits, too. Having watched Star Trek as a child in the late 1970s, he realises how strange it is that "a generation of seven-year-olds could be intimately familiar with a programme first broadcast almost twice their lifetimes ago." He explains the passivity of watching telly in an age of three channels before videos and remote controls.

It’s also fun seeing Fischer’s girlfriend and family get more involved with his quest. As he says early on, "It’s great to have a passion for your favourite films and programmes, but you have to accept that the rest of the world is unlikely to give a toss." Yet, later on he has to wonder, grudgingly, "whether there’s anyone left in the country who hasn’t emerged from the sci-fi fandom closet … and begin to feel as if some of my exclusive right to geeky cult-TV absorption is being unceremoniously chipped away."

Between each new fandom experience there’s an excerpt from "The Battle to Save Earth", a story Fischer wrote when he was nine. It’s a thrilling mix of his school friends, footballing heroes and bits nicked from Star Wars and Flash Gordon, hanging on the discovery of "a speicail [sic] laser called Bombpower. It can destroy anything." The book is largely an attempt to recapture this wide-eyed, care-free delight. But Fischer’s intelligence and insight are what make it so effective.

At one point Fischer quotes Camus: "A man’s worth is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover through the detours of art those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened." He might well have been justifying his Dangermouse DVDs.


BobFischer said...

Thanks Mr G... just seen this, and that's all very kind! Pleased you enjoyed the book. At the risk of turning this into a mutual back-slapping operation, I love your Big Finishes as well. I've had a couple of very enjoyable Sunday dog walks recently listening to you putting Jean Marsh through the mixer.

0tralala said...

Hooray! We are both brilliant!

I now want to get a dog so I can listen to Big Finishes properly.

BobFischer said...

It's the only way to go! It's actually got to the stage where my dogs get excited whenever a Jiffy bag pops through the front door.

I did Parts 2, 3 and 4 of Hornets Nest yesterday on top of the North Yorks moors, and got so wrapped up in them that I ended up wandering lost on the open moor in the pitch blackness at 6pm. With Tom Baker and Rula Lenska arguing in my head. This must be what madness feels like...