For any Doctor Who fans who’ve watched the First Doctor’s adventures, there’s something entirely irresistible about London, 1865, the third short story in the Beyond The Doctor range, written by Paul Magrs.
To understand why, you probably need to understand early Doctor Who.
In the very first episode of the show in 1963, the strange, crotchety old man known only as ‘The Doctor,’ and his granddaughter Susan, were introduced as owning a London police box that was bigger on the inside, that could travel to any point in space and time.
The only reason they were discovered was because Susan was attending Coal Hill School in Shoreditch, and mystifying two of her teachers – Barbara Wright, who taught history, and Ian Chesterton, who taught science.
In an effort to get their questions about this ‘unearthly child’ answered, they followed her home to a scrapyard, and to the police box, and so to what was immediately known as the Tardis – the time machine that has now acted as the wardrobe to Narnia at the heart of the show for almost 60 years.
Ian and Barbara were the audience’s first connection-point, the first Earthlings to go on this amazing, scary journey into time and space with the unpredictable Doctor. They’re also the first to challenge him in his sometimes arrogant assumptions that his way is best – in their first adventure together, Ian stops the Doctor from dropping a rock on the head of a caveman, and in a story with the Aztecs, Barbara determined to try and change history, even though the Doctor told her not a line of it could be changed.
They saw him through his hardest moment, when he shut the doors on his granddaughter, knowing that she waws in love with an Earth man, but that she’s never leave the ship without being forced to it. And their relationship mellowed the crotchety, untrusting old man over time, so that, in his words, what “started out as a mild curiosity in ajunkyard”… “turned out to be quite a great spirit of adventure.”
When, at the end of the 1965 Dalek story The Chase, Ian and Barbara took a chance to leave the Doctor, they arrived back in London in a time contemporary to the viewers – to “London, 1965” as Ian joyously declared.
The fact that these two characters arrived home safely, that they had worked with the Doctor through lots of adventures and made it out not only alive, but with their horizons broadened by the universe, was crucial. It helped solidify the sense of safety the audience felt in the Doctor’s company. He would go on to lose companions Katarina and Sara in 1966, the next time he encountered the Daleks, so the safe return of those first companions was vital to cement the idea that the Doctor was a force for good, and only monsters as evil as the Daleks would ultimately have the power to kill anyone who stood next to the Doctor. It would be 27 years till the universe’s second greatest monster, the Cybermen would graduate to the status of companion-killers, in Earthshock.
But fans have been wondering since 1965 what happened next for Ian and Barbara. Tantalising mentions of them in The Sarah Jane Adventures suggested they ended up together, but fans have always spun their own headcanon of how their lives went once they returned to “London, 1965.”
If you’re going to let an author write an official version of the events that followed their return home, Paul Magrs would be in the front rank of those you’d choose. With a long history of writing Doctor Who novels and audio adventures, Magrs has rarely been scared to innovate and go in exciting storytelling directions that might frighten off writers with less courage.
In London, 1965, Magrs uses the two-year gap between the start of Doctor Who in 1963 and Ian and Barbara’s return home in 1965 to his advantage. While, in the whole vastness of time and space, two years might seem like the blink of an eye, in Sixties London, if you’ve been missing for two years, it’s a pretty big deal.
Ian and Barbara’s jobs have gone, which tends to happen when you don’t turn up for a couple of years. Ian’s landlady has held his room open for him, but expects to be paid the back rent in full, not to mention the rent going forward, adjusted for inflation, thank you very much. It’s not long before he’s plugged into the supply teaching network, running around all over London to teach the odd lesson here and there. But he’s also dealing with the culture shock of being dropped back on Earth by writing science fiction stories – some of them based on the adventures he and Barbara had with the Doctor.
Barbara, meanwhile, is initially much more displaced than her friend. Wandering through the British Museum, she feels deep psychic connections to some of the exhibits – Roman artefacts, Aztec items, and so on. She’s rescued by Angela Leamann, who offers her room and board in exchange for her participation in some psychical experiments – all the rage in the mid-Sixties.
Ian finds interest in his stories from a publisher who introduces him to a TV bigshot, and a pilot show is planned. Sets are built, including the set of a console room for a fabulous machine that whisks two ordinary humans off to have fabulous adventures in space and time.
While each of them is finding their own way to cope with their sense of displacement that comes with them being at least nominally ‘home,’ they lose a lot of the close connection that they developed while on the Tardis as a way of getting through their adventures.
For all those people who imagined Ian and Barbara would just get back home, acknowledge their feelings for one another and live happily ever after, this is quite the speed-bump. If you go into this story wanting fan-fiction love and smooches, you’re in the wrong place. The internet will by all means be your friend, but Paul Magrs takes things in a much more Sixties spy-drama direction, and it’s absolutely the right way to go.
As the pilot of Ian’s show approaches, Magrs loads the story with an ominous air and serious questions. Is Angela Leamann’s interest in Barbara’s hypnotic dreaming purely scientific? Is Ian’s writing really good enough to get him a TV deal within a year of writing his first stories? Or is there something more alien and suspicious going on?
Put like that, it doesn’t sound like MUCH of a spoiler, but we’re not about to kill the surprise for you – particularly because Paul Magrs gives things more than one intriguing twist along the way. If you know his writing, that won’t surprise you – it’s Paul Magrs, after all, intriguing twists are one of many things he does six times between breakfast and bedtime.
But here, the story opens up a wider world of almost Avengers-style Earth-bound intrigue (that’s Steed and Peel Avengers, not Stark and Steve Avengers, Marvel-fans). It’s a world that was first mentioned in the second Beyond the Doctor story, Bessie Come Home (also written by Magrs), and seems also set to feature in some future instalments by the same author.
We’ve said that every Classic Who fan has invented their own headcanon of how Ian and Barbara got on once they returned home. London, 1965 gives you a version with a BBC Audio stamp of approval on it, which may well be as close to official as we’re ever going to get.
That being the case, it’s a realistic, utterly human adventure that stays true to the characters as they appeared on screen, and makes use of some TV Doctor Who elements in its conclusion, while setting up much more of an earthbound threat than we got to hear in Bessie Come Home (though if you haven’t heard that release yet, do it now – you’ll cry for all the right reasons). It’s exciting, involving, and believable, while building on what we learn in Bessie Come Home, and ramping up the espionage elements to a point where you’ll have cravings to discover more of the long game that Paul Magrs is creating in the range.
There’s more to come from Magrs in the Beyond The Doctor range over the next few months.
After London, 1965, it can’t come soon enough. Tony Fyler