Desperately Seeking Susan Foreman, by Richard Kirby, is a quaint, unusual, and very personal, voyage into the world of Doctor Who, with a unique anchor that certainly hasn't been done before. This anchor comes in the form of a challenge the author set himself for Children In Need, to try and collect as many autographs of the surviving female companions of the Doctor as possible. However, the actual focus is more on Kirby's own relationship with this barmy old show that we love, and manages to be both enticing to the seasoned Whovians among us, as well as a neat introduction for the beginners.
Starting at the very beginning, Kirby straight away mixes both fact and personal opinion into a cocktail that could have been quite tiresome. How many times have we read the synopsis and the background detail of the first ever episode, for instance? But thanks to the authors breezy, informal style, it manages to be a very easy read, in the best possible way. Kirby peppers the text with amusing side-notes and quips that lighten the mood, and he can't resist observing the connections between actors and the other shows they have appeared in, particularly soap operas. Let's put it this way, any Coronation Street fans out there will be very happy with this, and every reader is guaranteed to learn something new!
As well as briefly running through the entire history of Doctor Who, Kirby also includes some nice reviews of certain stories (particularly ones featuring actresses he has aquired signed photographs from). He isn't afraid to be honest, poking fun at the stories he reviews in a way only a dedicated fan could. And that is one of the joys of this book. Richard Kirby, like every other Doctor Who fan out there, does have opinions, and you won't agree with all of them. Sometimes you'll be nodding along with a smile on your face, other times spluttering into your tea (“'The Faceless Ones' is his favourite story, WHAT?”). And that can only be a good thing. I particularly enjoyed Kirby's review of 'The Ambassadors of Death'. Just read the authors own take on how Reegan gets into a top-secret place in a bakery van. Priceless!
As for the autographs, Kirby provides some very nice photos of his achievements, with a little summary of each actresses career. Beyond this, there isn't that much else on this particular topic, save for the introduction and a summary at the end. I was still rather amused by his attempt to get Bonnie Langford's autograph, which didn't go entirely to plan! And the whole idea of the autographs is a marvellous framing device, that enables the author to bring all eras of Doctor Who together.
It's also evident that Kirby hasn't seen much of late-80's Doctor Who. His summary of this particular era of the series relies very much on the critical reception of these stories, rather than his own. To the old-school fans out there, this could be seen as a little disappointing, but it still offers a nice insight for newcomers to the show. And as I have repeatedly stated, this is Kirby's own take on Doctor Who, so he is allowed to pretty much do as he likes!
All in all, Desperately Seeking Susan Foreman is a charming piece of work, that manages to both appeal to us sad old fans, as well as introducing beginners to the mad world of Doctor Who. It's a funny book, which branches off into anecdotes, connections and jokes with pleasing regularity. And the idea of using autographs as a framing device works beautifully in its favour. As an autograph collector myself, I can only imagine that it will inspire others to do the same. And the fact that Kirby did it for charity is simply marvellous.
If you're after something that will entertain, educate, and inspire you to re-watch certain episodes of your favourite television show, look no further than this. You might not agree with all of Richard Kirby's opinions, but you will certainly be laughing along with him. A splendid read that does even more than it says on the blurb! I hope there is more to come from this man (spoiler: There is!).
Join Richard's journey HERE
Richard Kirby's next 'Desperately Seeking...' project - France Gall