After the infamous marathon of Classic Doctor Who serials on Twitch earlier this year, some younger fans had their first encounter with Ian and Barbara. The original duo of human companions hold a special place in the hearts of fandom, especially since William Russell (Ian) is still with us while Jacqueline Hill (Barbara) sadly passed away in 1993 after a long battle with breast cancer.
In memory of Hill, artist and writer Sophie Iles launched the Mild Curiosities fanzine on Hill’s 89th birthday, December 17th 2018. With all proceeds going to support Breast Cancer Now.
The fanzine is available to buy now for £4.99 on digital download, which includes a PDF, mobi and epub formats. Physical copies can be pre-ordered for £19.99 or £21.99 for a package that includes both physical and digital versions.
I had the chance to interview Sophie about what motivated her to launch this fanzine…
Honestly? Despite the fact I was already in love with them as companions, it was Doctor Who on Twitch that sparked the whole thing. We had a beautiful summer as Doctor Who fans this year, because we not only was their the excitement of a new series on the way with our first female Doctor, but the Classic Doctor Who series was being streamed online. For new audiences, it was discovery for other eras of the show and for older fans it was a chance to reconnect with their favourite eras for six wonderful weeks. I felt like Harry Potter a bit, not wanting my weekends to come, because the weekday evenings meant I could draw and watch Doctor Who live with so many other people and watch how they reacted to my favourite characters.
When Ian and Barbara’s journey ended, social media buzzed about them for so long I couldn’t ignore the overwhelming love for the school-teachers. A friend of mine had recently produced a fanzine for dogs for charity, and other friends were doing similar work and it sort of struck me. I decided that I wanted to do something dedicated to Ian and Barbara in particular and it sort of spiraled from there!
So what does Mild Curiosities include? Well, for one thing you’ve got a wonderful introduction from actor and writer John Dorney. As a regular Big Finish contributor, Dorney has written for Ian and Barbara as characters most notably in July’s The Invention of Death. He starts off with an anecdote of his role opposite Barbara in The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance and goes on to explore how his own perspective growing up with the original cast as figures of legend cemented the assumption that Ian and Barbara were the first “ship”. The generally-accepted fan canon that the pair got together after their adventures in the TARDIS is definitely the perspective that editors Sophie Iles and James Bojaciuk took when putting together this fanzine.
I asked Iles how the contribution from Dorney came out.
It all stemmed from Big Finish Day which I attended in Autumn of this year. I was so chuffed to meet one of my writing heroes and I gave him one of my “London 1965” prints as a gift. We discussed that his first Ian and Barbara audio, The Rocketmen, was my introduction to these characters and I’ve been falling in love with them ever since. I decided to bite the bullet a week or so later and ask if he would be interested to do an intro for the fanzine, and he was honoured to do so! I can’t wait for you all to read it. I might have cried whilst doing my weekly shop when I read it.
Stories in the End
The main bulk of Mild Curiosities is a selection of short stories written especially for the fanzine. Iles accepted submissions earlier in the year and selected some of the strongest stories to make up the release.
The book is divided up into four chapters, totalling thirteen stories, about each stage of Ian and Barbara’s life. From their first encounters as teachers at Coal Hill School in Touch the Stars by Kara Dennison. Through their time travelling with the First Doctor, Susan and later Vicki, culminating in a poem contribute by Beth Axford of The Time Ladies blog. The immediate aftermath of their return to Earth is detailed in the third chapter, kicking off with a story originally written for a 1995 fanfiction magazine, Homecoming, by best-selling author Adam Christopher. The fourth and final chapter features stories from the couple’s new life, including the appearance of Johnny Chess – Ian and Barbara’s rock-star son who appears in several spin-off novels.
When asked about picking from submissions, Iles told me:
It’s always difficult. We had lots of fans of the show come forward and some wonderful writing, art and ideas, but rejecting is always hard but sometimes it’s obvious if a story fits with the vision you have. Stories with an emotional core was what I was looking for and I’m really proud of what we picked. They all bring something different to Ian and Barbara’s journey from poetry, to full fledged adventures. What I found really fun and inspiring was the range of experience too. Some of these writers haven’t shared their work before, whilst others have written professionally for years, and yet the writing is still wonderful and strong. I couldn’t be prouder of everyone who contributed!
Interspersed between the stories is artwork contributed by an equally-eclectic selection of illustrators. Several pieces were created by Iles herself, but the roster includes Paul Magrs – prolific Doctor Who novel and audio writer. Not to mention Raine Szramski, who contributed artwork to The Women Who Lived book earlier in the year from Christel Dee and Simon Guerrier.
Titans Comic cover artist Carolyn Edwards also makes a contribution in what is probably my favourite part of the fanzine. A simple sketch of Ian and Barbara sharing a moment together that’s very straightfoward, but sweet and arranged with a lot of subtext. If you needed an image that best represented what fans believe happened between them after “London, 1965!” then this would be it.
But with such varying styles on display, I asked Sophie if she’d given the artists any rules to follow:
My only limit was only that it was black and white for print purposes. The styles all completely vary, from Carolyn’s beautiful pencil sketch, Paul’s beautiful watercolour to Sam digital vectorised style that looks straight from a 1950’s animated cartoon. I couldn’t be happier at the range and the beauty they brought to the fanzine.
Breast Cancer Now
If you can’t afford to buy the fanzine, I’d absolutely encourage you to donate to Breast Cancer Now directly if you can. They do great work in research and breast cancer awareness and deserve all the support they can get. I asked Sophie why she chose that charity, and I think her answer is an important one…
When I was 21 my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went into remission after a double mastectomy and was cancer free for five years but lived with a lot of discomfort and pain due to the surgery. She then passed away painfully from cancer just six months after my wedding, that we had moved to make sure she could attend. My nan was my world. One of my best friends, my fellow creative, the shy artist and writer who never showed her work off. I miss her very much and even now I want to be able to talk to her about all these things that I’m doing. It was her death that gave me the push to sort my life out, to get my head together. To pursue my passions once again.
Cancer is a terrible disease, I’ve watched it destroy lives over and over, and what I love about Breast Cancer Now is their goal to make everyone who gets Breast Cancer live by 2050. If I could be a part of that goal, by doing something I love, by involving my friends, why wouldn’t I? Honestly, this fanzine is by far one of the best decision I’ve ever made.