Three people in Hartlepool marriage – Sue, Neil and Dr Who!

Sue and Neil Perryman
Sue and Neil Perryman

THERE are three people in this marriage – Sue, Neil and an intergalactic Time Lord.

 It wasn’t always that way. In fact, Sue Perryman was only formally introduced to the Doctor because she owed her husband a big favour.

 “I made Neil live in a caravan for three-and-a-half years while I built my dream-home. I said it’d be one year, but it turned into three-and-a-half. He always had that ace in his back pocket,” Sue, a senior lecturer in broadcast media at Sunderland University, explains.

 However, what she had in mind was not necessarily having the entire back-catalogue of Doctor Who thrust upon her.

What began as a marital compromise soon turned into an huge project as the couple began to blog about their mission to conquer Doctor Who.

Neil, 43, had never managed to work his way through the library of classic Who.

“He thinks it’s a rite of passage,” Sue says, “that to become a proper Doctor Who fan, you would have to sit and watch every episode.”

The pinnacle of Neil’s plan, however, was to review the stories from the perspective of a definite non-fan – that’s where Sue came in.

“So I agreed to do this,” says Sue, “but, to be honest, I thought he’d give up after a couple of weeks.”

Neither of them did. In January 2011, the couple began watching one episode a day, and 697 episodes – or two-and-a-half years – later they reached the end of their quest.

As the Perrymans blogged, their following grew. And now, Neil has turned their epic Whovian journey into a book, Adventures With the Wife in Space, published by Faber & Faber.

Before Neil instigated the project, Sue admits: “I didn’t really know anything about Doctor Who.”

She says, “I knew he existed, because as a kid everybody knew,” but she had never managed to share Neil’s enthusiasm for all things Who.

The couple watched the series regenerate when Christopher Eccleston burst on to our screens as the ninth Doctor in 2005, but throughout their marriage, Neil had only ever managed to make Sue watch one episode of the classic series.

Early on in their relationship he got Sue to agree to watch The Genesis of the Daleks, a 1975 Tom Baker classic.

After her nonplussed response, Sue says that, “I think he realised at that point that his passion and his desires and his love of Doctor Who would be hidden.” Until Neil managed to persuade her that the Who-marathon “experiment” was a good idea.

“When we embarked on this project, if someone said to me there will be a book at the end of it I would have laughed,” Sue remarks.

Serving as a companion to the blog, Sue explains: “the book is about growing up with Doctor Who, living with Doctor Who, it’s about sharing Doctor Who or any fandom or anything that you’re passionate about with somebody that you love.”

And freelance lecturer Neil definitely loves Doctor Who – but don’t call him a Whovian.

According to Sue, “Neil has a scale between one and 10; 10 being complete dress-up, live your life as that character.

“I’d say Neil’s about a seven, he’s a passionate Doctor Who fan, but he doesn’t dress up.

“He hates the thought that anyone would think he’s a Whovian.”

But Sue thinks that not being a fan-girl really helped her give a fresh perspective on the sometimes-closeted world of Whovianism.  

“I think not knowing anything about it was helpful for me,” she says, “not being a fan allowed me to pick-up on the things that other fans weren’t noticing and I think that’s why the blog was successful because I was bringing a fresh pair of eyes to it – no preconceptions.”

While the couple mainly blogged about the experience, they also produced some podcast recordings.

Sue’s ability to see those things that fans don’t, was particularly evident in the podcast she did on her own: “It was hard to do that, but Neil was out that night and he wanted me to have a go at doing it myself. It was interesting, but I had loads of glasses of wine.”

Sue’s observations range from Sugar Puff advertisements in the background shots, to the pathetic peripheral vision belonging to every Doctor Who character.

Her frustrations meant the reviews were peppered with witty, and often angry observations about the nature of early science-fiction production.

As a lecturer in broadcast media, production was important to Sue’s reviews.

While mocking the not-so-special effects, Sue maintains that: “The classic series was important and I think it’s developed into the show it is now, obviously through the better production value, better stories, and better writers.

“You’ve got to remember when Doctor Who was in its early days, they had lots of troubles around production and finances, and actors.

“All sorts of things used to go wrong. They got through it and I think I appreciate Doctor Who more than I did before.”

Together, the Perrymans, who live near Elwick, managed to gradually work their way through 157 different stories and almost 700 episodes of television gold, including more than a hundred reconstructions (these are lost episodes, reconstructed from screen-shots and recorded sound).

According to Sue, this was the worst part of the whole experience: “It’s like watching your nana’s slide show without the funny bits!

“There’s not a lot of action and it was hard to get a grasp on the story because there was nothing visual other than the stills.”

Despite the highs and lows, the project managed to develop a strong blog following and gain a publishing deal with Faber and Faber.

The most significant part of it, however, turned out not to be particularly related to Doctor Who.

“It brought us closer together,” says Sue, “the best part was finishing it and realising how much I miss sitting with my husband for 20 minutes every night.”

So one big question remains, did Neil manage to convert Sue?

“Not really,” Sue laughs.

“He’s not converted me to the point where I would go and watch Doctor Who on my own, but he’s converted me in the sense that I understand his passion now.

“I understand why he’s fascinated by the programme, whereas before I didn’t get it.”