Tribute to Jon Pertwee

My father was a wealthy business man who used violence to express his dark moods. By the time I was 12, like two of my brothers and one of my sisters before me, I was his target for venting his frustrations. He'd slap me around, rebuke me for being stupid, etc. No details necessary.

But he always was gone on Saturdays. I used to love Saturdays, just to feel how gone he was. And Saturdays were the days when WPHL Channel 17 in Philadelphia showed Dr. Who. The program had started out being on weeknights at 7:30, but by spring of that year it had fizzled to one half hour every Saturday morning at 11:30.

It was like nothing else to me--the peace in the silent house, and these stories about things I had never even thought of before. And there the Doctor was--the great antithesis to everything I had known up to that point. He never called Jo stupid (though my heart really ached for her the two times he rebuked her in THE DAEMONS), and he was always fishing her out of danger. I thought she was so lucky in COLONY IN SPACE when he got her out of the Primitive's caverns, and he was so glad when he found her that he kissed the top of her head. He was like this great, capable, cheerful ray of light. He took me away on Saturdays--away to his world, away from my world.

I wanted to extend the happy half hours of Saturday mornings. That was when I started writing stories. My first one was about four Ogrons who landed in a suburban housing development in America, thought it was a small unprotected colony, and tried to take it over. I should also say that in my first naive stories, I simply depicted myself with the Doctor. Sometimes Jo was there, sometimes not. Not knowing the taboo of romance in WHO, I also wrote one where he came to his senses and proposed to Jo. That was the one where the local barkeeper was actually the Master, stranded for some reason or another, and occupying his spare time by concocting explosives in the basement of the bar and then going out at night and leveling important buildings in--you guessed it--a suburban American housing development.

Writing, I found out, came naturally. Bad writing, I mean. Since I was always a main character in my stories, they weren't very convincing. But gradually, it got more important to get my imagined reader to feel the way I felt when I watched Doctor Who than it did to be in the story myself. That starkly good and upright figure--elegant, relaxed, but powerful-- seemed central to telling a good story. I created new companions and new villains. Meanwhile, my father's violence got worse and worse. My parents were divorcing, and he was hiring people to find us and harass us. So even though I was taking myself out of the stories, I started putting the stories into myself.

His hired things chased me a couple times. I tried to be funny while running away. They came and pounded on the door when my sister was in the apartment alone, and I ran up the steps and drew them away. We'd moved into a tough and poor neighborhood, and I toughened up a lot. But if the Doctor could do Venusian Aikido, I could do karate, I started in Shotokan, got as far as first brown (right below black) then switched to taekwon do and now have a second degree black belt, which I keep up up to date. Regrettably, I cannot poke two fingers into someone's chest and freeze him into place. Nobody in Korea, as far as I can determine, has ever mastered that technique.

Eventually also, I became a Christian. I started writing other types of stories, stories that my new peers found more acceptable, but there was always a Doctor Who story somewhere, always the third Doctor. By the time I was in college, these were the stories that held the attentions of the younger kids I worked with at camps. But some of the older Christian people lamented and even rebuked me for liking science fiction so much.

Anyway, I sold my first short story in 1982, when I was 21, and I sold my first novel in 1985. The first ones were tame and thoroughly suburban Christian, but by then I was also writing reading workbook pages for a kid's reading series, and in many of the short, six paragraph scenarios I wrote, the austere, elegant figure in the velvet jacket would show up as a scientist, or an explorer, or somebody's eccentric uncle. Sometimes the editors caught them and rewrote them, and sometimes not.

Eventually I spent most of my writing time writing what would sell to my market, but now that I'm totally sick of that, I've switched to writing for pleasure again, and the third Doctor just came naturally.

Back in January of this year I mailed Jon Pertwee a gallon of maple syrup (seemed like a good thing to send from the USA) anda short letter telling him how much I appreciated and admired him. I knew he was doing the caberet stuff and would likely not be able to answer quickly. So I never heard from him. But I am really glad now that I sent it. (Except I have this recurring nightmare that it spilled out from the jug all over the box and shipping material, and all he got was a sticky mess)

I trace my writing all the way back to something in the third Doctor that sparked it. And I've never forgotten that when life is at its toughest, it's so important to face it cheerfully and optimistically. I feel a little foolish to confess that I learned that from a tv show, but that's the way God worked it out for my life.

When I heard about Pertwee's death, I was stunned and sad, and it threw my mind all the way back to seeing him and Jo in Bessy, racing across a bleak, gray countryside, but the two of them ready to take on whatever was coming at them. For just a moment I felt that same thrill of watching them, admiring them, wishing I was one of them. I'm so sorry I never met him, so sorry I never got to shake his hand. And yet, as I thought about it yesterday, I decided that if the imprint of his character prompted me to behave with courage, to learn to write fiction, and to get my black belt and behave according to the credo of a black belt, then I've received more from him than just a handshake or letter. And I am extremely thankful.

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