Dave Franklin is the Welsh ex-pat author of “Looking for Sarah Jane Smith”, a tale he describes as “a bleak, vicious comedy”. Since its release in 2000 it has been republished as part of an anthology of Daveâ€™s work, “Manic Streets of Perth”. Originally from South Wales, Dave left Cardiff University with “a BA in Sarcasm”, worked as a reporter before emigrating to Australia in 1999.
While not in any means a Doctor Who book, “Looking for Sarah Jane Smith” is a good example of how Doctor Who has infiltrated the national psyche, as well as portraying with how humans relate to fantasy figures
To promote the release of “Looking for Sarah Jane Smith”, Dave went to interesting lengths which I suggested must have come naturally to a journalist. “Oh, it was very easy to streak at my head office. I stood there in a room full of fifty people in just my socks holding up a couple of copies of LFSJS and shouting: “Buy my book or Iâ€™ll do this every day!” One woman actually fainted. Some people later commented that I looked mad, like I was going to pull a gun out and start shooting. God knows where I was hiding the gunâ€¦ When the CEO found out I got no more casual work for three months. Banned for getting nudey! It turned out to be quite a costly streak but thereâ€™s something liberating about standing in front of your work colleagues with your nob out.”
Obviously Dave is a Doctor Who fan – “I believe I got into it with Tom Baker” – although probably not as forgiving of the series past failings as many. “I donâ€™t know why I stuck with Doctor Who. Even as an adolescent I could see the episodes were often dismal â€“ overcomplicated writing, pedestrian acting, achingly dull bits, duff star cameos and, of course, the worst monsters and special effects ever seen on TV. To this day, the Fang Rock monster remains a milestone in jaw-dropping ineptitude. But the show was somehow quintessentially British and could display tremendous imagination. It had a certain charm while thereâ€™s no denying its iconic status â€“ people know about Daleks and the TARDIS without ever having seen Doctor Who. And, apart from that, I was always bored rigid by “Star Trek”.”
“Looking for Sarah Jane Smith” could be said to be based on Daveâ€™s own experiences, and I wonder whether he is actually telling the story of his own departure to Australia. “Well, itâ€™s about a miserable Welsh journalist who canâ€™t relate to women, his job or country and who then runs away to Australia. So obviously itâ€™s nothing like my own life… But it would be a mistake to read it as autobiography â€“ my life simply isnâ€™t interesting enough to record verbatim.”
Whatever book I write the story has to be king. Itâ€™s essential to tell a convincing tale thatâ€™s packed with memorable characters and authentic dialogue. As a writer I invert my own experiences, bastardise them, go off at a tangent or completely make things up. But self-indulgence should be avoided at all costs. Never forget the reader.”
So how important, then, would you say it is for a writer to know his or her subject? “Well, it certainly helps, but itâ€™s a mistake to say a writer has to know his subject. I doubt HG Wells was au fait with invisibility, alien invasions and time machines but he seemed to get by. Some critics argue that “Lolita” is the twentieth centuryâ€™s greatest novel but Nabokov wasnâ€™t a kiddie fiddler. Itâ€™s much more important to simply be interested in your subject. That interest can even be negative e.g. a fear or obsession with something. You just have to write about a subject thatâ€™s on your mind a lot. Hence, I write about alienation, popular culture, violence, humour, sex and an abiding hatred of Bryan Adams â€“ often in the same paragraph.”
My own opinion of “Looking for Sarah Jane Smith” is “a post-modern laddist cult classic”, referring to the swearing, posturing, sex, drinking and comedy content? While itâ€™s possible that within the fabric of the various relationships portrayed, something deeper going on, Dave is sees the work as “an examination of male friendship and misogyny. We live in a society where men struggle to show affection because thatâ€™s “gay” or “girly” so it has to be expressed in other ways â€“ namely insults, practical jokes, mock-fights, drinking contests and macho strutting. Marty, Wasp Boy and John are having their last hurrah but thereâ€™s a sadness that their camaraderie â€“ forged in the first year of big school more than a decade and a half earlier â€“ is coming to an end. Of course, being blokes they canâ€™t actually admit theyâ€™re sad. Itâ€™s kind of summed up by a drunken Wasp grabbing Marty during their last night out in Wales and shouting in his face: “Youâ€™re a c*** but I love you.” He canâ€™t express such a sentiment soberly or without aggression.
Most of the misogyny is tongue-in-cheek or way over the top but there are some uncomfortable scenes where itâ€™s deliberately played straight. I donâ€™t believe men like women much and vice versa â€“ itâ€™s just we have to find ways of dealing with each other. Surprisingly, women often really like the book â€“ I guess itâ€™s because they know, or know of, men such as Marty, Wasp and John. They will have overheard such conversations or even been on the receiving end of their awfully self-centred and unfeeling behaviour. Women recognise the bookâ€™s candidness about the shortcomings of twenty-something men. Or maybe they just like reading about fights, boobies, rude commentaries on female tennis matches and parrots that can quote “Deliverance”. ”
They seem like a strange bunch, and it is unlikely that any one of them would have any desire for one of the Doctorâ€™s more virginal companions – So, why Sarah Jane? What is it about her that makes her so lovely? “Lis Sladen was actually nice enough to send me a signed copy of the book, wishing me all the best. I suspect she hated “LFSJS”, though. Itâ€™s one hell of a backhanded compliment to be held up as this paragon of virtue – the ideal woman – within a literary world packed full of profanity. But I donâ€™t have any yen for Sarah Jane. Itâ€™s the character thatâ€™s obsessed with her, not me. I just happened to like her name and her role in the golden Tom Baker years. I guess she was also selected ahead of the other companions because of her virginal, pure quality. Leelaâ€™s self-assertiveness and Periâ€™s well-pronounced curves simply wouldnâ€™t have fitted in with Martyâ€™s queer brand of chauvinism ”
Itâ€™s certainly not an unpopular choice. Sarah Jane has been held up as the archetypal Doctor Who companion â€“ certainly of the classic series â€“ and her return to the series nearly 30 years after she left as a major selling point of the most recent series. But did School Reunion work for Dave Franklin? “Iâ€™ve only seen it once but it seemed to have the standard flaws of the single episodes i.e. contrived plotting and not enough room for the story to really breathe. But my abiding memory is Sarah Janeâ€™s sadness at being abandoned and how her life had become an anti-climax after travelling with the Doctor â€“ with Rose realising she was simply the latest in a long line of companions and the same fate awaited her. It was an acceptable episode within a very uneven second series.”
So there must be a Doctor Who adventure bursting to get out of Dave Franklin, just as there is with each of us Doctor Who fans. “Yeah, maybe I could write “The Dalek Invasion of Wales”. Tom Jones, our useless soccer team and the national dish of cheese on toast all getting exterminated. What fun! And the Doctor looking on, not lifting a finger and muttering: “Yeah, fair call.” In the end the Daleks would be defeated by apathy and the dismal weather â€“ theyâ€™d slowly realise Wales wasnâ€™t worth conquering and it would be best to go before they rusted to pieces. ” Itâ€™s not the furst time Iâ€™ve noticed antipathy towards Franklinâ€™s homeland â€“ “Looking for Sarah Jane Smith” features a Wales at odds with what we see in brochures and Doctor Who.
Surely it isnâ€™t as bad as he makes out? “No, itâ€™s not that bad â€“ but at the same time I couldnâ€™t imagine still living in Newport. Nothing rotten ever happened to me and Wales gave me a good education, but I quickly realised there are better places to live your life. Iâ€™ve long been disappointed by Walesâ€™ lack of impact on the world stage, compared to the other three home nations. But the odd thing is that now Iâ€™m in Australia I find myself continually looking over my shoulder. The last novel I wrote â€“ Manic Streets of Perth â€“ had a strong link to Manic Street Preachers and the disappearance of Richey Edwards, although I never had the slightest desire to write about them while I was there. Whatever I think of Wales it does give me ideas. In contrast, Australia is much blander, its residents much less savvy. Itâ€™s a much nicer place to live but itâ€™s the grit, culture, people and history of Wales (and indeed Britain) that seem to spark my imagination.”
Is there any nationality that you would prefer to have been born into?
“Martian would have been interesting, but nationalityâ€™s just an accident of birth. Iâ€™m neither ashamed nor proud to be Welsh. Mind you, I could do without bloody dumb Australians thinking I must be from a coalmining family and have a good singing voice.”
We finish off with a few light hearted comments about various aspects of Doctor Who, an idea that I have outright stolen from a much-missed Doctor Who Magazine feature where questions were drawn at random from a TARDIS tin.
â€¢ Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker? “Mr Baker â€“ I canâ€™t recall a single worthwhile Jon Pertwee episode, even though he was a good Doctor. All those episodes when he was exiled on Earth with the hapless, po-faced members of UNIT were bloody boring.”
â€¢ K9 or Polyphase Avatron? “After many a sleepless night grappling with that one, Iâ€™m still unable to come to a decision.”
â€¢ Daleks or Cybermen? “The Daleks â€“ but not the new-fangled, jazzed-up flying ones. Somehow theyâ€™ve lost their menace from the time of Genesis of the Daleks.”
â€¢ Romana or SJS? “Well, I guess Iâ€™m biasedâ€¦”
Many thanks from Kasterborous to Dave Franklin for an entertaining interview. If youâ€™re interested in purchasing “Looking for Sarah Jane Smith”, you can purchase directly from www.babyicedogpress.com.au