And so comedian and Doctor Who fan Toby Hadoke today tweeted some news that broke my heart:
“As there are some who still don’t believe it: I’ve just received written confirmation that Harold Pinter was not in The Abominable Snowmen!”
Okay, some context: for years a story has done the rounds of fandom, that Harold Pinter was hired by the producers of Doctor Who, not as a lauded playwright but in his other role as a jobbing actor. Yes, the man who would go on to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature was employed to play a yeti-fighting monk. That is, frankly, an awesome story.
Only it’s not true. And I’m gutted.
It’s not that I want all geek myths to be true – I’m glad there’s not really a Munchkin suicide in The Wizard of Oz – but some make the world more interesting. I want Bob Holness to have played the sax solo on ‘Baker Street’; I’m kind of freaked out but intrigued by the idea that the CIA invented a nefarious arcade game. I wish Kate Bush had written a Doctor Who story under a pseudonym, and frankly it now doesn’t matter that Uncle Ben never said “With great power comes great responsibility” in the original comics, the phrase is now deep in Spider-Man’s bones.
Like any other culture, the geek community has evolved a mythology over time. Often that’s based on flat-out misinformation, but it catches on because a need is fulfilled – attaching names like Bush and Pinter to a show traditionally made on a shoe-string grants it a certain legitimacy and credibility; that’s why these stories find themselves embedded in fan culture. It’s probably worth noting that, when Neil Gaiman wrote for Who, his episode got its name from one of the show’s most notorious hoaxes. After all, reinventing mythologies is one of Gaiman’s great strengths.
All of which goes to show, sometimes it’s more fun to print the myth…