By Kezia Newson
Welcome to our Women Behind the TARDIS series! This year we’ll be bringing you exclusive content from some of the amazing women who work on all aspects of Doctor Who. After all, 2018 is the year of the Time Lady.
We meet our first interviewee at a very busy London Victoria station on a dull, grey Saturday morning. In contrast, Emily is like a ray of sunshine, all enthusiasm and generosity over our nerves of conducting our first ever interview, gulp. Having secured a cosy spot out of the drizzle in the uninspiring but all together capable Pret, we slurped our tea and got to know Doctor Who Magazine’s wonderful Editorial Assistant a little better. They say never leave Doctor Who fans together, because boy can we talk.
Naturally, we gush over the latest issue of DWM which features the 13th Doctor resplendent on the front cover – ‘Jodie Whittaker is The Doctor!’ What does a woman being cast as the Doctor mean to you? Emily considers the question before openly answering “I am just going to be honest here and say that personally I wasn’t sure about the idea of a female Doctor before we knew who it was going to be. It wasn’t because I thought the character should always be a man – that’s a ridiculous thing to say because the Doctor’s a shape-changing fictional alien so anything is possible! – but I was just wary about such a big change (Doctor Who fans can be so resistant to change, can’t they? …which is ironic given the nature of the show!)”.
She pauses before exclaiming, “However! When we saw that big reveal scene, and the hood comes down and it’s Jodie Whittaker… as soon as we saw her, I felt like we were seeing the Doctor and it just felt so right. I was so excited! Obviously now having seen a scene with her, she just is the Doctor. What a fab first line – “Oh brilliant!” – it’s so confident. It’s saying, ‘Right, I’m accepting who I am’ and I think that’s quite a powerful statement. How amazing for Jodie, and how amazing for the show. We’re lucky to have her.”
Emily leans forward, and just like old friends sharing their most treasured memories says, “I’ve met Jodie briefly, and she just had this aura of ‘Doctor-ness’ about her, I can’t describe it any other way. I felt like I was seeing the Doctor. Just trust me, she’s going to be amazing.” Talk about goose bumps, we can’t wait.
So how did Emily get into Doctor Who to begin with? “I was aware of Doctor Who vaguely as a child; my parents talked about it and they tried to get me to watch some Tom Baker stuff but I really wasn’t interested. In 2005, when they told me it was coming back, I thought, ‘I’m not actually that bothered by it.’ I think it was on at the same time as Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway which I loved and I thought, ‘There’s no way I’m giving up Ant and Dec for this old programme!’ But my parents told me to give it a go… and literally within seconds I was hooked. I don’t think I even blinked all the way through! It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. It captured my imagination and I was so excited about that. And throughout that first series I just loved it more and more – by the time Series 2 was on and David Tennant was the Doctor, I was basically hyperventilating!”
Any young adult Doctor Who fan has excellent memories of playing as an Ood in the playground, designing their own monsters and begging their parents to buy them Slitheen branded frubes in Tesco. Emily went one step further and created her own episode – a girl after our own hearts!
“For my 13th birthday, rather than go bowling, have a disco or a sleepover like a normal teenager would do, I wrote a script for my own episode of Doctor Who – it was called Monsters’ Revenge – and invited all my friends round to act it out and film it. Thankfully I had fantastic friends and they all spent their own time creating costumes and learning their lines! I was Rose (dressed in the Tooth and Claw costume). One friend came in a full Dalek costume created from a laundry basket spray-painted gold, and another friend’s dad’s made an incredibly accurate cardboard K9 which we put on top of a Barbie remote-control car! Once me and dad had edited it (special effects and all!) I held a premiere screening of the episode for all my friends and gave them a DVD each to keep. It was so much fun!”
Touching more on the inspiration Doctor Who gave her, she says “As a 13-year-old I started writing for a David Tennant fan website – it was called The Who Crew and we wrote episode reviews – and I was so proud of it! So I think my love for writing about Doctor Who came from quite an early age really, and it never went away. Now I get to do it as a profession!”
After gushing over the ingenuity of her 13th birthday party (truly jel), we ask more about her role at DWM. As she responds with a knowing smile, we get the idea that not only does Emily adore her job, but that it’s quite the unique position! “Day-to-day it’s really varied.”
But the kind of things she works on? “When I first got on board I was mainly doing editorial jobs, a lot of proofreading. Over the last year or so I’ve started to do more copy editing as well, which is the next level of getting a text ready and making sure it’s in the DWM style. I compile the letters page, text for the competitions page, put the news together! Plus I’ve recently taken over the social media side of things as well!”
What’s it like being part of the DWM team? “The team is fantastic. In our editorial meetings we all like to pitch in with ideas, working out what content we want for the magazine in the coming months. We’re always looking several issues ahead – by the time you’re reading an issue of DWM we’re already way ahead making the next one. As I’ve got more experience, I’ve had the opportunity to write for the mag. I really love the writing side of the job. I’ve now written reviews, features, interviews, articles… it’s great because this gives me the opportunity to get out and about and meet really cool people to talk about Doctor Who.” Something else occurs to her. “But even when we’re in the office, there’s always a conversation about Doctor Who to be had!” and laughing, she adds “Other people in the Panini office (DWM’s publisher) will say, ‘How do you guys talk about Doctor Who all the time?!’” Classic Doctor Who fans.
Connecting with readers is a highlight. “One of my favourite things is editing the letters page and seeing some really heart-warming messages about how DWM is the light they have in their lives. Or how they’ve read it for decades… or if they’re a new reader!” And is keeping a balance for both new and older fans difficult? “With DWM we’re very aware that the fanbase is so diverse and there are so many people you’re trying to keep happy. What newer fans might want to see possibly isn’t what the long-time readers who have been reading it since it launched in 1979 want to see, so it’s important to get that balance.” We comment on the latest issue being a prime example of a perfect blend; covering the very latest in 13th Doctor news, whilst having the fourth Doctor’s The Face of Evil in the comprehensive feature The Fact of Fiction. “There’s so much Doctor Who to draw on, hopefully there will always be something to keep someone happy.”
Speaking about the rest of her team, who are obviously quite a tight knit bunch, she says, “I love my colleagues to bits. They’re all amazing people who consistently inspire me and make me laugh. We share a love for Doctor Who and get on really well.”
Very obviously, Emily didn’t fall into her job at DWM and it turns out it’s quite the timey wimey tale! “So a little bit of an odd story…” she says as she settles in to take us through her journey. “I was a reader of DWM in my teenage years – my Grandma bought it for me as a subscription and when that ran out I bought it with my pocket money. Jump forward a few years and when I was studying English Language and Linguistics at university one of my modules was ‘Writing in the Media’ and we had to put together a magazine portfolio. As a big fan I obviously wanted to include Doctor Who in it somehow! So I managed to get in touch with Louise Jameson.”
By the way, if Emily isn’t an impressive enough human being already, she’s also the founder and chairman of charity Khushi Feet, which was established in 2012 to fund education for children living on the streets or in deprived slum areas of India. Little did she know two worlds were to collide at an event her charity was running. At her ‘world record for the largest Bollywood dance’ fundraiser in 2013, she got talking to the lead dancer, who’s partner John Ainsworth worked at Doctor Who Magazine!
John helped her reach out to Louise, “She was more than happy to do an interview.” Which led to her also interviewing Sophie Aldred. “They were both so lovely and helpful when I approached them to ask if I could conduct interviews for my coursework. They were so encouraging at the start of my career too, and I’ll never ever forget that. I enjoyed my coursework so much that I wanted to pursue it further… so I emailed John (again) asking if it would be possible to arrange some work experience. I knew they might not do that sort of thing very often but I said I’d love to come and have a go. I then got offered a placement… and I was thrilled.”
“After I found out I’d got a work experience placement at Doctor Who Magazine, I contacted both Lou and Sophie to tell them my exciting news and thanked them again for their help. Louise told me that she lived just down the road from the DWM office and offered for me to stay at her house for the week to save me commuting in, which was just so incredibly kind of her.” We audibly gasp at the thought of Queen Leela helping out another lady. “I’m still in touch with Lou today. She is one of the nicest people I know!” We probably looked like heart eye emojis by this point as Emily told us about the next step into her role.
“I did the work experience and absolutely loved it! I don’t think the DWM guys actually realised how star struck I was to meet them – they’d made the magazine I’d read and loved for years!” Education calling, Emily went to finish her Masters. “…and although I’d loved working at DWM for a week I wasn’t expecting to get a job out of it. I applied to do teacher training and got a place on a teacher training course.” What a different life you could have had! “Yeah! And then John got back in touch with me, and asked me what my plans were for the next year ‘because we’d like to offer you some work’ and I thought, ‘Well, teaching can wait for now!’ I started working part time on Doctor Who: The Complete History, then started working on the magazine as well and I’ve never looked back!”
Phew, that’s quite the alternate way to get a job! Totally untraditional, we love hearing that someone who started somewhere doing work experience landed their dream role. Emily grins and nods. “I have to pinch myself every month when I’m paid to make DWM rather paying to read it!”
As we tell Emily we’re going to ask her a couple of tough questions, she looks a little nervous, and then cracks up laughing when we ask who her favourite female character is in Doctor Who: “You do realise you are asking the near impossible! I love them all!” Maybe we should give our interviewees some warning beforehand? “I think the fact that there are so many is such a good sign!” And after some serious thought, “I am going to say that my ultimate number 1 is Rose, and she’s also my favourite companion. Because of the age I was when Doctor Who came back (11), I wanted to be her. I think that was the first time in my life that I felt empowered, actually. She was so feisty and had so many moments where I looked at how strong she was and thought, ‘Yeah, I want to be Rose.’”
As we start reminiscing about watching Rose for the first time, Emily speaks more on her Rose love affair. “So I think the very first moment I saw her strength was in Rose when she’s in the Nestene Consciousness’ lair saying ‘I’ve got no A levels. No job. No future…’ She’s got nothing, but instead of giving up she just goes for it and uses her resources. She thinks ‘I’m fairly good at gymnastics – I got the bronze!’ and swings on the chain and saves the Doctor. That’s a companion defining moment.” We nod fervently. “She knows her own mind, she knows what to do, she wants an adventure.”
As we opened up the floor to more than one character they just keep on coming (not surprising really!) “And River Song. Because how awesome is River Song? She does everything the Doctor does just as well, sometimes even better! She’s completely his equal… And Missy, you’re not meant to love her but everyone does, right? And it showed that it worked – having a female version of a character that people had known before. And I must just say Bill as well. Pearl Mackie was the best thing about Series 10. I think that the audience’s way of understanding the series is through the companion and Bill was just such a human character that you could really connect to the Doctor through.”
We’re loving all this love for our favourite characters, and another personal one comes to mind from Emily. “I also love Sarah Jane because she’s a journalist – I can see some of myself in her character!” So many inspirational characters, who are inspirational in so many different ways. “That’s another thing… There’s such a wonderful variety of brilliant female characters in Doctor Who, so hopefully all girls (and boys for that matter) can find someone they relate to.”
As the clock is nearing 12pm we try to squeeze a few more tales over our now cooling tea. Could you possibly give us a highlight from your time working on Doctor Who Magazine? “I love it every single day. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t appreciate the job. Working on issue 500 of DWM was amazing. There were people who came back to celebrate issue 500 that had been working on the magazine since it started in 1979 and I thought, ‘They’ve been working on this thing for longer than I’ve been born – I’m just a drop in the ocean compared to them – should I even be here?’” We shake our heads as Miss Cook is far too humble for what a mark she’s made on the magazine.
Considering her DWM highlights Emily continues: “As part of issue 501 we had a massive interview with Tom Baker. My biggest DWM highlight has to be driving a box of those issues to Tom Baker’s house because he wanted to sign some…” We nod eagerly, (Emily is a great storyteller). “So I drove some of the DWM team. I was nervous, but it was nervous excitement because I was there in a professional capacity but I’m never going to stop being a fan! And we just sat there chatting to Tom Baker who just completely is the Doctor. He was telling us all sorts of stories. And at the end I said ‘Tom, I know you’ve signed all these magazines but is it possible to sign this one for me?’ And he said ‘Oh of course, not at all!’ It was just the loveliest thing.”
“For me, this isn’t just a job. DWM will always mean a lot to me and it’s really touching to know how much it means to so many other people. I think the thing to remember about DWM is that the people who make it, we really care about it. The people who make it and the people who read it… we’re all fans together. We all love Doctor Who. We’re all reading, watching it together. And that’s very important. That’s what makes Doctor Who and DWM so special.”
And so rounds up our time with Emily. Commenting on how Doctor Who has fuelled the passion for her career, she nods and says, “It’s my passion for Doctor Who that actually led me into the profession I’m in now. Obviously there are things that I’m doing that aren’t related to Doctor Who, like the journalism skills I’ve picked up which are transferrable, but it’s all been driven by that love. If you’re a proper fan, it’s for life. I’ve sold my soul to Doctor Who!”
Isn’t that something we know all too well?
With a warm hug, a beaming smile and the air of a woman who’s being her absolute best, Emily leaves us to meet a friend. But of course is on Facebook messenger to us later that day, telling us what a lovely time she had, offering nuggets of wisdom and divulging even more incredible stories. She reminds us of a certain someone… we have a feeling that Sarah Jane Smith and Emily Cook would have got on famously.
We’ll be continuing Women Behind the TARDIS in February, chat to us on Twitter here.