June 23rd, 2009


Target and Pollphail

There are a couple of articles I have to point you at on the BBC site today. They don’t bear any relation to each other but they both struck a chord with me.

Firstly you may already have spotted the nostalgic piece about the Target Doctor Who novelisations by Mark Gatiss: The Tome Lord. It ties in with a Radio 4 programme tonight, which I probably won’t catch but I enjoyed reading the article. I read all those Target books, every one, and bought one of the rare ones from someone in America for £25, in the days before eBay (we both read the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.drwho). I was a student at the time, and £25 was quite a lot of money for me to send to a stranger for a book, sight unseen.

In those days, too, the Temporal Nexus was a directory of links to Doctor Who sites that I maintained, rather than the name of my blog. It never challenged the really major resources of the time, like The Doctor Who Home Page (which hasn't changed much), but it got quite a respectable number of hits. My unique selling point was that part of the site was a directory of Doctor Who fan-fic, something that no-one else was doing at the time. I argued (civilly) with Doctor Who authors online, and even invited one to Dundee University to give a talk to the Computer Science department about working for IBM.

I enjoyed reading the comments on the BBC article. There’s one particularly bitter-sweet one that isn’t about the books per se, but shows how a slightly silly science fantasy show about a man in a box touches peoples’ lives.

The second article is more likely to have escaped your attention. It’s about Pollphail, a strange relic of the 1970s near where I grew up. I walked around it in the mid 80s, with my friends in the Venture Scouts when we were camping near Portavadie, and it is a very weird place – a “ghost” village where no-one has ever lived. Some images stick in my mind even though it was 25 years or so ago that I was there: the fire alarms hanging off the external walls with innards still in their plastic bags; and the canteen, with shutters down at the counter and carpeted floor covered in sheep droppings.

The Portavadie project failed because the concrete oil rigs that were supposed to be built in the dry dock went out of favour before any orders could be placed; but no-one ever seems to explain why it made sense to build rigs for the North Sea on a remote bit of the West coast, when the other yards were all in the North or East. Always mystified me.

Last time I was there, there wasn’t a chance to see the village, but I was able to watch horizontal rain so dense that you couldn’t see more than about a hundred yards, and seagulls flying backwards.