Behind the Sofa: Charlie Brooker, Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Ross’s Doctor Who memories

An exclusive look at illustrations from a new book of celebrity Who memories - plus author Steve Berry on the moments three of its most famous contributors will never forget

For TV viewers of a certain generation, the early memory of watching fearfully from behind the sofa is associated with one show in particular – Doctor Who. Hence the title of a new book – Behind the Sofa – which draws together the first and most powerful recollections of celebrity Doctor Who fans to raise money for charity Alzheimer’s Research UK (which itself aims to help ensure future generations can retain their most treasured memories). 


Compiled by journalist and author Steve Berry and featuring contributons from 140 famous names ranging from Hugh Bonneville to Michael Grade, Jo Whiley to Toyah Willcox, the book also boasts orginal artwork by Doctor Who Magazine illustrator Ben Morris.

Steve has given exclusive access to three of those nostalgic images, along with an insight into the stories that accompany them – the childhood Doctor Who memories of Charlie Brooker, Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Ross…

Charlie Brooker: “I turned cold, like I’d just witnessed a beheading. I was nine years old: it was the first time I’d felt that thorough, down-to-the-bone chill.” 

Writer and broadcaster

Steve Berry on Charlie Brooker’s piece: “Charlie’s earliest memory is of being ridiculously scared by the Autons in (1970 story) Spearhead from Space – seeing them crashing out of shopping centres and shooting people dead in the street – but he says the most terrifying moment was in a story called The Leisure Hive. It features Tom Baker’s Doctor effectively being torn apart on screen in a tachyon regeneration chamber – a sort of human photocopier. Charlie says he still couldn’t watch it 20 years afterwards (I had to censor his writing about it – this is more of a PG than an 18-Certificate book…)

“I think there’s a definite through-line from being terrified by Doctor Who when you were young, to watching horror films when you’re older, to writing shows like Dead Set and Black Mirror. It’s interesting to speculate on how Charlie might have turned out had he not watched Doctor Who…”

Neil Gaiman: “People ask, ‘Why do you want to scare kids?’ but kids like being scared. We have to learn fear to survive. Doctor Who is like an inoculation of fear.”

Graphic novelist and author; writer of award-winning Doctor Who episode The Doctor’s Wife

Steve Berry on Neil Gaiman’s piece: “The Milk World annual in the illustration is actually a pastiche of the Dalek World annual from 1966, amalgamated with Neil Gaiman’s earliest Who memory. Before he’d even seen an episode of Doctor Who, Neil had watched kids at school drinking their milk out of these half-pint bottles then using the straws as the Dalek eyestalks and pushing them round the table shouting “Exterminate!” “Exterminate!” He said to himself “I don’t know what this is but I have to find out.” He became obsessed with Daleks and was eventually bought the annual. I like the fact that his first memory of Doctor Who is from before he ever saw the show…”

Jonathan Ross: “The stories I loved best happened on Earth, in contemporary times. The juxtaposition between the strange and the commonplace: extraordinary people in ordinary places.”

TV and radio presenter

Steve Berry on Jonathan Ross’s piece: “Again, the picture is a mixture of two experiences. Firstly, there was Jonathan’s early memory of the Cybermen story The Invasion, where they all come up from the sewers and walk down the steps of St Paul’s. That image has stuck in his mind through the years – he talks about how the Cybermen are like zombies but worse because they can out-think you and outrun you and outlast you. Then, one year at the annual San Diego Comic-Con, he was astounded to see wave after wave of fans dressed as David Tennant, coming towards him, one after the other – we didn’t all turn into Cybermen as predicted, we all turned into David Tennant lookalikes.”


Order your copy of Behind the Sofa at 100% of profits go to Alzheimer’s Research UK.