Dr. Who and the JFK Assassination #drwho

My brief and unusual foray into a world I had only known casually.

This may come across at times like a shameless plug for my employer. I am OK with that, since I work for Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette (GICW), a non-profit in Oregon, which takes items donated by the public at our  numerous retail stores and donation sites daily that would have normally been placed in a landfill. We repurpose these items to fund employment for those with barriers to employment, as well as provide a range of free services to the public, including job placement and citizenship classes.

 One of the images that details what we do at GICW that greets you on the landing page.

Some of these items eventually are sold in stores. Some of these items eventually make it to my branch of GICW, Goodwill E-Commerce. I have been with the Books and Media department since the summer of 2015. The items my department specializes in:

  • Books of all types, from current best-sellers to rare and out-of-print items, including audio books
  • Video games for just about every conceivable system, old and new, even for portable devices
  • DVD’s in literally every genre
  • Music CD’s, also literally in every genre
  • Collectable one-of-a-kind items and gift sets that comprise of one of the four items above. 
A screenshot from the Goodwill Books website featuring one of our titles about author and civil rights activist James Baldwin. 

What sets my department and this business model apart of other resellers of  these items is that we are selling them at pretty much fair market value. Our department isn’t like our sister site, Collectables, which uses a bidding template for reselling, much like Ebay, with typically a seven-day window to purchase an item. Goodwill Books is much like Amazon, of which we are also an authorized reseller: if you want it, you can buy it now and your order is usually processed with a day. 

(And, to dispel a constant and nagging perception among many: we, as employees, do not get first dibs an ANYTHING. Our very strict and highly enforced company policy dictates that we actually have to wait a minimum of three days after an item has been placed on sale, so that you, the general public gets the first and best shot at it. I wish this rumour could be put to rest, but alas…)

A current and typical day in the Books and Media department will have me handling items such as these.

A typical day of listing, warehousing and shipping materials means that about 1,000 items pass through my hands. You read that correctly, and sometimes it may be more. You end up seeing similar titles often: Beatles, Harry Potter and Star Wars ANYTHING and EVERYTHING, as well as current best-sellers like The Sixth Extinction.

So, imagine my surprise when this came across my desk: 

The front cover of the mass market paperback Dr. Who Killed Kennedy.

I know a little of the Dr. Who universe, and am not completely naive about its history, contents, fanbase or characters. I know what the Tardis is and what Daleks are. However, of all of the Dr. Who fans I know, NEVER, and I mean NEVER, have I heard anyone even mentioning this truly unique item whatsoever. 

It takes a great deal for me to say the words FULL STOP, but there I was, fascinated by the concept. I couldn’t wait to turn it over and saw a brief synopsis of what the contents were.

The back cover of a mass market paperback that made me stop dead in my tracks.

The JFK assassination has always been a topic discussed in my home since I was little. My mother and her family, who also share the same last name as John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy, worked on his campaign in 1960 and the campaign of his brother Robert in 1968. Now, I have seen a great many tie-ins to this tragic event, but even this blew my mind. I consulted with a fellow employee who, that I shall named Andromeda for the sake of privacy, also happens to be very knowledgeable about both the JFK assassination and sci-fi.

She was also taken aback at the book. She then said to me exactly what I was thinking: we have to find this book at the library and check it out. The condition of the book was “acceptable”, meaning that it was intact and readable but obviously had been well-worn due to possible numerous times of reading over a long period.

Governor John and Nellie Connally, and President John and Jacqueline Kennedy in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

What made this this whole thing truly surreal was how much fair market value was for an obviously esoteric title: $18 USD dollars minimum, with some websites charging over $67 USD for it. According to the back cover of the book, it originally retailed for $5.95 USD in 1996, when it was printed. The reason for the high cost, I gather, is that like many mass market paperbacks, it has a short printing schedule and has been unavailable for many years.

A screenshot from Amazon.com about this title. Notice it isn’t available as new, and the asking price is considerably high for a book of its type.

I listed the item on Friday morning, 09 November. Someone bought it from the Goodwill Books site the very next day, 10 November. How do I know this? It happened to be part of stack of orders I pulled on Sunday morning, 11 November, to prepare for shipment. It left our dock yesterday, 12 November, and I was also the person who packaged it and gave it to our driver. I don’t know if that is synchronicity, but the coincidence of my initial handling and inspection, to listing it, to pulling it, to packaging of it and  its eventual shipment was very, very strange. Adding to this, of course, is that the 22nd of November also happens to be the anniversary of the day JFK was shot.

How someone found this particular title so quickly on our website is the biggest mystery. Google alert perhaps? Who knows. I could only assume that this is a title that collectors search out for. All things being equal, I have yet to see something that is printed like, the same size as and originally cost as much as Harlequin Romance novel that is over 20 years old leave our warehouse so quickly.

My fascination with this title led me to the following place: A well designed and developed Dr. Who fan website called Tardis Data Core. They even have a page dedicated to this particular Dr. Who title

A screenshot of the unusual book in question from a fan website dedicated to all things Dr. Who. 

The page goes into great detail about the book. Part of the fascination of the book from its fans is that is, as described on the website, a “Doctor-Lite” title, which explores more of the background characters and universe with only a passing appearance from Dr. Who. This also happened to be the first “Doctor-Lite” title as well. 

Still searching for more detail about the book and why it is so popular, I ventured into a truly strange territory online: Dr. Who discussion forums. Some of these are so popular that one of the biggest and best known ones, The Doctor Who Forum, actually had to suspend briefly their “Recent Activity” section on their site due to database overload. 

If you notice on the right of this image, “Craig” has had to disable the “Recent Activity” page due to overload. Welcome to the online universe that is the legion of Dr. Who fan discussion communities.

Undaunted, and without fully understanding what the hell I was about to get into, I ventured on several of the discussion forums and stated my intentions to the groups. After a great many hello from Whovians (an absolutely adorable title given to Dr. Who fans) and being eagerly accepted, these fans were truly engaging, friendly and welcoming to my quest to find out more about this book. It also seemed they had some questions for me:

  • Do you have a copy of this book?
  • Is it in good shape?
  • Where did you find this?
  • Someone just put in in a box and gave it away?
  • Do you know when you might get another one?

I hate to use the word cult, but there seems to be a cult driven around this particular title, with many people having heard of the book but not actually having the opportunity to read it. The mystery and legend of the book seems to almost overshadow the actual contents. This is a truncated but typical exchange between myself and Dr. Who fans: 

Me: So, as I understand the synopsis, there is time travel, lots of fantastical events and references to real world historical situations.
Fans: Yes on all accounts.
Me: So, it’s like Candide by Voltaire?
Fans: I am unfamiliar with that book/title/author.
Fans: Is this Candide worth reading?
Me: Yes, I highly recommend it.
Me: Is Dr. Who Killed Kennedy worth reading?
Fans: Yes, I highly recommend it.
Me: Are there any libraries lending this book out?

The one and only Voltaire, as painted by Augustin Pajou. The author was imprisoned in the Bastille in Paris for over a year for his political beliefs.

And then a Dr. Who fan hipped me to the following: there is a Dr. Who fansite from New Zealand that has actually has the book, in a 20th anniversary edition, available for free online. It seems that due to the high demand of fans wanting to read this particular title, two years ago, Virgin Books, the original publisher, allowed the author, David Bishop, to publish it online in this format. (The other author of the book, James Stevens, is actually a fictional character in the Dr. Who universe.)

A screenshot from the Dr. Who Killed Kennedy page with free e-book options from the fansite The New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club.

To the Whovians who assisted me and were so damn nice, a heartfelt thanks. To Virgin Books, thank you for allowing this to be published online. To David Bishop, thank you for truly making even a non-fan take notice and become engaged. And to the New Zealand Dr. Who fanclub, thank you for making this available to anyone with an internet connection.

As a thank you to all of you, may I present something online to compare and contrast: Candide by Voltaire, also available for free from the good folks at the Gutenberg Project.

The moral of this post is: books are absolutely wonderful; be one of those people who encourages more reading, especially when someone asks. 

Love to you all.

Ben “Bear” Brown Jr., owner

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