21 July 2017

Debbie Watling

Fifty years ago Debbie Watling joined Doctor Who as Victoria Waterfield and became one of the most recognisable companions and in some ways the archetypal one. Her screaming was so strong that it once defeated the monsters and for that reason she was considered to be a product of her time. It’s difficult to fully assess her character as most of her episodes were wiped though people who saw them say she was a vital addition and had great chemistry with co- stars Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines. While her performance was of a somewhat demure Victorian girl out of time, in real life she was a lively addition to the cast and sometimes the victim of pranks at their behalf.

20 July 2017

Jodie Whittaker - the reaction and beyond

Jodie Whitaker is probably grateful for the news that some BBC stars are paid a lot because that story finally took the spotlight from her after four days of intense coverage, comment and scrutiny as well as ensuring she will get the same salary as Peter Capaldi. Result! Now she knows too what the other side of being the Doctor is like, how running around in quarries is the least of her concerns. It has been an eventful week following last Sunday’s announcement and amazingly some 16 million people have watched the one minute clip which must be the most scrutinised minute of Doctor Who related material ever! Amongst other things we’ve learned since is that there were several auditions, it’s not her actual costume she’s wearing in the trail, the Tardis we see is CGI and she’s filming her actual first post regeneration scenes this very week. Also Chris Chibnall was awarded an Honourary Degree this week though as far as we know it’s probably not for the casting! 

16 July 2017

Welcome to space, Jodie Whittaker!

She’s not done much sci-fi, Jodie Whittaker, but she looks at home walking through a forest, past the remains of an old wagon of some sort and towards a familiar sound. Because we move quickly even without being able to travel in time and space there is now as much attention on the clip as there is on who is revealed in it. What a reveal though! Wonderfully shot (does anyone know who directed this and the teaser?) it suggests a man by the way the new Doctor is walking. Jodie Whittaker walks like a man! Our first fact. Is this her costume? It looks a bit costumey actually - long coat, boots etc but it could be a generic costume or it could be what she threw on that morning. It’s the tone of the clip that intrigues me, just as it did with Friday’s teaser. It suggests something markedly different is on the way and I don’t just mean the first ever female Doctor.

14 July 2017

Looking for the 13th Doctor

So in less than two days’ time we’ll know the identity of the actor who will play the next Doctor. An epic looking trail- essentially our first look at what we might well call the Chibnallverse (go on, you love it!)  -revolves around enigmatic shots of various well known objects emblazoned with the number 13. We’ll find out after the Wimbledon Men’s Single Final on Sunday. What is it with Doctor Who announcements and sport? Surely few people follow both but we had Bill introduced in the middle of a Cup Final! Anyway that means we have only a short time to indulge in random speculation. 147(!) names feature in the betting odds and you can also bet that dozens of others have been mentioned around the fan and media worlds. This public search for the actor is of course different from the real life one which you suspect has featured far fewer names and dealt with those who could and would realistically want to take on the role. So how have we got here – and what will the new Doctor be taking on other than monsters?

10 July 2017

The Doctor Falls

2017 Series Episode 12 - tx 01/07/17. Written by Steven Moffat. Directed by Rachel Talalay. Episode reviewed by Matthew Kilburn.

Steven Moffat at his best is very good at treating characters and events as symbols whose interaction as principles not only shapes but often overtakes conventional narrative. Looking back after over a week of rewatches and reviews, the success of The Doctor Falls lies largely in how this coded writing works, laying emphasis on specific aspects of character and setting which sometimes confound expectations which World Enough and Time might have encouraged. What follows isn’t quite another review but a set of reactions considering some of the opinions I’ve come across since The Doctor Falls was broadcast. In case anyone is in any doubt, I greatly enjoyed the episode; there was a tense fatalism throughout, leavened by statements of optimistic principle. I realised while watching it that kindness was probably the factor that kept me watching Doctor Who in the first place. The Doctor has not always been kind, but he tries to be kind to the greatest possible conceivable number of people, all the time. This is his virtue and periodically, in limited ways, his downfall.

5 July 2017

Fan Scene #4 Tardis Issue 6 1976

Does Doctor Who frighten you? asks the strap line for issue 6’s cover. I don’t know about that but the drawings above the question certainly do frighten me! It’s April 1976 and the Doctor Who Appreciation Society is a heartbeat away from going national (check out last year’s posts about the Society’s early years). Before it does though there’s one more issue of `Tardis`. News items this issue include Tom Baker being mobbed in Southampton, the new season featuring “more space and historical flavoured adventures” and first news of a forthcoming record that would turn out to be `The Pescatons`. Somehow though there’s room for speculation about why there was no Tardis sound during one of the take offs in `Pyramids of Mars`. This question would definitely have been trending on Twitter if they’d had it then!

2 July 2017

Fan Scene # 3 Tardis issue 5 1976

Issue 5 is my favourite of these pre DWAS issues because it has an absolutely gigantic, step by step account of the Blackpool Doctor Who Exhibition. I know I’ve just run a series of posts about that but I wanted to save this one for here. Some people will find it dull to read, others of a certain vintage will find themselves re-living every sight and sound. There's even a clip from Tom Baker's column for the magazine Reveille in which he describes switching on the Blackpool Illuminations. This mega feature, reprinted at the end of this post, was treated like a separate wraparound booklet inside which the rest of the issue resided. It’s a cool fanzine idea that was surprisingly not done that often by any editors though few will have published such a lengthy article! Its penned by Stuart Glazebrook, better known back in the day for his artwork, but his account here certainly shows how he could perfectly capture an event with words too.

28 June 2017

Doctor Who World Enough And Time review

2017 Series Episode 11 - tx 24/06/17. Written by Steven Moffat. Directed by Rachel Talalay. Episode reviewed by Matthew Kilburn.
Review contains and discusses spoilers aplenty and should only be read if you've seen the episode

23 June 2017

Fan Scene #2 Tardis issues 3 & 4 1976

Early 1976 saw issue 3 which was, unsurprisingly, a Jon Pertwee special and the first to be edited by Gordon Blows. The great thing about this issue is that rather than being somewhat removed from what was happening on screen `Tardis` now has news and therefore becomes a much more essential read. Back in 1970s the print and tv media only covered major Doctor Who related stories like a change of Doctor or new companion. For anything else fanzines became the go-to place for details.

21 June 2017

Doctor Who The Eaters of Light review

2017 Series Episode 10 - tx 17/06/17. Written by Rona Munro. Directed by Charles Palmer. Episode reviewed by Sean Alexander.
“Time to grow up…Time to fight your fight.”
Irrespective of the wide range of screen, stage and TV credits that have subsequently been added to her name (most with great acclaim), for Doctor Who fans the name Rona Munro will always mean one thing: the last Doctor Who story for seven years, and the final episode of a Doctor Who series for sixteen.  ‘Survival’ came at the end of what, for many, signalled a continuing rise in the show’s creativity and freshness first instigated by script editor Andrew Cartmel on his arrival in 1987.  But for mainstream viewers – and more importantly, BBC executives Jonathan Powell and Peter Cregeen – the die was already cast.  By the time Cartmel would pen a hurriedly written coda to Munro’s story, Doctor Who’s fate as an ongoing BBC production was sealed.  And it would be a long time before any smoke-filled people or song-blessed cities would go out under its banner again.

16 June 2017

`Bold` Chris Chibnall, low ratings, next Doctors and The Fan Show

Incoming showrunner Chris Chibnall has been talking for the first time about his appointment hinting that his approach will be radically different to his two predecessors. For all the debate that’s gone on about the merits or otherwise of Russell T Davies’ versus Steven Moffat’s  Doctor Who the basic format has remained the same. It looks like this will not be the case soon. Chibnall has said he didn’t expect to get the job because the ideas he put forward were so different to the pattern of the past 12 years he thought the BBC would never go for it.  This has been interpreted as the series becoming one long standalone story like Broadchurch for example. To which I’m sure the response might be- `Trial of a Time Lord`.This was the only time such an exercise was attempted and look what happened. I’m sure Chris Chibnall remembers too.  It is very difficult to imagine a Doctor Who story of such complexity anyone could write that would inhabit 12 x 45 minute episodes yet also be affordable unless the series was to become like Twin Peaks with plots that develop at a snail’s pace.
Maybe what Chibnall is really taking about is recalibrating the show to an older audience? 

14 June 2017

NEW SERIES Fan Scene #1 Tardis zine 1975

A new series of occasional posts looking at early Doctor Who fan publications.

`Tardis` fanzine Issues 1 and 2 (1975)

As is quite well known amongst Doctor Who fans `Tardis` was the official fanzine of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society (DWAS) from its foundation in May 1976. However it’s less well known that the zine had already been going for a year before this and indeed it was the original `Tardis` that actually brought some of the fans who would form the DWAS together which is rather appropriate. The person who actually started the zine though was Andrew Johnson a lifelong fan of the series from Essex who already edited another zine and started `Tardis` because he realised that there was a lot to say about the series.

11 June 2017

Doctor Who Empress of Mars review

2017 Series Episode 9 - tx 10/06/17. Written by Mark Gatiss. Directed by Wayne Che Yip. Episode reviewed by John Connors.
Funny how things turn out. There we were getting excited about the return of the Ice Warriors when what Mark Gatiss’ lively episode does even better is the return of the supporting characters. It’s been a while. One of the aspects of the Steven Moffat era has been relatively brief appearances by cast members outside of the regular or returning cast. Once in a while someone pops up who gets more to do- David Suchet being a recent example- but generally those additional characters are just there to flesh out the plot. Delightfully in this episode Gatiss gives at least five of the guest cast significant chunks of material so that you feel as if you know them a bit. Makes a welcome change.
Ssssspoilerssss beyond this point…

6 June 2017

Doctor Who The Lie of the Land review

2017 Series Episode 8 - tx 03/06/17. Written by Toby Whithouse. Directed by Wayne Che Yip. Episode reviewed by Roger Jones.
Being the third instalment of a trilogy, shared by three writers puts a huge weight on the Lie of the Land and Toby Whithouse. The trailer already had speculation that this was a retread of `Last of the Timelords` or `Turn Left`, fuelling the over-familiar and wearisome accusations of creative bankruptcy. So how did they do? Pretty well thinks Roger Jones, who of his own free will, shares his thoughts, which are the Truth.....

(Spoilers below)

29 May 2017

Doctor Who The Pyramid at the End of the World review

2017 Series Episode 7 - tx 29/05/17. Written by Steven Moffat and Peter Harness. Directed by Daniel Nettheim. Episode reviewed by Estelle Hargraves.
Mid-way through an unusual three-parter, `The Pyramid at the End of the World` brings us more of the Monks from last weeks `Extremis`, this time in real life instead of cyberspace. Some might see the last episode as ultimately a waste of time, given that it involved a computer simulation. A programme run by the Monks to determine the most vulnerable point in Earth's history for their invasion, being a simulation, meant nothing much happened in the real world other than the Doctor receiving an email to himself about the Monk's hitherto invisible threat.

24 May 2017

Golden Mile Years - The Blackpool Doctor Who Fan Gathering

The popularity of the Blackpool Exhibition inspired an informal fan get together initiated by Jeremy Bentham and later run by David Howe. Basically, it was a bunch of maybe 70 or 80 fans spending a weekend in the North's loudest seaside resort their time roughly divided between the Exhibition, the hotel bar and all points in between. It went something like this. Arrive mid Friday afternoon and grab a taxi to the long suffering Lyric Hotel who each year put up with being invaded by fans with the overflow being seconded in the Brunswick two doors down. Quite what precautions the hotel in between took remains unknown. The weekend had a theme which would run through the video presentations that took place at scheduled times starting on Friday evening. Yes, we're back in the days when people didn't have every story at home though it's surprising to look back at how reverently a lot of these episodes were watched, although nobody was under any obligation to view them if they didn't want to. 

21 May 2017

Doctor Who Extremis review

2017 Series Episode 6 - tx 20/05/17. Written by Steven Moffat. Directed by Daniel Nettheim. Episode reviewed by John Connors.
“Particle physicists and priests… what could scare them both?”
After five weeks of banter, action and pacy plots, some viewers may find this episode’s change of tone disconcerting. Consisting of lengthy dialogue heavy scenes and an undercurrent of impending doom it has the heft of a prestigious drama and the ambition of a big screen movie. There is plenty going on, it’s just that it is not all going on at top speed. This is Doctor Who at its high concept best.

20 May 2017

Golden Mile Years - The Blackpool Doctor Who Exhibition #5

By 1983 it seemed as if perhaps there had been some sort of backblast backlash – how else to explain the fact that this year the corridors were extremely dark with the carpet or floor or whatever being more like an inky void. The exhibits ranged from a Gundan that seemed to be headbanging through a line up of the Time Lord council, Omega and his bird (the Ergon), a Dalek running rings around a totally out of it Davros and displays from `Mawdryn Undead` and `Terminus` One exhibit in the corridor was a montage of various costumes but sadly only lit up once an hour! Darkness was in that year!

19 May 2017

Something very wonderful and strange!

Why does a two part story broadcast 33 years ago leave such a strong impression? Maybe it’s because while it contains many elements you might expect to encounter in an Eighties Doctor Who story, `The Awakening` cuts out a lot of the filler that often extended stories unnecessarily cutting to the essence of the series. In a lot of ways it’s similar to the series we have now- 50 minutes of mystery, excitement. It is indeed something very wonderful and strange! Little was known by fans about Eric Pringle before he wrote it and the story proved to be his sole contribution to Doctor Who. This always seemed a shame as he appeared to have found a way to create a well thought out story packed with interesting characters, an alien with real visual impact and romps along at quite a rate. I used to think it should have been 3 parts but now I realise it is perfect as it is.

15 May 2017

Doctor Who Oxygen review

2017 Series Episode 5 - tx 13/05/17. Written by Jamie Mathieson. Directed by Charles Palmer. Episode reviewed by Sean Alexander. 
“You only really see the true face of the universe when it’s asking for your help.” 
The ‘elephant in the room’ irony of this tenth run of revived Doctor Who is that as the quality continues to build, so less and less of the mainstream audience feels compelled to tune in on increasingly balmy Saturday evenings.  Blame barbecues, blame the convenience of modern catch-up television, blame even the interminable Eurovision results.  But don’t blame it on the boogie.  And boogie is an apt epithet for a show that has now undoubtedly got its mojo back after five series of increasingly tortuous and convoluted (or “timey-wimey”, in apologist speak) narrative that has seen the Doctor rebooted to anything from imaginary fairy-tale friend to prophesied hybrid standing in the ruins of Gallifrey’s fall.  On his farewell lap of honour, Steven Moffat has either finally seen some of the error of his ways or the thought of being unshackled from the most demanding (and demanded) of television hot-seats has rebooted his own creativity to somewhere between 2005 and 2008 vintage.  

14 May 2017

Golden Mile Years - The Blackpool Doctor Who Exhibition #4

By the early 1980s the Blackpool Doctor Who Exhibition had become established as a major attraction for the resort and a destination for fans from all over the UK who would badger their parents to let them go. Each year the exhibits would change so as to include costumes and props from that year’s series. By 1981 Doctor Who itself had changed with a refreshed look and a new Doctor in the form of Peter Davison. The final Tom Baker series though was in the spotlight for the 1981 displays with something from each story which you could see for the entrance fee which was now 40p! 

12 May 2017

How to deal with changes in Doctor Who

Things on a long running television programme cannot stay the same and they will change which doesn’t always sit well with people. Fans however are well versed in the art of dealing with change and it seems appropriate, as we wait for a new Doctor to be announced, to bring together the sum of their experiences. When these things happen all you have to do to get through it is follow the standard response patterns in this handy dandy guide. Just work your way through each step and you’ll be fine. There, there.

#1 A new Doctor is cast. “Who’s Next? It’s Patrick Housego!”
  • OMG Not Patrick Housego
  • He will ruin the series
  • He’d be better off cast as The Master
  • Actually he was ok in that historical series
  • Oh the costume looks ok
  • Maybe he won’t be too bad
  • He’s the best Doctor since Tom Baker
  • I hope he never leaves
  • What! He’s leaving after only three years. The series is finished!!

10 May 2017

Doctor Who Knock Knock review

2017 Series Episode 4 - tx 06/05/17. Written by Mike Bartlett. Directed by Bill Anderson. Episode reviewed by Robert Stanley

Bearing in mind this is the series that Steven Moffat didn't want to make, it's found it's mojo again. All thanks to a back-to-basics “Year Zero” approach which sees the Doctor having mellowed a lot during his years of exile on Earth, only for the arrival of Bill Potts to spark him back into life. After three well-received stories effectively re-introducing the concept of Doctor and companion travelling through space and time, it's down to `Knock Knock` to keep up the momentum. I've come to this year's run completely fresh having managed to largely avoid previews and spoilers, and all I knew of this story was “it's a bit scary”. It's hard to get a “scary” story right, because what scares somebody may be met by indifference by somebody else: that was the challenge facing Mike Bartlett in his first Who script. Nowadays the vogue in horror films is for impossibly good-looking teenagers to expire in a variety of inventive and gory ways; not an option for BBC1 Saturday evenings, so Bartlett looks to Buffy for inspiration (with a bit of Scooby-Doo for good measure: look at how the kids run around the house in a straight line). “Buffy” of course had the twin advantages of sharp dialogue and a cast which could bring it to life: the youngsters playing the housemates had a go, but with the exception of Paul none of these characters had any real, well, character. And they definitely come off second best alongside the regulars. I get the impression that the housemates were written as such to get the Daily Mail frothing at the mouth like it did last week (and indeed, the BBC and Bartlett got a full front page rant the next day, albeit for his King Charles play rather than Doctor Who).

3 May 2017

Golden Mile Years - The Blackpool Doctor Who Exhibition #3

By 1976 the Blackpool Doctor Who Exhibition had established itself as one of the resort’s premier attractions and once again the contents had evolved. This year the displays began at the foot of the staircase over which a Pteradactyl from 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' was suspended and then there was a  `Terror of the Zygons'  display featuring Broton and another Zygon with bits of their organic technology; all lit spookily behind glass casing to give an underwater effect.  On the wall beside this was some artwork depicting the first three Doctors transforming one to another. Next was a full size Krynoid with some of its tentacles thrashing madly; close up this really did seem impressive. 

30 April 2017

Doctor Who Thin Ice review

2017 Series Episode 3 - tx 29/04/17. Written by Sarah Dollard. Directed by Bill Anderson. Episode reviewed by Tim Worthington

In the December 1970 newsletter from The Doctor Who Fan Club, Pertwee-hungry fans could find out all that there was to know about the forthcoming new series. And that, really, wasn’t very much at all. The first story was identified as `Terror of the Autons`, which would introduce two new members of UNIT and was partly filmed on location at a factory; the second, `The Mind of Evil`, was about a mysterious box; the third would be called `Vampire From Space` (it wasn’t) and would involve UNIT investigating something; and the fourth absolutely nothing was known about. There was no mention of the fifth and final story, and surprisingly nothing about a certain new character called The Master. Other than tentative transmission times and dates, and the news that Patrick Troughton had recently ‘starred’ in `Little Women`, that was your lot. You can bet, however, that the readers were thrilled by every last word of that round-up, and this odd disparity between level of excitement and quantity of available information was a pattern that would repeat itself pretty much throughout Doctor Who’s original incarnation. Nowadays, of course, everything has changed. Material leaks ahead of broadcast, every last recording session has a glory-hunting forum-posting prat with a camera lurking somewhere on the perimeter, and tabloids fall over themselves in a bid to outdo each other in revealing embargoed details about Doctor Who for no other reason than because they can. And if you do try to avoid any of this, there’s always some jerk who will thrust it unbidden into your social media timeline under the misapprehension that they’re doing everyone a favour. Those fans who remember simpler times will no doubt have occasionally found themselves pining for the days of Radio Times listings actually seeming exciting, the press generously blanking The Special Weapons Dalek out of photos of an actual news story, and that all too familiar mantra The Final Three Part Story Does Not Have A Title As Yet. And, surprisingly, that’s exactly where I’d found myself right back to in the run-up to `Thin Ice`.

26 April 2017

Golden Mile Years - The Blackpool Doctor Who Exhibition #2

Blackpool’s Doctor Who Exhibition had a perfect entrance. Sitting just off the main road but visible from it, a TARDIS exterior even larger than the `real` thing sat enticingly open. Colourful signs on the wall to your left invited the eager fan- who really needed no encouragement - to “Defy the Daleks” while clips from the series wafted through the air like sirens attracting their next victims! Not even the warning metallic command “Humanoids will stand still for identification. The TARDIS is under Dalek control” could deter the eager fan. The only ordinary feature of any of this was a toll booth and the fact that the ticket was a generic one without any souvenir value at all as it doesn’t mention what you’ve paid for. However it did only cost 30p! Still that ticket is soon stuffed into a back pocket as you negotiate a descent into darkness. Quite a daring entrance for a public display- normally the sort of thing you’d expect from a ghost train. This long staircase and the fact that from the top you couldn’t see what was down there but you could hear all sorts of noises gave a sense that you really were descending into another world.

24 April 2017

Doctor Who Smile review

2017 Series Episode 2 - tx 22/04/17. Written by Frank Cottrell- Boyce. Directed by Lawrence Gough. Episode reviewed by Estelle Hargraves

Episode 2 continues the “jumping-on point” to Who that Steven Moffatt provided in The Pilot last week. That was all about setting the scene, introducing the basics of the characters and solving a present-day mystery which, in classic-Moffatt fashion, was all about making an everyday object (in this case, a puddle) mysterious and sinister. As the series continues, there appears to be the beginnings of a whistle stop tour of the classic elements of Doctor Who – in Smile, the Doctor gives not-quite-official-companion-yet Bill Potts the option of an adventure in the past or future and Bill shows just how eager she is to explore the unknown by immediately choosing the future, “to see if it’s happy.”

19 April 2017

NEW SERIES Golden Mile Years- The Blackpool Doctor Who Exhibition # 1

The Doctor himself never quite got to Blackpool yet hundreds of thousands of his fans certainly did. Sitting incongruously on the resort’s famous Golden Mile, a large blue police box signalled the entrance to the Doctor Who Exhibition which ran from 1974 to 1985. Sounds from the show- we’d call them samples now- drifted along the road as you approached, images lined the adjacent wall. As a build- up it was brilliant. Then there was that big blue box itself; actually larger in dimensions than the `real` thing and because we were kids it looked even larger. Step inside and for a moment the real world intervenes as you have to pay and you get a rather insignificant ticket with no actual mention of what you were attending on it. Then you descend steep steps and now the outside world is truly gone. Instead it is semi dark with music, dialogue extracts and odd noises playing and lying ahead a series of displays, each beautifully staged and lit, stretching ahead along a winding corridor. The centrepiece is a TARDIS console replica around which sit screens through which we see even more detailed displays containing monsters and props. There’s even a shop at the end containing more merchandise than any fan in those days had ever seen. Even when you climbed the steps and found yourself in a large cafĂ©, the Doctor Who experience lingered courtesy of the echoes from the exhibition which must have driven the staff crazy after several months! 

16 April 2017

NEW SERIES Doctor Who The Pilot review

2017 Series Episode 1 tx 15/04/17. Written by Steven Moffatt. Directed by Lawrence Gough. Episode reviewed by John Connors 
Chips, lemon drops and macaroons! 
Modern Doctor Who is now an old series. 12 years on screen and counting.  The newness has worn off, the freshly painted exterior needs a fresh coat. Under such circumstances- and having admitted publicly this is the series too far, the one he initially had to be persuaded to make - it would be easy to expect Steven Moffat to brew something dark, bitter and even uncommitted. However `The Pilot` from its cheeky title in is so fresh and totally committed you wonder whether secretly a new showrunner has already arrived and he’s still called Steven Moffat! This episode is such a leap from last series’ darker hues that it feels like the whole team has overdosed on jelly babies!  


31 March 2017

New series publicity, going back to Class and big fanzines

I can’t remember a modern Doctor Who series about which so comparatively little was known two weeks prior to broadcast. We don’t even have all the story titles yet. What plotlines we do know are brief summaries from an interview with Steven Moffat and what we have seen are a dazzling array of images. There is certainly an optimism about this series amongst fans that perhaps was missing last time round. Even that 2015 series’ trailer went along the lines of `same old same old` which wasn’t the best way to market something new. This time round the first trailer harked back to 2005’s `trip of a lifetime` approach with Bill talking about meeting the Doctor. This makes it seem fresh again.
Later trailers focussed on the monsters always a way to incite interest. The result was a surge of enthusiasm especially for the Mondasian Cybermen and also the Emoii robot plus the new Ice Warrior. The main new aliens the Monks do seem menacing too. Overall the tone of the trailers is definitely that of a show that has rejuvenated itself. 

26 March 2017

Why don't people like The Ambassadors of Death?

There are a number of Doctor Who stories people just don't seem to have taken to and `The Ambassadors of Death` is high up that list. People says its too slow, that it doesn't have the same weight as it's contemporaries on the 1970 series. I say give it a chance! Without it that season would be a poorer place indeed. Whatever else you might think of it `The Ambassadors of Death` never looks silly. It may seem absurdly naive in its depiction of (literal) rocket science, it may take some liberties with its time frame and it may play out sluggishly for modern viewers but not once does it look silly. More than that though, at times, `Ambassadors` is hard as nails. It shows the sort of things that you’d probably not even be allowed to show at teatime nowadays and it does it with such panache that you can only doff your cap.

22 March 2017

Kris Marshall and co- the ongoing next Doctor speculation part 145

As always happens when a news story neither concludes nor develops speculation has filled the lengthening void between Peter Capaldi announcing his departure and whomever replaces him being confirmed. Thus we’ve had the media deciding several times that so and so will be the new Doctor only to come up with a different name a few days later. Tilda Swinton was favourite, then Kris Marshall was such a `shoo in` that betting on him was suspended. Now it’s gone back to names being thrown into the mix. Damian Molony, a leading candidate in the media’s eyes last time round has re-appeared courtesy of Toby Whithouse which is interesting only in the sense that the writer was one of those speculated to become show runner long before Chris Chibnall was announced. Had Whithouse taken the job (not that as far as we know he was offered it) we can at least see who his Doctor would have been. Now there’s another era unfolding in our imagination and if Chibnall is found wanting you can be sure fans will start saying `Urrgh it should have been Whithouse and Molony”. Fans are like that.
"I'm the Doctor you know"

19 March 2017

Good Times! Coda

So there you have it, 21 years of Conventioneering. As a whole I must say the abiding memory of all these conventions is that however much I enjoyed them there were always probs with the seating n heating. Oh yes, the seating was rarely comfortable, the heating was always too high. At most of them the hotel staff thought we were nuts, the food was dodgy or expensive but we didn’t really care.

All the reviews in this series have been pretty much left as originally written with the odd polish and yet I can see an unintentional narrative threading through them. It starts with my fresh enthusiasm- I was buzzing for days after my first event- through getting to know the in crowd, through actually being involved in them, to going back to just being an attendee through gradually realising that I’d seen all this before. I end up spending the Friday night at one latter event watching a band in a pub because it’s more interesting. It’s a narrative about getting older, more cynical perhaps. It’s the same narrative anyone my age might tell about their interests, their job or even their marriage. 

17 March 2017

Good Times! #21 PanoptiCon 25 2002

(originally published 2002, zine unknown)

The familiar purple robed and golden masked figure of Heironymous strolling about in the road outside Manchester's Palace Hotel is a bit of a giveaway really. Skirting past in case there's a video camera lurking, I'm met by a Sea Devil taking the steps surprisingly well and once inside there's a Voc padding around the lobby. Yes, it's twenty five years since the very first Panopticon was held in a church hall in London and nowadays it seems to have relocated to a gothic hotel oop North. The umpteenth event was a surprise addition to 2002's convention calendar and, as it turned out, rather a disappointing one. The two main attractions had to pull out, leaving a void that was difficult to fill not least because the main hall had very little atmosphere and echoey sound that seemed out of sync with the big screen. Then there was David Bickerstaff whose interviewing style was off-putting and often unsupportive of the guests (nobody paid to see him). Nevertheless a lot of the audience seemed fairly happy, though many who attended June's big shouty SFX Event have commented on the relative lack of atmosphere at Doctor Who events. 

13 March 2017

Build Your Own Tardis?

When I was a child I used to visit an old hermit who lived up a mountain. Actually that’s not true (it was a cave) but it was the case that a friend of mine lived four doors up the road and he was a huge Doctor Who fan like me. Once we became mutally aware of our fanship, we used to play our own adventures though his younger sister always insisted on playing a dog called Bonnie rather than a proper companion. This of course meant she didn’t have to make up any lines and could be even more annoying than normal. So we had many an intergalactic adventure all within the space between four houses. This was great and everything until the day my friend announced he was going to build a Tardis.
Voila! Paint it blue and you wouldn't be able to see the difference

12 March 2017

Good Times! #20 Blue Box 4 and Battlefield 6 2001

Blue Box 4(first published in Fringeworld 2001)
Bristol is not Mars but for the country's beleaguered public transport system it may as well be. Why else would I have to board the 9.13 train (itself a journey up to town from where I live) a full 24 hours before the event began? Arriving at 12.30, I had to wait two hours to meet Neil Hutchings from his London train and, after exploring the city for a while, the moment came to find the venue. Most conventions are within a stone's throw of a town or city centre but the Aztec Hotel is approximately 15 miles away in a bleak, deserted industrial park served by one bus; the only option as a taxi fare would have been prohibitive. Tallying all this up with the registration fee for the weekend, £45 and the (admittedly very favourable for a 4 star hotel) £30 per night room fees, something like £125 has been spent before a single person asks Wendy Padbury what its like in space. The real bone cruncher, however, comes as it gradually becomes clear that the Aztec holds a monopoly on all food and drink in the area. There is a lovely country pub opposite owned by them which has marginally lower prices, but check these out - a pot of tea £2.50. Sandwiches £6.95, buffet £10. Any money saved on the room rates is soon clawed back because there is nowhere else to eat or drink; even the alcohol is higher than London prices. So, let's face it, overpriced photos of Sylvester gurning with a stuffed ferret are the least of our worries!That said the Aztec is an excellent hotel full of wooden floors, beams, low ceilings and faux Tudor decoration. The staff are tremendously helpful and friendly more so than in any convention hotel I've been in. Hopefully they get a fair cut of all that cash flowing in. 

10 March 2017

Good Times! #19 Battlefield 5 and Resurrection 2001

Battlefield 5 (first published in Faze 2001)

The best thing I saw all weekend? Well, actually it was a band called Mr Bridger playing at the Rocket pub, just round the corner from Coventry station. Funky Hendrix-like with a touch of Nirvana, they made US style rock seem like it could be interesting though for all the attention the Friday night punters were paying, it might as well have been Mr Bridger's Dixieland Showband. It wasn't that they were bad; it was just that they were the wrong group for this crowd. Two days and many panels later, I've come to a similar conclusion about Battlefield 5. The temptation to go on and on with anything creative is always strong but sometimes you need to sit back and remember the sparks that brought the subject to life in the first place.
Battlefield began as a feisty alternative to the established convention lore, which stated that huge gaps would elapse between panels, there would be as much behind the scenes stuff as front of camera celebs and that evenings would consist of funny videos and large scale parlour games. The convention scene needed this boost and it worked well at first. Never had the two-day event seemed so jam packed with stuff nor had it ever passed so quickly. Now ambition has inspired the team to extend the latest event to a three day stretch, the glitzy celebs are still, for the most part, the same people who've been to all the others and the cabaret has mutated from the slightly old school music hall mentality to amateur hour at a nightclub. 

6 March 2017

The Doctor Who Monster Book

Published in 1975 and penned by Terrance Dicks, `The Doctor Who Monster Book` was in essence a boiled down version of the `The Making of Doctor Who` with all the Making part removed. It’s got lots of photos, some awkward graphic design and a text that tends to repeat things that Doctor Who fans would surely know. The main attraction of the book was a glorious colour poster of the cover which certainly earned a place on my wall and no doubt many others. The poster – reproduced on the cover- was another excellent Chris Achellios job even though he doesn’t appear to be mentioned in the credits! Luckily he etched his surname under the Dalek just in case! It’s also devoid of his trademark fizzling static but even so there’s something about his art which makes it as good as photos. The book retailed for the realtively princely sum of £1.75 and was designed by Brian Boyle A.R.C.A. Whatever that qualification may be it still doesn’t excuse the lines emanating from a Wirrn on page 57!!

1 March 2017

Good Times! #18 PanoptiCon 2000

(first published in Faze 2000)

Manchester became the second home of conventions during the Nineties with its seemingly endless collection of huge hotels guaranteeing the necessary space and more than a touch of grandeur. The Palace Hotel has to be the ultimate in faded glamour though. The lobby alone is like a Victorian chapel and the ballroom, where most of the event happened, was filled with large wood panels and rich carpets. Such a setting inevitably infused the most enduring convention series with an air of sepia tinged nostalgia. True, there was a whiff of modernity with talk of Big Finish and the Radio Four pilot but PanoptiCon 2000 started off the decade by looking back.

24 February 2017

Critical fans, the end of the Experience, ongoing new Doctor speculation

I thought I’d comment on some of the latest topics exercising online fan opinion at the moment. The news of the closure of Cardiff’s Doctor Who Experience later this year has provoked an interesting response.  While many are disappointed to see it go, some have said they never felt Cardiff was the right place for it due to the travelling issues. It seems to some the city is harder to get to than Paris which says something about our public transport system. It’s not known if the interactive exhibition will re-open but if it does there seems to be a view it should be in London. Admittedly this is mainly from people living in the South; fans in Scotland for example have a different view. Surely the answer is to make the Experience a travelling attraction changing location each year? In that way fans from every region will get the chance to see it. 

17 February 2017

Good Times! #17 DWM Birthday Bash (1999)

(first published in Faze 1999)

To begin at the end I'm being handed a slice of birthday cake topped with blue icing by none other than Mark Strickson. I've even got a bit of the '0' from the word 'WHO' so technically I am living, breathing and eating Doctor Who. Not that such a pleasure is mine alone - the lobby outside the City University's overheated Oliver Thompson lecture theatre is teeming with fellow cake scoffing fans, each being presented with their portion by a celeb. Just what is going on? Well, we're here to celebrate two decades of what is fast becoming a genuine publishing phenomenon. 

13 February 2017

Good Times! #16 PanoptiCon 98 (1998)

(first published in Faze 1998)

Have you noticed how Doctor Who gives great clips? More and more, the only really new things we can see are artfully collated sequences with suitably powerful music that give the impression of wonder. Conventions too are increasingly about celebrating 'bits' of the show. Close on a decade after the last regular story, time inevitably moves on and while hard core fans and, increasingly, professional writers delve into ever more trivial and miniscule territory the people who made and appeared in the show recall less and less detail and much of what they do remember is anecdotal and samey. Thus the success or otherwise of guests depends increasingly on their strength of personality. Some things don't change though; if it's PanoptiCon, it must be the Leofric Hotel in Coventry, a city that this very weekend celebrated the arrival of Sunday shopping with Morris dancing and clangey rock groups. Yes, that's the Sunday shopping everywhere else started two years or more ago but at least we can look forward to a right knees up, in honour of Labour's election win, next year! 

8 February 2017

The Doctor Who Experience 2011

If you could find it (the venue was nowhere near a Tube station and the tickets gave little help in locating it)  the Doctor Who Experience was well worth a visit during it’s London residency before it moved to Cardiff. Comprising both an extensive static exhibition and an interactive `experience`  there was something for everyone. The latter was the main attraction and a lot of work had gone into making it as close to being inside an adventure as possible. Even better, you don’t have to share it with throngs of people getting in the way as each trip was limited to a manageable number. This means you got to soak in the designs and lighting as well as the adventure itself though you have to retain it in your head as no photos or filming are allowed.  The then current Doctor Matt Smith talked to us - “shoppers!” - to get our help in saving the Universe. In doing so, we were led through several sets each creating a different atmosphere.

3 February 2017

Good Times! #15 PanoptiCon 97 (1997)

(first published in Faze 1997)

Coventry was demolished during the Second World War and had to be rebuilt almost from scratch afterwards allowing planners the unique opportunity to design its city centre with practical considerations in mind. Paradoxically this has made it now seem less modern than other places. It resembles a bizarre mixture of Alpine village and concrete jungle; everything is in squares and straight lines and the railways station is about a mile from anything else. It’s as if, faced with the freedom to create, the planners instead came up with something very much of its time. More recent attempts to modernise have given the city a weird canopy in its main square and an indoor precinct that looks like every other indoor precinct. The only significant old building is the shell of its cathedral. Nestling in one corner of a covered walkway, the Leofric Hotel is an excellent convention venue and even the bar staff, often the most harassed people at an event like thus, cope with good humour as the place fills up with the buzz of a Doctor Who gathering.