26 August 2016

Good Times! #1 PanoptiCon 4 (1981)

NEW SERIES! For 21 years from 1981 to 2002 I attended dozens of Doctor Who conventions and events  reviewing many of them at the time for various print fanzines. In this series of posts I’m reproducing some of those reviews which hopefully capture the spirit and flavour of what conventions and also smaller events were like. They remain largely unedited except for anything completely embarrassing! These are very much personal opinions of the events, what I saw and the people I shared them with. We start at the beginning (for me) with PanoptiCon 4 held at Queen Mary College in London in August 1981.

(Originally published in 1981 in `Steel Sky`)

So there we were, in Euston Station at midnight, Andrew Smith, (yes, him), Mark Crowder and myself when this bloke looking about as healthy as Muto stumbles towards us asking for money. There was I, having just spent about fifty quid on Panopticon IV and this guy will sleep on the stone cold floor of the station. Welcome to the real world. You may think your city centre is large but that's peanuts compared to London, as Douglas Adams might say. It is a huge teaming mass of people each to his own. You could be alone and forgotten in a crowded street of milling thousands. You never see London. You see bits of it and fleeting images stick with you, but every time you go back its a whole new place to explore. 

This was my first convention and my companions through the labyrinthine corridors of our beloved capital were Mark Crowder, (who luckiIy knew the place fairly well) and Ian Mackenzie, (hot on ideas, but not on how to get there). Still we managed to find our way onto the Tube and finally arrived at the accommodation centre. Our sense of anticipation was soon replaced by boredom was we watched Ian McLachlan bravely try to sort out someone else’s mistakes with the room listings as familiar figures milled about, everyone trying to pretend they had nothing to do with a Doctor Who convention. Over in the pub opposite a small band of people clustered around tables; Martin Wiggins tried telling everyone how good `Savage` was and, failing this, vanished into the raining darkness. Not an auspicious start.

18 July 2016

The Doctor Who Holiday Special 1977

Our look at the three magazines produced by Polystyle Productions during the Seventies concludes  with the 1977 Special.
It would be more than three years before another Special but in the meantime Doctor Who fans had enjoyed two brilliant glossy poster magazines that abandoned comic strip stories and educational articles about space to print gorgeous colour photos and have pin ups of Styre and Vorus! Quite why then Polystyle returned in late 1977 with a Winter Special that did none of these things and didn’t even match the previous ones is a mystery. Anyway return they did on cheaper paper but now costing 35p. The cover photo is of the fourth Doctor and Leela in the sewers during `Talons of Weng Chiang`. This will turn out to be the visual highpoint unfortunately.

15 July 2016

The Doctor Who Holiday Special 1974

Our look at the three magazines produced by Polystyle Productions during the Seventies continues with the 1974 Special.

The 1974 Special is fronted by a curious photo of the third Doctor looking a bit knackered. See inside, it says, for “thrilling picture stories, quizzes, exciting features, portrait pin ups and lots more!” 
Judging from the photo the excitement has exhausted him! Jon Pertwee’s introduction on the inside page hopes we have a lovely holiday and continue to be fans of the Doctor. Well so far I am but the holiday I’ve totally forgotten! 
 `Doomcloud` is the first comic strip story this time concerning the bulbous headed Zirconians who seem to travel about looking for new planets in the middle of a galactic cyclone. After only a page and a half this is a far more engaging story than any of the ones in the 1973 Special. In order to save people’s lives UNIT has to evacuate everyone to nuclear shelters as a poisonous cloud envelops the world. The ending is a little pat but even so this is a good start.

8 July 2016

The Doctor Who Holiday Special 1973

During the Seventies a number of one off Doctor Who magazines were released including three Specials which were produced by Polystyle Publications (yes, their logo features a parrot!) who were based in Edgeware Road in London and produced the magazine TV Action. Published in 1973, 1974 and 1977 it is fair to say these are not the best examples of Doctor Who publications in a decade that brought us the Radio Times Special, The Making of Doctor Who and two excellent poster magazines. Nonetheless they are an interesting snapshot of another era.


This is by far the best and the one that would be of most interest to fans, especially in the day.  It cost 10p back then! The first thing that strikes you is the rare photograph on the cover which seems to have been specially shot during the making of `Frontier in Space`. It depicts the Doctor, Jo and The Master all looking at something to which the Doctor is pointing. Perhaps it was Barry Letts dancing a jig? It’s a fairly random picture for the cover except that it does feature the three principal cast members. Eschewing an official logo the bold red words Doctor Who are emblazoned across the top. However much of the rest of the mag uses the shorthand Dr Who.

4 July 2016


Gripping and emotional finale draws together the season’s themes.
The most remarkable aspect of this gripping finale is not the Daleks vs Cybermen dust up nor the skyscraping concepts on display but the acting of Billie Piper. When it comes to the crunch she delivers a performance that is so nuanced and interesting it takes your attention away from the metallic battling elsewhere. Rose Tyler’s always been both normal and yet unusual with a rare empathy for the victims of the Universe; that’s why she and the Doctor are such a good fit. There’s a scene early on where she stands up to the Daleks with a mixture of cheekiness and grit. It’s one of many moments where Billie P nails exactly what Rose should be like, the template for the modern companion. When we reach the sad ending of the story the way she just crumbles on the other side of the Void just seems real. The series did- and in some ways still does - miss her not that I’m suggesting she keeps popping back of course. In fact the show almost undid the simple beauty of the final Bad Wolf Bay goodbye when Rose did indeed come back a couple of years later. “Will I see you again?” she asks tearfully. “Yes, in a couple of season’s time” the Doctor doesn’t say. 

29 June 2016

Army of Ghosts


Unlikely beginnings give way to sterling climax.
“I ain’t afraid of no ghosts” warbles the Doctor and the trouble with this episode is that nobody else is either. For a writer who prefers to emphasise the emotional aspect of his work, the first half of Russell T Davies’s season finale treats the apparent return of the familial deceased as little more than a gimmick. There’s certainly mileage in a more carefully calibrated tale of such apparitions but it is absent here, replaced by a somewhat irritating David Tennant performance and said ghosts just standing about while people play football or wash the dishes. There is no real interaction with them neither does the subsequent parade of then contemporary television programmes featuring ghosts convince. A more qualified student of television might be able to relate how clever this all is but in this context it provides an awkward opening to a story, totally devoid of any sense of threat.  Admittedly RTD does throw in references to some kind of psychic suggestion but much of the episode lacks the fire suggested by the bold introduction. Luckily better things are lurking later on.

22 June 2016

Fear Her

Unusually low key episode works until the last lap.

`Fear Her` feels like it’s come from somewhere else, that it was written for another project or as a short story and somehow found its way into the 2006 version of Doctor Who for which it just seems a bit out of place. Only Matthew Graham knows if that is the case but unfortunately it has gone down in history as the dud of the season which makes it sound like it’s awful. Which it isn’t. Parts of it are quite intriguing and it has the rare distinction of being a genuine mystery that the Doctor and Rose have to solve by deduction; an aspect Graham’s script acknowledges with their jokey detective banter.