ManoptiCon 2 (Originally published in Top 1993)
It was the lifts that did it. Normally it’s the alcohol. This time it was the lifts. O to 60 in about 2 seconds or something equally as bone crunching and the problem was you had to use them to get above the ground floor. Thing was they went so fast it took until about the seventh floor to recover your senses. Manchester has to be different like that. You arrive to find a city centre full of trams. Not those clunky old ones but streamlined modern versions gliding about majestically as you try to work out what direction all the different types of traffic are coming at you from. Then there’s the Piccadilly Hotel itself. 47 quid a night! Are they kidding? Besides the rooms across the road in the Britannia are a mere £30, they’re bigger and it’s got fabulous chandeliers and deep blue stair carpets enigmatically illuminated like some grand club. By comparison the Piccadilly is tacky light browns and greens- faceless and for the price decidedly un- accommodating.
People are buying a lot more at conventions nowadays. The strategically placed dealers room through which you had to pass to reach the main hall was brimful of those things you can easily be persuaded you need to buy including a stack of Star Trek phasers. Manna for the guy who spent the weekend dressed up as Data; perhaps he’d been reading some strange fiction. Bill Baggs was there to explain why you should buy his new Stranger video dramas. They are, though, genuinely good, a bit creepy and always interesting. Move to Jeremy Bentham’s stall and you’ll find JJB holding court. There’s something about Jeggers that allows him a mystique which belies the fact he’s only a fan like you or I. It seems as though he has something to do with the series but unless he turns out to be Christopher Bailey, he hasn’t. Nice to see fanzines making something of a resurgence. `Glory Daze` may over analyse but the chaps who edit it are fun. `Skaro` looks amazing and the text matches the visuals.
Conventions without juicy scandals are dull beasts and ManoptiCon managed to whip up quite a hornet’s nest. A few weeks beforehand Colin Baker had intimated he didn’t wish to appear if Eric Saward and Ian Levine were present. While this is understandable (Saward’s criticism of Colin having made the tabloids) it did place the organisers in a tricky position. In terms of punter appeal, Col soars ahead but the fall out the event would attract by ditching the other two could have been damaging. Anyhow they `disinvited` Levine and Saward though did re-invite the latter to which he responded with a put down that ironically quoted Colin’s Doctor. Strikes me that if Levine had showed he would not have had the easy reception he clearly thinks he deserves.
On stage Anneke Wills making her convention debut stirred up a bit more contention with her memories of William Hartnell. We’ve long suspected the `original, hmm` was one of the less tolerant souls but with remarkable frankness Anneke made his right wing tendancies very clear. Perhaps it’s unfair to judge him in contemporary terms even if when he did the series he wasn’t some old buffer but in his early fifties. Anyhow Anneke lived up to her star billing; all smiles and sparkle garnished with bite. And she paints as well.
Three Doctors turned up. Sylvester McCoy arrived in the bar on Saturday night wearing a wide brimmed hat and clutching an oversized umbrella looking like some fanboy’s impersonation of himself. On stage he’s scattershot witty, bursting with a ricochet energy that’s delightfully anarchic when placed in a live situation. He jumps over chairs, clambers around the hall and glosses over difficult points with eccentric skill. As a performer McCoy has few peers on the convention circuit. He’s balanced by Sophie Aldred who bubbles with the enthusiasm of a teenager. In a way, they are in character but it’s a more natural rapport than they had on telly.
Jon Pertwee on the other hand seems to have found a groove into which he can settle down. The charisma and showmanship that ten years ago marked his appearances seems to have mellowed and he tells what is basically one long anecdote about himself. He seems to have started talking as well about roles he didn’t get – Dad’s Army is discussed here. Colin Baker is becoming a little repetitive. Some seven years after the event he is still rabbiting on about his sacking. His stage work is barely touched upon as he continues to air his gripes about Michael Grade. Mind you he did have one marvellous put down of the ubiquitous and annoying fan Sheldon Collins who should be banned from every convention and quite possibly the planet.
Derek Newark looks fierce. He sits, glowering, at one end of a sofa. At the other end yet the most interesting guest of all is John Woodnutt who has a great line in storytelling. Sat in between, full of energy and seemingly oblivious to the fact that Newark looks ready to bite his head off, is Cy Town. Yet it all turned out to be a great panel from a trio you would never imagine gelling. Perhaps they should make an album.
Sunday evening’s entertainment was ample proof of the thought that had gone into the event. Amidst a melee of amusing video presentations and an auction that was both swift and well presented, came Have I Got News For Who. Hosted by Alec Charles and including pot shots at just about everybody it worked extremely well. This was followed by what was almost a mini gig as the Silva Screen people took to the stage to perform several versions of the theme tune beneath a barrage of keyboards, lights and a laser! Sylvester and Sophie even joined in, the former playing spoons in a display more interesting than what’s been on Top of the Pops lately. Things like this made ManoptiCon 2 work so well. If only the lifts could have been as good. Now can I get back to the ground floor in one piece?
ManoptiCon 3 (Originally published in Top 1994)
There were moments when Manopticon 3 lit up and hit the (very high) roof, moments of innovation – screaming women, chanting monks – that really made use of this unusual location. Manchester Town Hall, often a stand in for the palace of Westminster in tv dramas, definitely demanded such art but unfortunately the audience were not going to go with it. The place is made of large stone blocks, looks like a church / palace but its sheer grandeur and one of the most lethargic audiences I’ve ever seen at any public event gave proceedings a flat feeling that the organisers who’d worked hard and meticulously did not deserve. Part of the problem perhaps was the advance `gothic` themed blurb which didn’t always come off after a startling opening involving mist, hooded monks and `Pyramids of Mars` ambience. By Monday this was all forgotten as a Cyberman was pacing the passageways and a Dalek was the centre of attention in the lobby while everyone was getting their photo taken in front of the TARDIS. Manopticon 3 ended up just like any other convention because clearly that’s what people want. They don’t care much about gothic goings on and I doubt if many even took a moment to admire the splendour of their surroundings.
if the ambition of the `gothic fantasie` got a bit lost there was still an impressive selection of guests including a lively Colin Baker and Peter Davison as well as the convention debuts of both Caroline John and Peter Purves both of whom proved to be refreshingly open in their opinions. There is an air of dissatisfaction that seems to permeate Peter Purves interviews and whilst his memories of Doctor Who seem happier than we’d been led to believe he did hint that on Blue Peter he had not got on with producer Biddy Baxter, the “iron hand” as he called her. Caroline John seems to have happier memories of everything. She confessed she’d stayed away from all things Doctor Who for 23 years because she’d always felt her performances in the series had not been very good. However on recently seeing `The Silurians` she had realised otherwise. She spoke with charm and vitality about all kinds of things in particular the hazards of location filming and problems with strikes. She also related how she’d taken several years away from acting to look after her children and this had damaged her career to some extent. Nevertheless she does have a wide variety of work to talk about and did so entertainingly. Surprisingly she also revealed that Barry Letts had not really wanted to carry on with the character of Liz which is a shame as her potential was never fully developed. Caroline proved to be the best of the interviewees as her rapturous reception from the otherwise restrained audience confirmed.
Elsewhere Nick Pegg’s valiant MCing livened up matters though too many of the panels fell into tedium. Highlights were Lis Sladen, Colin Baker’s energetic appearance (including a clip from the then just completed Terror Game video which looked excellent) and the Villains panel with the wonderful raconteur John Woodnutt and the possibly mad Peter Miles.
In the dealers room there were more fanzines than usual which is an encouraging development and they nearly all seemed to be have been produced to an expensive looking standard which is less promising (a fanzine should look rough). Best of the new stuff was the second issue of `Cottage Under Siege` which is a riot. Much merchandise was around proving the enduring marketability of the series though carrying a helium filled balloon home would be an embarrassment and a half!
Maopticon 3 was a modest rather than spectacular success suffering from overhyping beforehand and an audience who might have had the courtesy to attend whilst awake. Despite this the organisers should be applauded for trying to break new ground.