22 January 2017

Good Times! #13 ManoptiCon 4 (1996)

(first published in Faze 1996)

By the time you're reading this, the telemovie will be out and you'll all know what attendees of Manopticon 4 know now (April 8th) and a lot more besides so it's going to be difficult to convey exactly the significance of the event's happenings for Who fans. I'll therefore cop out by stealing Gary Russell's on stage comments about the significance of certain dates which become landmarks in the Doctor Who calendar. By any standards then, April 7 1996 will figure quite highly in that calendar as the moment when the new production became something more tangible than magazine photos; if I'm getting rather excited then I make no apology. This year has turned from being just another in the wait for a possible new series into a helter skelter of developments and possibilities and touching down amidst some hard, solid facts is even better. You'll shrug and think 'so what' now you've seen the whole thing but it was quite a thrill to encounter the project in what we might call its chrysalis stage. 
We got to hear a rough cut of the re arranged title theme, without the "60 piece orchestra" but, over the booming speakers in the hall, still sweeping your ears back with swelling splendour like some gargantuan wave. I just hope it sounds as impressive through television speakers. Judging from this listen the new version amply satisfies the charisma of the series whilst also fulfilling the seemingly obligatory need for BIG title music that the American networks like. We also saw a series of slides ranging from the principal cast in costume to the sets at design and completed stages all of which you'll now be familiar with especially the amazing console room (or console hall!). Best of all, Philip Segal himself was on hand to face UK fans for the very first time.

A straightforward and amiable bloke, Philip S seems to combine creative zeal with an acute awareness of the commercial environment which 90s media is plus he is tuned in to the way a potential audience thinks. In many ways he's like a 90s version of Philip Hinchcliffe except with many more lions to wrestle to get anything done. Appearing both days he told the story of the project's development and took questions from the floor. Initial response to the developments of the previous three months had not been unanimously supportive and while I think almost all fans were prepared to give it a chance there had been some mutterings regarding the suitability of the demands of US television to a series as deceptively subtle as this. Here, though, the audience seemed eager to welcome the producer; indeed, so warm had been the response that he thanked us several times form the stage and left a further message of thanks as he flew back to the States apparently overwhelmed by the positive nature of the support he'd found. 
He talked fairly comprehensively, without giving away the plot, about matters such as the kiss, the problems he had with the BBC (particularly over the inclusion of Sylvester McCoy's Doctor it seems) and also the valuable support of Alan Yentob. He spoke too of how Paul McGann was his "one and only" choice and how silly some of the rumours about the project had been (there are no plans to remake old stories for example). As he talked it became clear that his familiarity with the series' past would be reflected in little touches of design elements as well as keeping the basic morality we know.

He also discussed the possibilities of an ongoing series though the only downer there is that it's unlikely he would be the producer, a great pity as he's really pumped fervour into this thing, neatly circumnavigating the different agendas of American and British television and creating something that, at this juncture, seems true to the spirit of the show. Oh, as for the lack of a title he said that if we really did want to call it something (and one person seemed highly agitated that we do) then 'Enemy Within' is the name to use. Philip S has endeared himself to UK fans is that, reflecting fandom's mischievous but well- meaning capacity to sum up everyone by their best known phrases, he's already now identified with "hand crafted mahogany", 'kisses to the past" and a '60 piece orchestra".  

This was not all that the convention had to offer though, Manopticons of the past have always featured a varied and large selection of guests and while the Enemy Within' stuff was obviously the centrepiece there was plenty more going on. In fact the gaps between panels were down a hasty ten minutes at most and thankfully the seats were a cut above the usual "uncomfortable after half an hour” variety. The only real problem seemed to be the clip on microphones, only two of which appeared willing to work at any time and which were prone to emitting very loud bursts of static when someone did something reckless like breathe.

In no particular order then; Jon Pertwee perched perilously on a stool and although I'd heard all the anecdotes before he managed to he lively (even when we got to the lion on the wall of death). Amongst his erstwhile colleagues putting in an appearance were Lis Sladen and Caroline John while the roster of female companions was completed by Louise Jameson and Sarah Sutton. All four raised the issue of the scarcity of good female acting roles and of juggling motherhood and career. Caroline and Louise also spoke of their involvement in the BBV videos while Lis joined Jon Pertwee and Nick Courtney to discuss their era and also the radio plays. JP was happy to inform us that 'Ghosts of N Space' had entered at number one in “the hit parade” by which I assume he means the specialist chart. The likelihood of it jostling for position with the likes of Oasis or Take That seems unlikely! Oh and Nick Courtney  is officially the nicest guest on the convention circuit as he sat down and talked to us about things other than Doctor Who on the Saturday evening.

Colin Baker's appearance proved quite alarming; his hair in a long, greying ponytail and some of that weight he lost so publicly a few years back having returned but he was his usual jocular self and there was also a K9 panel in which John Leeson and David Brierley traded good natured insults (they're friends really), John L has a pitch perfect rendition of K9's voice at his disposal and used this talent to great effect while also relating some of his Beadles About experiences. A Troughton panel included Victor Pemberton, Frazer Hines and Michael Craze but I had to miss it because of the need to stand up after 900 hours of hotel seating took its toll. Elsewhere, Sophie AIdred and Mike Tucker were very lively as they discussed their favourite subject; explosions, Jessica Carney talked about her book on William Hartnell presumably not having seen the comment in the cheeky event programme while there were also appearances by Philip Madoc and Dave Prowse, the latter describing his appearance in 'The Time Monster' as the worst thing he'd ever done. Oddly enough Jon Pertwee later said the same thing about that scene with the Minotaur and a look at a clip proved them both to be correct! An added bonus was the showing of the cinefilm of those old 60s episodes that everyone has been salivating over recently. Actually they do convey a strange quality jumping from one scene to another in a manner reminiscent of silent films. The 'Tenth Planet' regeneration is almost surreal.

Sunday evening brought the cabaret which included some games (I always miss these out of mortal dread of getting roped in), an auction, some very funny clips mixes and culminated in Andy Lambert and lan Hu's barrage of light and sound for which I blame the continued presence of the Red Dwarf theme still filtering around my head two days later!

Manopticon 4 was a superbly organised and presented (one might even say hand crafted) event. All concerned utilised the luck of being so close to the  TV Movie premiere to great effect whilst not forgetting the rest of the series' history.

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