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.
There was a series of very well edited compilations entitled `The Doctor Who Years`. Taking their cue from the TV series that inspired them each edition reeled off clips from every story teamed with pop songs of the year in question. What could be read of the text suggested a definitive boxing up of the show's history as if absolutely no nothing about it is in dispute, but the enjoyment factor was high and the amount of work it must have taken received deserving applause. We saw the `Perfect Day` mix again; of all the clips tapes assembled this one carries the heaviest emotional weight, albeit as if it were a eulogy for the show. Not even the cheeky end words can filter out the feeling that we are firmly in the past. Even the organisers were hinting heavily that this was the end for PanoptiCon itself and finished the event with yet another clips tape. Is this what we've come to? Has our appreciation finally given way to re-watching the show in bite sized chunks so that famous moments lose all their context and become 'greatest hits`?

Thank goodness then for Tom Baker who started things off by remaining resolutely in his own world, now invaded by the internet (“I never need to travel now" he declared) and ready to unleash a new book about scarecrows fighting back upon us. Vague about the past, but bursting with theories and views about today and the fascination of life around him, Tom is more modern than many of today's 20 year olds. Plus he'd make a great stand up comedian. Opening with him though is rather like a festival starting with Oasis or Radiohead, but the organisers built up a head of steam by just keeping going.

All of a sudden the idea of breaks between panels seemed so last decade!  A `Robots of Death` panel followed a screening of an episode of same but the participants couldn’t quite match up to the greatness of the serial. Mind you, it was quite a change to see a variation in the guest list as Russell Hunter sporting a kilt, smoked and swore his way through while David Collings looked a little bewildered by it all. Chris Boucher seems a shy sort of chap who had been hurt by actors laughing at his scripts when he once visited the studio while Louise Jameson  held things together with a maternal attitude that comes naturally; she seems to always talk perfect sense. David Bailie seemed remarkably unchanged and, like all present expressed his surprise at the interest in such a tiny moment of his career.
Bonnie Langford was up next and once again we witnessed preconceptions of what sort of person she would be washed away. Yes, she's chirpy and a bit showbiz but an honesty shines through. We relished her annoyance at Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles, who had been publicly slagging her off. Such energy and resolve is a talent in itself and while nothing can convince me that Mel was any use in the series (and Bonnie noted with amusement how the computer programmer never touched a PC during her stay!) I rather like the actor’s down to earth approach plus she had lots of new behind the scenes anecdotes, in particular the cold water she had to struggle in during 'Paradise Towers'.

The afternoon of day one brought us Nicholas Courtney, Frazer Hines and Anneke Wills a trio who look at life through optimistic eyes and delivered fond memories of Patrick Troughton and, er, mixed memories of Billy H. But the real hits of Saturday pm were Lis Sladen and Caroline John. Bouncing on stage like the Daphne and Celeste of Whodom they laughed, giggled and had the most enormous fun throughout their panel which the even the normally ebulliant Colin Baker had trouble following. While he may have lost a little physical weight, he is weighed down by fans unchanging perception of his reign one which he seems more in agreement with than ever before. His attempt to convince us he'd recently watched 'Timelash' and it "wasn't bad" did not quite work. He perked up though whenever the Big Finish cds were mentioned.

Saturday evening means the cabaret of course and you need every single one of those pints to take you through the highs and lows. With John Nathan- Turner at the helm there are likely to be more lows than highs for those to whom tacky glitter is anathema. Still, there were a few moments to savour with the odd poem or reading lending some shape to the evening. Things reached a trough with Gary Downie singing but perked up when Caroline John and her mate reprised their great sketch as cleaners at the research centre. `Stars in Who’s Eyes` also proved more entertaining than you'd think, especially Steve Cole’s anarchic Frank Sinatra. Lots of videos and a disco proved more mainstream fare though and showed that cabaret is perhaps best left for our fellow fans across the pond.

Sunday saw many of the guests back for more albeit in different combinations. While this meant a lack of many new stories (and we only just escaped the eyepatch one) the atmosphere was loose and enjoyable. Katy Manning and Nick Courtney relived the Pertwee years. Katy is of course mad and adds a touch of genuine star quality to proceedings with her kooky behaviour, tales of Liza Minnelli and losing the sonic screwdriver! Mark Strickson, Sarah Sutton and David Collings seemed to remember nothing whatsoever about 'Mawdryn Undead' but plenty about other things and were later joined by Peter Davison who was in lively form (presumably because he’d arrived this morning) and appears rejuvenated by his recent career upturn. He joined John Nathan Turner and Sylvester McCoy in the afternoon. JNT went into enormous detail about his early Who work prior to becoming producer but then ran out of time! Sylvester seemed restrained, especially as they brought on that bloke from Dead Ringers who does Tom very convincingly. Then, in a revolving panel, those Blokes From the Radio 4 Pilot turned up though they were not supposed to be there apparently. They sort of confirmed alot of the rumours but seemed to be rather more thrilled by the whole project than we were. A final panel teamed the day's lively ladies as Katy, Liz and Carrie created an amusing end to the convention.

As events go, this one had a lot of great moments and the guests were mostly in sparkling form, ready to entertain us. Lots of other happenings littered the hotel so you could get autographs, be photographed with the stars, listed to seminars or marvel at the presence of three (two more than usual) fanzine titles on sale in the huge dealers room.

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