(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.
Few such specialist publications last more than the commercial lifespan of their subject, but 'Doctor Who Magazine' has lived half its existence without the show that inspired it. There was a time when DWM was seen as something apart from mainstream fandom and a bit of an excuse to moan about "commercialism". It was John Freeman who realised the readers had brains and Gary Russell who noticed that perhaps as the series wasn't running any longer, it might just be an idea to re-focus the mag's priorities. For the last five years, Gary Gillatt has overseen DWM's transformation into a brilliantly diverse and engaging publication and the process has been so successful that it has become the subject of attention in its own right. And, let’s face it, if Gary G approached you to write an article on the topic of different coloured socks in Doctor Who, you'd say "Yes" in an instant. DWM's zeal demands no less. Gary G may not have all the ideas (or he may; you and I are not privy to the inner workings of The Pantiles) but as a focus for the mag's infectious enthusiasm and ingenuity he works tirelessly to keep us all excited about the very idea of Doctor Who. At times this event resembled an American pep rally; had a costumed Zygon mascot leapt onto the stage urging us to give him a `D` it would not have been out of place.
Matters began with a rather stunning video compilation which did all sorts of strange things with Doctors' heads and mirrors, before the first panel saw some writer types answering questions in various light hearted formats. Amongst those pitting their Who wits were Mark Gatiss, an unusually subdued Paul Cornell and Steven Moffatt, who didn't tell one good joke! (Future John- No they didn't use the phrase timey wimey) A good way to begin proceedings followed up by a DWM panel and the surprising appearance of original editor Dez Skinn.
It turns out that the mag was first shown to fans in this very hall 20 years ago at PanoptiCon 79 and it was reassuring to hear that Dez had been very enthusiastic about it all and still seems to be now. Quite who all the comics characters he kept naming were though, I have no clue. Archivists past and present - Jeremy Bentham and Andrew Pixley - explained their mission to inform with refreshing levity; the latter admitting the archives are sometimes out of date as soon as they're published. Both of them confirmed that the prevailing view of the BBC being completely disorganised is certainly true when it comes to the Corporation's own history. Gary Russell was also on hand to bring us up to date on the challenge of editing the mag without a show; unfortunately he ended up as the only editor so far without any new episodes to cover.
It was in the afternoon that four guests from the series appeared. First up were Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant, offering a mixture of jokes and some serious observations on modern television's star driven, formulaic approach. As expected Colin took over proceedings, not giving interviewer Dave Owen much chance which is a shame as he had some interesting questions, a lot of which were ignored or chucked away with a quick quip by Col, who does bring tremendous energy to events. Next, a radiantly pregnant Sophie Aldred was joined by Mark Strickson who nowadays seems to spend all his time with dangerous snakes or lethal crocodiles. His nature films and her sometimes equally risky studio exploits were the main topics. Oddly, both Nicola and Sophie had very similar anecdotes about auditioning for Michael Winner. At this rate there won't be anyone left to appear in the much disliked director's next film.
There were plenty of other things going on during the day. The usual raft of merchandise including the just launched 'Phantasmagoria', was on sale. There was a recurring True or False game in which the whole audience took part - a great idea which really loosened up the atmosphere and achieved the unlikely result of making people enthusiastic about Gellguard Harlequin Miniatures. Andrew Beech delivered a hilariously solemn announcement about next year's PanoptiCon after an overlong promo video. Plus, we got an exclusive peek at a colourised part I of' Invasion of the Dinosaurs'.
The four main guests returned to the stage for a light hearted session with more general questions which was interrupted by the arrival of an enormous birthday cake. Then a remarkable thing happened - it turned into a party. Sort of. We all sang 'Happy Birthday' (try fitting the words 'Dr Who Magazine' into that!), the guests blew out the candles and Colin Baker then decided birthday bumps had to be administered to Gary G, as he was the current editor! Which was duly done; the moment when none of us envied Gary's job and which he acquised to just about hiding his displeasure!!
Then, Dez Skinn made the first cut and the cake was wheeled out to be handed out in rather generous pieces to everyone. Apart from convention cabarets, I've never seen such frivolous scenes at a Who event.This was a fun,vibrant day and Gary Gillatt's cheeky compering was brilliant. It seems that as long as sales don't dip too much, DWM will go on and on. As long as it remains as interesting as it has during the 1990s, this can only mean more space needing clearing in those cupboards for another 150+ issues between now and the 30"' anniversary in 2009.