17 March 2017

Good Times! #21 PanoptiCon 25 2002

(originally published 2002, zine unknown)

The familiar purple robed and golden masked figure of Heironymous strolling about in the road outside Manchester's Palace Hotel is a bit of a giveaway really. Skirting past in case there's a video camera lurking, I'm met by a Sea Devil taking the steps surprisingly well and once inside there's a Voc padding around the lobby. Yes, it's twenty five years since the very first Panopticon was held in a church hall in London and nowadays it seems to have relocated to a gothic hotel oop North. The umpteenth event was a surprise addition to 2002's convention calendar and, as it turned out, rather a disappointing one. The two main attractions had to pull out, leaving a void that was difficult to fill not least because the main hall had very little atmosphere and echoey sound that seemed out of sync with the big screen. Then there was David Bickerstaff whose interviewing style was off-putting and often unsupportive of the guests (nobody paid to see him). Nevertheless a lot of the audience seemed fairly happy, though many who attended June's big shouty SFX Event have commented on the relative lack of atmosphere at Doctor Who events. 

A sign, perhaps, of how short the organisers were on guests came with the return of lengthy video showings being used, something that want out of fashion in the late 80's. Old interviews from previous events brought us Jon Pertwee and John Nathan-Turner whilst there was also a re- run of the enjoyable though hardly essential Doctor Who Years compilations.

The guests kicked off with a Big Finish panel which was fast becoming a self congratulatory affair till Elisabeth Sladen turned up to enthuse about Sarah Jane Smith then and now. Peter Davison was next and seemed to get as many questions about At Home With The Braithwaites which he had been surprised to be cast in. There's also a new series in which he plays a bungling detective due early next year.
After lunch and the shock of learning that a cup of tea costs £1.50 (I didn't dare enquire about the coffee) the afternoon brought us Lis again, this time with Nick Courtney and an unrecognisable Stuart Beavan discussing `The Green Death` though as with `The Robots of Death` panel a couple of years ago, the guests were unable to provide any really enlightening memories or experience. They were followed by Carole Anne Ford who seems to change very little over the years though each time she is interviewed seems to say she thought of leaving earlier; here as she went into detail about Susan's special power's and alienness which was all lost after the plot episode you get the impression that she wanted to jump ship after the one week! She was then joined by lan Cullen who played Ixta in `The Aztecs` and we also saw the weekend’s best video offering being a detailed reminiscence about that story by none other than John Ringham and Waiter Randall. Wonderfully theatrical, the duo seemed genuinely pleased to talk about the story, even if Ringham said he felt he over-did his acting a bit. Thank goodness they had something to say we hadn't heard and seemed very pleased to be able to do so.

The restoration team then took to the stage to explain something of their future plans and just how long their work takes which led to a big scoop as the organisers managed to track down Dudley Simpson. A small, retired Australian, Dudley still possesses enthusiasm and, of course, his favourite word is 'marimbas'! A nice surprise and a good way of rounding off the day.

No cabaret this year, but the main attraction was an actual live band called Minor Planet who managed to cut through the audience indifference with a less harsh version of the sort of commercial electronica mixed with rock that had done alright for Garbage. A great singer, too, if only she could avoid those cabaret moves and be a bit more fierce.

Sunday offered a lively triple bill of Fraser Hines, Debbie Watling and Nick Courtney who were followed by Colin Baker. All four have in common the ability to pick topics out of the air, make jokes and cajole each other and themselves easily and are pretty much essential convention guests however many times you think you've heard their stories. Another Big Finish panel started the final stretch and it was India Fisher who livened this one up before a monster makers panel that revealed a rather unfortunate state of the hand crafted effect industry these days thanks to the all encompassing arrival of CGI. When you see the work that people like Sue Moore, Stephen Mansfield and Robert Alsop have done it's a shame that such expertise and skill are dying out. A case in point is a new showreel for 'Real Time' that we saw, impressive it certainly is, but it's a steely metallic impression that, for me, just can't compete with The Silurians or whatever. Yet it's this sort of thing that seems to get fans excited these days rather than the appeal of painted papier mache and that's a bit of a shame. Sylvester McCoy closed the event with his usual loveable vagueness and snatches of social commitment and it seemed that two days had passed in a heartbeat.
Typing this up Sunday night, I can't say I look back on this con as being anything special. It certainly suffered, not so much for lack of guests, but in their scheduling and the lacklustre way some of them were interviewed. Billed both as anniversary Panopticon and a tribute to JNT it failed to show any real effort to weave such things into the programme.

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