28 December, 2006

How I learned to stop worrying and love Doctor Who

Last night we watched The Runaway Bride with a group of friends. No - not that awful Julia Roberts movie, but the brand new Christmas episode of Doctor Who.

I always feel a sense of trepidation and nervous tension when watching a new Doctor Who story for the first time. This doesn't happen with anything else I watch. I’m working my way through the latest episodes of Heroes and Battlestar Galactica at the moment and although they’re both great series, I'm able to relax and enjoy them with no effort.

It's the acute awareness I think that a Doctor Who story's events and revelations need to be absorbed into the series' continuity; what fans sometimes refer to rather ostentatiously as the "canon". Every scene, every line will be picked apart and analysed in great detail in books, magazines and websites ad infinitum. There are books (such as the rather brilliant About Time series) still being published now which take a fresh look at the minutiae of the continuity dating back over 43 years, so you just know that whatever crops up in a brand new episode will be scrutinised for a long time to come.

However there’s a persuasive counter-argument for not doing this, at least on a first time viewing – but rather instead just enjoying the story as a piece of escapist entertainment. Don’t look for the bits that contradict something that happened in an episode that screened thirty years ago. Relax and just enjoy. Sometimes easier said than done.

Many years ago I assisted my good friend Jon Preddle with research for his book Timelink (previously issued by TSV Books and soon to be professionally published by Telos in the UK). Timelink is an awesomely detailed chronology of the Doctor Who TV universe, picking up on the tiniest details presented on-screen to form a theory of a cohesive, single continuity for the series’ entire run. It’s a bit like trying to piece together a vast, incomplete jigsaw and only managing to get some of the pieces to fit by filing down the edges. My task was to watch through the entire set of Jon Pertwee stories making notes on the continuity. Some of my notes were subsequently published in issues of TSV (here, here and here). I was particularly delighted to pinpoint the dating of The Time Monster thanks to an obscure one-line reference. This all took place a few years before The Discontinuity Guide (which took a similar approach to documenting series continuity) appeared; and indeed TSV was acknowledged as a source in that book.

However, having gone through this period of intense scrutiny of Doctor Who, I then found the habit rather hard to break. For a long time I found it difficult to simply watch an episode without mentally checking for references to times, dates and other minor details and how these might link into other stories.

Over the last couple of years watching new episodes of Doctor Who I’ve made a conscious effort to try to be less analytical, at least on a first viewing. I want to get back to a point where I can just enjoy the story without worrying about how The End of the World fits in with The Ark, or what it would take for The Christmas Invasion to exist in the same universe as The Ambassadors of Death.

I think with The Runaway Bride I’ve finally succeeded; last night when watching the story for the first time I managed to sit back, relax and just enjoy the story. I only had one brief slip-up when I caught myself wondering why the hole through to the centre of the Earth hadn’t caused its destruction or indeed yielded any Stahlman’s Gas!!

18 December, 2006

Completing the Key

Doctor Who and the Pirate Planet, a novelisation written by David Bishop, is now available online as an ebook.

This adaptation of a television serial by Douglas Adams was one of a handful of Doctor Who TV stories never published by Target Books (I'm talking about the 1963-1989 run here). The omission of The Pirate Planet was particularly irksome to avid Target collectors - and I count myself as one - as it formed part of the six story Key to Time sequence. I still recall as a young and uninformed fan staring at the back of The Armageddon Factor novelisation and wondering why there were only five, not six, books listed in the Key to Time sequence.

The novelisation was first published in 1990 by the New Zealand Doctor who Fan Club. The author was David Bishop, an unknown name in fandom at the time, but now well-known as the author of several Doctor Who novels and Big Finish audios. Seventeen years ago this month, David was hard at work writing the first draft of this book.

I revised and expanded the novelisation for a new edition in 2001, with David's approval, incorporating a large number of sequences from the rehearsal scripts that had been cut from the televised story. For the new ebook edition, I dug out the notes I made in 2001 and attempted to document the changes for a editors' commentary.

After struggling through a few chapters, trying to convert numerous notes into readable prose, I decided that a far simpler solution was to present the deleted scenes from the rehearsal scripts as extracts from the novelisation and leave it at that. This proved to be a fairly straight-forward task, but to my surprise I discovered that I'd omitted a few of those scenes from the 2001 edition, so these segments appear for the first time ever in this ebook.

The ebook is also available as a downloadable PDF file and is accompanied by several 'special features', including an article about the book's publication history, a guide to the 'deleted scenes', a gallery of cover artwork, and David Bishop's notes from the original edition.

30 November, 2006

Loving the Nimon

Published in October 1994, TSV 41 marked the thirtieth anniversary of Doctor Who's first broadcast on New Zealand television (the exact date was 18 September 1964). A set of three articles by myself, Graham Howard and Nigel Windsor examined aspects of this theme. These items have been left out of the online edition. It might seem a little odd to overlook what were effectively the lead articles, but I have my reasons. Nigel's piece speculated on which TV channel might play the series next (it was off air at the time) which is of course now very dated, Graham's article was a research piece about the NZBC archives, since superceded by Jon Preddle's research in recent issues, and my own overview of the history of Doctor Who on New Zealand TV is much better represented by the Another Time and Space e-book. However these omissions don't particularly harm the online edition as there's still a good solid chunk of material from TSV 41 to revisit.

The highlight of the issue is to my mind Phillip J Gray's defence of a much-maligned story in Why the Nimon Should be Our Friends. That article was selected as the sole example of TSV's output in Paul Cornell's Licence Denied fanzine anthology. It's a great article which I think is at least partly responsible for some fans reassessing The Horns of Nimon and also re-evaluating the relative merits of the Graham Williams and John Nathan-Turner eras. Although Phillip was a regular reader he hadn't written very much for TSV up to this point, but TSV 41 saw a sudden surge of contributions from this talented writer. It's likely that the Continuum '94 convention a few months earlier - at which we'd met for a first time and got on very well - was the catalyst for this surge of inspiration and enthusiasm.

Another provider of much of the issue's content was the ever-reliable Jon Preddle, contributing several pieces including a script to screen instalment for Vengeance on Varos, an item about Gallifreyan language complete with Jon's sketches of various on-screen examples of Time Lord script, and also a fairly detailed history of K9. Jon was a god-send when content for TSV was in short supply. I could phone him up and ask for an article on a particular subject and without fail a floppy disk would drop through the mailbox (these were the days before the Internet, of course) with exactly what I'd asked for.

While I was scanning each of the pages for this online edition, I noticed in the 'New Series Rumours' news page a report that Paul McGann had been offered the role of the Doctor but had turned it down. What makes this remarkable was that the TV movie was still a year away from being made, and that at that time McGann would of course finally accept the part.

Tim Hill's cover artwork - featuring many different Cyberman heads (including the proposed Dark Dimension version) - doesn't relate at all to the issue's content, as there's nothing in particular about the Cybermen within. It's no reflection at all on Tim's great drawing, but the issue should perhaps have had a Horns of Nimon themed cover. Coincidentally this was the last of Tim Hill's front cover artwork.

Click here to read TSV 41.

27 November, 2006

The Boys Play Rock and Roll

Hello hello
I'm at a place called Vertigo
It's everything I wish I didn't know
Except you give me something I can feel, feel

The night is full of holes
As bullets rip the sky
Of ink with gold
They twinkle as the
Boys play rock and roll
They know that they can't dance
At least they know...

An entire year has passed since the tickets first went on sale and I’ve just seen U2 live in concert, on Saturday 25 November.

Over the last year, I've felt at times like it just wasn't meant to happen. I originally missed out on tickets for the Saturday show because the website for ordering them crashed, then a week later again missed out on buying tickets for the Friday show over the counter after queuing for four hours. Finally success: a workmate tipped me off about a US-based concert tours company selling NZ U2 fan party packages, so I bought tickets for myself, Rochelle and Jon for the Saturday show. But then U2 postponed the shows for an indefinite period, but we were told to hold on to our tickets. Then the US tour company closed down without letting anyone know, and for a short while before the replacement company contacted me, it looked like we might have lost our money and the tickets. I think I can be forgiven for having just a bit of doubt right up until the show started over whether we were actually going to get to see U2.

Was it worth going through all that difficulty and waiting nearly a year to see my favourite band live in concert? Most definitely!

The show, which lasted two and half hours, was absolutely awesome. We were standing about a third of the way down the field in line with the centre of the stage, so we had great sound, a clear straight-ahead view of the screens and if I stood on tip-toes I could see the band in the flesh. It’s a shame we couldn’t get closer, but it was a sold-out gig and even though we arrived a few hours earlier the field was already half full, so we were fortunate to get as close as we did. Having watched the DVDs of the Vertigo and Elevation tours over and over again (if these had been on VHS I would have worn them out by now), I have to remind myself that it was unrealistic to expect nearly such a good view in person. But what a DVD doesn’t convey is the sheer euphoria of being in the company of thousands upon thousands of people, all cheering and singing along to the songs I know and love.

I'd looked up the set lists from the Australian leg of the tour in advance so I had a fairly good idea of what U2 would play on the night. Even so, there were a few welcome surprises. The band vary the line-up of their middle section and the encores from night to night (partly to keep things fresh, and partly so that the fans who attend every gig get a bit of variety).

U2 kicked off with City of Blinding Lights, a song that feels like it was written as an opening number (“Oh you look so beautiful tonight”); and Vertigo, both off latest album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Then it was into the audience-participation number, Elevation, which went down very well with the crowd. I was absolutely ecstatic that U2 played Until the End of the World which is a personal favourite and had only been played on a few of the tour dates. I Still Haven’t Found What I'm Looking For was combined to great effect with In A Little While, and Beautiful Day drew a huge response from the audience - especially when Bono sang a verse with New Zealand-specific lyrics, mentioning Cape Reinga and the Fiords seemingly inspired by his tour of the country's scenic spots over the preceding week. Angel of Harlem was next, followed by an acoustic version of Walk On, and then a spectacular version of Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own with Bono giving it his all in an emotionally-charged tribute to his late father. The big surprise for me was the inclusion of Bad, receiving only its second airing on this leg of the tour. Bad is one of those U2 songs that is rather unremarkable as an album track (on The Unforgettable Fire) but electrifyingly comes alive when played live. Then we had Sunday Bloody Sunday, Bullet the Blue Sky (Rochelle's favourite), a haunting version of Miss Sarajevo with Bono impressively covering the Pavarotti bits in fine voice; the ever-popular Pride; Where the Streets Have No Name (which in my opinion has been somewhat watered down from the Elevation tour version), and then to close the main part of the show possibly U2's most popular song ever, the achingly bittersweet One.

But it wasn't over yet. The encore teased with the slot-machine animation (which included some New Zealand-specific images), making me think that we were going to get Zoo Station, but no, instead we had The Fly in all its glory, complete with a bombardment of slogans and catchphrases, recalling the fabulous Zoo TV tour. The Achtung Baby theme continued with Mysterious Ways, and then the first encore ended with an awesome rendition of With or Without You. After a short pause, the band returned to the stage to play the last songs of the night - the new track The Saints are Coming, a rocking version of Desire, and then - last of all - One Tree Hill, which was only performed for the New Zealand concerts. The song ended with the crowd softly singing the last verse back to Bono with no musical accompaniment. In the still night air this was simply magical and an awesome way to round out a fantastic experience. We were truly at a place called Vertigo.

29 October, 2006

This is 40

In the TSV online archive project I've finally hit the 40 issue milestone. That issue was published in July 1994, which marked the seventh anniversary of TSV (on average that's very nearly one issue every two months for the first seven years which is pretty good going and quite remarkable considering how few and far between issues have been published in more recent years).

With TSV 40 it seemed like the zine had achieved a greater importance and recognition. This was all due to the interview with Seventh Doctor era script editor Andrew Cartmel.

An Andrew Cartmel interview was at the time one of the holy grails of Doctor Who fandom. Cartmel was regarded as reclusive and mysterious, declining all requests to talk about his time working on the show. What part had he played in shaping the direction of the series and developing Sylvester McCoy's 'Dark Doctor'? What had been prepared for Season 27 and what was the so-called 'Cartmel Master Plan'? These questions remained unanswered as long as Cartmel kept his silence. He'd been interviewd by other publications about his New Adventures novel (Cat's Cradle: Warhead) and his DWM comic strips, but wouldn't discuss his stint as script editor. I think Cartmel had seen the way a section of fandom had treated producer John Nathan-Turner and former script editor Eric Saward, both of whom had given many interviews, and decided that if he remained silent, there was little that anyone could say about him.

Cartmel finally relented, apparently due to the persuasive charms of David Bishop, David hd been trying to get Cartmel to agree to an interview for months. As I recall, David Bishop met Andrew Cartmel through Judge Dredd: The Megazine, which David was editing at the time. That David got the interview where all others had failed was a testament to his persistence, and what was even more remarkable, from my perspective, was that he gave the interview to TSV, free of charge.

David Bishop had moved to the UK in 1990 but never abandoned his support of TSV. David believed in what I was doing and seized on any opportunity that came his way to generate interview material, recognising that it was very hard for a New Zealand fanzine to secure and conduct interviews with UK-based Doctor Who personalties. I am eternally grateful to David for this support, and the Andrew Cartmel interview remains one of the shining jewels in the TSV back catalogue.

The Andrew Cartmel interview occupies over a third of the print version issue, leaving little room for many other features. Some TSV readers said that the interview ought to have been spread over three issues but I was aware that it was likely that DWM or another magazine would respond after seeing the first instalment by either buying up the entire interview or conduct their own and I was therefore worried that this would see print before we had published the remaining parts. Sure enough, within a fortnight of the issue's publication

Doctor Who Magazine editor Gary Russell did indeed snap up the reprint rights, but to Gary's and DWM's credit, they didn't publish the issue until the following year, giving TSV time to gain recognition first - and we did receive a small footnote in DWM acknowledging TSV as the source. DWM bought the interview off David (which made me feel better about not being able to pay him for his efforts - although I did give him a free subscription). The DWM version (published in 1995) was heavily edited and re-worded; the original interview only ever appeared in TSV 40.

In addition to the usual reviews, TSV 40 also featured the return of the popular TARDIS Tales cartoon in a New Adventures-inspired adventure, a study of the Krynoids and a collection of deleted scenes from Ghost Light.

TSV 40 was one of the most heavily illustrated issues published to date, largely due to the prolific Tim Hill, an Auckland fan still in his early teens who was adept at producing artwork very quickly. I briefed him that we needed a lot of artwork for a major feature covering the entire Seventh Doctor era, without letting on that this was an Andrew Cartmel interview to maintain the surprise and prevent any leaks. Tim delivered a stack of artwork very quickly and also drew the front cover, a minimalist design featuring a moody portrait of the Seventh Doctor which I think nicely tied in with the 'dark Doctor' aspect discussed by Andrew Cartmel in his interview. The issue was delayed by a few days due to the cover being initially misprinted with the artwork not centred.

Reaching TSV 40 in the online archive project is also significant because back in January 2002 when I was planning to electronically capture and restore each issue for online publication, I selected this issue as a test case. I scanned all of the text and artwork from cover to cover to see how much work would be involved (although almost all of the text had originally been produced on a computer, the computer files were lost in a hardrive crash in 1998).

Having successfully created a new electronic copy of TSV 40, I then went back to the beginning and began working forward from the first issue. TSV 1 went online in September 2002; four years later, TSV 40 has finally arrived online.

Click here to begin reading TSV 40.

20 October, 2006

TSV 39 - the online edition

TSV issue 39, originally published way back in May 1994, has been dusted off and added to the online archive.

Unlike the issues immediately either side of TSV 39, there wasn't an interview this time around, but instead Kate Orman wrote a second article for TSV about her debut novel The Left-Handed Hummingbird. Kate was around this time a fairly regular contributor; (I reciprocated by sending Kate some material for her own fanzine, Dark Circus).

Graham Howard contributed another of his thoughtful essays, this time about the depiction of violence in Vengeance on Varos. This was to have been paired up with a 'Script to Screen' article featuring deleted scenes from the same story by Jon Preddle, but the Varos instalment of this regular series was delayed (it appeared a couple of issues later), and Remembrance of the Daleks appeared in its stead.

Life on Mars, an article which attempts to reconcile all the references to Mars in Doctor Who, was the first of many articles written by the multi-talented Peter Adamson, who was at this point just starting out in TSV and had yet to carve his niche as TSV's resident cartoonist and artist. In issues to come Peter became a prolific and versatile contributor, delivering huge quantities of artwork and writing, and also sub-editing work by others.

The Missing Adventures novels were just about to launch when this issue was published. I had a very friendly and helpful contact in Virgin Publishing's London office - Export Sales Manager Graham Eames - and he happily sent me whatever he could lay his hands on to help publicise the book ranges in TSV. One of the items I received was a writers guide for The Missing Adventures. I wrote a short article based on this guide, listing the various 'gaps' between TV stories that were available to prospective authors. For the online publication of this article, I've taken the opportunity to add in a retrospective look at which gaps had been used, and pointing out where Virgin hadn't always adhered to their own guidelines.

This issue was published in the fifth anniversary year of the end of the TV series, which was not exactly a cause for any sort of celebration, but the milestone was marked nevertheless with a speculative article about what Season 27 might have been like. In preparing the online version of this issue I discovered Jon Preddle's original version of this article stored away on my computer. It differs quite considerably to what was published, and veers off on all sorts of tangents, even suggesting at one point that the Doctor was from an earlier universe and had travelled to our universe aboard the spaceship from Terminus! It was nothing if not imaginative. Felicity (my then-wife & co-editor), took on the task of substantially re-editing the article and in collaboration with Jon produced a more focused piece. What's even more significant about this article though is that it speculates about the mysteriously reticient Andrew Cartmel's plans for the series; little did we know at the time that we'd be publishing an in-depth interview with the man himself in the following issue!

The front cover features another brilliant piece of artwork by Warwick (Scott) Gray, - his last front cover for TSV - featuring the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Bernice. I recall Warwick protested at the time that he didn't feel comfortable with his artwork getting pride of place on the front covers, but I thought his work was so good it was a shame not to show it off as much as possible.

Click here to begin reading TSV 39.

28 August, 2006

Remembering TSV 38

It's been a few weeks since I've posted anything here, so apologies to the lurkers (yes, you!) who've been missing my missives.

TSV 38 (March 1994) has just joined the TSV online archive. Whilst I was re-editing this issue for online publication it dawned on me that I do not have as much recollection of this period as I do of other points in TSV's history. I put this down to the fact that 1994 was really not a good time for me, and without ever consciously intending to, I seem to have erased a lot of the details from my memory of that time. I went through a lot of personal ups and downs over the course of that year and having TSV to keep me occupied undoubtedly assisted in getting through a difficult patch in my life.

The 1994 issues saw more interviews in TSV than ever before, and issue 38 has two - with director Michael Hayes and writer Gareth Roberts. Hayes was at the time one of a few Doctor Who directors that Doctor Who Magazine had never managed to interview. Through a close family connection, TSV regular contributor Graham Howard managed to track him down and secure an interview. Not long after this issue saw print, DWM conducted their own interview with Hayes. Because of this timing I've always suspected (though never confirmed), that it was the TSV interview which tipped off the DWM guys as to Hayes' whereabouts.

In an earlier issue of TSV I had promoted a local supplier who had contacted me seeking to selling off his stock of Sevans Dalek model kits. These were rather good. I bought one myself and we gave away another in a short story competition. TSV reader Stephen Pritchard bought one of these kits and built his own remote controlled Dalek, many years before it was possible to buy such a thing ready-made. Stephen's article about the construction of his Dalek appeared in this issue. I got to see Stephen's Dalek in operation sometime after the article appeared, and it really was a thing of beauty. Stephen's still around in science fiction fandom - he's one of the organisers of Conspiracy 2, next year's SF convention in Wellington.

Jon Preddle had by this time documented missing scenes for a few stories in TSV, but this issue (featuring Dragonfire) saw the beginning of a concentrated two-year run of regular pieces from him, each looking at cut scenes from a single story, mostly from the McCoy era. This series of very detailed articles were later used in a cut-down form by the well respected fan journal In-Vision.

Signifying Nothing was a story I'd written the previous year as a Brief Encounters submission for Doctor Who Magazine. I'm pretty sure I never sent the story into the magazine. I think I got disheartened after reading that DWM already had a large pile of Brief Encounters still to publish. So I dusted off my story and printed it in TSV instead. I used to write a lot of Doctor Who short stories, but around this time I decided to focus on writing articles and leave the fiction to others much better at it than myself. Various novelisations aside, Signifying Nothing remains to this day my last piece of published Doctor Who fiction.

The last of my Novelisations articles saw print this issue, this time covering the Troughton era Target books. To this day I've yet to get around to covering the Fourth, Fifth or Sixth Doctor books. At the time I still held out faint hope that the unpublished stories from these eras might one day appear under the Target logo (there were rumours circulating at the time that the two remaining Dalek stories would soon be novelised), so that was why I initially held off writing the rest of the articles. By the time it was finally evident that the novelisations would never be published the moment had long since passed. I have been thinking though that if there's sufficient interest from readers, that I might write the articles to complete the set, for online publication.

Mentioning the novelisations brings me to well-known Doctor Who cover artist Alister Pearson, who has contributed to this online edition of TSV 38. Alister emailed me out of the blue earlier this year to correct a few small errors in my novelisations articles about his cover artwork. Alister was very complimentary about the articles, and when I got to this issue I contacted him again to get his feedback on Jon Preddle's Doctor's Dilemma article, which had attempted to answer a question abnout the cryptic initials that had appeared in many of Alister's paintings. Jon had speculated about many of the initials in his original piece and I wanted to replace the speculation with answers from the artist himself. Alister responded enthusiastically to my request, delivering a fairly comprehensive list, which you can see in the article, and has since emailed me few more times as the origins of other initials have occurred to him.

The superbly talented Warwick Gray returned to the front cover after a long absence with a terrific illustration depicting The Evil of the Daleks. I've always thought it's a shame that DWM readers don't get to appreciate that as well as being a knock-out comic strip writer, Scott Gray (as he calls himself these days) is also a great artist. Warwick had sent me the artwork as a full-page piece intended for use elsewhere in the issue, but I thought it was just too good to pass up using on the front cover. I did have to trim a section off the top of the artwork to make it fit below the TSV logo, as due to the colour separation, I couldn't simply lay the logo over the top as I'd done with many of Warwick's previous front cover compositions. When I dug out the print masters for this issue, I was delighted to discover that I still had the full illustration, so it's seen complete for the first time here.

Last but by no means least, issue 38 is also significant for featuring the first ever TSV contribution by long-time TSV regular writer and artist, Peter Adamson, another hugely talented individual whom I feel honoured to have worked with on TSV for so long. Peter's full-page Lesser-Known Who-Gear! cartoon in this issue was just the beginning of an unbroken run of contributions for 34 issues over twelve years. Lately Peter's been devoting his time to his own fanzine, Zeus Plug.

So after all that commentary, it seems I recall more about this issue than I thought! Click the link to read TSV 38.

04 August, 2006

Nightmare, With Angel

I collect books by British thriller writer Stephen Gallagher. He has an extraordinarily compelling prose style and his novels are simply gripping. I own a complete collection of his books and buy each new title soon after it comes out.

Stephen Gallagher was once an author whose works could commonly be found in bookstores, but like other horror/thriller authors, he has somwhat fallen out of fashion with mainstream book publishers over the last decade, apparently due to the declining popularity of this particular genre of novels. These days Gallagher's books are published in relatively small quantities as signed, limited edition hardbacks.

Several years ago I was sorting out my overladen bookshelves and discovered to my annoyance that I was missing one of the books from my Gallagher collection, a 1992 novel called Nightmare, With Angel. I used to own this book. I remember buying it in paperback in 1993, so I suspect that I either loaned it to someone and it was never returned, or it got misplaced during several changes of residence in the mid-1990s.

No matter, I thought; I'd just pick up a replacement copy the next time I saw it in a bookstore. Of course I could have purchased one from Amazon or Ebay, but I didn't want to go to this expense for something I should be able to find relatively easily and cheaply in person. Or so I thought.

I browse new and secondhand bookshops fairly frequently, so over the last four or five years I've been looking for this Stephen Gallagher book I must have made hundreds of visits to various bookshops, always glancing over the 'G' section of the fiction range, and checking out the horror/thriller titles, if the shop happened to have a separate section. But I simply couldn't find the book anywhere. I'm not just talking about Auckland either; in that time I've been into bookshops in Wellington, Christchurch, Brisbane, Sydney, London, Blackpool, even the world-famous bookshop town Hay-on-Wye. I've seen various other Gallagher novels on the shelves - Oktober, Follower, Valley of Lights, Rain and Down River all crop up with depressing frequency, but no Nightmare, With Angel.

There was a moment early this year when I thought my quest was at an end. I visited a secondhand bookshop in Kaikoura which had a copy of the book in paperback but - cruel fate - it was in such shockingly poor condition (the bottom half of the back cover and last few pages had been torn off) that I simply couldn't bring myself to buy it. So the hunt went on.

Finally, last weekend my luck changed. Rochelle persuaded me to get up early on Saturday morning to go with her to the Variety Club book sale, a massive collection of secondhand books held each year at the Alexandra Park raceway in Epsom. I trawled through the sale, picking up a few books that interested me and was just about to finish looking when I glanced below one of the tables to one of the overflow boxes and there it was - a copy of Nightmare, With Angel, and a first edition hardback, no less. Honestly, after years of searching, time stood still for me for a moment. I simply couldn't believe my eyes. The book was in excellent condition, and what's more, when I took it up to the counter it cost me a grand total of 50 cents which hardly seemed right after all the years I’d been looking for this elusive novel.

My Stephen Gallagher collection is complete once more and my next challenge will be to kick the long ingrained habit of looking under 'G' in bookshops!

24 July, 2006

Doctor Who and Shada

I'm delighted to announce that my novelisation of the lost Season 17 Doctor Who story Shada is at last available to read online.

This TSV book has been unavailable since late last year and I've since received many requests from fans wanting to read this and the other TSV 'missing Target' novelisations. Over time, the remaining four novelisations will be added to the website.

This e-book version will also appeal to those who have previously read the book as I've created a set of 'DVD-like' special features, including a chapter-by-chapter commentary detailing the various changes and additions made to the adaptation and also the variances in the book's three print editions.

Very few of my working notes survive from the previous editions of this book, so the creation of the Author's Notes section involved combing through the three print versions, the rehearsal scripts and the handwritten video transcript to identify the changes and alterations I made many years ago.

From the time that I started collecting the Target Doctor Who books (some twenty-five years ago), I decided I wanted to be a writer and to write my own novelisation of one of the stories. Shada was the realisation of this dream, and as such it is immensely satisfying to see this book finally immortalised online for all to enjoy.

30 June, 2006

The Little Pig that Flew

FlyingPig.co.nz was a New Zealand online retailer selling books, DVDs, videos and software. It was launched in November 1999 and ran for almost exactly two years, closing in November 2001. I worked for the company for all of those two years (one of only two staff who were there from beginning to end). I started out in customer service, soon moved on to content editor for the DVD & VHS category and then was promoted to General Manager of the company for the last seven months of its life. Halfway through its life FlyingPig was bought up by a larger company, ITMedia, so when it was wound down and eventually closed, such decisions was out of my hands and I was made redundant along with the few remaining staff.

FlyingPig may have long since gone but it is not forgotten, as evidenced by a couple of disparaging comments in the latest issue of the New Zealand Listener. The issue's lead article (not online at the time of writing) is an investigation of online shopping (“Hot to Shop”) and describes FlyingPig as an “internet folly” and a “dotcom disaster”.

If these descriptions were accurate, you'd think that whenever I mention my past career that I'd be met with either a sharp intake of breath or worse still a sympathetic expletive. In fact I've very rarely had to suffer the disparaging associations implied by the Listener article. Instead I have for the most part experienced positive reactions from both people I've met and worked with in the retail industry and also former FlyingPig customers.

In fact I was headhunted for another Internet retail position on the strength of my involvement with Flying Pig. Though it turned out to be a complete coincidence, I received the phone call asking me to come and work for Noel Leeming on the very afternoon that I arrived home, having been made redundant from FlyingPig earlier that same day.

Furthermore, the website software platform used by FlyingPig survives and is now used by a number of other retailers, including Real Groovy, which the Listener article features as one of its examples of an online success story.

The domain name has changed hands a few times since the Pig's demise, and is at the time of writing is parked here, and a fragmentary version of the former FlyingPig website (from 29 June 2001) is archived here.

What the Listener article fails to mention is that in the two years that FlyingPig was operating, New Zealanders were only just starting to catch on to the online shopping trend and the revenue simply wasn’t sufficient to sustain an online retailer. I've written a letter to the editor to defend FlyingPig's reputation, and pointed out that had this online store been launched a few years later, FlyingPig might well have become a byword not for ‘folly’ but ‘success’.

21 June, 2006


This week, TSV turns 19 years old.

It was in this week, back in June 1987, that with the help of Paul Sinkovich I put the finishing touches on the very first issue and sent out the first copies to a small group of fans. That issue was only 28 pages long, and was produced on a typewriter. It was a far cry from the 100 page, digitally composited issues of today. The only artwork content was MC Escher's "Castrovalva" picture on the front cover. Paul and I ran off about 20 copies on a coin operated photocopier in the freezing cold foyer of the Human Sciences building on the Auckland University campus.

Back then I hoped TSV would be a success of course, but I don't think even at our most optimistic that we ever predicted that it would still be going nearly two decades later!

19 June, 2006

Yours sincerely, wasting away

Yesterday, Paul McCartney reached that age. Yes, one of the two surviving Beatles turned 64, and in a cruel twist of fate this milestone comes just weeks after the announcement that he and Heather Mills are to divorce. Ironically, McCartney's famous song When I'm 64 was all about questioning whether a loving relationship would last through to old age.

Paul McCartney turned 26 years old the day I was born in Islington Hospital in London on 18 June 1968. I've long harboured a suspicion that I share his name for this very reason, though my mother claims otherwise. This in spite of the fact that when I was growing up we had a stack of Beatles records on vinyl stowed away in a cupboard (I recall specifically Sergeant Pepper, Rubber Soul and Revolver), all apparently purchased when they were first released. Hmmm.

Now that I'm 38, I'm really starting to feel my age. Last month I visited a doctor for the first time in over ten years and, after a barrage of tests, was diagnosed as suffering from asthma. I'm more accutely aware of my own mortality than ever.

As a child, birthdays were something wonderful to look forward to, counting off the weeks and days until the special day. I remember being especially pleased that my birthday fell almost exactly midway between Christmases, so at most there was only ever at most a six month gap between receiving presents. That sort of thing's important when you're a child.

In recent years birthdays have become for me a far less appealing prospect. Not because of the presents - I love the Doctor Who birthday cake Rochelle secretly arranged to have made for me, and the gifts from her are, as always, so well chosen that they're all things I was planning to buy myself (the Family Guy DVD box set, a book about the making of the new Battlestar Galactica series and a Star Wars novel) - but because I'm reminded that I'm a year older, though not necessarily a year wiser.

Though I've every intention that Rochelle and I will still be together, when I'm 64.

23 May, 2006

TSV 37 online

TSV 37 has now been added to the TSV online archive (just ahead of the print publication of its mirror opposite, TSV 73).

This issue was originally published in January 1994 and features a long interview with Gary Russell. The interview is a snapshot of a moment in time when Gary was editor of DWM, the telesnaps had just been found, and his first New Adventures novel, Legacy, was about to be published. The interview was conducted by Jon Preddle during a trip to the UK.

Whilst in the UK Jon also attended a day of location filming for 30 Years in the TARDIS, at Butler's Wharf. Jon's report with accompanying photos (some of which were purchased and used in DWM) appears in this issue.

The issue also includes include my own detailed analysis of the plot of Warriors' Gate. The article came about when someone at an Auckland Chapter meeting suggested that this story needed explaining. Warrior's Gate is one of my all-time favourite stories so I needed little persuasion to tackle the subject. I'm particularly proud of the result, and submitted it for consideration when Paul Cornell was soliciting fanzine articles for his Licence Denied book. The article didn't make the cut, but it was one of the first things I got Alden to post online a few years ago, when the TSV Archive consisted of just a small handful of items from scattered issues.

The other article I wrote for this issue was a fairly scathing critique of Dimensions in Time, along with a synopsis for the benefit of the majority of TSV readers who would most likely have not seen this mini-story.

Graham Howard contributed a thought-provoking article about the ethical morality in the New Adventures novel Cat's Cradle: Witch Mark, drawing interesting parallels with Blade Runner, which is one of my all-time favourite movies.

Issue 37 also saw the introduction of a new look for TSV covers, with the move from using coloured card in favour of white card with a spot-colour logo. This was an innovation suggested by the printers, and required a change to the cover layout to keep the artwork clear of the logo, for colour separation purposes. Most previous covers dating back to TSV 21 had seen the logo laid over the top of the artwork. The spot-colour lasted for six issues but the practice of keeping the logo and artwork separate remained right up until this year.

TSV 37's cover featured a striking piece of artwork by Alden Bates that he'd intended to appear alongside his short story The Last Words which also appears in this issue. Alden's story was missing part of the text on publication in the issue. I wasn't responsible for editing the fiction at the time and only became aware that the story was cut when Alden pointed it out to me some years later. Needless to say, the online version is complete.

Click the link to read TSV 37.


17 May, 2006

Doctor Who Pub Meets

I've recently started organising regular Doctor Who club meetings at central Auckland's Muddy Farmer pub. The second monthly pub meet was held last Saturday and was a great success.

The formerly well patronised Auckland Chapter of the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club has been inactive for many years. A lot of that had been to do with the lack of a new series, and by the time it did come back last year, most fans were in a position to obtain episodes fairly quickly on their own, negating demand for a revival of the once-popular video days.

The newly revived Auckland Chapter therefore is much more of a social beast. I find it far more appealing and edifying to sit around talking over a few drinks and some food than it is to all cram into a inadequately ventilated room to peer silently at a TV screen.

After the initial novelty of last month's inaugural pub meet I was concerned about a decline in numbers, but we again had thirteen people which was about as many as we could comfortable cram in around a few tables dragged together. Thirteen people constitute a 'Fandahleen', according to the ever-inventive Jon Preddle, who spontaneously invented a hand signal to demonstrate this. This is in danger of becoming a regular in-joke, especially if we keep hitting the same number.

Oddly enough despite the same number in attendance it was rather a different crowd; around half the contingent this time hadn't been there the previous month. A few travelled all the way from Hamilton, and there were even some people from the dim distant past, including Chris Mander, Bevan Thomas and Tim Hill, in attendance. At times it felt more like a reunion event than a regular meeting.

Rochelle brought along Doctor Who merchandise to sell, including the brand new Tenth Doctor novels that had just arrived the previous day, and we admired Adam's Marks & Sparks Dalek and TARDIS keyrings.

Jono launched the first issue of his free 'pubzine', Zeus Plug, which seemed to be well received by everyone. Normally I'd be somewhat wary at the prospect of another New Zealand Doctor Who fanzine starting up, since TSV struggles for local contributors as it is, but Zeus Plug is not very much like TSV, and it's a stretch to think of it as a competitor. I've written a couple of pieces for forthcoming issues.

The pub meet started at 6pm and the last of the group left shortly before midnight, so it was a long night for those who stayed the distance, and bodes well for future monthly meetings.

03 May, 2006

Loving my Lenovo

Mostly unrelated to my recent desktop PC incident (see previous post), I've recently bought a new laptop, a Lenovo 3000 N100, which is a sturdy and very durable computer that's brand new on the market in New Zealand.

Lenovo is a relatively new company who've taken over manufacturing computers from IBM. This model was recommended to me through the guys who do the computer category purchasing at my work, and I've been very impressed with it thus far.

My old laptop, a battered Sony Vaio, was a free hand-me-down my uncle. He'd used it whilst travelling the world in his capacity as a underwater wildlife cameraman for the BBC, and understandably it had suffered quite a few knocks and scrapes on its travels. This poor old Vaio laptop whirrs loudly whenever it's on, takes ages to open any applications and generates enough heat to double as a sort of electronic hot water bottle.

The new laptop is very quiet and extremely fast. It comes with a tiny built-in webcam, a built-in wireless modem, a and a fingerprint reader which can bypass the need to enter passwords.

I've also finally equipped our house with a wireless router (something I've been meaning to do for months), so we have broadband Internet access without needing to stay couped up in the study. I can now multi-task whilst sitting in front of the TV, lying in bed, or whilst cooking dinner - as I did last night. Of course this new laptop has the added attraction of doubling as a portable DVD player, and whilst the built-in speakers are too tinny to be of much use in this capacity, the sound quality through headphones is exceptional. I tried out a DVD on it a few nights ago and was so impressed with the picture and sound through the laptop that I ended up watching the movie all the way through.

When computers go bad

Just a couple of days after my previous post, my home PC died. When I say it died, it froze up whilst I was out of the room and I couldn't get it to restart. After calling in an expert the diagnosis was that the harddrive had physical damage and needed to be replaced. Annoyingly, the computer was just a few months out of warranty. One new harddrive and a hefty repair bill later, the computer is once again functioning properly, but very little could be saved from the original harddrive.

Things could have been a lot worse - as it is we've lost at most about most two months worth of data. I'm very thankful that I'd backed up the files from my PC to my portable harddrive (an indispensible Iomega 160GB unit - everyone should have one of these!) just before we left on our South Island trip.

Annoyingly, I'd been planning to update my backup just before the PC crashed. I've resolved to backup more frequently in future!

17 April, 2006

Meeting the Prime Minister

There are probably too many opportunities to meet the Prime Minister, especially not outside of election time.

So although I regard politicians with a healthy measure of distrust, I couldn't help but be impressed at the sheer casual approachability of New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who fronted up to a small town gathering this weekend and got straight in amongst the crowd to chat, shake hands and have her picture taken.

The occasion was the 100th anniversary of the opening of the railway line to Waihi, on the Saturday of the Easter long weekend. We were in the vicinity having gone down to stay overnight at Rochelle's parents' new home on the outskirts of Thames (on the Coromandel Pennisula). Reading in the local paper that there would be steam trains running between Waikino and Waihi through the Karangahake Gorge over Easter, we were there like a shot. Far from being your typical anorak-clad trainspotter, I nonetheless have a weakness for steam trains.

The railway line between Waikino and Waihi is about 7km long and is run as a tourist attraction by a railway restoration society. Normally they operate a diesel engine, but for the 100th anniversary celebrations, a couple of small steam engines were on loan from MOTAT (Museum Of Transport And Technology) in Auckland.

We'd seen in the paper that the Prime Minister woulds be there to give a speech but I didn't pay this much attention. We were waiting on the station platform at Waikino when Helen Clark showed up with her husband and sister to join the rest of the passengers. No pomp and ceremony, no special treatment. Just three people in casul clothing ready for a trip on a steam train.

The train was fairly full, and the main crowd were waiting at Waihi, the other end of the line. We disembarked and joined what was a relatively small group of maybe two or three hundred people. Helen Clark moved effortlessly through the crowd, saying hello to everyone and shaking hands. Rochelle was keen to get her photo taken, so we moved in and soon got our chance. Rochelle got to shake Helen Clark's hand and exchange a few words while I took a couple of photos.

Later on Helen Clark gave a speech about the history of Waihi and the railway, and then after more meet and greet, she prepared to leave by car. Most of the crowd who were not making the return trip on the train had dispersed by this time.

I happened to be standing not far away from a mother was trying to help out her young son with his shoelaces which had become tangled in a tight knot. She wasn't having much luck and the boy was a bit tearful. Suddenly Helen Clark darted over and was down on her hands and knees trying to work the shoelaces free. It took a while but eventually she managed it and then retied the boy's laces for him. The mother was understandably deeply impressed to have the PM helping out with her son.

Great piece of PR, demonstrating that our Prime Minister is in touch with the little people, and win a bunch of Labour votes with the locals, right? The thing is, there were no reporters, no camera crews about to record this moment and most people didn't even notice what she was doing. I was probably one of only a very few people there who saw it happen.

The train ride back to Waikino was spectacular - we rode in the open truck with the steam and soot blowing in our hair as the train charged down the line. The railway line follows the main road for most of its length so we had a great time exchanging waves with car passengers as they passed us.

An excellent day out!

10 April, 2006

TSV 36 - reaching the halfway mark

TSV 36 is now online. This issue marks a milestone for the online archive project in that - numerically at least - we've now reached the halfway point (because as of writing, TSV 72 is the latest issue in print... but not for much longer).

There's far more material to cover in the thirty-six issues that have yet to appear online than in the ones we've already archived as recent issues are both considerably longer and also more densely packed with content than their earlier counterparts, but reaching the halfway mark is nonetheless an achievement in this huge project.

Issue 36 was a milestone at the time of publication too; it was published in November 1993 and as such marked the 30th anniversary of Doctor Who and according to the editorial it was mailed out just one day before the anniversary date. I recall stapling and folding the issues in the front room of the flat we'd recently moved into in Bayswater on Auckland's North Shore and Scott McPherson helped out with the envelope stuffing.

The content was geared to reflect the anniversary with a pull-out story guide, and a look back at the series' origins with a study of the differences between the pilot and the broadcast version of the very first episode. TARDIS Tales also got in on the celebration with a typically anarchic story featuring the first six Doctors turning up to an anniversary party in the TARDIS and discovering that Saucer has accidentally eaten the Seventh Doctor! The story also features the debut of an Eighth Doctor a couple of years before Paul McGann arrived on the scene.

The Space Museum, a long-running column that collected together snippets of Doctor Who cropping up in unexpected places, had its last outing in this issue. This regular feature relied entirely on readers' submissions and when these stopped, so did the column.

The front cover was the last in a run of artwork by Neil Lambess. Drawn with the anniversary issue in mind, Neil depicted the Time Space Visualiser (from The Chase), reasoning that it was an appropriate time for the TSV to make an appearance on the cover of TSV.

David J Howe's article on the making of his Timeframe book was written especially for TSV. Earlier that year I'd been supplied with galley proofs of selected pages from the book by the ever-supportive Virgin Publishing to use in TSV as advance publicity for Timeframe. The proofs weren't used alongside David's article due to a lack of space, but the online edition has provided an opportunity to dig these proof pages out of storage and finally display them in colour.

Jon Preddle and Graham Howard had both just returned from separate trips to the UK at the time of the issue's publication, and both writers submitted an article about UK conventions they'd attended, just in time to make it into the issue. Jon had a lot more to write about his trip, but this would have to wait for the following issue...

Read TSV 36 here .

06 April, 2006

Faster, Cheaper Broadband...?

We have a broadband account with Xtra, which is New Zealand's largest Internet provider, being the online division of Telecom.

Xtra have launched what they're calling "Faster, Cheaper" broadband services this week. I am of course interested to see how this would benefit us. How much faster, how much cheaper would our broadband access become? We've been paying $49.95 a month for the Explorer plan.

Yesterday we received a letter in the mail advising us of the changes to our account. No where in this letter is there any mention at all of it being "Cheaper" and indeed the Explorer plan stays at exactly the same price, so we're still paying $49.95 per month. How can Xtra claim that they're delivering "Cheaper" broadband?

And as for a faster connection, I know there are many factors to take into account when measuring broadband speed but I've yet to see any change at all in the speed of our connection.

Faster, Cheaper broadband? I think not. I feel duped.

26 March, 2006

Magnificient Marine Mammals

Auckland is a very popular destination for tourists, but living here we don't usually feel all that inclined to try out the tourist attractions on our own back doorstep. We tend to behave like tourists only when we're away from our familaiar environs.

We might never have gone whale watching in Auckland if I hadn't been given tickets for Auckland's Dolphin and Whale Safari by my company at Christmas. With our seventh wedding anniversary happening this week (tomorrow in fact), we decided that this was a good time to mark the occasion and use the tickets which have been pinned under a magnet on the fridge for the past three months. So we went yesterday (which turned out to be a good move as today is a howling storm outside and would have made for a miserable trip if we'd picked Sunday rather than Saturday).

The safari was great fun. We spent about 5-6 hours travelling around the Hauraki Gulf on a 20 metre Powercat, which is a twin-hulled boat with plenty of observation points both enclosed and on the deck. There was a party of about 35 of us, mostly tourists from all corners of the globe, but a few locals like ourselves.

The crew were very entertaining and informed commentators, hugely passionate about marine ecology and the importance of looking after the environment and protecting whales and dolphins from slaughter by humans.

We travelled quite some distance to the outer reaches of the Hauraki Gulf, out as far as the Coromandel pennisula and the Barrier islands. For a long time it looked like we might not get to see any whales or dolphins. Apparently there are a few days when there are none to be found (when that happens the tourists get a discount voucher for a return trip).

After a few hours of looking (concentrations of birds flying close to the surface of the sea is the telltale sign), we came across what the crew referred to as a 'work-up', a phrase that made sense once we came close enough to see what was happening. A pod of perhaps as many as 250 'Common Dolphins' (Delphinus delphis) had herded pilchards into a tight ball and had driven them up to the surface where they were picking them off in a frenzy, and the sea birds, especially gannets. The dolphins were joined by three Bryde's Whales (Balaenoptera edeni) which rather unfairly in seemed, undid all the dolphins' hard work by diving up through the ball of fish and taking many of the pilchards for themselves. This is however apparently the way it normally happens - when you see a pod of dolphins feeding there's usually a whale or three around as well.

I tried to get some good photos, but the speed of the whales and dolphins was far greater than my own reactions or the speed of my digital camera, so I came away with lots of shots of ocean and only a few of these magnificient marine mammals.

A highly recommended day out, for visitors to Auckland and locals alike!

22 March, 2006

What We Did On Our Holidays (Part 3)

Sunday 26 February

Sunday was another brilliantly hot and sunny day. We stuck around to help clear up after the wedding reception and took some time out to explore some of the farm, including making the acquaintance of some sheep. After an afternoon BBQ with the bride and groom and various remaining guests, we bid a reluctant farewell to everyone who'd made us feel so welcome, especially Bruce and Carol who'd been wonderful hosts, and finally started on our trek across country.

We didn’t have much of a travel itinerary in mind, but having seen all the signs pointing the way to Arthur’s Pass as we’d travelled out to the farm, it seemed logical to keep going, and head for the pass and across to the West Coast. We got underway around 3pm and made our way through the sleepy settlement of Darfield – which seemed to be little more than a few houses and some tearooms – and then headed for the hills.

We stopped for a break in Otira Gorge near a railway station and sidings. The railway track lead out from the station across a large bridge over a chilly mountain river and on the other side the track disappeared into a tunnel. This is the longest railway tunnel in the Southern Alps, 8.5 kilometres long. In the years before the tunnel was built, the railway terminated here. As we took a walk by the river’s edge we heard the growing rumble of an approaching train through the tunnel, and found ourselves a prime position to witness a very long coal train emerge from the tunnel and cross the bridge, hauled by four massive locomotives. The coal train was barely clear of the bridge when it stopped, and was soon met by another huge coal train coming in the other direction on a parallel track. We watched as a complex shuffling of locomotives took place - the front two engines from the first train were uncoupled and were manoeuvred into position in front of the two engines on the second train. It seemed to be four locomotives were required to pull trains through the tunnel, as once the first train had departed the second train entered the tunnel. Perhaps those two locomotives only ever go from one end of the tunnel to the other?

Above: The head of the train emerges from the tunnel mouth and approaches the bridge.

While we’d been watching the trains, we’d noticed the same police car drive up and down the same stretch of road several times. As we made our way back towards the campervan, a helicopter flew overhead and set down in a field close to the car park. The helicopter crew were met by the police and after some discussion and donning protective clothing the crew and police officers all took off in the helicopter and soared away over the top of the looming mountain ridge high above us. We learned from a newspaper a few days later that we’d witnessed the beginning of a hunt for a missing woman, an English tourist who’d failed to return from a walk. Unfortunately her body was discovered a couple of days later in the bush – she’d apparently fallen down a cliff.

We’d only travelled a short distance up the road when Rochelle noticed keas on the side of the road. We stopped so that Rochelle could get some photos. These cheeky native parrots are fearless and seem to love performing for tourists. They paraded up and down the footpath outside the Arthur’s Pass information centre and played chicken with the cars in the road.

Above: Why did the kea cross the road? To entertain the tourists, that's why...

Driving on through the pass, we stopped for the night at Kelly Valley, a camping ground that was little more than an unsealed gravel road beside a river.

Monday 27 February

There’s nothing like washing in a river with water that’s melted off the snow-capped mountains to wake you up in the morning and let you know you’re alive. If the water was any colder it would have iced over!

We travelled on to Hokitika, where we stocked up on supplies – including bug spray, as we’d discovered that the van had a tendency to fill up with sandflies at night. We had a marvellous lunch in a restaurant where I discovered the delicacy that is South Island Blue Cod. This is a simply delicious fish, and for the remainder of our trip I sought out for takeaways that sold this. Unfortunately I’ve yet to find anywhere in Auckland that sells Blue Cod and I rather suspect that if and when I do find it that it’s going to be rather expensive. Hokitika has this great windswept beach littered with driftwood and rocks. We found some remarkable small green stones, polished by the waves just by walking a short distance along the beach.

Above: The wild and windswept Hokitika beach, littered with driftwood.

From Hokitika we drove south, heading as far as Fox Glacier. As we approached, the skies darkened and by the time we pulled into the glacier car park a light shower of rain had started to fall. Undeterred by a little water, we set off along the track. As we walked, the rain got heavier and heavier and we were soon drenched to the skin. Close to the glacier itself, we were admonished by a tour guide leading a party of elderly tourists all decked out in full wet weather gear. We must have looked like a couple of drowned rats. “It’s only a little water!” I cheerily assured the glowering guide, who clearly disapproved of our light, summer attire.

Above: Me at Fox Glacier. Freezing rain not pictured.

Despite the (by now) torrential rain, Fox Glacier was a truly impressive sight up close, looking for all the world like a massive surge of water, rushing through a valley, that had frozen solid in a blink of an eye. I risked taking a few shots whilst trying not to get my digital camera wet. By the time we got back to the camper van we were completely soaked and splattered with mud from the walking track.

We drove back to Franz Josef, a short distance back along the main road, where we tried our luck at the Franz Josef Top 10 Motor Camp. We were fortunate to get one of the very last vacancies for the night. The camp was fully decked out with kitchens, washing machines, clothes dryers, TV and games rooms and – most importantly of all – hot showers. There is nothing that quite matches the experience of getting out of freezing wet clothes and stepping under a piping hot shower. Sheer exquisite bliss!

To be continued...

16 March, 2006

TSV issue 35 now online

TSV 35, the green Sea Devil issue with its very eye-catching front cover by Neil Lambess, is now online.

This issue sees the introduction of a new style of index page that the highly talented Alden Bates is now retrospectively applying to the back catalogue (he's working backwards and at the time of writing has reached TSV 27). The new look has been in development for a few months. Late last year I spent some time delving through the online archive of the New Zealand Listener and inspired by the layout of their index pages for each issue (which sadly only goes back as far as June 2003 - now there's a job I'd like - building an online archive of Listener issues...), mocked up a new index page layout and sent this off to Alden. After a bit of discussion about what did and didn't work, Alden nailed the format you see today.

The big difference with the new index page format, apart from being considerably more pleasing on the eye, is that the issues appear more like online publications in their own right. You still have the option of viewing the old index page (via the 'Print Version' link), but the new format dispenses with the page numbers from the paper edition and is no longer locked down to the sequence in which the items originally appeared in the print issues. The links are now grouped together under subheadings such as 'Features', 'Regulars', 'Fiction', etc, and only the material that actually appears online is listed. It's also pleasing to see the artwork given more prominence in the new look index pages, as this has always been an integral part of TSV.

TSV 35 was published in September 1993. That was the last issue published while I was still living in King Edward Ave in Epsom. A couple of months later I moved to the North Shore, to a street that quite by coincidence, was also called King Edward Ave (though the street has since been renamed Bayswater Ave to avoid confusion and mis-directed mail...)

TSV had few overseas contributors at the time and as such it was thrilling to have Kate Orman write for us about the process of getting her first New Adventures novel commission, for The Left-Handed Hummingbird. The issue also featured a piece of short fiction from Kate, called Dawn. This story had actually been submitted many months earlier, but Kate had mailed it to the old TSV address in Christchurch and the envelope had apparently been forwarded on once or twice before former editor Andrew Poulsen sent it on to me.

This issue saw the return of TARDIS Tales, brought back by popular demand for a second lease of life that, with a few missed issues along the way, would run through to its eventual end in TSV 50.

The Dark Dimension had recently been cancelled, leaving the fans without their promised epic thirtieth anniversary story (the least said about its replacement the better...), and in this atmosphere of doom and gloom its perhaps not surprising that the issue features a couple of opinion pieces (In Memory Alone, The Final Nail) touching on the subject of whether Doctor Who now had a future on television. How times change!

15 March, 2006

With or Without You

The holiday travelogue resumes shortly. During this short intermission I want to follow up an earlier blog entry I made about my quest for tickets to the U2 concert. Yes, that's right, the concert that's happening this weekend. Only it isn't, because late last week the band announced that they were postponing the entire Australia - New Zealand - Japan - Hawaii leg of their Vertigo '06 tour.

Now apparently they've got a very good reason for this - a seriously ill immediate family member of one of the band - and in consideration of that I don't for a moment begrudge them their decision to postpone, but after trying for so long to obtain tickets and finally succeeding, this latest turn of events just feels like another bump in the road. The latest is that the concerts will be rescheduled for as yet unspecified dates in November. Right now that seems like a very long time away.

Until recently, a billboard near where I work displayed an advert which read something like "U2 Will Play With or Without You in Auckland on March 17 & 18. Make sure it's With." Well done to the marketing bod who came up with that one. Of course U2 won't be playing 'With or Without You' - or any other songs - in Auckland this weekend. Perhaps 'Gone' is the apposite U2 song title now?

14 March, 2006

What We Did On Our Holidays (Part 2)

Friday 24 February

A very hot and brilliantly sunny day in Christchurch. We explored the central city on foot in the morning, checking out books, music and DVDs and realising that the shopping isn’t nearly as good as Wellington. Even Christchurch's Real Groovy store doesn't seem nearly as well stocked as their Wellington branch.

In the afternoon I left Rochelle shopping to get a lift out to the rehearsal for Adam and Sandra’s wedding. The wedding was held about 40kms out of Christchurch, on the bride’s family farm, in a remote area of countryside near Darfield. My main task was to start and stop the music during the ceremony but I also helped out with other preparations.

In the evening, myself, Adam and Karl (the best man) returned to the city. I collected Rochelle, who was by now quite hot and footsore from walking around the shops all afternoon and we all trekked off to a lovely outdoor pub called the Dux which specialised in its own specialty beers. I particularly liked the Ginger Tom, an alcoholic ginger beer. We were joined by Morgan and Claire – by a remarkable coincidence Rochelle and Morgan had crossed paths years earlier when Morgan had played the Doctor in a Doctor Who fan video recorded by Rochelle. Morgan had kicked Rochelle’s K9 down a hill. I think she forgave him!

The Dux has lager lamps. A lager lamp is best described as a very tall glass pipe with a beer handle at the bottom. The pipe is filled with beer and we got about three rounds out of each lamp. We got through two of these and were contemplating a third when commonsense prevailed as the groom and best man had an early start the following morning.

Top:The first lager lamp, but not the last....
Bottom: Christchurch Cathedral, seen through beer-goggles round midnight.
(photos taken on mobile phone)

Saturday 25 February

What is it about pub-brewed beer that doesn't leave you with a hangover the morning after?

Alas, this was the day that we bid farewell to our luxury apartment and started roughing it as campers. The morning was spent trekking out to the airport by bus, where we picked up our campervan that would be our home for the next week. We were very fortunate to get the van. We booked well in advance with Escape Rentals but they phoned us just as we were leaving Auckland to tell us that the van they had for us had been badly damaged in an accident by the previous hirers, and they didn't have any other spare vehicles. To Escape's credit they did all the phoning around for us and within a day had jacked up an equivalent-sized van with another rental company, Freedom. We learned when we picked up the van that Freedom had been working quickly to get it fully kitted out for us as it was a new addition to their fleet. All credit to them for doing this for us!

After stopping in at Papanui shopping centre to stock up on supplies we headed out into the rural backblocks of Christchurch for the wedding. There were a number of guests staying in caravans in an adjacent field so turning up in a campervan didn't look all that out of place. The wedding, which was held outdoors in the garden, went without a hitch. The weather was brilliant sunny - a little too hot maybe, so I was glad of having a legitimate excuse to dart into the shade to cue up each music track on iTunes. Unlike hot summer days in Auckland though, Christchurch has a dry heat so you don't get soaked to the skin with sweat, and it was generally quite bearable wearing a suit and tie all afternoon.

We were among the last to leave the wedding reception, after the majority of the guests and the bride and groom had departed for rthe city on a chartered coach, not long before midnight. We found our way through the darkness to our campervan and spent our first night in the middle of a farm paddock, under the stars, discovering that a mattress no thicker than an average paperback novel is not recommended for a good night's sleep.

To be continued...

What We Did On Our Holidays (Part 1)

It has been a few weeks since my last posting. We've been away on a trip aound the South Island and since our return last week we've been caught up with dealing with the sudden and unexpected death of a family member. There's also been the usual re-acclimatising to everyday life that seems comes with any return from an extended time away.

While we were away on our trip I made notes with the intention of posting regular updates here on our progress, but it soon became apparent that there wouldn't be the opoportunity to visit an Internet cafe often enough to achieve this, and it's only now that I've gotten around to deciphering my handwritten scrawl. So here's the first instalment of a diary of our trip, in text and pictures.

Wednesday 22 February

We flew down from Auckland to Wellington on an early morning flight. It takes less time to fly between these two cities than it takes to get from our house to Auckland Airport. Each time I visit Wellington I'm struck by how much better the shopping in Wellington is than Auckland. There seems to be more variety, more range - and more secondhand bookshops too though an old favourite, Bellamys on Cuba St, is closing down.

In the evening we had drinks with a bunch of Wellington TSV readers whom I haven’t seen for simply ages. Rochelle and I stayed overnight in the Comfort Hotel on Cuba St. we had a pokey little hotel room just barely large enough to fit the bed, and windows overlooking the street, which was very noisy even at 2am and sounded like a revolution but was probably just drunken revellers being thrown out of bars. Are these people who have to get up and go to work the next morning...?

Thursday 23 February

Photo: The northern-most tip of the South Island.

An early morning departure from Wellington on the Kaitaki, a large passenger ferry crossing the Cook Strait bound for Picton. We were fortunate not to miss the sailing as the ferry company brought the departure time forward by quarter of an hour and the taxi was late to pick us up. It was a very smooth crossing, to my considerable relief as I’m not good with boats - though Rochelle (who claims to have no problem with them), looked decidedly green for most of the trip! Upon our arrival in Picton the skies quickly darkened and as we made our way on foot to the railway station the rain started to fall. This turned into a storm, apparently causing the delayed arrival of our train. Fortunately by the time it arrived the storm had passed.

Photo: About to board the train in Picton.

The Trans Coastal train from Picton to Christchurch takes about six hours and passes through some dramatic scenery, travelling along the coast close to the waters edge for a long distance, with seals basking on rocks on one side of the train, and rugged hills and snow-capped mountains in the distance on the other. The Trans Coastal has an outdoor observation car, which was a terrific though rather chilly experience. We arrived in Christchurch in the early evening. The railway station is at Addington, which is a suburb of the city and not within easy walking distance of the city centre so we caught a shuttle.

Photo: Our room in the Burberry Apartments.

We’d booked our accommodation online, picking a place called the Burberry Apartments for two nights, for no other reason than it was central and was free the two nights we required. We had little idea what to expect but it was simply delightful. The keys were waiting for us in a safe outside along with instructions. Our apartment was on the first floor, above a clothing store and was one of a number of rooms converted from a converted clothing design company’s premises. The apartment was self-contained with its own kitchen, all wooden polished floors and a lovely four poster bed. Ah, bliss!

To be continued...

18 February, 2006

TSV Regenerates

The baton has been passed. After 15 years of editing and layout for 50-odd issues (plus specials), there's a new TSV issue out for which I've done neither of these tasks. There's a new guy, Adam McGechan, in charge.

TSV itself regenerated and now has a bold new look. The somewhat antiquated Sylvester McCoy era-inspired logo has been retired after 15 years faithful service and a stylish new masthead takes its place.

It's a slightly weird feeling to be a TSV reader, experiencing each article for the first time already laid up on the page. Not having had to solicit the piece from a writer, gently remind him of a looming (or past) deadline, not having to polish the spelling and grammar. Not having to try and fit it into a set number of pages, to try and find some illustrations that fit the subject matter. It's all been done by someone else now.

Here's the publicity blurb:

In TSV 72 (February 2006), Adam McGechan talks to John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Corey Johnson (Henry van Statten), and Dalek voicemaster Nick Briggs in a set of exclusive new series interviews; Chris Skerrow begins his retrospective look at the BBC Past Doctor Adventures; Paul Scoones examines deleted scenes from the 2005 series; David Ronayne weaves a Ninth Doctor tale with Night of the Butterfly; as well as the latest news on series two and reviews of the latest toys, audios, DVDs, book and magazines. All packed into 100 pages, TSV 72 is available now.

Further details can be found at http://www.doctorwho.org.nz.

16 February, 2006

It's all about the droid

At a science fiction convention I attended a few years back I hosted a Star Wars discussion group. In fact this was the last convention I went to before I swore off these things (15 conventions is more than enough for the novelty to have well and truly worn off...). At the time Attack of the Clones was still reasonably recent and nothing as yet was known about Episode 3. The topic I came up with for the discussion was that armed with the knowledge of what occurs in Episodes 1, 2 and 4-6, it should be possible to make a fairly educated guess at the events of Episode 3.

A lively brainstorming session ensued. I think from memory that most of what we predicted was proved correct when Revenge of the Sith came out, and I was particularly pleased that my own prediction that very last shot of the film would be Obi Wan handing over the baby Luke to Own and Beru outside the Lars homestead on Tattooine was pretty much bang on.

One day I intend to watch all six movies in order to appreciate just how well the saga works as a cohesive narrative. Apparently watching A New Hope directly after Revenge of the Sith casts Darth Vader in an entirely new light as a more tragic than truly evil figure. For my money though it's R2D2 who is revealed to be a key player in events.

Crucially R2's memory is not wiped (though C3PO's is), so throughout episode 4-6 this little droid is working with the full awareness of what happened in the first three movies - and armed with this knowledge most likely helps to move things in the right direction. R2 knows full well who Obi Wan is, and probably knows about Luke and Leia's parentage too.

I've discovered a great article which speculates on this very theory, and even more interestingly credits another secondary character with a much greater role in events than hitherto had been suspected. Read the article here.

05 February, 2006

TSV issue 34 now online

TSV 34 is the latest issue to be added to the online archive. This issue was published in July 1993, and happens by accident rather than any degree of foresight to capture that all too brief time in 1993 when it really did look like a new Doctor Who story was going to be made by the BBC.

The Dark Dimension, a ninety minute special featuring all the surviving Doctors, was announced and then cancelled within a few short weeks. TSV 34 happened to be published within that time, and therefore, perhaps tempting fate, the cover boldly featured a diagonal flash stating "It's Back!". Almost as soon as the issue was mailed out, it wasn't.

Working on these old issues of TSV for their new lease of life on the Internet brings back memories. The issue features an article called Creating the Kandy Man by Rochelle Thickpenny. Until that time I only knew of Rochelle as a club member who often sent me drawings for publication in TSV. I was at the DefCon 93 convention in Wellington where she wore her Kandy Man costume and won an award for it. After the judging I ran into Rochelle in the corridor and asked her to write the article that appeared in issue 34. Rochelle later told me that me asking her to write that article made a big impression on her. I think it certainly marked the beginning of our friendship. That friendship later developed into a relationship - and this year we'll celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary. You could say that it all started with that article.

TSV 34 also featured the results of a short story competition. The winner was an Auckland fan called Nicholas Withers, whose story, Remembrance, I think was the first thing he wrote for TSV. I delivered his prize (a kitset model Dalek) to his house in person. I think that was the first time we met. What's significant about this is that a few years later, Nick became my co-editor on TSV.

Nick's contribution to TSV cannot be underestimated. It was Nick who opened my eyes to a better way to put the magazine together. In early 1996 he dragged me away kicking and screaming from my electric typewriter, gluesticks and dot matrix printer and introduced me to the wonders of PC desktop publishing. I learned to use Microsoft Publisher by peering over his shoulder as he deftly laid up page after page of TSV on his computer. It was Nick who advised me about buying my own desktop PC and it was Nick who showed me how to get connected online, how to email and how to use the Internet. Given where those skills have taken me in my career, I owe Nick a debt of thanks. If you're reading this Nick, thanks mate.

... Which brings me to a sudden and surprising realisation - that about now marks the tenth anniversary of me getting my first internet connection!

03 February, 2006

Even Better than the Real Thing

I have tickets to U2. Finally.

If you'd asked me a week ago if I was going to see U2, when they play Auckland next month, I'd have shook my head and muttered something bitterly about queuing for four hours in vain, about overloaded websites and phone lines and ridiculously ineffecient ticket booking syststems.

U2 have been my favourite music group for many years. I first discovered them in the mid-1980s, around the time of The Unforgettable Fire. I loved The Joshua Tree; Rattle and Hum not so much. The group took a long break after that album and I took an even longer break from U2, but not before seeing them play live at Western Springs stadium in Auckland in January 1990.

I rediscovered U2 around 1996 when, on an impulse, I purchased a copy of the Achtung, Baby album. I still consider this to be the finest album they've ever made. The driving, industrial edge to their reinvented sound and the provocative lyrics are just perfect. Achtung Baby isn't just music, it's art.

I missed out on seeing U2 when they played Auckland in the mid-1990s. I was broke and simply could not afford to go.

In recent years I've built up a collection of every U2 CD and every DVD I can lay my hands on. I've even filled in the gaps in their back catalogue of CD singles through some vigilant shopping around on ebay. I even bought the U2 iPod when it was first released.

So when the band announced they were coming to Auckland on their Vertigo tour, there was no question - I had to go. Getting tickets however proved harder than I imagined. The website selling tickets crashed and their phone sales line overloaded. Despite this inability to buy online or over the phone, tickets to their Saturday concert somehow sold out within a couple of hours. A second concert for thre Friday night was announced. This time I joined a queue at dawn outside Real Groovy Records, a music store in central Auckland that would be selling tickets. I queued for four and a half hours. I was ten people from the front of the line when the concert sold out.

That was in early December. Over the days and weeks that followed, I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't be going to either concert. I spoke to many people who had also tried for tickets and lucked out. I even found myself listening to U2 less and less. It wasn't that I blamed the band for my disppointment, it was just that listening to their CDs and watching their DVDs became a painful reminder that even though I had all their music and had listened to them for years, I wouldn't be able to see them live in concert.

A couple of days ago a friend at work told me that there were still tickets available through a US tour company. Pricier than they had been if I'd managed to get them when they first went on sale, but cheaper than the ludicrous prices on NZ auction site TradeMe. The package includes a pre-concert party and travel to the concert venue as part of the price, so that's good.

Most importantly I now have tickets and we're going to the Saturday night, St Patrick's day U2 concert.

Last night I played the Vertigo - Live from Chicago DVD on the big screen and turned it up loud. I love this group.