17 July, 2007

Reversed Polarities

While can TSV justifiably claim to be New Zealand's most successful Doctor Who fanzine, its 'South Island cousin' Reverse the Polarity (RTP) could be the next best thing. Produced in Christchurch by the affable Alex Ballingall (himself a longtime TSV reader), RTP has a small but very loyal readership who are the lifeblood of the zine. RTP celebrates its tenth birthday this year. Alex has a blog about RTP here.

I was doing a tidy up of my files yesterday and came across the following article I wrote a year ago for RTP. It appeared in issue 22, dated June 2006, as part of a much longer piece, entitled 'Polarities Reversed!', a 21 issue retrospective featuring contributions from RTP readers.

RTP Comes of Age

Some might say that I’m not the best person to be writing this article. But Alex asked nicely, and he’s up against a very tight deadline. He wants me to write about RTP, looking back at the last 21 issues from the perspective of both a reader and a fellow fanzine editor. I’ve had some fanzine editing experience and I’ve also been reading RTP since the very first issue, so I guess I fit the bill.

I responded to Alex’s eleventh-hour request because I know all too well what it’s like when you’re about to go to print and there’s still pages that remain resolutely blank. There’s only so much you can cajole, wheedle and coax your contributors when they’re only doing it for the fun. If you push them too hard then as a certain brash Aussie once pointed out, once it stops being fun it’s time to give it up. The editor then wakes up one day to find those contributors have gone somewhere else to reclaim that sense of fun. And in TSV’s case, I rather suspect that it’s RTP where some of these fun-seeking contributors ended up.

I fetched the complete run of RTP issues (1997-2006) from my bookshelves tonight and thumbed through them to jog the memory. You know a fanzine has a substantial back catalogue when it’s difficult to hold the set in one hand. RTP’s either reached that point or I need to work on my grip.

Having clocked up 21 issues, RTP can be said to have come of age, and it’s a figure that I believe makes it officially the third longest New Zealand Doctor Who fanzine in terms of issue count; and even though Gallifrey takes second place, its issues were rather slim, it regurgitated content from DWM and it ended a long time ago. RTP can certainly claim the highest issue count of any post-TSV New Zealand Who fanzine.

RTP was the brainchild of Matt Kamstra and Wade Campbell, (though it wasn’t very long before Alex started taking over – in fact there he is writing in the very first issue!). It was seemingly born out of the collective enthusiasm generated by the rebirth of the local fan community, and indeed for many issues RTP was subtitled “The Fanzine of the Christchurch Chapter of the NZDWFC”.

The inaugural RTP reviewed the 50th issue of TSV, and the reviewer described it as ‘dull’ and lacking in variety. Ouch. Fortunately this did not set the tone for the ongoing relationship between the two zines and although from time to time, particularly in the early issues, RTP would take shots at TSV things have remained perfectly amicable, with the occasional bit of fun being poked by RTP at its bigger and older cousin. I can never forget that astonishing cartoon likeness of me (that jaw line!!) from issue 11.

TSV 50 coincidentally saw the conclusion of TARDIS Tales, but Saucer Smith found a new home in the pages of RTP, ending up on the front cover of the first issue. Graham Muir was just the first of several TSV notable TSV contributors to either ‘defect’ to RTP or to divide their writings and drawings between the two publications.

There were a number of items printed in early issues of RTP that had previously passed across the TSV editor’s desk. RTP in its early days sometimes seemed a little like a safe haven for TSV cast-offs. The zine thankfully soon began to find its own identity however with such gems as the epic Pulp Who comic strip originated by Alex, with a little help from Mr Tarantino. The interviews with local fan personalities began in issue 5; this is something I don’t think TSV could get away with doing, but it works perfectly for RTP’s smaller scale and local readership. I find these interviews fascinating as even though they’re mostly with people I feel I’ve known for years, I learn things from the interviews I never knew.

There have been a few times when I’ve gone the same colour as issue 20 with envy at something that’s appeared in RTP and not TSV. If I had to pick just one example it would be that interview with Warwick ‘Scott’ Gray in issues 7-8. Oh how I would have loved to publish that in TSV. Oddly enough a couple of years ago I was having a drink with Warwick in London and sounded him out over doing an interview for TSV. He replied that he’d already been interviewed in TSV. He didn’t realize until I told him that his interview had ended up in RTP!

Other highlights that have jumped out at me during my trawl back through the RTP catalogue include Alex’s quite remarkable Japanese comic in issue 16, David Ronayne’s simply delightful Tintin-inspired covers, and Peter Adamson’s extraordinarily emotive Cydonia strip.

Finally I’d just like to share with you the secret to long-term success for a New Zealand Doctor Who fanzine. It’s quite simple, really. Devise a name that only fans will understand and then reduce it to just three initials. So now you know what all those other fanzines that are no longer around today were doing wrong!

09 July, 2007

TSV 48

Throughout that long dry spell when there was no new Doctor Who coming out of the BBC it was an ever-present challenge to find fresh and relevant material to fill TSV. So naturally when something significant happened it was seized on to form a focus for an issue. So it was with TSV 48. But, rather like buses, you wait for ages for one event to come along and then three turn up at once...

Nick Withers and I planned the 1996 issues well in advance. Noticing that the New Adventures would hit the 50th release around mid-year, we decided that issue 48 would be a themed special issue, looking back over the entire range. Nick and I were both New Adventures fans, and we also wanted to acknowledge this milestone out of respect to Virgin Publishing, who had been very supportive and helpful to TSV, supplying us with proof covers and review copies for several years by this point.

I'd been hooked up the Internet since the beginning of the year and was still cautiously exploring what this new medium had to offer. I saw the potential in interviewing Doctor Who people on the other side of the world via email, so I found addresses for a handful of New Adventures authors and sent off emails requesting interviews. Paul Cornell and Lance Parkin replied, so I interviewed both writers for the New Adventures special.

Although the original intention had to been to celebrate the past, present and future of the New Adventures, it soon became alarmingly apparent that the books didn't actually have too much life left in them. Virgin were losing the licence and while the range seemed to be still going strong in mid-1996, plans were already taking shape to wind things up. Lance talks in his interview about writing the very last Doctor Who New Adventure (The Dying Days), and Paul talks about how he's about to go to a crisis meeting at Virgin to discuss continuing the range without the Doctor. So as much as TSV 48 was celebrating the New Adventures, the issue would also be delivering potentially grim news for fans of these books.

Of course the catalyst for Virgin losing the Doctor Who book publishing licence was the arrival of the much-anticipated TV Movie starring Paul McGann. At the beginning of 1996 when Nick and I were planning out the issues for the year, the movie was just entering production. Initially we didn't know whereabouts in the year the movie would screen, so linking this event into a specific issue was largely a matter of guesswork. Once the screening date was known it was apparent that we would have reviews and associated coverage in time for TSV 48. So our New Adventures special now had to defer to what would the single most significant Doctor Who event of the 1990s.

The solution we came up with was to split this issue down the middle; one half would cover the TV Movie, and the other the New Adventures, with two front covers and the pages oriented so that the issue could be read from either end.

One day in late May, while all this issue was just starting to take shape, I arrived at work and met up with Rochelle in the staffroom (we were both working at the Queen Street Whitcoulls at this time). She said, "Did you hear the Doctor Who news?" "No," I replied, assuming at first that there had been some publicity about the TV Movie that was due to screen in the UK in just a few days time. Then Rochelle told me the news she'd heard on the radio that morning. "Jon Pertwee's dead."

I remember feeling quite numb for a while while the news sank in. Jon Pertwee had been a childhood hero of mine. He was my Doctor when I'd watched my first episodes of Doctor Who. I'd continued to enjoy him as Worzel Gummidge and I met him in person when he'd been the guest speaker at the WhoCon convention in 1990. The memory of receiving news of his death is intertwined in my memory with hearing about the passing of my grandmother, Pat Scoones, who died suddenly the very same month - and to whom TSV 48 was dedicated. In an odd sort of symmetry, my grandmother was fond of telling how she'd once bumped into "Mr Who" - as she referred to Jon Pertwee - in London many years earlier.

Once I got over the initial shock, I realised that there would need to be a change of plans for TSV. Some of the planned content for TSV 48 would need to go, to make way for a tribute to Jon Pertwee. The double-ended issue idea was abandoned now that we had three different themes - each of which could have occupied an issue in its own right – to cram into one single issue.

To ensure that Jon Pertwee got the TSV send-off he deserved, we delayed publication by a month and invited recollections about Pertwee from various TSV regulars. I took on the task of compiling a biographical profile of Pertwee's full and eventful life. Working at Whitcoulls I had easy access to all the local and international newspapers so when the papers with the Pertwee obituaries turned up, I photocopied all of the items I could find and these all ended up in the issue. In a stroke of good timing a classic Third Doctor story, The Sea Devils, was a new video release and so a review of this by our resident Third Doctor aficionado Alistair Hughes was ideal; Graham Howard delivered an item about Pertwee's unseen advertisements for Telecom filmed in New Zealand, and Peter Adamson drew an eye-catching full-page illustration of the Third Doctor for the back cover. The front cover was already earmarked for a TV Movie illustration (Alistair Hughes’ wonderful portrait of Paul McGann), and after much soul-searching I felt that we should still lead with the TV Movie coverage.

So the New Adventures theme, which as originally planned would have occupied the majority of TSV 48, was relegated to third position with much reduced coverage. So much for planning ahead!

Read TSV 48 here.

Fellow TSV 48 bloggers:
Alden Bates
Jamas Enright