20 August, 2007

The Real McCoy

I was a little apprehensive in the lead-up to A Day with the Doctor, the one-day Doctor Who convention on Sunday 19 August at the Aotea Centre.

To this day I still have eye-twitch inducing memories of DoctorCon 2003, the last convention I helped organise. That event was marred by shockingly low attendance numbers and an intemperate guest actor. Fortunately this time around everything went without a hitch and it was a pleasure to help out the experienced and very capable husband and wife team of Bill and Adele Geradts, who are the team behind the hugely successful Armageddon conventions.

The convention was made possible by the fact that the Royal Shakespeare Company were on the New Zealand leg of their tour of King Lear and The Seagull, with a few Doctor Who actors in the cast.

Before the celebrity guests arrived, I was the first speaker of the day. I gave a half-hour talk about Doctor Who, the club and TSV. I'd spent the previous week thinking about the talk and put together a powerpoint presentation that worked very well as a visual aid, with the audience impressed by the colourful club logo (which I'd colourised in Photoshop especially for the presentation), and a first glimpse at Alistair Hughes' stunning new colour cover art for the forthcoming TSV 75.

I was delighted to see some old familiar faces in the audience, like former editor Nick Withers whom I hadn't seen in years. There were also many new, young fans of the series in evidence. When I explained that TSv was celebrating its 20th birthday this year and asked how many of those present were not yet born in 1987 quite a few hands went up (I feel very old...) My two nephews - both of whom love Doctor Who (not entirely my doing!) were in the audience, seeing Uncle Paul in a different light. It was especially gratifying to have a number of people - young and old - come up to me afterwards and said how much they'd enjoyed my presentation.

Although Sylvester McCoy was the star attraction, the other two actors, William 'call me Bill' Gaunt and David Weston, also proved popular. A couple of Doctor Who episodes were played before their talk to remind the audience of these actors' appearances in the series. David Weston was hampered a little by the fact that his first role, as Nicholas Muss in the 1966 story The Massacre, no longer exists, and his second as Tharil Biroc in Warriors' Gate sees him heavily made-up so that he's not very recognisable in person. William Gaunt on the otherhand looks exactly, as you might expect, like an older and more distinguished version of the assassin Orcini from Revelation of the Daleks.

Of the two thespians, Gaunt seemed to have a better recollection of his time on the show and delivered some amusing ancedotes, with his exploding bionic leg being a particular highlight. I wanted to ask a question that both men could answer equally, so I prompted them for their memories of working with Graeme Harper, who had served as a production assistant on Warriors' Gate and then as director on Revelation. Gaunt spoke well of Harper, singling him out as a very good television director who kept the cast energised and had a can-do attitude. Weston then responded that he had no recollection at all of Harper - though he did mention that the director - Paul Joyce - was removed from the production (some accounts suggest that Harper filled in for Joyce).

Sylvester McCoy's own talk was later in the day and in contrast to Gaunt and Weston who remained seated, Sylvester moved about the room, clambering past people so that he was holding the microphone for each person as they asked their question. His usual response was a short answer followed by a longer one that sequed into a sometimes familiar well-rehearsed anecdote. Which is to be expected given the huge number of similar events McCoy must have spoken at in the past. For many of those present though this was entirely fresh material and Sylvester's infectious wit and wicked one-liners made it hugely enjoyable.

I asked Sylvester about the rumours that he'd been up for the role of Bilbo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. He revealed that it came down to the last two, between himself and Ian Holm, and even though he was very disappointed not to get the part, he has kept in contact with Peter Jackson, and had visited the director at his home with Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf) when they arrived in Wellington for King Lear. Jackson, revealed McCoy, is a big fan of Doctor Who, and owns a complete Seventh Doctor costume (that Jackson's kids pester him to dress up in!), including one of the only three surviving original question mark umbrellas made for use in the series. Intriguingly, Sylvester also said that Peter Jackson told him that there is a 'two Doctors' story being made for Series 4, which apparently will feature the Tenth and Fifth Doctors, with Peter Davison reprising his role. Hmm, we'll have to wait and see if that comes to pass...

Chatting to McCoy one-on-one later in the day I learned that in recent years he'd had to start changing his routine to remove language and stories not suitable for younger listeners. Until the new series came back in 2005, McCoy explained, he'd been playing to rooms entirely made up of adult fans. We agreed that it was great to see a new generation coming into fandom and that they were evidently enjoying the stories made long before they were born. I also got to chat to McCoy about the play and his part as the Fool.

The last event of the day was a screening of Battlefield with Sylvester delivering alive commentary, but it was apparent by this time that his energy levels were flagging, despite the organisers plying him with strong coffee. For most of the story he seemed content to just sit and watch along with the audience. No one seemed to mind; the surreal experience of watching a Seventh Doctor story alongside the man himself was a thrill in itself.

All in all, a great day.

14 August, 2007

TSV 49

Thanks in part to the delayed New Zealand screening at the end of October 1996, the TV Movie was still very topical when TSV 49 was published the following month.

The purging of some of the planned content for TSV 48 to make way for the Jon Pertwee tribute meant that we had a head start on the following issue with an assortment of TV Movie and New Adventures themed items that might otherwise would have gone into TSV 48.

This combined with the new material created specifically for TSV 49 resulted in a monster of an issue running to 108 pages. This is still the single longest issue TSV has ever produced. Although 100 page issues are the norm these days - and TSV 74 came close to matching the record with 104 pages - other issues published in the mid-1990s were at most 96 pages.

The following issue, TSV 50 had to come in at a slim 80 pages to rebalance the finances. In retrospect it might have been more sensible to spread the material more evenly across the two issues but a lot of what appeared in TSV 49 was either topical or had been bumped one issue already.

It was my co-editor Nick Withers' turn to write the editorial for this issue, and he caused a minor controversy with this comment: "contrary to the rumours, TSV is continuing". The background to this remark was that there were some New Zealand fans who, for reasons best known to themselves, made a habit of creating rumours about TSV and the club. We'd heard - or perhaps read in another fanzine - the ridiculous claim that we were planning to end TSV with issue 50, so naturally Nick wanted to set the record straight. It rather back-fired on us though as it seems very few of our readers had heard this rumour, but as a result of Nick's comment now had cause to wonder about TSV's life expectancy!

Roadshow had recently taken over BBC Video distribution from Polygram (Roadshow still distribute for the BBC today). When Polygram lost the rights, they disposed of their back stock of Doctor Who titles through the Warehouse chain. Roadshow had to build up their Doctor Who range from scratch, and re-released 15 older titles in one burst. Roadshow kindly provided us with review copies and we decided to present short capsule reviews of each of these re-released videos, as many of them had not been reviewed in TSV the first time around. The reviews were divided up among a group of writers I knew I could rely on to deliver on time, and future TSV editor Adam McGechan was one of the reviewers, offering his critique of Inferno.

The back cover Warriors of the Deep artwork by the ever-wonderful Alistair Hughes is particularly good. I like the 'shared eye' effect. This was to have been the front cover, but Alistair's TV Movie illustration featuring the Eighth Doctor and Grace dwarfed by the massive console room, just seemed too good not to occupy pride of place on the front of the issue, so the Warriors of the Deep picture, which had been commissioned to support Robert Boswell's featured video review, was relegated to the back cover. Here's how the cover would have looked as originally intended:

The Discontinuity Guide addition for the TV Movie was Jon Preddle's idea. Jon had been a fact-checker on an early draft of the Discontinuity Guide and understood the book's format very well, so he was best placed to cover the TV Movie in the same style. I even went to the effort of matching the font and size to match the Virgin book when this item appeared in the print issue, so that if readers so desired they could copy the pages and stuck them into the back of the book. The feature gave rise to an ongoing series of Discontinuity Guide additions and eventually outgrew TSV altogether, finding a new existence in a web version that covered the Big Finish audios. Alas, the online guide hasn't been updated since the beginning of 2005 and is really crying out for someone to take this on and bring it back up to date.

Nigel Windsor interviewed Chris Loates, a colleague of his at Television New Zealand. Loates worked on a number of Doctor Who stories but this must have been in a junior and/or peripheral role as his name has never appeared on any of the production crew documentation for Doctor Who. He's therefore perhaps the most obscurely connected individual ever interviewed by TSV. The interview submitted by Nigel ran longer but I cut it down to remove some of the tangental stuff where Loates talked about camera lenses and focal lengths, which I felt was getting too far away from the point.

Time's Chump, by Peter Adamson, is a fascinating and indepth examination of the way the Sixth Doctor gets a raw deal in some of the New and Missing Adventures. Peter has made a point of sticking up for the often-unloved Sixth Doctor. Quite right too. This article would have fitted in nicely with the New Adventures theme of the previous issue.

Likewise with my own Wedding Notes article, which is an annotated guide to Happy Endings, pointing out many of the continuity references and obscure bits of detail littered throughout Paul Cornell's book. Paul offered to look over a draft version of the article and offered all sorts of additional bits that immeasurably enhanced the end result. I'd never realised Muldwych's real identity, for example. Peter Adamson also helped out with this one, enlightening me to some of the BritPop references I'd missed or misunderstood. I'm quite proud of this article and I selected it as one of the earliest things to get published online before the TSV online archive project began. The article is linked to from various other internet sites about the New Adventures.

The online version of this issue features a couple of 'bonus items' in the form of alternate covers, for Christmas on a Rational Planet and The Completely Useless Encyclopedia, linked within their respective reviews. Virgin Publishing originally intended these covers as the final versions and they were changed very close to publication. But was the replacement an improvement in either case...?

TSV 49 was the last issue of 1996. TSV's ten-year anniversary and our fiftieth issue were both just around the corner.

Read TSV 49 here.

Fellow TSV 49 bloggers:
Alden Bates
Jamas Enright