I Exterminated JNT!
An Overview of the Doctor Who Scene in Britain
By Jon Preddle
From mid-July through to the end of September 1990 I travelled through Britain and Europe. While there, I wanted to experience the British Doctor Who Fan scene - after all, Doctor Who is essentially an English institution.
I had a three day stop-over in Los Angeles on the way over. I spent a whole day at Disneyland, and another whole day at Universal Studios. Of the sights to see at the studios (before they burnt down!) the biggest was the streets and town square that featured in the Back To The Future films.
Having arrived in London at Gatwick Airport (no sign of any Chameleons!) I spent the first week familiarising myself with the layout of London and the Underground rail system. And armed with a copy of Travels Without The TARDIS I went looking for Doctor Who location sights. During my three months there I visited a whole range of places, but more on those later.
I met up with our intrepid ex-pat reporter David Bishop and he quickly introduced me to English beer! At this meeting I was also introduced to Doctor Who Magazine editor John Freeman, The Frame editor David J. Howe, and Target book reviewer Gary Russell, and more of this English liquid called Bitter!
Doctor Who fans meet at the Fitzroy tavern on every first Thursday of the month. David dragged me along and it was there that the highlight of my holiday was seeded.
The newer satellite channel BSB (British Satellite Broadcasting) were filming inserts to be used for their weekend-long screening of Doctor Who episodes later in September. They were interviewing various fans, etc, and somehow they found out I was from New Zealand (eh, David!) and they spoke to me about Fandom in the Antipodes. And that was that, or so I thought - but more on that later!
The following week I left for Europe, for four weeks of travelling around the continent by train - the only way to do Europe. In Paris and Amsterdam, I visited more Doctor Who locations as well as those that featured in the some of the James Bond films. I attended a science fiction convention in Holland at the end of August and then took the jet-foil back to England.
On returning to my lodgings, I found a phone message for me to contact John Gau Productions. I didn't know who this was, and so I phoned them. They were the BSB people and they wanted me to appear on a fun quiz being filmed for the Doctor Who weekend coming up. They wanted me at the studios on September 8th - at 8am!! That was still a week away and there were many other Who things to do till then.
On 1 September I attended Whoniverse, a one day event at Abingdon near Oxford. The guests were David (Cyberman) Banks, John Nathan-Turner, Peter Wallbank (Who artist) and Graeme Smith (Jason in The Ultimate Adventure). I accompanied John Freeman, who was also a guest. Without anywhere to stay, I was kindly put up by one of the organiser's family, the Mosses.
The con was on the next morning, and rather hectic this was, too. Mrs Moss had to pick up Peter Wallbank at the train station at 9:30. It was a 40 minute drive to the venue. David Banks was due to arrive at 10:15 and so Mrs Moss asked me to wait behind to greet David Banks. Reluctantly (!) I said yes! David Banks eventually appeared, unmistakably recognisable as he towers over everyone. While we waited for Mrs Moss to return, we talked about Peter Grimwade's recent death as it was Grimwade who had given Banks the job of the Cyberleader in Earthshock.
Once at the venue hall the con started at 11:00. David went on first and spoke mainly about his background and school-life, the Cybermen, his book Cybermen and Peter Grimwade.
John Nathan-Turner arrived next. He had literally vacated his office at the BBC on the 31 August, which was the day before. He spoke about a variety of things, but mainly the cancellation. He was asked about the cancelled Season 23 and stated that he felt The Trial Of A Time Lord season was his biggest mistake! Now officially unemployed he continues to act as liaison between the BBC and merchandisers, etc.
When I had the chance to speak with him privately I discovered that he would be one of my opponents at the BSB quiz to be filmed next weekend. He was also to be acting as MC during the filming, introducing all the episodes.
John Freeman and Peter Wallbank were on next. This panel was mainly about the magazine and comic strips. Peter showed his portfolio, which I thought was brilliant. Readers of DWM will see some of his work appearing in future issues.
The Ultimate Adventure's Graeme Smith was the next guest. Obviously his subject was limited, but since we in NZ never got to see the play, his insights into it were interesting.
The guests took on the roles of Auctioneers for the auction. Some amazing items went up for sale. JNT had emptied out all his files and desk drawers when he left the BBC and had several interesting items up for sale: Scripts, props and others bits and pieces.
I had to catch a train to the North at 8pm, so I had to leave before the closing ceremony. There was another convention the following day, up in Durham, so I had to return to London to catch a later train. I arrived in Durham at 2am and it was raining! I had nowhere to stay so I hid my bags in a bush and went sightseeing!
The con started at 9am. I went to reception early and was surprised to bump into Peter Miles. He played Nyder in Genesis Of The Daleks amongst other roles in Doctor Who. We chatted and when he learned I was from NZ he invited me up to the guest lounge for breakfast! I think he thought I had just arrived from NZ that morning! He was breakfasting with Peter Tuddenham (Orac from Blake's 7) and so that was my first impressions of Durham.
The Con hall was decorated with amazing models and artwork. Full size copies of the TARDIS and Daleks were on stage - all of them homemade.
John Freeman was also a guest at this Con - he gets around a bit! - and again talked about the Magazine; a similar talk but different from the one at Abingdon.
The con's major draw-card guest arrived at about midday. Josie Collins, one of the organizers, who knew I was from New Zealand, invited me to the guest suite and meet the guest upstairs. He had literally just arrived by plane from the States (he had been to another Con) and was somewhat jet-lagged. And so, there I was talking to Sylvester McCoy!
Musicians Keff McCulloch and Dominic Glynn were other guests and I talked to them too. McCoy's panel was hilarious. The man is a natural-born comedian. He played the spoons, finishing the routine by placing the spoons in his eye sockets!
There was the inevitable auction - the charity being Guide Dogs for the Blind. Again, the items for sale were amazing but well out of my price-range.
The event closed at 5pm. I had a full day and met a lot of people who were interested in what was happening in NZ. Unfortunately the con was poorly attended. This was due to a trader who refused to pay a donation to the charity to set up a sales table - and so stood at the driveway to the venue turning people away saying it was cancelled!
I wrote to the BBC before I left NZ asking if I could have a tour of the studio. This was cleared and so on 26 July I was admitted to the usually non-public White City building.
The tour was only two hours. The first thing we visited was a studio being used for rehearsals of a comedy. Then we saw another studio being set up for recording on Friday. Outside the main building was the larger props store, and the first thing that we saw were two police boxes! Both were in a somewhat state of disrepair and smelly. (Incidentally, the TARDIS prop at the BSB studio was constructed from the better parts of these two boxes!) The next section was the smaller prop stores, and the scenery painting department. The last item on the tour was to the gallery to watch the 6 o'clock news broadcast live. It was unfortunate that we were not allowed to take photographs during the tour, because the opportunities to take some great snaps were numerous. The attitude of the BBC towards its programmes was very apathetic. At this time the future of Doctor Who was still undecided but I didn't question their reasons. It was a very interesting afternoon - both enlightening and annoying!
OTHER PLACES OF INTEREST
Although my holiday was mainly a tourist trip, I wanted to fit in as many SF and Doctor Who related events as possible. I have already covered the conventions, but there were many other things to do and visit. The shops were incredible!
In London, there was MOMI (the Museum Of the Moving Image). This was a museum covering the history of the motion picture and television. The TV section contained a Dalek and TARDIS. Also on display were Joe 90 and Captain Scarlet puppets - and lots of TV annuals I wouldn't mind getting my hands on!
South west of London is Longleat. This is a private estate which is open to the public as a safari and amusement park. It was the site of the 1983 Doctor Who Celebration event. At the estate is a permanent Doctor Who display. The exhibit is changed every year to include the latest costumes and props. This year the exhibit featured season 26 and the other McCoy eras.
Some of the displays are set up to allow the public to move them: by pressing a button one can make a Cyberman turn its head, or allow Kane (Dragonfire) to show his melted face.
Across the walk from the exit of the exhibit is the Doctor Who shop. Here you can buy almost every piece of merchandise available. On display is Ace's jacket, one of Colin Baker's multi-coloured coats, as well as Drathro, the Pool Cleaner and L-1 robot. In a glass booth is an arrangement of various masks, helmets and hats used from the series, including Sharaz Jek's mask, Sontaran helmets, assorted Cybermen, and robots.
Other things of interest at Longleat include a hedge maze which takes hours to get out of, a simulation booth, and mini-railway. This railway takes passengers around the perimeter of the estate.
I spent the next few days travelling out of London and visiting locations (to be covered next issue), buthad to return in time for the BSB recording.
My chauffeur driven limo picked me up at 7:30am in order to be at the studio by 8am (OK, OK, it was only a taxi...).
My heart dropped when on entering the studio when they could not find my name on the guest list. This was an oversight and eventually I was admitted and I met my fellow quiz contestants: Andrew Beech (from DWAS), Jean Riddler, and JNT - who was involved in other aspects of the recording as I mentioned previously. We were all taken to a Green Room to await our call to makeup. We were also shown around the studio. It was filled with all the original props and costumes from the series. I asked if we could take photos, and a special photo-session was arranged at the lunch break.
David Bishop showed up, but was unable to stay long. The filming was over-running and the lunch break shortend so my hopes of taking photos was slowly being dashed. Eventually we were allowed into the studio - but we only had 5 minutes! So armed with David's and my own camera, it was a hurried photo-session which resulted in some unfortunately blurry pix - sorry David. (And not helped by the fact my camera battery was running out of juice!)
We eventually went into makeup and then finally into the studio. The main set was done up like a TARDIS control room, with fluted columns and a mini-console at the centre. It was very primitive-looking 'in the flesh', but on screen it would look better. I won the quiz with 12 points. (Oh, by the way, the reason this article is called I Exterminated JNT is because when I won the quiz, the losers were zapped away by a special effect to be inserted later. In order to do this, the losers had to crouch on the floor under the console. Needless to say, they all started giggling. If you ever see the finished quiz, when I am announced as the winner, you can see I'm trying my best not to laugh!) My prize was to be a jersey to be knitted from one of the Doctor Who pattern books. (It is now the end of December 1990 as I write this and I still haven't received it! [ Jon's note: and here we are again in January 2004 and I am still waiting!]) I also received an appearance fee. Now I know how Con guests feel!
During the recording day - which lasted from 8am till after midnight - I met various guests, all from the 26 years of Doctor Who: Elizabeth Sladen, William Russell, Carole Ann Ford, Bob Baker and Dave Martin, Nick Courtney (whose half-brother lives near Wellington!), Wendy Padbury, McCoy again, JNT of course, Terrance Dicks, Peter Purves, Bob Baker and Dave Martin, Peter Hawkings, Mervyn Haisman, and many others. It is hard to remember and report on everything that happened that day - so all I can say is thank you BSB! Another highlight is that I got the chance to ride in the Doctor's car, Bessie, which was parked in a side studio.
A week later I headed up North and got as far as Scotland. Glasgow is amazing in that it is the only city in Britain that still has Police Telephone Boxes! Armed with a copy of TSV 19, I had hoped to call in on Alistair and Rosemary Hughes, but on enquiring at an Information bureau in Glasgow, I decided the castle they were staying in was too far away. I decided to go shopping instead, and I emerged from an Underground station and it started to rain - ah, British weather! - so I ducked under a shop overhang. I turned to my left and saw a couple standing next to me that looked familiar - on looking again I realised it was Alistair and Rose! We had only half an hour to chat. Alistair sends his regards.
In Edinburgh I visited the Museum Of Childhood, which had a special Doctor Who exhibit. Here one could enviously see all samples of merchandise ranging from bubble-gum cards to Easter egg Daleks. This display was put together by the Scottish Doctor Who fan group. It was only on for a short time and I'd like to thank Alistair for telling me about it.
Back in London I attended a Comics and Merchandise Mart. These are held apparently every two months. It is the sort of place to which you need to take lots of money! It was not only comics, but also toys - you know those old dolls and jigsaws that your mother threw out years ago, but are now worth hundreds of dollars! I satisfied my urge to spend lots of money by instead taking photos of the things I would have loved to have bought. I ended up purchasing just a Resurrection of the Daleks script.
During my last week, I visited John Freeman at Marvel. He was busily putting together the latest issue and was running around like a headless chook. There are seven filing cabinets in the office - one for each Doctor - each no doubt filled with goodies. He showed me a sample of photos taken from the sets of The Daleks' Master Plan. Some of these have been published in the magazine. It would take years to put everything into the magazine. We can only hope that if the programme does fold up, that the magazine will continue for some time. John gave me a pile of posters (the artwork from the cover of DWM 140). Thanks John.
And that about covers some of the Doctor Who things I did in England! I visited lots of shops picking up various items unavailable in NZ. Forbidden Planet is the biggest and a well known shop on New Oxford St in London. I must have spent hundreds of dollars - and hours! - there. If any of you are planning to go, look up the addresses of shops in the classified ads in DWM.
This item appeared in TSV 21 (February 1991).