I’ve done a few conventions in the past, and I’ve met a few stars from Doctor Who. But these tend to be the MCM ones, and as much a I like those events, they are so massive and packed with people that I’m sure that being bundled into a large building, so crammed with people that you can only sort of waddle like penguins, counts as a great experience.
I had been looking for a new convention to attend for a while, now that life seems to be going to normal — being trapped indoors and not getting to meet like minded people was making lots of us go stir crazy and I’m a little nervous about attending the larger events. It was while I visiting the BFI for their City of Death screening that I met up with my fellow writer, Maria, over on The Big Blue Box Podcast, another Doctor Who site, and she was telling me about The Capitol con she had been to, when cons were a thing.
I had already seen an advert for the upcoming fifth convention in DWAS’ issues of Celestial Toyroom and had been tempted. But given how I had always gone with my friends, who generally organised everything, I just had to turn up, not over-pack, and look glamorous… did I want to go somewhere by myself and risk not knowing anyone there? Well, I knew Maria was going so I wasn’t going to be completely on my own, and I had decided that I did really want to go. But it wasn’t until the tickets had nearly sold out that I decided to take the plunge and give myself a Christmas present.
Arriving on the Friday afternoon, I was pleased that checking in to the hotel – The Crowne Plaza, Gatwick – was as easy as pie. That was perhaps what I most nervous about: had my reservation been booked in properly? Then came the long wait for Saturday. Luckily Maria arrived not too much later and we went down and had dinner in the restaurant, surrounded by other Doctor Who fans. It was there I noticed one of the guests, sat in a back booth, had a startling resemblance to director, Graeme Harper. I then realised this was Graeme Harper, enjoying a large fish and chips! It was a delight then, once I’d finished my nice burger and Maria her curry, that when we went over into the bar, having recognised a number of fellow Doctor Who fans from Twitter, and met up with another writer from The Big Blue Box, Mark, who along with his friend Ritchie had come all the way from Scotland (though that wouldn’t be the furthest I learnt that other visitors had come from). We then sat in a group until just after midnight, chatting with Mark and Ritchie and David V Clarke, who has starred in and produced the fan series Devious. He delighted in telling us what it was like to work with Jon Pertwee and some of the green-room stories Jon Pertwee used to tell. Other topics of conversation included our first Doctor Who stories, the evolution of Big Finish, and Warriors of the Deep — just typical fan conversations! And I delighted in looking around the bar and seeing faces like Lee Binding, Alister Pearson, Dez Skinn, and Graeme Harper all having a blast too.
With the event starting at 9:30 on the Saturday morning, sporting a fetching Ace hoodie and Sapphire and Steel t-shirt (which proved to be a talking point for many people later on), we all made sure we were in the main hall for the opening of the convention and the first panels of the day. Graeme Harper and Eric Saward were up first, looking back on their time on the show. Harper was happy to talk about his work on both eras of the show, as well directing the tram-crash episode of Coronation Street. I describe Harper as a Michael-Bay kind of director. It’s always going to be action packed, full of explosions and brilliance. And when he’s paired with amazing writers like Robert Holmes, Eric Saward, and Russell T Davies amongst others, his work really shines. While Harper did most of the talking, Saward seemed a little more subdued, though he was very happy and engaging when talking about his time on the show, working with John Nathan-Turner and even expressed a little regret at leaving the show in the way that he did.
I would later have a nice conversation with Harper about Revelation of the Daleks, specifically about the locations they used, which are all located down by me. I said we go past places like Tangmere Aerodrome on the way to Chichester, the bus into Portsmouth takes you past the IBM building, and Queen Elisabeth Country Park is only a short-ish drive away. We all had a chuckle that it’s nice to get out of a London setting to film things and we commented on how there is only so many times one can use Daleks to destroy London before it gets boring. At his autograph table, Saward was still a little subdued and didn’t really say too much but was still happy to sign things. I got the feeling from him that while he’s a man of few words and is straight talking when he does, he’s content enough with his contribution to Doctor Who and that lots of younger fans like me, who weren’t around when his episodes aired, have discovered and love them. Stories like The Visitation, Earthshock, and Revelation of the Daleks will always be considered great, I told him, no matter the generation watching.
The next panel saw Edward Russell hosting a chat about the Eaglemoss figurines with Development Manager, John Ainsworth, and former Brand Manager, Chris Thompson. I’ve only ever brought a few of the figurines — a few Daleks, Terry Molloy’s Davros, and the Seventh Doctor and Ace — so I wasn’t too sure I would enjoy the panel. But I found it fun and informative and it gave me a new appreciation for the figures, especially as Ainsworth also agrees that sometimes the likenesses are so hard to get that the final product really is the best they could do. And we got a little leak that we were are getting an Yvonne Hartman figurine and that actress Tracy-Ann Oberman has expressed an interest in helping them with the magazine for that release.
I stayed for a further panel, this time with Dez Skinn, talking about how he got Doctor Who Magazine started, including how he didn’t seem to have any trouble in getting the rights for the magazine when other people had done in the past. He said this was possibly because he had huge success with other magazines he’d worked on like House of Hammer and Hulk Comic. But he really lit up when he was detailing some of the antics that he, Tom Baker, and Douglas Adams would get up too on the DWM press tours. Including one story about him trying to chat up a buxom Californian but she was much more interested in Douglas Adams, while Baker did his best to hide behind his newspaper! He also said he had expressed an interest in Adams in turning Hitchhikers’ Guide into a comic book but Adams was worried about flooding his franchise, despite the numerous books, audios, films, and television series that had been made by that point…
The next few hours were spent waiting and collecting a number of autographs from Graeme Harper and Eric Saward. The other guest was the delightful Katy Manning! I’d never met Katy Manning before; I knew she would be popular but not as popular as she was. We were stood in the queue for over two hours. But oh was it worth it! Just catching a glimpse of Katy Manning in the wild as I stepped into the autograph room was exciting enough, then getting to meet her, as she had to make her way round the room and quickly sign things. I was worried this would make my meeting her feel a little more rushed.
But I’d already decided to thank her for making The Daemons all those years ago, which would later give me one final great memory with my late father. She stood, listening and having signed my copy of The Daemons, holding my hands and telling me how she was touched by what I’d said. She must have remembered what I’d said because in her later panel, she described how touched she was by my comment and then later, when I had a photograph taken with her, she held my hand and spoke to me about how brave it was to divulge a story like that, not only to her but also to lots of other people who were in the room.
She was a delight to meet and has to be one of the kindest people ever!
After waiting for that long, I had another couple of panels that I wanted to attend, the first of which was An Afternoon Tea with Katy Manning. Once again, she was a delight, telling us stories from her ‘friendship’ with John Levene, the reasons why she never wanted to revisit Aldbourne, the location of The Daemons, and her thoughts and feelings on the life and death of her friend, Stewart Bevan. She was a delight from start to finish, even if the afternoon-tea aspect fell apart thanks to limp sandwiches and there being no tea in the teapot.
The following panel was a chat with Camille Coduri, who spoke about her time on the show as Rose Tyler’s mum, Jackie. I was interested to learn that originally they weren’t sure if Jackie would become a reoccurring character or not, how Christopher Eccelston confided in her that he was nervous about his performance as the Ninth Doctor, and then she told a very funny story about driving the yellow pick-up truck towards the climatic finale of The Parting of the Ways. She was ready to drive it, before someone stopped her because she didn’t have an HGV license. Apparently what they then had to do was get a man decked out in all black to sit, with Coduri straddling him to do the steering while he changed the gears and speed of the lorry. And she said that if you look really closely now you know what look for, then you can see the man she was straddling through the windscreen!
It was then more autographs for me — luckily the queue moved at a brisker pace; I think the people in charge had decided to not have everyone stood around for hours. This time I met Prentis Hancock, Michael McStay, Sadie Miller, and Camille Coduri. I’ve reviewed the last couple of Big Finish audios Miller has done and with a cover of The Seeds of Doom, told her how her mother would be proud of her carrying on the Sarah Jane Smith legacy and how impressive she was in the role. Miller seemed to be genuinely moved by this, as if no one had actually told her that and I can understand that everyone would want to ask her about her mother; indeed, she did point out that the woolly coat that Sladen wears in The Seeds of Doom is one of her favourite costumes. But I think telling Sadie Miller that her mother would be incredibly proud of her and how she has stepped into the Doctor Who family, moved her and I thought I’d best move on before I did make her cry.
When I got to Coduri’s table, she took one look at my Sapphire and Steel T-Shirt and broke out in a smile and pointed, “It’s Purdy!” she shouted. We then had a nice chat about how good Joanna Lumley’s character was in The New Avengers and then she said to congratulate my mum on getting me into Sapphire and Steel, a show that Coduri said she used to love to watch when she was a child. She was another delight to meet; while the conversation wasn’t about Doctor Who, I’ll happily talk to Jackie Tyler about anything! I also loved seeing her, sporting a warm coat, along the same lines as the Second Doctor’s distinctive Yeti-coat, leaving the event, waving at people as she went, looking really happy.
The Saturday events continued well into the evening with things not really wrapping up until about 10:30 with a charity auction, items from which included a giant maggot and the original blood-splattered artwork for the Missing Adventures Novel, Goth Opera. Hosted by Gary Russell, he very quickly got everyone involved, with actor Graham Cole doing the actual displaying of the items, including holding the Maggot in a way that made it look like something else entirely – much to the amusement of us all. All the money raised went to various wonderful charities.
I couldn’t wait to see what Sunday would hold. The first thing was an interview with Bonnie Langford; fellow actor, Richard Gauntlet; and writer Stephen Wyatt. Bonnie was on fine form as she entertained everyone with anecdotes and little insights into her career, including Violet Elisabeth, Chicago, EastEnders, and even The Masked Singer. Gauntlet spoke about how he got into stunt and played monsters in various projects. His take on how the Tetrap he played, Urak in Time and the Rani, worked, including how bizarre the inside of the mask looked with all the animatronics. Bonnie was jealous as she said she couldn’t actually breathe under her costume on The Masked Singer, so it was a miracle she could actually sing under it!
Wyatt, like Eric Saward before, seemed a little more subdued, speaking only when spoken to. Maybe it’s a writer thing? But he did say how he was a little dismayed at how some of the scenes in Paradise Towers turned out, but expressed his love for The Greatest Show in the Galaxy and how he thinks it only worked because they set up the tent in the car park of the BBC, allowing it to billow properly.
Following this panel was another hosted by Edward Russell and including Chris Chapman and Lee Binding, this time looking at the Blu-ray sets and animations. Gary Russell spoke about the upcoming animated The Abominable Snowmen and how much work went into it and how he thinks it’s perhaps the most authentic of all the animations to what was originally shown. He also expressed his dislike of Galaxy 4, something I think many fans agreed with. Lee Binding showed us some of the process he goes through when designing the Blu-ray set covers and some of the early designs that were considered. It’s clear though that the box with the slipcase was the best design they did. And they look glorious, though no further news of what series is going to be the next set came out. We were then also treated to some of the Worzel Gummidge footage from the upcoming set and BFI event. I’m not a Worzel fan but it was wonderful to see Jon Pertwee and how much work goes into the restorations.
My next port of call was photographs. I’d already managed to get one with Katy Manning on the Saturday but now I was able to get one with Carole Ann Ford and Peter Purves. They were wonderful to meet, asking me how my trip had been so far and where I had come from. When I told them Hayling Island, Ford said she knew where that was. Someone actually knows where I come from! Then when I was queuing for a photo with Roberta Tovey and Jill Curzon from the Peter Cushing movies, I realised that for £25, I could have my photo taken with all the Sunday guests including Bonnie Langford, Roberta Tovey, Jill Curzon, Carole Ann Ford, and Peter Purves. It was an opportunity too good to pass up and the resulting photo everyone says looks like a family portrait! I’d made Bonnie laugh because I had a hoodie on with ACE written across the back!
Then it was autograph time, and I was pleased that the queue moved a little quicker this time. So I got Bonnie Langford to sign the cover from Time and the Rani, and Roberta Tovey and Jill Curzon to sign my cover for the Dalek movies. Bonnie was as delightful as you can imagine, having a laugh about how she might get in touch with the BBC and ask where her companion centric clothing is. Tovey was happy to talk to everyone, talking to my friend Maria about where her costume came from and how she had to pay for some of her costume because the budget wouldn’t stretch. I then asked her if she would ever come back to the main show; I told her they’ve brought Bernard Cribbins back, and she said if the BBC were to give her ring she would be there in a heartbeat. So you never know — one day we might just get Susan from the movies coming back!
Then it was more photograph time, though this time I just had the one with Bonnie Langford, stood back to back; I asked if she wanted me to crouch down a bit, but she said we all should embrace our height! I was worried the photo would look a little strange but it ended up being my favourite picture from the event. She was just so genuinely lovely to meet.
More autographs followed: this time I met the last of the guests, including Peter Purves, Graham Cole, and Carole Ann Ford. I had a chat with Purves about how much I liked The Time Meddler and The Massacre. He agreed; they are both great and two of his favourites — he’s pretty straight talking too so you’ll know if he doesn’t like something! I was going to get him to sign my cover for The Time Meddler, but instead I chose to pay for a wonderful colour photo of him, William Hartnell, and Maureen O’Brien from the same story. Graham Cole was a cheeky chap too. The previous night I’d taken photographs of him at the auction, and sent it to my Mum who had been a fan of The Bill when it was originally on. When I told him about how much of a fan I was of The Keeper of Traken, where he played the tall Melkur, and how much my parents used to love The Bill, he told me to tell Mum that he still looked good in a uniform; even the bloke sat with him on the table found it funny.
Carole Ann Ford was the last guest I had to meet and got her to sign my copy of An Unearthly Child (of course), and then also paid for a shot of her, with William Hartnell, Jaqueline Hill, and William Russell. It’s always hard to think what you want to say to these Doctor Who legends and Ford was one where I had no idea. So in the end I decided to thank her for making history interesting. I said the history we learnt at school bored me no end, but the places and times that they visited in the early Sixties really got me interested in learning about history. While I think I’m going to stay a budding enthusiast when it comes to history and that it would be good to study it at some point, I was happy to lose myself in history books. She punched the air and said how pleased she was that Doctor Who’s original remit of teaching people about history was right and that they had done their job! She was so nice.
Then it came time to say goodbye to Maria, who had to leave on the Sunday evening; we’d already said goodbye to Mark on the Sunday morning as he’d stayed to meet a couple of people and then had to do the long drive back to where he lives. Then I was just in time to catch the final panel of the day, which saw Peter Purves and Carole Ann Ford talking about their time on the show. Carole spoke about working with Hartnell and then someone asked her about her experience on the film, The Day of the Triffids. She expressed how disappointed she was, mainly because of the endless rewrites she and the lead star were receiving. Purves then spoke about his time on Blue Peter and how he felt with Doctor Who everyone wasn’t treated very nicely by the management once Verity Lambert left the role of producer. It was an informative talk and ended with Carole Ann Ford and artist Chris Achilleos’ wife accepting awards for his outstanding contribution to Doctor Who.
With my first Capitol event under my belt, I’m very much looking forward to the next one, scheduled for April 2023, and with Doctor Who celebrating its 60th anniversary next year, I reckon we’ll be in for a treat. The first confirmed guest is Colin Baker. Following the calibre of the guests this year, I expect we’ll all be in for a treat. I enjoyed myself so much, I’ve not been able to stop talking about it, much to the chagrin of everyone around me — but if you haven’t been to one of these events, then I’d strongly urge you to grab a ticket and come along. I think I’ve made a few friends jealous enough to come along to the one next year. What I really liked was how the event was smaller and with fewer paying visitors, it made the time with the actors and writers a lot more special, allowing for moments that everyone will remember. Also I couldn’t get over how nice everyone was; I didn’t think I’d be spending my time in queues actually chatting with other people. That never happens at the MCM cons.
Doctor Who fans really are the best!