Having attended last year’s DWAS Capitol and thoroughly enjoyed myself, attending this year’s event seemed like a no brainer; since I knew my friend Maria and fellow writer over on The Doctor Who Big Blue Box Podcast was going, I knew I wouldn’t be on my own (not that, this year, had I been, it would have mattered because we made a couple of great new Who chums along the way!).
Arriving as I had last year on the Friday afternoon, checking in at Gatwick’s Crowne Plaza in Crawley was super easy. And as with last year, the room I was put in was really nice, though the man in the room behind me snored so loudly it sounded like a freight train… (People make a fuss about hotel rooms but so long as they’re clean and safe, you’re not spending all day in them, so I don’t really understand the issue sometimes.) Then it was down to the bar where a lot more people had arrived in the short time I had taken to unpack. Luckily, this time, there were more members of staff around so it didn’t take long before people were served and if there is one thing that all Who fans can do, it’s drink!
Meeting with my friend Maria, we spent the rest of the Friday evening catching up as we hadn’t seen each other since last June’s Dalek Movie BFI event and talking about who we were the most excited to see. As with last year, a lot of the fun of sitting in the bar was seeing how many faces we recognised. There were some of the Twitter crowd and people from things like Doctor Who Magazine that I knew.
The event started at 9:45 on the Saturday morning. The first panel was with Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant who were also joined by actor Dean Hollingsworth who played the android in Timelash. I’d never met any of these three but their chat was just as funny and animated as you’d expect. What I really like is that there is someone asking questions but all the panels inevitably end up with the actors just chatting about whatever, and as you’d expect, there were a lot of tangents, but they always brought it back to Doctor Who. It was also very nice that Colin Baker was awarded a trophy for A Significant Contribution to Doctor Who: Colin was speechless, which – given how much he’d chatted in the panel – was quite surprising!
The second panel was with the one and only Steven Moffat who had been announced pretty late into the game and could only do a few hours there as he had to get back to London for the final few performances of his West End show, The Unfriend. We were lucky to get him and certainly lucky to get him in such great form. His chat was very informative, especially when it came to talking about how long he was originally going to stay as the showrunner. Originally, he was only going to do three years, which would have brought him to the end of Matt Smith’s tenure. But he decided he didn’t want to be the person who then hired Peter Capaldi but then not be in charge of this era. He then wanted to go after Capaldi’s first year, but didn’t want to Capaldi to feel like he was leaving because of his portrayal of the Doctor.
Even more interesting was that his final year as showrunner was almost thrust upon him by the BBC who had also originally agreed that the Doctor would regenerate at the end of The Doctor Falls. They then wanted a further Christmas special, but everyone had already left. If they hadn’t have done Twice Upon A Time, they were told they’d lose the Christmas slot. Of course, the irony is that with the Chibnall era, that was exactly what happened. But even with all this drama going on behind the scenes, Moffat still seemed incredibly happy to have worked on the show and gave us some of the best years of the modern era.
I had to miss the next chat as due to Moffat’s short time at the event, I really wanted to get a picture with him and his autograph. Luckily, I was pretty early for each one, the queues moving much quicker than they did last year, thanks to a reshuffle of where the autographs and photo studio were held. Moffat was great with us fans, and I’m really pleased we both look really happy in our photograph! My only issue was the background for the photos was a black sheet, so if you were wearing black or dark colours, the photos look a little like it’s just our heads!
When I got my autograph with him I had a chance to ask him how it feels to know that he’s terrified generations with the four little words, “Are You My Mummy?” He laughed and replied that he genuinely hadn’t thought about it being scary. He always remembered Doctor Who being something scary so just wanted to make Doctor Who how he remembered it. But he was very pleased we all had nightmares!
Following on from the autograph with Moffat, I then moved along to Colin Baker, who had already sung to my friend Maria – the song Maria, and then proceeded to sing a song with my name, though he couldn’t remember the actual words to a song with my name in it! Behind me was a guy called Lewis, who Maria and I got to know as the events went on, the three of us becoming a bit of a gang – Colin commented on what a striking resemblance he bears to David Tennant! Colin was lovely to meet and has just been announced as a guest for Portsmouth Comic Con, an area much closer to where I live so hopefully I get the chance to meet him there too!
Nicola Bryant was next, and I asked her how it felt to be one of only a few companions who got a few holidays out of her time on the show. She replied that she didn’t know how much of it got filmed because they spent more of their time in both Lanzarote and Seville, mucking around!
Monster man Jon Davey was next – not nearly as fearsome outside his Cyberman costumes! I had a couple of DVD covers for him, one of which was Voyage of the Damned in which he played the Heavenly Host. He looked at the cover and said he has some stories about Kylie Minogue (Astrid). She couldn’t navigate the forklift truck at the end, so what we see is a cleverly mashed up selection of shots between Kylie, a stunt double, and people operating the brakes on the back of the machine — and then her almost straddling someone as they pushed the pedals down to make it move. She’d also been stunned at the fact all the people playing the robots were getting incredibly hot in the costumes despite filming taking place in the summer! But he said she was every bit as lovely as you’d imagine!
We then all moved round to the next room, in which sat Kammy Darweish, Dean Hollingsworth, and Katy Manning. Katy was as lovely as ever, laughing and hugging and kissing everybody. I got her to sign my copy of The Sea Devils while telling her about my accidental trip to a nudist beach to visit Frazer’s Gunnery Range to see one of the locations for The Sea Devils. She found this very funny and said that she couldn’t do nudist beaches anymore!
I chatted with Dean Hollingsworth next, getting him to sign my copies of Timelash and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. Dean lives on Guernsey, one of my favourite places, so we chatted about that, how I’d love to live there, and how nice everyone and everything is. He was a real gent, happily talking away with everyone.
Last up before a little break was Kammy Darweish; he played Kumar, the strange but funny man that helps Yaz, Dan, and Professor Jericho to get back to modern day to help the Doctor stop the Flux. He was kind too — a man of few words but happily chatting to everyone who came by!
Along with a photo with Steven Moffat, I then went along to the big group photo, because due to the autographs, you have to pick and choose which you’d rather do. The group photo consisted of Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Katy Manning, Dan Starkey, Sarah Sutton, and Matthew Waterhouse. They were all lovely — Sarah, Katy, and Nicola doing jazz hands behind me, though I’ll admit I was worried one would give me an Emma Peel karate chop!
Then there was a little break — time to stop and relax and digest all the autographs, hugs and kisses from Katy, and chats with everyone before the next panel. Each panel this year, with it being a 60th anniversary celebration, was designed to be a chat with people from each of the 13 different eras of the show
So this panel, about the Eleventh Doctor featured Stuart Milligan, who played Richard Nixon in The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon, and Dan Starkey, who played Strax throughout the Eleventh Doctor’s era. Starkey seemed to be on top form, chatting about his time on the show and working with Big Finish both as an actor and recently a writer for the Paternoster Gang, of whom Strax is a part. Milligan spoke about he very often plays presidents so getting the role of Nixon didn’t feel too odd for him; plus how he longed to be in a western (something I would mention at the autograph table), and then about Jonathan Creek and how a lot of the magic acts were done live, so he had to be trained in how to do it!
Unfortunately, I had to miss the chat with Katy Manning, but if it were anything like last year, she was as animated as ever, never sitting still; from the photos I’ve seen, it looked like an absolute blast. But I was then in the queues for my next round of autographs, this time from Sarah Sutton, Matthew Waterhouse, Dan Starkey, Stuart Milligan, and Stephen Wyatt. I apologised to Sarah for brining my copy of Black Orchid for her to sign but she smiled and said the only reason why everyone else didn’t like it was because she’d got the most to do with two parts, playing both companion Nyssa and her doppelgänger Anne. She was quiet but I get the feeling she’s a quiet person anyway: it’s when she’s with Peter Davison and Janet Fielding that all become much, much more animated. But she was lovely and as Nyssa is one of my favourite companions. Meeting her was a delight. Matthew Waterhouse was a little more of a stranger affair; he happily signed my copy of Earthshock and I told him how I felt that Season 19 was an underrated classic from the original series — he smiled and said a few words but I’ll be honest, it was like trying to pull teeth. He was pleasant enough and it was nice to see him enjoying a few glasses of wine at the bar later!
Dan Starkey was really lovely. I brought along an art print from Doctor Who Magazine which came out at the time to promote The Snowmen. He looked at the photo and said he’d never seen it before and we were chatting about how I didn’t envy him or Neve McIntosh having to spend hours and hours under all that make up. He said Neve took the longest because all the scales had to be put onto the mask and it took forever. But he was really nice, signing my photo: “To Jordan, Sontar-Ho-Ho-Ho: Dan Starkey”
When meeting Stuart Milligan, I asked him about when he’d said he always wanted to do a Western and when he was cast in Who, how did he feel being in a story, set largely in the desert with Matt Smith wearing a cowboy hat and Alex Kingston with holsters and the story having a very Western genre field? He said he was so jealous that he was only ever stuck in the set of The White House and never got to go out and act with everyone else! However, I think he may have been cast in a Western thing coming out soon so hopefully if I’m correct, his dream has finally come true.
And then lastly in the autograph department for that day was Stephen Wyatt who had written and signed both my copies of Paradise Towers and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. He was lovely. Another man who says very little but seems genuinely happy that both his stories have gone down really well, particularly Greatest Show.
Catching the end of Kammy Darweish and Jon Davey’s Thirteenth Doctor panel, Davey said that when they were filming for The Power of the Doctor, he tried everything he could to get the “excellent” fist in that the ’80s Cyberleader (David Banks) used to do. He said that he was pleased to see in the aired version this take was kept in, making him the second Cyberleader to do the same hand movement. Maybe this could be something all future Cyberleaders do?
It was then time for the final panel, with Andrew Cartmel and Stephen Wyatt talking about their work on the Seventh Doctor’s era. Maria and I had already spoken a few times with Cartmel about his stories, in particular Ghost Light, to which he said no one had any idea what that story was supposed to be about, so I offered my take on it that in some way Light was supposed to be a metaphor for God who came back to Earth to find that what he had originally designed had all evolved, adapted and changed. Cartmel seemed to like this take but said it was a shame that Marc Platt, the author of that story couldn’t come to this event because he was the only one who actually knew what Ghost Light was about!
In the panel, Wyatt was very happy that Paradise Towers has got another look in recent times, thanks largely to Season 24 getting the Blu-ray treatment, though he did say that looking back on it now, despite having some fresh ideas, it did seem a little bit too big for the budget. Nonetheless, he has been really pleased he’s got to further explore that universe again in the Cutaway Comics series, Paradise Lost. Cartmel explained how he’d come to the position of script editor and found all the remains of Eric Saward’s long tenure including a red wine stained desk drawer and made it his intention to try and make Who feel fresh and exciting again; and part of that was in getting new writers like Wyatt and Marc Platt involved in the series. And in that department, they succeeded — I think it was generally accepted around the room that the Seventh Doctor’s era does feel fresh and new with the changing of the guard in terms of new writers, directors, and production crew.
He said even producer, John Nathan-Turner quickly grew to trust him enough that he left him pretty much to his own devices… so long as he never went over budget!
Then it was dinner time and onto the rest of the evening’s events which included the world premiere of Episode 4 of Devious, a fan made film that was originally filmed in the 1990s and was the last thing to see Jon Pertwee playing the Third Doctor. While it wasn’t necessarily my thing, I had to appreciate the time and effort that went into making this; if nothing else, it proves just how much we fans adore Doctor Who! The auction was a lot of fun too, led into by artist Alistair Pearson doing his fantastic Tom Baker impression. A number of interesting items were up for sale — all the money made went to various wonderful charities. Items included a cinema poster for Deep Breath; a replica Necros Dalek Gun; early issues of Doctor Who Magazine then titled Doctor Who Weekly; a big collection of Big Finish items; and my friend Maria won a signed copy of The Face of Evil, signed by Louise Jameson. The evening events wrapped up with a chat with someone who used to be a consultant with the Doctor Who Experience and how he helped with the fantastic Day of the Doctor trailer released in 2013, which featured loads of Easter eggs. Despite it being obvious he had a fair bit to drink by that point, it was fun to see how they made that trailer and it was another good panel.
Then it was back to the bar and more drinking and laughing until about midnight when people started to leave. To be honest, the Saturday had been so packed, I was happy for the early-ish night! Some of the people around were the organisers of the Regenerations event coming up in Swansea and Keith Temple who wrote Planet of the Ood. They were really nice and we had quite a laugh with them. Also interesting was seeing just how many bottles of wine were being taken over to the tables occupied by Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury.
Getting up earlyish on the Sunday was a bit of a struggle; I felt like I’d slept all night with my fingers in plug sockets! But when the events began, I found a second wind. On the Saturday, I’d been up to my room to put my autographs away, then coming back down in the lift, a chatty American man was asking everyone where they’d come from. I thought this person was another fan, so was chatting away quite happily about my home, Hayling Island. It’s so small, it’s not even on maps! He said he’d made the journey from LA. Still none the wiser, we were laughing and then I exited the lift, wishing him a good day and enjoy himself. It was only at the autograph table later I discovered this man was in fact Matthew Jacobs, writer of The TV Movie!
He was a delight in his panel; this marked his first UK convention appearance and he spoke happily about The TV Movie and his recent documentary, Doctor Who Am I. He went on to explain that he thought for many many years that everyone hated him for the film, despite the fact that a lot of things that fans don’t like — the Doctor saying he was half human, for instance — was a stipulation insisted upon from the major production companies. These are themes that are later expanded upon in the documentary he made but he was delighted to know that people’s thoughts on The TV Movie have changed over the years. He was also a delight at the autograph table, signing both my copy of The TV Movie and then Doctor Who Am I.
The next panel was about the Tenth Doctor, represented by writer Phil Ford, director Graeme Harper, and writer and script editor Gary Russell. This was another informative chat, getting to know how stories like The Waters of Mars came to be. According to Gary, the final design for the monsters, The Flood, was the least scary design; they had had quite a few chats in the BBC offices about what would be suitable for a Saturday evening audience. Harper seemed delighted that a few people he had directed over the years went on to have big acting careers, including Gemma Chan who is now Sersi in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Phil Ford chatted about his work on Doctor Who, The Sarah Jane Adventures, and Torchwood. With all three spin-offs working together, talk did turn to whether or not they thought Doctor Who could be expanded into something like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ford told us that each show was dealt with as a separate entities anyway so he didn’t see why not, considering each show had their own budgets and production crews. I had to leave this chat early then to get into the queues for the first of the Sunday autographs being done by Frazer Hines, Matthew Jacobs, Wendy Padbury, Annette Badland, Eric Potts, and Rob Shearman.
Sunday’s queues moved a lot quicker than Saturday’s did, with people trying to keep them flowing; of course, this didn’t stop Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury from being quite naughty. Frazer was quite quiet, I’d hazard a guess at hungover from the many bottles of wine that kept appearing at his tables on the Saturday evening! But he was charming enough if a little despondent. Wendy Padbury, though, was much more energised, signing my copy of The Krotons; I said I was sorry it was that story, but its the only cover along with The War Games that Zoe is on the cover! She said hadn’t been too impressed by that when she originally found out, jealous that Frazer had featured on loads. But she was lovely to me and other guests, and was joining in with some of the more raunchy conversations I was hearing going around their table.
Rob Shearman signed my copies of Big Finish’s Jubilee and Scherzo; we were laughing at how none of the Sharpie pens ever suited the covers for signatures because you can barely see some of them. I’ve noticed that on my cover for Jubilee — gold would have suited better, I think, but silver is fine too. He was a delight but not too much time to chat because their was a queue behind me waiting to get in. I got Eric Potts to sign my episode guide to Series 1; he was another funny man, happy to chat with everyone and we spoke about how nothing in the world going on now would have happened had the Slitheen still been in charge! Then onto Annette Badland, who was very funny, saying how happy she is that people are still terrified of her, even now 15 years or so on from her being in Doctor Who as a Slitheen.
Next up was another group photo; this time with Sunday’s guests, Frazer Hines, Wendy Padbury, Louise Jameson, and John Leeson. All my friends I showed these phots too described them as looking like I was having family portraits done with my grandparents and extended family. They are brilliant photos by the ever talented Robin, Trisha, and the team from TTL Productions.
Having a quick break, I then joined the end of the First Doctor panel with Verity Lambert’s PA Anna Callaghan and John Gorrie who directed The Keys of Marinus. I’ll be honest: these were the two guests who, while it was great to have them there and they both offered some interesting insights into how the opening year of the show went, both gave the energy that they would have rather been anywhere else. I had a chat with Callaghan later on and said how much I wish I could have met Verity Lambert, the first producer and really creator of the show. Callaghan said how much Verity would have loved these events, seeing all these fans but she never felt like she had done anything particularly special, even though the show is now in its 60th year. She said how she was a quiet lady who loved cooking and eating food from many different cultures and would take her friends out, often treating them.
Then there was a panel with Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury — I was surprised that they both managed to behave themselves for this! They spent a lot of time speaking about Patrick Troughton and how they all came to the conclusion that they would be leaving the show together, despite Padbury being told she could stay on with Jon Pertwee if she wanted to. Padbury also had a funny chat about the bubble-wrap dress she wore for The Five Doctors and how she couldn’t sit down in it because the bubbles would pop… and people in the production crew would pop her dress a few time. So when they began filming in the day the dress looked quite bubbly, then it gradually got flatter and flatter as the bubbles were popped but she did enjoy wearing it!
Louise Jameson, John Leeson, Anna Callaghan, John Gorrie, Phil Ford, Graeme Harper, and Gary Russell were up next for autographs. Louise Jameson was lovely and thanks to the queue not moving very quickly I got to tell her that The Talons of Weng Chiang was another special story to me as one I would watch very often with my late father along with another of hers, Horror of Fang Rock. She went so far as to say that she’s always so surprised when people say that Horror is one of their favourite stories. I explained that it’s a classic example of everything coming together. Fantastic acting, a tight script and direction, and the isolated lighthouse location come together to make for a truly classic story. I get the feeling Jameson doesn’t know just how great much of her era really is, so if anyone gets to meet her at a future event, make sure you tell her!
Signing my copies of Big Finish’s Spare Parts and Night Thoughts, Gary Russell told me the story of the famous rabbit that is on the cover for Night Thoughts. It was brought from a charity shop and they removed one eye and pulled the other so it dangled out, then they dunked the rabbit in a casserole pot full of coffee to give it that really grubby look. It has sat on a shelf in Russell’s house for over a decade now and he said when you get close you can still smell the coffee on it, something he’s not fond of first thing in the morning because he can’t stand coffee!
I spoke to Graeme Harper about how he’d said he was worried about not being able to direct horror. I told him The Waters of Mars is one of the scariest episodes of Who and that he also did a great job on one of my favourite episodes of Inside No 9. I asked him if using a multi-camera set up for The Devil At Christmas was easy because he was there when they used to make things that way at the BBC. I was surprised to find he said it was harder because he was working with people who would have never worked like that; everyone was used to working with modern hand-held cameras, not great big bulky Dalek-sized cameras. And as a result of that, a lot of what we see on screen for that episode were happy accidents. So if he ever worries he can’t direct horror then he only needs to look at these two episodes to prove how wrong he was.
Finally, on the autograph tables was writer Phil Ford, who signed a copy of The Sarah Jane Adventures as well as The Waters of Mars. I told him that, although it was originally broadcast on CBBC, The Sarah Jane Adventures often felt more adult than Doctor Who and Torchwood in terms of the issues they dealt with. We’ve got episodes about dementia, old age, homelessness, abandonment, child abduction, divorce, grief, and depression, to name a few, and not all of them had happy endings. We spoke about how Russell T Davies had made it clear to the writers he didn’t want the show to always have a happy ending, showing the cruel realties of the real world in a fictional one. The Hammer Horror films are among my favourite productions and we also spoke about how I loved how some of SJA were obviously inspired by these films. Ford said that they always tried to do a horror inspired story with every series and a lot of writers had really latched onto the Hammer films, which have aged enough to not really be scary anymore to draw inspiration from.
Lastly on my autographs and photo sessions was a duo shoot with Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury, both of whom were still being very naughty and the photo studio had descended into chaos with the pair throwing tinsel at each other; luckily though, they both behaved long enough to have my photo done!
Taking a well needed break, I sat down and waited in the Panoptican room for the next chat, which was from the Ninth Doctor era, with Annette Badland, Eric Potts, and Robert Shearman. It was a fun if brief chat, spent mainly talking about how they are still recognised as the Slitheen. Potts said that after he was in Who, his mum would collect trading cards from children who lived in her town and get him to sign them for the kids. He joked, but he’s probably right about how they’d probably been putting them on eBay! Shearman remembered hearing the news that Doctor Who was coming back but his agent had told the BBC that he wouldn’t be interested in writing an episode featuring “something called Daleks?” And then recalled how delighted he was that he got to write a Target novelisation of this story, when he’d grown up reading the original books in the 1970s and how the novelisation gave him the chance to go back to his draft scripts and meld the story into what he’d originally created and improve on things he didn’t think quite worked.
The final panel was with Louise Jameson and John Leeson — as you’d guess, it was a packed out event. I think everyone who hadn’t had to leave during that day crammed into the convention room. It was really interesting to learn that Leeson had worked as a day judge, ordering people to pay for parking tickets by day, playing a robotic dog by night! He was a delight and allowed us to see the legendary camera that actress Beatrix Lehmann had given him following her guest appearance in The Stones of Blood. His recollections of Beatrix almost moved him and the audience to tears on a number of occasions, and his delight at signing my copy of his first story had already made me a bit emotional so I was a bit a wreck by the end of it!
Louise Jameson spoke about working with Tom Baker, who it’s no secret didn’t get on with her initially but how she was delighted that they’ve become really close friends since then.
Then to a rapturous round of applause and a standing ovation, John Leeson was given an award for his outstanding contribution to Doctor Who, having voiced K9 not only in the original series since 1977, but then when he’s appeared in the modern era, K9 and Company, audiobooks and dramas, and then on The Sarah Jane Adventures.
To say that the applause and standing ovation was well deserved wouldn’t do it an injustice — it obviously means a lot that he knows how well loved he is by the fans. It was still hard to see him cry when Jameson handed him the award; I don’t think there was a dry eye in the entire room. In my short conversation with him at the autograph table and then with him at the panel, I really got the feeling that Leeson is a genuinely lovely, lovely man, and it was an absolute honour to meet him, even if it was only for a few minutes.
And then just like that, the event was over. And what a great weekend it had been.
Of course, Maria and I were up with our new friends until the early hours of the morning, chatting and laughing, probably to the chagrin of the bar staff who started packing up around us! But this is the real delight of these events: it’s the making memories with old and new friends and the stories you can tell afterwards, like Frazer Hines being cheeky with his drinks. This was my second Capitol event and even with the move next year to Birmingham, hopefully this won’t be my last one! These smaller events are the best way to meet our Doctor Who actors: you get more time to talk to them, fantastic panels, and you might even bump into them at the bar afterwards. Again, I was surprised at how nice everyone was, and if you’re worried about going alone, trust me, you won’t be alone for long — we’re all there for one thing: Doctor Who. And once again, this event has proven just how fantastic Doctor Who fans are!