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Recollections of Doctor Who Appreciation Society’s The Capitol: Seven Wonders Convention

Ah, what a year it’s been! Since the last DWAS Capitol convention, we’ve had two new Doctors, returning companions, and villains, as well as a plethora of new faces we’ll get to know over the course of the next few series. Oh and I lost my job! That last part was a big part of the reason I wasn’t too sure I was going to be able to go to this year’s DWAS event; luckily though, thanks to having brought my ticket last year after attending the Six Decades event, and some very hard money management, I was able to attend this year and I enjoyed it even more because of that!

I was also a little worried because the location of the event had moved from The Crowne Plaza in Crawley to The Holiday Inn in Birmingham. I live on Hayling Island — Crawley is an hour away on the train for me; Birmingham is more like four-and-a-half. Not a short journey! But as I would learn over the event, people had come from all over the world including places like Canada, Russia, and France, so that puts my four hour journey in a little bit of perspective…

I had also made the decision to not stay in the Holiday Inn but the Premier Inn just down the road which saved me a couple of hundred pounds and made my life easier, leaving me with more money to use for other things. It was only a 10-minute walk in the morning and evening so it wasn’t a bad location actually. I was pleasantly surprised by how lovely everyone in Birmingham was; my one criticism of the Crawley location was that people could be quite rude, but everyone in Birmingham was lovely, from the taxi driver who got me to my accommodation, to the hotel staff, so that made for a lovely first impression.

Of course, I wasted no time in unpacking and then heading out to the event venue to meet up with my friend, Maria, a fellow writer over at The Doctor Who Big Blue Box Podcast, but it was my friend Joe that I bumped into first; giving each other a huge hug, I went into the bar area — there, I ended up chatting with other Doctor Who fans and the wait for Maria felt like no time at all.

As the first evening went along, it was fun seeing everyone arriving; we recognised faces from the worlds of Twitter and Doctor Who Magazine as well as some of the guests, including actors like Michael Troughton and Colin Spaull plus Robert Shearman and production crew that worked on the recent Tales of the TARDIS. We then both got to catch up with Joe and we spent hours chatting and looking around at the faces around us as well as collecting a group of people we would spend much of the event with over the next couple of days.

We all made the right decision and headed to bed relatively early on the Friday night which made the 6am start on Saturday a lot easier — but even as I arrived at the hotel around 8am, I could see a few sore heads. And thanks to the kind barman, Paul (I promised to mention him by name), who gave me breakfast at a reduced price, given how starving I was that morning — it was greatly appreciated!

A lot of the enjoyment of the early Saturday morning entertainment came from the Cavalcade of the Daleks as a number of fan-made models paraded throughout the corridors of the hotel, and had their photos taken outside the venue before being placed in the panel room. Maria, Joe, and I had been talking to a woman there with her 15-year-old son and his baby brother before hand and learnt this was his first event he’d ever attended; he was very excited to meet Sophie Aldred who had checked in after them the previous evening, and he’d been pretty star struck to meet her so was really looking forward to seeing her again later during the day. A little bit later on, I saw the large white Dalek Supreme from Victory of the Daleks interacting with the guests — the son had hold of his baby brother who, while the Dalek was talking, was desperate to get away but once it stopped, he was endlessly fascinated by it. It was great to see that these monsters can still hold that much fascination for children and as the event would go on, despite being a Who fan for as long as I can remember, I felt very privileged to witness the magic of Doctor Who

The event began properly with the Remembrance of the Doctor, a panel with Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, and Dalek Operator, Hugh Spight. I’ve met Sophie before years ago but never Sylvester and I was delighted to see how animated he was; he was up and about, rushing around the audience to answer questions. There were a number of times he was stood up or acting something out much to the amusement of the audience, every bit the showman he always was. He took great delight in telling the story of an explosion during the filming of Remembrance of the Daleks where one of the Daleks blew up under a bridge that London in 1988 thought that a bomb had gone off. He said there was an ambulance that came screeching to a halt amongst the shattered windows and car alarms because of two Daleks coming trundling out of the smoke. It’s a brilliant story, which is funny now — probably not at the time, but one that never gets old.

Hugh Spight added to the group about his experience playing the role of the Black Dalek in that story. He spoke about wobbling along the cobbles and the few frightening moments where he thought the Dalek prop would tip over! He was also a delight on the autograph table when I met him a little later; I told him that I’d visited the location around Hammersmith and it’s a miracle that they didn’t all fall over!

Following on from the Remembrance of the Doctor panel, we moved forward for the Writing for the Doctor panel with Silver Nemesis author Kevin Clarke, Big Finish author Georgia Cook, and author James Goss. James Goss began talking about his work with Big Finish and why so many of the Torchwood range is written by him (it’s a hard range for other writers and he seems to get the audio vibe of the series). Georgia Cook spoke about her time with Big Finish too, as well as recently being commissioned by BBC Books to write a new novel for the Fifteenth Doctor and Ruby Sunday, called Ruby Red. Unfortunately, she wasn’t allowed to tell us much about it but it was clear how much she enjoyed the experience. Kevin Clarke, of course, spoke about working on Silver Nemesis. He said about how he went to a meeting with John Nathan-Turner with no idea on what his story was going to be about and just asked Nathan-Turner, “Doctor Who? Who is the Doctor? Apparently it was enough to make JN-T give him the go ahead. He seemed delighted to speak about writing the villainous Lady Peinfort and how the villains would always have the greatest lines as well as some of her dialogue that unfortunately didn’t make it into the final cut.

I didn’t stay for the next panel, Panel of the Daleks; instead, I went out into the merchandise hall, which included tables from Cutaway Comics, Galaxy 4, GF9 Games, Big Finish, and Time Travel TV as well as tables belonging to artists Colin Howard and Alistair Pearson as well as Fio Trethewey whose comic book-like artwork was very impressive to see in person.

Having explored the merchandise room and spotted a few things I would buy later on, I joined the queues for the first batch of autographs: Sophie Aldred, Kevin Clarke, James Goss, Katy Manning, Sylvester McCoy, Richard Price, and Hugh Spight. Of course, the queue was a long one but it moved along at a much faster pace than previous conventions. Unfortunately — and I do feel sorry for DWAS when it comes to the photos and autographs — they never get given rooms big enough for the amount of people or have enough time between autographs and photos. What didn’t help was that a number of extra photo opportunities were added after the initial programme was sent out so that seemed to come out of nowhere for the guests and attendees.

What wasn’t helping some tempers was the temperature of the room; for some reason, the hotel had the heating on despite it being quite warm in Birmingham! But the guests were lovely: McCoy was the only person charging for autographs (probably due to an agreement with his agent — it’s pretty standard) when everyone else was signing personal items for free so I opted for a print from my favourite Seventh Doctor story, The Curse of Fenric for him to sign. I had brought along my DVD cover of that story for Sophie Aldred to sign and the cover and insert for Remembrance for Hugh Spight which is where I chatted to him about how uneven the roads around Hammersmith are.

For James Goss, I had my cover of Scream of Shalka which he had worked on as a producer and a cover for a Torchwood audio drama he had written. I did have a chat to him about that and how, as a horror fan, I really like the scarier Torchwood stories that lean more into that genre and he told me not to worry because there were more horror Torchwood audios on the way, including something in October which sounded like a Halloween special. Kevin Clarke was lovely, happily signing my copy of Silver Nemesis and we spoke about the location of Arundel and how pretty it is around there. Richard Price, who has played many a monster since the show returned in 2005, spoke about how he was always happy to play many monsters in one story because it meant that he could claim that he had a lot to do with the show.

Then came the delightful Katy Manning whose queue was, obviously, huge! Luckily, she blitzed through people — still, she was never anything other than lovely despite her “handler” repeatedly telling her to hurry up as she had photos to get to. I felt a little sorry for Katy who was clearly getting stressed by her “handler” and I was quite annoyed that they weren’t speaking very nicely to not only the guest but also those who wanted an autograph. Fortunately, Katy recognised the group I was with and quickly signed our stuff before being almost dragged off to have photographs done.

Of course, I understand that these things can be quite stressful for the “handlers”, but I was quite put out by the attitude displayed here. A lot of the time, you can have a laugh with them as well as the guests — indeed, I did, a number of times at this convention, as they would join in the conversations with you — but this particular person I’ve no time for anymore; a shame but their attitude ruined what was otherwise a great little autograph gathering mission.

Up next was the Terrance Dicks Award for Writers, which Paul Cornell won. I would argue he was one of the most important people in the Wilderness Years, kicking off the Missing Adventures range of novels with Goth Opera and writing important novels such as Timewyrm: Revelation, Love & War, and Human Nature (which was later adapted for television) for the New Adventures range, all for Virgin Books.

I stuck around for the Carnival of Manning panel, i.e. a chat with Katy Manning. She was a wonderful interviewee: one might wonder if we haven’t heard all the stories before but a lot of them never get boring. Something I really liked was that she looks back over her life as stories rather than memories; she always goes out and comes back with a story to tell. I liked that as I often live my life similarly, coming home with many stories to tell from things I’ve seen or done. It’s nice to know that I’m a little mad like Katy but as Lewis Carroll once wrote, “All the best people are!”

Then it was time for the group photo my friend Maria and I had been waiting for, with Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, and Katy Manning, which — despite having to wait ages because they decided to add solo photos even though they weren’t advertised — was a great time. Sylvester hadn’t realised how tall I was and the photo was taken just as he is turning around and looking up at me which looks hilarious. Plus when I met him a few weeks later at the Portsmouth Comic Con, he actually remembered me which was fantastic!

Last up on the Saturday was the last batch of autographs, these included Rachelle Beinart, Phil Ford, Richard Latto, Joshua MG Thomas, Rich Tipple, and Michael Troughton. Having waited for the photos first, I was able to get in and get my autographs with no waiting around this time. I took my cover for the DVD of The Church on Ruby Road for Rachelle Beinart to sign. She was the voice of Janice the Goblin and was chatting to me for a while about the costume and how uncomfortable it was. She said the eyes, in good old Doctor Who tradition, were completely impractical for seeing out of and once she was out of her costume, she told herself she didn’t want to do that again… then after her moment of madness, she obviously wanted to do it all again!

Phil Ford was a delight again; last year, we spoke about our love for horror films and how The Sarah Jane Adventures would often wantonly rip of the Hammer Films and we resumed our conversation from last year and Rich Tipple was great to chat to too, talking about his work on colourising the early Pertwee stories that had only existed in black and white and then about his work on the recent colour version of The Daleks. He also joined us when our gang were having dinner later so we all spent plenty of time with them!

As always, the event wound down with the charity auction including Tom Baker impersonation from Alister Pearson and later hosted by writer Robert Shearman. Items on offer included original artwork, prints, autographs from actors no longer with us, and replica Dalek guns! Maria won an art print from a Riverside event we’d been to late last year with all the autographs from the guests who had attended. It was rounded off with the screening of Devious Episode 5 with updated special effects. We were also chatting with the guys behind that over dinner so it was cool finding out all the gossip and how things were made. The Dalek props used in the fan film still survive though they have been relegated to sheds and garages.

Sunday was a bit more of a relaxing day. Having made the right decision to get an early night on the Saturday, I wouldn’t say I felt refreshed but I didn’t feel like I’d slept all night with my fingers in a plug socket either! Things kicked off with Beneath the Planet of the Odd and Beyond, a panel with Graeme Harper, Colin Spaull, and Keith Temple. Graeme and Colin said they’d been child actors together and that they remained friends, growing up and beyond, though Colin still had to audition for his roles in both stories he was in. Keith Temple spoke about his work, writing Planet of the Ood and later expanding on it when he wrote the Target novelisation which was recently released. Graeme recounted how worried Catherine Tate was that she wouldn’t be liked while they were filming this but how she blew everyone away once the cameras starting rolling. It’s hard to imagine how she could be worried about that but because everyone knew her as a comedy actress, she was concerned that she wouldn’t be able to do the serious stuff. Keith Temple described how he was amazed by how fantastic she was when he was on set for the filming, having been invited by Graeme, and how he was wowed by how she brought his dialogue to life. The themes behind Planet of the Ood are tough but she brought them to life in an empathetic way that really made it shine.

Up next was a group phot with the Big Finish cast of characters including Daisy Ashford, Sadie Miller, and Jason Haigh-Ellery. Daisy is the daughter of Caroline John while Sadie is the daughter of Elisabeth Sladen. Luckily, the line for their photos went a lot smoother and it was great to meet them, Daisy organising things so my picture went girl, boy, girl, boy. And getting a big hug from Sadie was a definite highlight! Then I joined the queue for the first round of autographs with Dean Hollingsworth, Catherine Howe, Maureen Lane, Paul Lavers, Steve Roberts, and Robert Shearman. Paul Lavers was a delight and I was chatting to him about how happy everyone looks in The Androids of Tara. He replied saying it was a combination of a great location, great weather, a great cast and crew, and the fact that everyone was getting along and having a ball — so it didn’t feel like work at all.

I’ve met Maureen Lane and Catherine Howe before at a Riverside event and they are interesting. Not grumpy but they seem more bewildered as to why they were there! I didn’t really speak with Lane but I spoke with Catherine Howe on how her character from different. She would have replaced Deborah Watling as Victoria with Anneke Wills and Michael Craze leaving in The Faceless Ones and then she and Frazer Hines as Jamie would have continued on in the TARDIS. She said that she was told at the time but it might not have happened; still, she would have definitely said yes to it because she’d known Anneke Wills since they were children acting together.

Dean Hollingsworth, who was the blue android in Timelash and then the conductor in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, was chatting to me again about life on Guernsey where he lives and a place I adore so that was nice. Someone was actually cosplaying as his blue android which looked amazing, even if I wouldn’t want to try and get the blue face paint off at night… And Robert Shearman is always and absolute delight. I brought my copies of The Holy Terror and a print for his Doctor Who comic strip, The Cruel Sea, which was released recently as a gift with the magazine. He looked at it and a huge smile spread across his face and he said he doesn’t remember anything about working on it, besides the fact he knew he wrote it! Then he gave the back a look and read the synopsis — he just seemed delighted that I had given something to sign he hadn’t seen before but also something he said he remembers writing bits of but not the whole thing in the same way he does writing for audio or television. Shearman is a very intelligent person and a real delight to talk to; this allows his panels to be very interesting and fun. It’s also great to see him going around after the event and chatting with people, sitting down with you and spending a long amount of time talking, something not many people do.

The next panel was 25 Years of Big Finish which was a great chat with the Big Finish cast: it was great to hear about how Daisy and Sadie have effortlessly stepped into their mother’s shoes. And there were some great stories of them growing up and not really knowing what Doctor Who was from Daisy while Sadie was kind of thrown into it from an early age. It was sad but interesting to learn that Caroline John genuinely thought that people didn’t like her as Liz Shaw and that it wasn’t until she started appearing at conventions like the ones held by DWAS that she realised we all love Liz! Jason Haigh-Ellery then added that Paul McGann had a similar experience and it wasn’t until Paul, India Fisher, and Jason went on stage for a Big Finish panel in the early 2000s that Paul realised everyone loved him with a rapture of applause that Jason described as akin to a rock star going on stage!

Joe and I, now joined by Maria, then moved closer to the front for The Androids of Great Barr, with both Dean Hollingsworth and Paul Lavers chatting about their work in two android-heavy stories. Paul spoke about how worried Mary Tamm was playing both her Romana and then the android duplicates and how much of a pain the K9 prop was, being pulled along by string on wooden boards and how he felt Tom Baker would have been much happier if the prop was left to float in the moat while he left in the TARDIS! Dean spoke about how uncomfortable the blue paint was for Timelash and how Paul Darrow did nothing but chew the scenery in every scene he was in! He then told a pretty heartfelt story about how he accidently ended up playing his own grandfather in a war film set on Guernsey and was able to help the production crew in making sure the costumes were as accurate as possible thanks to his photos of his grandfather during the conflict. It was a bit of a random panel with a very loose connection between both actors but it was good fun nonetheless!

Then it was time to join the back of the very long queue for the next lot of autographs, this time for Carole Ann Ford, Graeme Harper, Frazer Hines, Colin Spaull, and Keith Temple. And of course I was right at the back! But it wasn’t bad and it moved at a decent pace as I was chatting with someone who had come all the way from Minnesota in America! That is what’s so fun about these events — you literally chat with people from all around the world, but those chats always feel like you’ve known the person for years. It was here too that I finally saw how terrifying the Daleks are! To keep the people in the queues amused, the Daleks would patrol the corridors we were in. But this time, they were so accurate to what we see on screen, so huge props to the people who make them — they were genuinely chilling as they glided silently along the corridor. The cold blue light from the eye stalk was creepy as the head would turn to look at you. Even though these are only props, I dread to think how scary it must be to act with them in the television show, given how scary I found them in a hotel corridor in Birmingham…

Carole Ann Ford seemed to be in a much better mood than the last time I’d met her and she happily signed my copy of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Frazer Hines was likewise happy to sign my copy of Tomb of the Cybermen but I think the bigger guests were under orders not to talk for too long so that they could get through the queues a lot quicker! But Graeme Harper and Colin Spaull were happy to talk. Harper spoke to me about how frightened he was to bring the Cybermen back in the modern series, while Colin spoke to me about how privileged he feels getting to work with both of the most iconic monsters in the series: the Daleks and the Cybermen. He also spoke to me about how great the late-great Roger Lloyd Pack was to work with; he said he was miles away from Trigger in Only Fools and Horses, where he would have to get into character beforehand — he would laugh and joke behind the scenes of Doctor Who and made the whole experience a lot less stressful than it might have been otherwise.

I managed to catch the end of the Rob Shearman panel and then watched the whole of Monochrome Magic, the final panel of the event with Carole Ann Ford and Frazer Hines. It was a decent panel, even if things got off to a strange start with them talking about cars for 10 minutes. Once they got onto the subject of Doctor Who though, things came alive, with Carole talking about what William Hartnell was like to work with and how sometimes he’s misunderstood, and how she was pleased that Mark Gatiss got his character completely right in An Adventure in Space and Time. Frazer likewise spoke about the real Patrick Troughton and how great an actor he was. Again, it was nothing we haven’t heard before so it didn’t break new ground but sometimes the old stories are the best ones, no matter how many times they are told. And then, just like that, it was all over and the heavy drinking sessions of the evening could begin and there were a few sore heads on the Monday morning…

Circling back to what I’d said at the start of this article, this event made me realise for the first time the proper magic of Doctor Who. From the look of wonder in a young child’s face at the Dalek to a personal story of a son who found his voice because of our little show, no other franchise has the power that Doctor Who holds. Things like Star Trek might inspire you to find a job but that doesn’t inspire you to be you, not in the same way Doctor Who does. Thank you, DWAS, for reminding me of that!

Jordan Shortman

Recollections of Doctor Who Appreciation Society’s The Capitol: Seven Wonders Convention

by Jordan Shortman time to read: 17 min
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