“By the time we get to the end, and Caves, it’s as good as it gets.”
So said Mark Gatiss in his intro to this month’s ‘Doctor Who at 50’ screening, at NFT1 on Saturday 4 May. The story that the BFI selected to represent the Fifth Doctor’s era was The Caves Of Androzani – a popular choice. Everything came together on Caves – script, performance, direction and score – to create what readers of Doctor Who Magazine in 2009 voted the series’ best story of all time. Where to go in the TARDIS? For a large section of fandom, Androzani Minor is the destination.
Yet, in some ways, Caves was also a strange choice of story for this event. It’s Peter Davison’s swansong – his Doctor regenerates in part four. It also stars Nicola Bryant as Peri, a companion who has just two adventures with the Fifth Doctor, rather than any of the longer-serving actors from Davison’s three seasons – actors who were invited to talk at this event (Bryant will, I assume, be a guest at next month’s screening, The Two Doctors). By showing the story in this context, it felt a bit like we’d overshot the target.
Yesterday morning I booked a ticket to see the 1963 Ray Harryhausen epic Jason And The Argonauts on the big screen. It’s playing at the NFT1 in June, complete with a Q&A from film historian Tony Dalton – an event to celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary. The BFI programme, posted to members last week, says: “We also hope to welcome Ray Harryhausen.”
Yesterday evening, I heard the sad news that Ray had died.
As a young kid in the 1970s, I was in thrall to stop-motion animation. Like Ray, I was bowled over by the original King Kong – I can still clearly remember sitting and watching it, having been guided to it by my parents – and I never missed a chance to see any of Ray’s own films when they were on telly. The fantastic creatures of The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad, The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad and, of course, Jason And The Argonauts just seemed magical. I was also a dinosaur nut, and the likes of One Million Years BC and The Valley Of Gwangi wowed me in exactly the same way that Jurassic Park would 20 years later.
Talk about April showers. I needed a cold one when I found out that Tom Baker and Philip Hinchcliffe were going to be sharing the stage at the NFT1 for this, the fourth of the BFI’s ‘Doctor Who at 50’ events, on Saturday 20 April.
The story chosen to represent Baker’s Doctor was the 1977 whodunnit The Robots Of Death, the penultimate production of the Hinchcliffe era – that peerless two-year period between The Ark In Space and The Talons Of Weng Chiang, when both the show and its lead actor were at the peak of their powers, scaring the bejesus out of kids like me every Saturday evening with tales of Zygons, Wirrn, Krynoids and Kraals.
It’s 27 April. Saturday evening. Dusk. Normally at this time I’d be at home in front of the telly watching Doctor Who. But tonight I have other plans – plans that I can’t record to my V+ box and watch tomorrow. It’s hard to believe, I know, but sometimes real life is worth venturing out for.
So I’ve straddled the train and ridden the Tube to Kennington, south London, for An Evening With William Russell (all caps, you’ll note, for the phrase is a title as well as a descriptor). The much-loved actor is at the Cinema Museum to be interviewed, by Mark Egerton, in front of around 100 fans and admirers about his 60-year career in stage and screen.
Though he’s most famous for his part in Doctor Who between 1963 and 1965 – when he was Ian Chesterton, one of the original three companions to the original Doctor, played by William Hartnell – Russell’s CV is both broad and long, and includes roles in many other highly successful works, including The Great Escape, Superman, The Black Adder and Coronation Street.
On 10 March, I attended a BFI screening of the 1971 Doctor Who story The Mind Of Evil, in which the Doctor pits his wits against his arch-enemy the Master and his mind-sapping Keller Machine. This screening was the first time that this story had been seen entirely in colour, in public, since its original broadcast.
For the unaware, the BBC junked the original tapes in 1973 (it’s a long story), and in recent decades fans have been watching The Mind Of Evil on tapes sourced from black-and-white 16mm film copies, alongside a few colour clips that survived thanks to a domestic recording someone had made in the US. But now, thanks to the efforts of the Doctor Who Restoration Team, the entire six-part serial exists in colour once again.
The announcement of Project MotorMouth last September was bittersweet. A Doctor Who convention featuring Doctors 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10 – that’s Davison, Baker (C, not T), McCoy, McGann and Tennant – was an appealing prospect, but the reason for the get-together was linked to some far less pleasant news.
“Janet Fielding has a new fight on her hands,” said the event website, “not against the Daleks or Cybermen but against cancer”.
The idea for the event, scheduled for 19 January 2013, was dreamt up by Janet’s Doctor Who co-star and friend Peter Davison, who “swung into action and enlisted the help of his fellow Doctors” to try to “raise money for a good cause but also keep Janet’s spirits up”.
“You are invited to attend a day in celebration of Shane Briant.” So ran the (A5, stiff and rather good-looking) ticket that I received in the post back in May, after despatching a £30 cheque to Donald Fearney. A newbie to Mr Fearney’s legendary Hammer-themed get-togethers, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew that the opportunity to meet Shane Briant – for the actor would be in attendance at this celebration – wasn’t one I should pass up.
The venue was to be the Cine Lumiere in Kensington, where Briant’s final film for Hammer, Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell, would also be screened. However, a couple of months before the big day, some behind-the-scenes kerfuffle led to the event having to be relocated and the screening scrapped. Hence, last Saturday morning, I made my way up to Hackney to visit a church hall called the Round Chapel.
Last Saturday night I went along to Sound Of Fear, a two-part event at London’s Southbank Centre. The main draw for me was a 45-minute set from Alan Howarth, the musician and composer who collaborated with John Carpenter on many of his much-loved ’80s scores, such as Escape From New York, Halloween III: Season Of The Witch and Prince Of Darkness.
The performance in the venue’s Purcell Room, which I loved every pulsating second of, covered all these scores, plus Big Trouble In Little China, Halloween II, Christine, They Live, and even Ennio Morricone’s brooding music for The Thing. Howarth was accompanied on stage by a woman whose name I didn’t catch, who appeared to be operating a live video mixer. It was an understandable addition, given that this music was designed to accompany images, but one I found distracting at times – the repetition, intrusive effects and speed changes mostly failing to capture the mood of the original films. I’d have preferred some simple compilation clips.
Logging into my site today, I noticed that traffic had spiked around one particular page: a short piece about the day in October 2007 when I made a special journey to Collectormania, Milton Keynes, to meet Elisabeth Sladen, aka Sarah Jane Smith from Doctor Who. In that blog, I recounted our brief chat, though reading it afresh it’s noticeable to me that I missed out a key detail – most likely because vanity got the better of me.
You see, despite enjoying signing events and conventions, I occasionally struggle with over-the-desk conversation due to my stammer. And this was one such occasion. Lis was one of the chattiest people I’d met, and I quickly hit a bump, my words tangling into a solid block. When I explained what was going on, she said: “Oh, don’t worry – you take your time.” To date, she’s one of only two people I’ve met at a signing who’ve helped put me at ease when I’ve got myself in a pickle (the other is Rob Shearman). I loved her for that.
The success of January’s Barbara Shelley and Linda Hayden signing seems to have spurred events organiser 10th Planet on to book more Hammer actors. Last Saturday, in a conference room at Barking’s library, I had the pleasure of meeting John Carson, who starred in three of the studio’s films: The Plague Of The Zombies (1966), Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1970) and Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974).
As you can see from the pictures below, John is a man who belies his 84 years, though to see him looking so well was just one of this event’s joys. The other was hearing him speak in those instantly recognisable tones. If he’d brought along some voodoo effigies, by the end of the morning I would definitely have been working in his tin mine as a zombie slave.