Here’s me at Foyles on London’s Charing Cross Road last night with one of my favourite human beings, the always-delightful Russell T Davies.
Russell was in town, along with the also-very-lovely James Goss, to talk about Now We Are Six Hundred: A Collection Of Time Lord Verse, which James wrote and Russell illustrated, and which looks like a lot of fun.
The evening began with some readings and an amusing hour-long talk, which was broadcast live on the official Doctor Who Facebook page, and at the time of writing is still there, should you fancy a look. This was followed by a signing, photos and posh chocolates – James’s posh chocolates, which he kindly donated to the patiently waiting queue, to aid their sustenance.
I didn’t know I was collecting these until yesterday, when I exited Charlton station and bagged my second one.
I snapped Eccleston Street in July 2015, while walking from Victoria to Kensington. And now, because I have two such pics, I’ve decided that the game is on, and that the rules I must abide by are these:
“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.
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”.
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.
I woke up today to an email from a friend telling me that Nicholas Courtney, Doctor Who’s much-loved Brigadier, had died. I didn’t think this was even possible. I knew that Nick had been suffering with his health over the past couple of years, but the way he kept bouncing back – showing up at conventions with a twinkle in his eye – suggested that he’d probably be around forever.
The last time I saw Nick was at an event called Seventh Heaven, which was held in Chiswick last July. A few weeks earlier, he was billed for a different event, the UNIT-themed ReUNITed, but he had to cancel on the day as he wasn’t very well. Nick’s appearance at Seventh Heaven (so called because it celebrated the Seventh Doctor’s era) was completely unannounced – he turned up part-way through a Battlefield panel, dressed in a waistcoat and shirt that would do Keith Richards proud – and was welcomed with the kind of applause that commonly facilitates encores at rock gigs.
Some people like to buck conventions, but I embrace them – at least I do when they’re branded Doctor Who. (Do you see what I did there?) The current kings of Who cons are Fantom Films, a company who regularly run small-scale but hugely enjoyable day-long events in Chiswick, west London. The venue for the last couple of years has been the George IV pub on Chiswick High Road – or, to be precise, the Headliners comedy club out the back, which comfortably houses 60 fans of the show, along with choice cuts from their merchandise collections for signing.
With two autographs from each guest included in the £35 entry price (extras are available for £5 each), and all the guests happy to pose for a photo, these events are good value – to the extent that it only takes the announcement of two or three strong guests to have me whipping out my wallet and buying a ticket.