Official Doctor Who Convention 2012Bookmark and Share

Monday, 26 March 2012 - Reviewed by Marcus


Official Doctor Who Convention 2012

The Millennium Centre, Cardiff
24-25 March 2012

BBC Worldwide
This weekend the BBC organised the first Official Doctor Who Convention since the series returned to TV screens in 2005 and the biggest Doctor Who event the Corporation has run since the stately grounds of Longleat hosted the celebration of the show's twentieth birthday in April 1983.

Very different to many fan run conventions, the announcement of the event had a mixed response with some fans, with some criticising the entry price and the lack of inclusion of many items that have now become a integral part of many alternative conventions. But an official BBC event is always going to be a very different beast, with different aspirations and objectives than an event purely ran by fans. Each type of event has its own own unique selling points and each will appear to different type of fan. A BBC event will always be much bigger than others purely because it is an official BBC event. Many will attend who would never dream of going to an alternative convention with the event appealing to a far wider circle of fans. So it is bound to lose some of the intimacy that many smaller conventions process.

The unique advantage the BBC has is its ability to get all the stars of the current series to attend along with many of the people who actually make episodes we all know and love. The BBC event has been described as Doctor Who Confidential Live and while that may be a good way to describe it it should not be taken as a negative. Where else could you get the three main stars onto a sofa and see them discuss their feelings for the show alongside the main writer? Where else could you get a chance to see the man behind all the Special Effects in the series since 2005 recreate some of the explosions and bangs and blasts we all know and love? Where else could you seen Silurian Masks being created before your eyes and get a step by step description of the restoration of a Classic episode by the guys who actually do this for a living.

The Panels:

The main reason for many attending the convention was the chance it gives you to see the current stars of the show in the flesh, and the convention didn't disappoint. The Meet the stars panel comprised of Executive Producers Caroline Skinner and Steven Moffat, alongside the current TARDIS team of Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, all greeted with tumultuous applause. The affection and warmth shared between the team shone through and kept the audience entertained with tales from the set. Matt Smith is a true star and gave several fans memories they will treasure forever, including one fan who was treated to a hug not only from the Doctor, but the entire TARDIS team , and the young Eleventh Doctor look-a-likes who were treated to their very own Jammy Dodger from their doppelgänger on the stage.

Questions from the audience covered many topics with the team remaining tight lipped about what might be coming up in the future. Ask me something I can answer Moffat pleaded at one point.

The Second Panel of the Day took a look at the making of an episode that was actually filmed inside the Millennium Centre. The Girl Who Waited used several locations around the building and writer Tom MacRae discussed the way he concieved the episode and his annoyance that the Handbots had not yet been made into a toy. He was joined onstage by producer Marcus Wilson who gave an insight into the problems in making the episode and Millennium FX Director Neill Gorton who explained how the ageing of Amy was achieved.

The final panel took a look at the evolution of an entire series with Caroline Skinner returning to the stage to talk about how a series is devised. Expertly chaired by Barnaby Edwards, Skinner was joined by Casting Director Andy Pryor, Production Designer Michael Pickwoad, Director of The Rebel Flesh, Julian Simpson and Director of Photography Stephan Pehrsson who took time to explain their own contribution to the series.

Before the Panel ended an audible gasp when around the theatre when a special preview of Series Seven was shown.

Costumes:

The costume display featured many items recently seen at the Doctor Who Experience in London. Several Doctor and Companion Costumes were on display along with monsters from both the current and classic series. A cabinet was filled with Sonic Screwdrivers and TARDIS keys from throughout the years.

Special Effects:

Danny Hargreaves is the man responsible for all the Special Effects on Doctor Who, and has been since the series returned in 2005. His session was a treat for all concerned, getting off to an explosive start when, halfway through the introduction, the entire west wall of the theatre appeared to explode as a Dalek glided across the stage.

Hargreaves demonstrated many of the devices used in the show, explaining how bullets appear to explode on impact and how snow is made before allowing one young fan to play at being the Doctor and to destroy a Cyberman.

Prosthetics demonstrations:

Millennium FX were based in the main lobby where attendees were treated to live demonstrations of the techniques used in making some of the monsters and villains seen on the show.

The displays alternated with the Doctor Who restoration team explaining some of the painstaking work that goes into restoring classic episodes for DVD release.

Other Guests:

Away from the main hall several guests from the recent series of Doctor Who were available for autographs including Simon Fisher Becker and Mark Sheppard. It's a pity more could not have been made of these guests as I know how entertaining both can be and what a valuable contribution they could have made to any panel.

The Event:

The Convention was clearly a success with BBC Worldwide selling all 3000 tickets in advance of the event. Although not confirmed, plans are in place for more events in the months leading up to the shows 50th Anniversary.

Most who attended found the event a unique, exciting chance to see behind the scenes, and to meet the stars of a series they love so much. One of the most wondrous things about being a Doctor Who fan who grew up with the classic series is to see the shear joy and delight on children faces as the magic of the current series bewitches them just as it has done for their predecessors over many years.




Doctor Who: ShadaBookmark and Share

Thursday, 15 March 2012 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
Written by Douglas Adams, Gareth Roberts
BBC Books
UK Release - 15 March 2012
Available to purchase from Amazon UK
This review contains plot spoilers.

Shada is a rather special book. And this is true not just because it finally brings a lost, unfinished and untelevised story officially into print, but also because this new version is a startlingly transitional, connective tale. It seamlessly bridges different times, incarnations and conceptions of Doctor Who – all rather fitting for an epic story concerned with the creation of a “Universal Mind”.

First, there's the question of authorship. Pondering whether or not Roberts has been faithful to Douglas Adams' screenplay rapidly becomes a pointless exercise: this is not a slavish reproduction, but a careful, creative transformation of different scripts and performances. Rather than a zero-sum game of authorial control, this is a cunning blend of Adams and Roberts, and a veritable meeting of minds.

Certain moments stand out as strongly characteristic of Roberts' authorial persona and concerns – for example, Chapter 9 challenges the representational limitations of 1970s' TV Who, at the same time making new sense of a fairly throwaway moment in Adams' script. Something else which betrays a Roberts-esque preoccupation is the joke that villainous Skagra has a habit of reducing people and worlds to a contemptuous, dismissive score out of ten. Where, I wonder, did Doctor Who fan Gareth Roberts seize on that activity as a comedic motif for sociopathic evil? And Skagra obsessively collects and orders his books, not wishing to touch them with so much as an ungloved hand. Again, what could have inspired Doctor Who fan Gareth Roberts' specific take on Adams' cipher of a baddie? One might almost imagine that this Skagra is a humorous attack on certain strains of fandom: the story-scoring Who fan/collector not so very playfully rendered as monstrous. This fan-villain connection is made even more explicit when Skagra researches his adversary, the Doctor. Whereas the video of Shada includes a brief montage of clips from assorted Tom Baker stories, Roberts has Skagra watching complete “video-texts” of The Androids of Tara, The Power of Kroll, and Creature from the Pit. He curtly dismisses them as evidence of “a 1 out of 10 Time Lord larking about on 2 out of 10 planets” (p.71). Skagra is evidently unimpressed with the Graham Williams era, and his ultimate fate – which I won't fully reveal here – will also be strangely familiar to fans of the BBC television series Doctor Who (p.379).

At the same time that Roberts seemingly reworks Shada as a vehicle for his own loves and his own pet peeves – not to mention fixing the story so it makes much better sense – he also rigorously pastiches Douglas Noel Adams. The DNA of Adams' style is present in many ways: in Roberts' riffing on the obsequious, worshipful character of the Ship, in the rhythmic repetitions of sentence structure, and even in a sprinkling of shocking puns and self-referential tributes. Given that Professor Chronotis owns H.G. Wells' The Time Machine in Shada's 1979 scripts and recorded footage, incorporating real-world bookish references is very much in keeping with the spirit of Adams' story. That said, it doesn't take a vast imaginative leap to guess which SF book is identified and nearly name-checked this time around (p.392). The Panopticon Archives, we eventually learn, have long been home to a particularly appropriate tome... Oh, and the newly renovated end to episode five (or part five, in literary terms) also feels very much like a Douglas Adams-ish gag. It relies on typography, could only really work on the printed page (p.328—331), and is quite possibly the rudest, funniest episode ending Doctor Who has (n)ever had.

As well as skilfully bridging and harmonising the authorial voices of Adams and Roberts, Shada is brilliantly transitional in other ways. It re-writes 1970s' Doctor Who from the perspective of BBC Wales' Who, incorporating cheeky references to the gender-switching Corsair (p.83), to red-robed and henna-tattooed visionaries (p.232) and even to Roberts' own creations, the Carrionites (p.312). It also gives Clare Keightley and Chris Parsons an already much remarked upon romance, in keeping with contemporary Doctor Who's newfound emotional realism. To my mind, Roberts also toys with Shada's status as a story originally bookmarking the end of the Graham Williams era and the conclusion of season seventeen. When Doctor Who next returned to television screens it was as a rather different creature – a John Nathan-Turner/Christopher H. Bidmead confection. And Roberts marks this turning point by picking up on mentions of entropy in the available Shada scripts (e.g. on p.106) and vigorously extrapolating. Thus he works in further references to “accelerated entropy”, with Chris Parsons querying this as a scientific possibility (p.250), as well as developing Skagra's plan to “conquer the threat of entropy” by overcoming the second law of thermodynamics and ensuring there could be “no collapse into eternal darkness and decay” (p.346). Nobody mention it to Christopher Bidmead, but Skagra's evil scheme sounds uncannily like a mission statement for season eighteen, creating a clever subtextual blurring of season seventeen and its successor, and prefiguring the Nathan-Turner/Bidmead era... albeit with Christopher H's pseudo-science (and Logopolis) implicitly repositioned as, well, errrrm, utter madness.

Although the Doctor protests that he isn't free to travel up and down “the Gallifreyan timeline” (p.83), Roberts permits himself just that pleasure, hybridising “classic” and “new” Doctor Who to reinforce the contemporary party line – namely that it's all the same show. But perhaps it's never been quite as wholly unified as this. Shada represents Doctor Who's own “universal mind”: past and present, “classic” and “new”, Adams and Roberts, seasons seventeen and eighteen; all are merged together into one great outpouring of fannish passion and literary grace. This revisitation of a 1979 story will no doubt be a strong contender for the Who book of the year in 2012. Good writing, much like time travel, can achieve strange and beautiful and intricate things.

Gareth Roberts would probably like his readers to consider the possibility that scoring things out of 10 may be a bad idea, and – whisper it – a tad unhealthy. This is a shame, because I feel compelled to tell you that Shada is very definitely a 10 out of 10. Indeed, it's a pity that BBC Books haven't issued a Collector's Edition (its cover designed to resemble The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey), complete with Seal of Rassilon-branded reading gloves. Fandom, in touch with its inner Skagra, might just have enjoyed such merchandising. But no matter, because this retelling of Shada remains a rather special book. No, more than that, it's a very special book.







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