Saturday, 26 July 2014

Doctor Who Books Read and Heard, Part 11!

And after that last Dalek Extravaganza (she exaggerates happily), back to the regular and eccentric reading of the Who books!  This post: treats from the eras of the First, Third, Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, and even some that don't exist on TV, via a short story collection.

A note on order.  Target Originals are not read in order of publication (which was all over the place), but in order of each Doctor, and each Doctor is read in order of their stories broadcast on TV.  However, I jump about in terms of which Doctor I read at any given time.  The Virgin New Adventures for Sylvester will be read in order; as will the BBC 8th Doctor series (as though they had been on TV, see?  I’m trying to get an arc flavour).  The BBC Past Doctors series and the Virgin Missing Adventures are simply read in terms of which one I fancy next, as they are stand alone adventures slotting in-between the TV ones.
Oh, and in case you forgot, I’ve taken to recording which books I read that are actual paper copies, and which are Kindle or other electronic.  I’m being social historical for my own benefit. I want to see how long it is before I just plug books straight into my brain, how many years before I’m a reading cyborg.
As always with these rambly reviews: SPOILERS ON ALL BOOKS IMMINENT!!!!
  1. Doctor Who: Mark of the Rani, by Pip and Jane Baker (Target original)
    (6th Doctor.  Hmmm.  I really enjoyed watching this one, but found the book unconvincing.  Partially because of some clumsy and hackneyed word and phrase usage; and partially because I objected to the whole yurning into a tree thing near the end.  For some reason, I found this perfectly plausible to watch, and an insult to my intelleigence written.  Maybe it’s the way it was written?  I wanted to get a nice feel of the age and its values and problems, its atmosphere – as I felt I did do watching; but reading I just felt like I was having a story told to me, with action driving, and hardly any extras that I would have found interesting, handled at all.  A failure, for me, as a historical – but unsure why this is.  Don’t want to buy in on the Pip and Jane bashing I see elsewhere, though I do think, as I said, some of the writing was lazy.  I think its possible this story was considerably thinner than it appeared on watching, a fact hidden by the excellent BBC mastery of the look of a historical story – which my eyes would have been very busy enjoying, and that the tale may have lacked sense in the first place…ACTUAL BOOK.)
  2. Doctor Who: Planet of the Giants, by Terrance Dicks (Target original)
    (1st Doctor.  HMMMMMM.  I think this on should nowadays be called Planet of Monsanto.  Its seems oddly prescient with all the discussion we have now about GM food, and pesticides that kill bees and wreck the basis of the food-chain, that this story handled a very similar issue in the ‘60s.  I enjoyed this one, slightly told though it was, and read in two short evening spates.  It was very visual, full of Barbara being histrionic and rightly, and felt oddly plausible despite it being sort of silly – miniaturization stories have never done it for me, except for The Fantastic Voyage! A small and sort of silly story that tackles some very real and vital issues – what an odd combination…ACTUAL BOOK.)
  3. Doctor Who: Delta and the Bannermen, by Malcom Kohll (Target original)
    (This is such an interesting one.  When I first saw it on TV it almost derailed my Sylvester marathon and appreciation completely [I wasn’t watching in order, and had just seen Battlefield and Ghostlight, so it had stuff to live up to].  But then Fluffhead liked it a lot, so I ended up watching it many many MANY times.  The more I did, the more I appreciated its quirkiness.  I loved the countryside setting, I loved the Navarinos, I loved Ken Dodd, I loved Delta and her sad dignity. I found Billy’s wanting to change species to be with her very sweet.  I even didn’t mind the green baby, the annoyance of the Bannermen – who were really very bad soldiers when you think about it and the minute their leader was gone they just fell apart.  Tsk.  I felt oddly unconnected to it while reading; then about half way through I clicked in and enjoyed its oddness immensely – Goronwy and the honey – what is that all about??  What a strange and unnecessary character; but I’m very glad he’s there. ACTUAL BOOK.)
  4. Doctor Who: Short Trips and Side Steps: Short Story Anthology, edited by Stephen Cole and Jacqueline Rayner (BBC)
    (There were 3 BBC Short Trips collections of short stories, before Big Finish took over, and of course, I have logically started on the 3rd and last one.  I saw some reviews of this one before reading – not usually something I do, it was an accident – and I can see why a lot of people weren’t that enamoured of this collection.  I can’t – yet, obviously – speak for the quality of the other 2 BBC Short Trips, but this one was patchy.  I can see from the Introduction that they wanted to have fun and play with the concept – have new Doctors there never were; have some homage pastiche type stories; tell sillier humorous stories, or stories that were alternately dark and light and silly or just playful.  Some of these work, and some of them are …well, when I was in my heyday of horror film watching [she says, settling down for a quick anecdote the way American TV so often does], I used to absolutely HATE when I saw a film that spoofed horrors.  I used to like my horror straight  and that was that – I wanted it scary and gruesome.  Not ironic or self referential or any other genre pastiching shitey.  Nowadays, if its done well, and there are lots of references that make me feel a bit sort of sad trap clever, I don’t mind a spoof so much…but this short story collection is a spoof in many ways.  So if you like your Who serious and straight and in character for each era – then there are bits of this you won’t like because it messes with parts of the concept, and outright mocks in places.  Depends if you feel humourous when you come to read it as to whether you’ll feel its affectionate mockery or blasphemy.  Some stories I really liked: The Longest Story in the World [quirky Who genesis tale]; Special Occasions 1: The Not So Sinister Sponge [where Gareth Roberts accompanied by Clayton Hickman does what he does so it works just fine and I didn’t find the idea of a planet made of desserts any weirder than you’d really think I should – that was also when I realised how odd this collection was going to be]; Nothing At The End of The Lane, had several parts to it [Daniel O’Mahony tells just about the most disturbing and nightmarish story for the mentally nervous I’ve read in some time – it infected my ideas about Barbara for quite a while after reading – this one was VERY disturbing – serious scary, almost Adam Nevillish].  The Android Maker of Calderon IV was short sweet and snigger funny; Revenants was clever but I did not like the imaginary new Doctor at all [is this simply my prejudice against open toed shoes and that kind of hair?????].  The House on Oldark Moor was walking a very fine line between serious and pastiche and did it very well, as did Countdown to TV Action which chose to attack that line a different way [“I’m a Scientist!”].  Monsters by Tara Samms had a realistic and very tragic feel.  A real issue dealt with scarily from a psychological point of view, in the middle of a Doctor Who story – I liked that. Storm in a Tikka, was outlandish but very well written and I liked the story not being disturbed by the fact it was humourous.  Vrs – right at the end of the book and a one liner not a story [just the kind of thing I’d tell as a parody story to Fluffhead  to make him laugh before bed], will test your ideas of what you think is funny.  This was a good collection, in that some of it was so inventive and funny.  And some of it will appeal to others!  The Daniel O’Mahoney was my favourite story just because it had SUCH a strong tone and really caught me because it’s use of language and its atmosphere never let up – even when you find out what is going on, its still a nightmare.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
  5. Doctor Who: Paradise of Death, by Barry Letts (Target Original)
    (This was one of the slowest burning books I’ve ever read.  I was quite bored by the beginning, especially the cliché overemphasis in the vocalisation of Sarah Jane.  I also couldn’t stand Chairman Freeth and Tragan – two more overdone villains of each type you couldn’t hope to find.  But I persisted, and about halfway through the book – which is a lot longer than I usually persist – I started to find it good.  Once it got to the offworld planet and issues of virtual reality, the rapine that could grow anywhere and be made into anything [another Monsanto prescience there by author], and the strangely spiritual Onya, I became more and more engrossed.  Sarah Jane’s affection for Waldo and the many small details that started to make the pictured world more and more interesting and real pulled me further and further in till I felt I was watching something as epic, sparkly and tacky as the Flash Gordon remake – and that is not an insult, its one of my favourite films!  So after a very bad start, I ended up liking this one an awful lot.  I haven’t yet heard the radio play it’s based on, written for – though I have it.  I’ll review that separately when I get to it.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
  6. Doctor Who: The Revenge of the Cybermen, by Terrance Dicks (Target Original)
    (I enjoyed this one a lot more than when I saw it on TV.  I had forgotten everything after the initial 2 episodes I always end up watching with Fluffhead.  I thought the 2 factions and their use of the gold, their infighting etc well written.  I felt sorry for Sarah Jane and Harry who seemed to spend a lot of the plot being hapless and getting ill or in the way, or trying to help and creating further complications…which, I know, is the definition of what a ‘companion’ is for in this era of Who writing…but it was a little heavy handed.  However, I enjoyed this one – there was more to it than I remembered, which was good.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
  7. Doctor Who: The Curse of Peladon, by Brian Hayles (Target Original)
    (I appear to be alone in having enjoyed this one on TV and also having enjoyed the book!  I like the politics of Peladon, I like the fanaticism of Hepesh and the indecision of a young king stuck between tradition and new ways.  I like the portrayal of the Ice Warriors in particular, their resourcefulness and honour.  I liked Arcturus turning out to be a villain!  I like Jo getting opinionated and shouting at just about everybody by the time the book is over!  I like the way I ended up counting how many times Jon Pertwee said ‘old chap’ to someone [I started counting a third of the way through the book so I don’t actually have an accurate total to report back to you!].  From the materialisation of the TARDIS on the cliff through to the attempted coup at the end and the politics in between, I found this one chuntered along very satisfyingly.  I was pleased!  Also, I do love the ‘haroon haroon haroon’ bit!  Which they do not actually use as a direct quote in the book, it merely says: ‘the Doctor chanted’ – which is a shame, as it’s a very memorable moment.  ACTUAL BOOK.)

Doctor Who Books Read and Heard, Part 10: THE DALEK SPECIAL!

Just as I threatened some considerable time back - here is a themed post from the Who Readathon (and, er, now Listen-athon too).  I realized I'd gotten to a stage with the reading where purely through my lackadaisical (yet highly logical!!) way of selecting what I read next, I had lined up several dalek stories.  So I added a bit of audio to it, and here we are.  THE DALEK SPECIAL!

Stories and audio here from: first, second, third, fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth Doctors.  Sadly, only missing the Fifth, this outing!  Happenstance.

  1. Doctor Who, Short Trips: Dalek Empire, ed. Nicholas Briggs, various authors, Big Finish hardback)
    (Many Doctors, in different segments.  This was the first Short Trips short story collection I’ve read, and I liked it very much.  The stories were all linked, across different timelines, and in different parts of the same long story event: a massive dalek invasion. Stanley informed me that the whole frozen dalek army under Spirodon was done first by the comic strip years ago, and Big Finish must’ve borrowed this storyline for this part of their long dalek arc. There were some really affecting stories in here; for the first ever time, I understood why people find the daleks scary, as an idea, and it wasn’t just the section at the end explaining why they had death camps and seemed totalitarian being explained in terms of human history and the last great war disaster we lived through.  It was their implacability and loathing of the unlike – which I know has been shown in many of their stories before, but I got it here, felt it, for the first time.  The consequences and choices of war were well done in this collection: ordinary people shown betraying each other to protect others, their families, were well written in Natalie’s Diary Part 3 by Joseph Lidster.  A child getting in the way of 2 old veterans and getting killed in the crossfire, in Museum Peace, by James Swallow.  What it feels like to lose hope, and realise you are a traitor, a collaborator, but yet may be able to do some good, in Suz, by Sharon Gosling.  There wasn’t a duff story in the whole thing; it was all good.  Lots of this book was a downer, because it was about people at war making terrible choices, being oppressed, limited options.  There was no Boys Own about it.  Heroes – but tarnished ones, unlikely accidental ones [an opportunist comedian gets the credit for some good the Doctor did at one point].  Yet I liked it; me who NEVER reads war books.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
  2. Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks, by Terrance Dicks (Target Original)
    (Fourth Doctor.  Hmmm.  I have watched this one to death with the small one, and I never enjoy it that much.  Despite the iconic “Do I have the RIGHT?” moment of anguish for the Doctor wondering if he should destroy the daleks or not, I always feel the story is sad, grey, flat and I can’t wait for it to be over.  I found the same of the book, which surprises me, since usually the ones I don’t enjoy on TV I enjoy much more in book form.  The only think I found I did enjoy more than watching here, was reading about Davros’s cunning and manipulation, his scheming and planning.  I felt myself struggling to understand him and his motivations [I was trying for a bit more depth than ‘he’s clearly insane’].  I didn’t succeed on getting any more depth, but I enjoyed thinking about it and felt drawn in.  But overall, I was really glad to see this one end.  I didn’t feel the daleks were any more or less unarresting for me than usual.  I felt Harry was underused, and Sarah had the best action. 

    I felt the ‘muto’ character Sevrin was tragic and noble; and also too simplistic.  I think I can say that considering classic Who quite often managed some very adult characters.  Sevrin was a tragic hero, pure and simple; afraid but acting anyway, so notable.  As always, these moments of heroism, which could’ve been played in modern times for great emotion – too much emotion – are played down here.  They are noted and you remember them, but they are not sentimentalised, there’s no display about it.  I think this is what allowed a children’s programme to address so much death: it made it a fact of life.  Even tragedy was a fact of life.  The Doctor strove against injustice and needless death and waste of life, but never dwelt overly on it – he acted and he kept quiet – and jolly, mostly. 

    I’m unsure whether this is a cultural hangover from the ‘stiff upper lip’ English era, or whether it’s genuinely a more helpful way to get through life and not be paralysed by tragic things: to accept death as simply part of life, mourn and move on, playing up the good things and the joys of companionship and adventures.  Less of the dwelling and endless analysis and examination and returning to sadnesses over and over again, that we do now…If anyone wonders why I am giving this quite so much thought, its because I’m an often very sad person, so I take lessons where I find them…ACTUAL BOOK.)
  3.  Doctor Who: Dalek Empire Part 1 – The Genocide Machine, by Mike Tucker (Big Finish monthly audios, no.7)
    (Seventh Doctor.  I wasn’t sure I was going to warm at all to this part of the Big Finish audios – and was tempted to miss it out altogether, and continue with the monthly stand alones.  But when I realised I was going to do a Dalek Special, I thought adding some audio in would be a good way to break up the books – and to judge if a modern approach to dalek’s while still within the framework of old Who, might work better for me.  This segment certainly did.

    It started well because the premise began with a hidden library and a dotty librarian.  I love libraries [quiet ones that is – modern libraries seem to be getting increasingly noisy and lacking in seats].  This library was an ‘aqueous data storage facility’, a ‘wetworks’.  The entire knowledge of the universe had been gathered into water.  This turns out to have a twist, of course, when it becomes clear that the water is sentient – there’s a sort of raindrop race that can exist in any water on this planet [including human, leading to some odd possession scenes of dead bodies], and have been enslaved and maddened by the librarian, who has been forcing them to be data storage mules.  This is discovered when the Doctor almost dies and ends up temporarily a rain creature himself, his consciousness in the wetworks for a limited time.  He is extremely angry, in his sometimes self righteous [but usually correct] way, when he regains human form and confronts the librarian.

    That is the backdrop to the story of the daleks trying to access the wetworks in order to gain all knowledge and use it to timetravel back and forth infiltrating all events until they are masters of the universe [as usual – why do villains never think this through; they would be very bored when done and all is ‘perfect’].

    Ace is duplicated and spends some time helping the daleks and doing a creepy dalek voice – which you can tell Sophie Aldred enjoyed very much.  This segment did sit well with me, because I enjoyed the planet Karshorak and the library set up, I enjoyed the limited but well painted characters, and I enjoyed Ace helping to sort everything out at the end via a well timed explosion to free rain creatures and release the data.  This was a good beginning. 

    The daleks themselves had a good kill scene, where you remember how ruthless and merciless they are – and it was allowed to go on just a few seconds too long, so that you really felt the complete nature of the massacre of the library staff, the distressing sterility of the universe were the daleks to succeed.  Sound palette wise, I really enjoyed the sound of the dalek ship pulsing; that was hypnotic and well done.  I’m actually looking forward to the next bit.  There’s a first, dalek wise…ON DOWNLOAD.)
  4. Doctor Who: The Apocalypse Element [Dalek Empire, Part 2], by Stephen Cole (Big Finish Monthly Who audios, no.11)
    (6th Doctor. Oh dear oh dear – and after I started so well with the first in this series.  What was it that went wrong here?  I like Colin, always have.  Evelyn Smythe is a great companion character, but those other than her original creator aren’t writing her as bouncing off him in quite the same way – she has come across the last 2 stories as a slightly querulous old lady smart arse , which I find annoying and unnecessary.  Considering she has a major plot role in this segment of Dalek Empire, it’s even more bothersome.  The re-emergence of Lalla Ward as Romana II should have saved this story singlehanded [one of my favourite companions]…and she has some very strong moments.  But it didn’t save it. 

    The weird thing about this audio was that I was very much poised to love it – because I had liked the first one when I hadn’t expected to [plus the tie-in Dalek Empire Big Finish book, very much].  And I was fully present, striding up and down the living room listening, as it was pouring with rain outside and I was exercising indoors – giving the story my full attention.  And yet it slid off me repeatedly after episode 1.  I often felt I had no real clue who was where, saying what to who and why.  I kept rewinding. 

    The plot was full of ideas both large and ambitious [to do with mining, and an evil plan - dalek of course - to cause 2 planets to collide so no one would know what they had been up to with them, and the interesting introduction of the Monan Host, a new temporal power].  The fact that the story concerns a cleverly handled dalek invasion of Gallifrey itself; and that the Timelords are as hidebound and corrupt as ever they were, being so eager to get their hands on the Monan time technology any way they can [as power over time must be kept in Gallifreyan hands of course], the whole thing should have had lots of enjoyment for me.  I love Gallifrey based stories!  I love Romana [either of them]!  I loved the ruthlessness of the daleks [at one point they cut out someone’s eye to use it for its retinal scan; later Evelyn becomes a retinal scan masterkey for everything on Gallifrey, which amusingly annoys the snobbish and xenophobic Timelords]!  There were dalek mutants, always interesting…there was the creation of a whole new area of space, the Serephia – four times the size of the Milky Way – which falls victim to what The Apocalypse Element actually is (it’s a focussing thingy for the daleks, go listen).

    But…I kept realising I wasn’t following correctly.  I actually listened to this story twice, in the end [was quite long too, way over 2 hours].  I was sure it was brilliant because it had so many elements in it that I would usually like.  And I certainly got it better second time round; not that it was complicated.  But I just kept ending up Bored, and I Cannot Quite Tell You Why.  I can just say you need to go and try this one for yourself.  It bamboozled me.  ON DOWNLOAD.) 
  5. Doctor Who: And The Day of the Daleks, by Terrance Dicks (Target original)
    (Third Doctor.  There isn’t really much to say about this one, except that I always like it when I watch it – a certain incident with cheese and crackers and a Jason King level of early 70s cool aplomb always makes me laugh…this very scene is completely absent from the book!  Which is treated much more seriously, and as a good time travel yarn.  Terrance Dicks stays close to the plot and simply tightens all loose ends here.  The daleks are as ruthless as ever, but the focus is on the humans and how they react to them: do they collaborate, turn traitor, join a resistance movement?  This is the angle that Big Finish extrapolated so well in their short story collection; the human reaction to a threat of extinction and slavery.  In this sense, this story, though much maligned amongst Whodom [I don’t know why] – is actually, in my opinion, a little unsung classic, a proper science fiction book, as it manages a ‘What If’ on 2 levels – not only a what would you do to take time back to where it was, what would you sacrifice?; but also a general ‘What If’ the world as we know it was overrun?  Simple but lovely, I think this story is.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
  6. Doctor Who: Legacy of the Daleks, by John Peel (BBC 8th Doctor Series)
    (Eighth Doctor.  This one was a decently, VERY decently written extrapolation of what happens some time after the events ended in The Dalek Invasion of Earth.  It’s the end of the 22nd century, the UK is split into 'domains', there are knights , some of them are women – it’s sort of medieval, but with technology…it all works for me.  The way some things from the past are treasured and vital now – cats are very useful and prized; and the way there’s still plenty of technology but its used to fill gaps, the world is no longer so utterly reliant.  The world is understandably mixed up, old and new rubbing shoulders.  A strangely convincing mishmash world.  This one also appealed to me very much because The Master was in it – being satisfyingly short-termist and dastardly as usual, and so was Susan, one of the most underused companions ever – in a strong and vital role in the story.  This whole outing felt thoroughly plausible, and I liked it more than I would have otherwise because the story cleverly did not revolve around the daleks actual presence – much of it concerned stopping them from coming back, and what would happen if they did.  Power struggles amongst humans, plots, revenge, pragmatism: more politics than fighting.  Best John Peel I’ve so far read, and more like this would be good. ACTUAL BOOK.)
  7. Doctor Who: And the Dalek Invasion of Earth, by Terrance Dicks (Target original)
    (First Doctor.  Huh.  I did not expect this to be the best dalek story I’ve ever read.  Not sure why it was either.  It did rattle along from the very first.  I was annoyed that Susan immediately sprained her ankle [no wonder she got fed up of the show and left – she had such possibilities too]; but adored Barbara being so brave and resourceful – the running through and over the dalek blockade, the using of Dortmun’s plan’s to connive her way into the dalek control room to see what was happening.  Ian was doing his usual resourceful action man stuff too, diverting a bomb from inside the deployment tunnel when he gets stuck down there.  There’s a wealth of new characters, most of whom die, as is so often the case in Who.  Noteworthy is the grumpy Jenny, who reminded me of my idea of what I’d probably be like in such a situation – I was glad she survived till the end, in order that she might be able to live a less fraught and more peaceful life.

    All the characters get separated early on, allowing Susan and David to form a bond, prefacing her attachment to him and the Doctor shutting her out of the TARDIS at the end because she wouldn’t have been able to leave him otherwise.  Its odd, considering the way things are done nowadays on TV [and in life to an extent], that something so emotionally charged as Susan falling in love and having to choose between her grandfather and a man, and then the Doctor doing it for her, which must have hurt very much…being dealt with in such a calm and understated way.  Its just…told.

    [Like the end of Inferno – where I felt the alternative world’s destruction could have been operatically sad and tragic; but Terrance Dicks chose to write the tragedy quietly, baldly and to not overwhelm the story, and the positive forward momentum it needed – and the programme as a whole needs to move on.  Also, come to think of it, a bit like when the lovely Murray and the Navarino’s are all killed in Delta and the Bannermen, and this is glossed over, more or less – Mel knows, but it’s not given much air time.  Maybe…shock horror…we all concentrate too much on tragedy these days?  And allow ourselves to be crumpled by despair and futility in the face of it, instead of moving on and acting for good?  Dwelling too much on tragedy makes us give up, instead of act.  For that to happen, we need to know what happened, but not be held down and back by the sadness of it…Ok, so I’m talking to myself here.  But maybe it applies to other of us too.  What would The Doctor do?  He’d get on with the next thing that needed doing to make a good thing happen.  Be it a selfish thing [Pertwee usually], or a good thing for everyone else…]

    Anyway – possibly because of the fact that everyone played an almost equal part in this – all were resourceful, all  acted and helped; possibly because the Doctor was indomitable in this one, really impressive [physically and in terms of brain power]; and possibly because the daleks were subsidiary to what the humans had to do to overcome them – so the story was about their effect on us, rather than about them – I loved this one.  Best dalek book ever!  ACTUAL BOOK.)
  8. Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks, by John Peel
    (Second Doctor.  Oh my goodness.  This one was the weirdest reading experience I have ever had with a Doctor Who book – weirder even than my very slow conversion to Paradise of Death.  It took me over 2 months to read this book in between other things, because it just did not hold my attention till very late.  [This is the reason for the delay of this entire post – it was the last thing I had planned for it and I just couldn’t progress at a decent speed.]  I found the whole Victorian setting problematic, and I’m not sure why.  Possibly because I was completely unimpressed with the characterisation of either Waterfield or Maxtible, or Terrall.  The way  that Victorian characters of a certain class are usually presented on TV and in books as unbearably stuffy and longwinded, allied to the fact this was the 60s, this era of story - where there's still quite a bit of BBC stuffiness going on too...and you have 3 Extremely Stuffy Characters.

    Waterfield angsted a lot without doing anything until very late on, and because of the convoluted nature of the plot [obviously related to the episodic structure of the original TV episodes for this story] he just comes off as vacillating and annoying.  Maxtible seemed to think himself quite clever and urbane and ruthless, yet failed to use this quick mind to see he was quite obviously being lied to by an alien species with no morality even vaguely related to humans – I think he made the mistake of viewing the daleks as ‘amoral’ and therefore as susceptible to greed as him.  I read him as incredibly deluded and stupid, and allied with his pomposity [and sudden skills as a hypnotist at one point], I just found him very frustrating.  Terrall was the oddest character of the three.  I didn’t feel he was written consistently at all, and I didn’t feel that the inconsistencies were well enough explained by the mind control device he was subsequently shown as wearing.  In one episode [the pitchfork in the stable with Kennedy], I almost believed he was dead and reanimated somehow.  I found him and his fiancé completely unconvincing.  [Why would she even speak to him after his quite over the top dressing down of Mollie in front of her?  I don’t think that can be explained by Victorian attitudes toward servants; surely the fiancé would have thought, ‘blimey, my Promised One is acting insane – how does this bode for my marriage?’ and…maybe broken it off???]

    Now – that dealt with my problems with the book – mostly caused by 3 very unlikeable [add Kennedy to that and you get 4] and confusingly written characters who I didn’t understand enough to either love or loathe them – they just irritated the hell out of me.  There’s plenty about this book that after I got over the annoying appearances of those three, I DID like.

    I liked the Doctor’s odd behaviour in this book.  Whilst he too was irritating me, as I like to think I have a vague idea where the Doctor’s mind is most of the time, I just like to think he’ll sort things out more tidily than me because he’s quicker and more knowledgeable and more lateral thinking; his odd compliance with the daleks was well focalised by Jamie’s distrust of him.  I felt for and with Jamie on this.  I didn’t get his behaviour and I felt he could have explained it better.  This is one of the ways in which Troughton is the best Doctor for this story, because he always played each story just a little differently; he was always a bit inconsistent as a Doctor.  He had his clowning and his recorder and his funny faces – his little trademarks; but his underlying seriousness and his manipulative tendencies [shown nicely in Tomb of the Cybermen in particular, I thought] made him unknowable in some ways.  That facet of his characterisation was a strength in this story.  Unlike Maxtible and Terrall, I actually wanted to know what the hell was up with the Doctor in this story.

    The idea of the human factor and the dalek factor, the idea of experiments to isolate each one didn’t grab me at all at first.  But the more it went on – showcasing Jamie and his loyalty, resourcefulness, co-operation [the alliance won through respect with Kemel], and compassion [the way he felt for Victoria as a person all alone in a scary situation; not just wanting to help her because she was pretty, though no doubt that did her cause no harm]; I started seeing what an interesting idea it was.  Even though the Doctor was behind matters, not realising the daleks were doing the opposite to their stated intentions – actually trying to isolate the dalek factor NOT the human factor, to make themselves stronger, I still found it interesting.  The experiments were a good way to show the daleks limited but thorough thinking, and their coldness; and a good way to develop Jamie’s character, to have created relationships we cared about with both Victoria and Kemel.  His distrust of the Doctor was both understandable and protective, as was his baseline morality, the “revulsion” at Maxtible when he discovers what the betrayal was all about – alchemy of all things: all marvellous stuff, and all prompted by the device of these experiments.

    In their turn, the image of the original 3 daleks infected with the human factor and shown to play trains with the Doctor, has really stuck in my head.  I can’t decide if its silly, cute or poignant.  Seeing them start to learn and be as wilful and annoying – and sweet – as human children was thought provoking.  When the Doctor-instigated ‘revolution’ goes on at the end, I felt sad that the human factor, now infecting so many daleks, was causing them to fight – it worked for the Doctor and his party, they could escape during this, but it was sad, in a way, to see the daleks reduced to the lowest level of humans: fighting amongst themselves.  That sad little point was almost lost amongst the amusing nature of them constantly saying ‘why?’ when told to obey, or ‘why not rebel?’ when told to comply.  Their innocent questioning made it sound like they could have a future, but that future was only being crushed by the non infected daleks; and if not – the trauma of what fighting and killing does to a small human mind, if they had survived, because they were still very much like tiny children.  It was sad to see them humanlike, as it didn’t reflect well on us, and it didn’t really give them a better future either – even though John Peel had the Doctor speculate that it could have done, at the end [as of course this novelisation was much enlarged in terms of internal points of view, than the TV version allowed].  I felt this angle of the story raised issues it didn’t fully or even partially deal with.  Not that it needed to tie them up neatly, but I felt it really didn’t follow its implications very far at all.

    In some ways, this story felt too long – too much in the 60s London setting before the Doctor even met Waterfield in the shop, too much time finding out that the Waterfield artifacts were actually new Victorian, and the time travel cabinets etc, before getting to the Victorian setting.  I found the most interesting parts related to Skaro.  But when it moved along – during the experiment bits, and the bits related to the Dalek Prime [a nice change to the later Davros, and reminding us that this story was originally intended to be the last dalek outing], it did move ahead with quite a will and pace.  By the end I was enjoying it and eager to know what would happen next.  And because this is one of the most sought after of the famous Missing Episodes of Who [we only have 1 ep extant], this book is the closest we'll come to this story, unless a copy is eventually found, somewhere.  ACTUAL BOOK.)

The overall thing I’d say about my experiment in themeing here, reading lots of books about the same villain all at once, was that I did become impressed by the variety of stories the daleks can be a cause for.  I started to see that whilst they do undeniably irritate me – it’s their monotone voices and their rigidity of movement, rather than what they do or stand for: i.e it’s a visual/auditory problem; their actual use as a plot device is brilliant.  The way you can bounce human behaviour off reaction to the daleks is very good.  They might not look scary, but in the right hands, a story with them as the opposition can be genuinely wrenching.  Most of these stories took war, preparations for war, or the aftermath of war, as the starting point.  And they would: the daleks are all about domination on a universal scale, their disinterest in reasoning and their inbuilt insistence on their own supremacy and intellect leave no option for dealing with them but all out war of one form or other.  The variety of reactions this brings about in humans was the thing that made these stories so interesting. 

As far as interaction with the Doctor, they are such a pure villain for him because he opposes any interference with free will (not necessarily development, just the free will of it), therefore you know his brain will be engaged in some labyrinthine scheme to oppose them, whether we as readers or watchers understand it or not (particularly the case in Evil of the Daleks).  The way those plans twine or not with the humans he meets are also a vital part of these stories.  In Dalek Invasion of Earth, so much opposition was going on all at once, with or without the Doctor, that it was just a heartening and hearty read from the point of view of being a human – we showed ourselves off well!  As Sevrin did in Genesis – the heroism we humans can write for others, for an oppressed and violated 'other' in this case, is always good to be reminded of in these times where greed and a warped over individualism (instead of a healthy but integrated sense of self) is emphasized.

I don’t like the daleks themselves any better than I did – and you know how it is FUN to lovingly loathe a villain?! – but I understand them more.  And I definitely see their continued releavnace in the Who universe.  As long as we all fear being taken over and enslaved, fear the lack of reason and unquestioning, fear the bleakness of a world of grey with no laughter – then the daleks will remain relevant as a story device.  Its been instructional.  And I’ve read some books I liked very much!


Next up: some more of the regular Doctor Who readathon.   

My next Who Special will be a Companions one – but I haven’t even started reading for that one yet, just planned out what will be read (and heard), so don’t hold your breath.  You might not get that one till winter is back!

Monday, 14 July 2014

BlackberryJuniper's First Convention: London Film and Comicon 2014, or: How My Birthday Really Picked Up at The Last Possible Minute

Actually, that title is a bit misleading, unintentionally.  I thought I’d never been to another convention, but from how Saturday was, I think I have.  I’ve been twice to Witchfest International (Fairfield Halls, Croydon, every November), and Saturday’s expedition shared an awful lot in common with Witchfest (except carpets and aircon, notably). 

I didn’t intend to spend my Birthday Day Outing at a convention, it was all very happenstance.  My actual birthday got derailed quite considerable by Fluffhead having a vomity bug.  Thankfully this cleared up by the weekend, so I could still have Stanley’s mum over to babysit, while we wondered off out.  I was feeling a bit glum, as I hadn’t planned to go anywhere, and Stanley’s mum had been a bit (2 hours) late, which shaved some of the rare available time.  I was thinking we would just wander about the West End, desultorily shopping and having a nice lunch – but you know, nothing I hadn’t done a thousand times before, back when I had a life.  So, bit of a case of the birthday glooms hitting me. 

Till we were on the train to London Bridge and I commented to Stanley that the comic shop newsletter I subscribe to had a Summer Special I could add to my collection – but that it was probably already gone, as theirs get snapped up quickly (girls comics Summer Specials are a weird breed – they can go for £2-3, or £100, depending on the day and who's competing for it; hugely variable market – I sell my duplicates so I can vouch for this).  Stanley, who expressed a great joy that I didn’t want to go to Mysteries and spend his money on ‘woo woo’ crap, approved of my sudden comic mention, and told me to call the shop and see if the Special was still there.  It was (unusual), so we changed direction, and started heading to Putney instead of the West End.

We hit travel problems at Earls Court, when the District Line bit we needed was closed for maintenance, so we had to go and get a rail replacement bus.  Which was how I came to find a Gallifreyan at the top of the stairs at Earls Court, and a Poison Ivy, and then a Spiderman – all life size, real, increasingly sweaty people.  And a TARDIS.  Stanley started to get skittish, sensing, as I did, a convention close by, and almost didn’t want to take a pic of me with the TARDIS, but he relented, so I stood demurely infront of it and tried not to look too excited at the juncture of TV, book and BlackberryJuniper’s headspace.  I took a pic of the Gallifreyan (very handsome and regal and about 50 – and American, only too happy to have his picture taken).  I asked a passing victim of zombie apocalypse where this obvious convention was, and dribbling a little bit of quite authentic looking blood, she told me to go through the station and out the other side and follow the world’s largest queue.  “Or the weird people”, rightly interjected her companion dressed as Sherlock Holmes, momentarily removing his pipe from his 15 year old looking mouth.

Thus began one of my Most Legendary Nags and Beggings.  All the way to the comic shop (which took ages as the roads were dreadful, the bus crawled along for an hour in sweltering humidity, completely packed with cross people), I badgered and squealed and explained repeatedly how much fun a convention would be.  For me.  Stanley had done this entire scene, especially with the Doctor Who elements in the long distant past, and loftily expressed a wish to not anymore be near “the freaks and the dispossessed”.  Which actually excited me more, as if that isn’t a dead ringer description of me, what is?  Clearly my tribe of peoples were in that convention.  I stepped up the nagging.  He started laughing.  It was actually clinched when we got to the comic shop, and amidst stunning birthday generosity in terms of Summer Specials, Stanley was informed by one of the owners that George Romero (the man who single handedly kicked off the zombie revival with the iconic  Night of the Living Dead and sequels) would be there, doing signings.  And Stan Lee.  (Who I misheard as ‘Stanley’ to which I said ‘Stanley who?’ and made everyone laugh.)  The air on the subject visibly warmed.

I badgered a bit more on the crawly bus on the way back, to the point where I got Stanley to concede that we could go to the outside of the convention, London Film and Comicon, and find a programme leaflet – to see if it was worthwhile going in, if he’d missed George Romero or not.  So we got to Earls Court and wandered about – following the trail of ever more amazingly dressed people, people who must be passionate about these characters or they would not be sweating this much in heavy boots, cloaks and headpieces.  We found the queue and goggled at the length of it.  And the camping out look of a lot of it.  People huddled under big sun umbrellas (it was crashing down heavy, the sun, that day); sitting down and looking tranced out at having been there so long.  The queue did not appear to be moving at all.  So we went to the front of it and in my usual chatty way, I accosted a blue dressed bouncer man, and asked for a leaflet with the programme on.  Apparently you only get that when you’ve paid to go inside.  Which I thought was pretty stupid; then again, either it was online and everyone knew who was where and exactly when already, or they didn’t care and were all here on the offchance of seeing someone they liked at the time they happened to be here (as I assumed no one would come if they didn’t know the actual star names they would be seeing?).

So we stood there, and watched some people who’d been in already come out, and other’s who been out and were going back in having the handstamps or wristbands checked.  And the hugely long queue, bottlenecking to one side.  Some one tripped over and the girl manning the door in front of it went to help one of her colleagues pick up a cloaky wiggy platform booted pile of people.  Stanley, not missing a beat, just strolled through the unmanned door and turned back to look at me with his eyebrows raised.  So I followed, feeling excited and naughty and rather bad.  And convinced I was about to be caught and arrested.  Wouldn’t it be cute if I got a criminal record for breaking into Comicon without paying??  (Costs £15 to get in, let alone all the temptations inside.)  Fry will find that last statement hilarious, since we have had the evading fares on the bus argument from when he was at school for about 12 years now.  And yes, neither of us got caught in either scenario.  But I’m usually far too stressful a passenger to NOT pay for things I’m sposed to.

Once in, the first thing that struck me was that despite there being thousands of people in this huge aircraft hanger of a room, they had not put the aircon on, at all.  It was close like a tropical rainforest.  The air felt thick and liquid.  I immediately felt claustrophobic and oppressed.  As far as I could see, were massive rows of stalls selling (TOOT yells Stanley in passing)…memorabilia of all sorts – scifi, horror, comics, comic books, young adult novels, DVDs, videos, trading cards, second hand books, games, T-shirts, plushy toys.  Bit of a lack of food, but I saw some later around the edges.  (This is the resemblance to Witchfest beginning and ending in layout – they usually have one large traders room, like a big market, off to one side, and then talks and signings take place in other rooms, with a large area in the middle for eating and socialising.  This place was such a large room, everything was more or less in the one place, just on an epic sort of a scale.  An epically large market of toot memorabilia.  I was starting to feel overcome with humidity and swilled half a bottle of water straightaway.  Stanley said, “See, not all that…”  And I agreed we’d just walk about the hall once to see what else there was and go, as it was SO uncomfortable, heatwise.

It just didn’t turn out that way.  We found a big wall diagram saying who was where and when – we appeared to have missed George Romero altogether; but a passing immensely tall Riddler said the times were all off this year and we might as well go check who was where.  He had moved off by the time Stanley was saying to thin air, “But where are the signings then?”, only to have a Chewbacca point to the far side of the huge hall and say “at the back, mate”.  Righty then, off we went, through the Market of Highly Expensive but Strangely Tempting Toot of Allsorts.  It took about 15 minutes to get through it as it was jammed up in some places with clumps of people socialising (I saw a Zena Warrior Princess getting a very slick chat up from a Han Solo who had some gorgeous boots on, and two Nightcrawlers were getting quite intimate in their lycra).  Everyone was polite and smiley.  We shuffled along till we got through the Market. 

Out the other end was a smidgeon more air, only because the vast space wasn’t sectioned off so much, I think.  And here another spectacle.  All around the edges of the hall were booths with A, B, C etc on them in huge letters and long windy queues snaking from them.  I went up to the nearest one and asked what the queue was for.  Personal pics with Stan Lee was one; personal pics with John Hurt (many famous roles; and the War Doctor, for cult purposes) was another.  They were sectioned off so people couldn’t cheat and get pics on their phones without paying for them.  There were loads of these sectioned off fabric blacked out areas and it fleetingly reminded me of the one time I went to Amsterdam, and there were similar queues snaking about out of Red Light District houses.  Then again, I suppose this is a lot of what a convention is about – money changing hands so people can touch their dream realities, feed on them before Monday sets in.

Around the rest of the walls and middle section were massive lines of trestle tables.  Quite squashed up along these, were a ‘celebrity’ or ‘star’ (some of them were, some of them weren’t, hence my apostrophes) of film, TV or book, and beside each one was a blue topped manager type person, who basically took the money.  You would queue – for however long (these are fans don’t forget, insane scifi fans; my heart warmed to see them and their fanaticism, and very English orderly queueing) to see the person you wanted, and when you got to the head of the queue, you would give money to the blue topped person who would tick you off on the list, and then you’d step to the side and engage in a seconds long conversation with whoever you were Loving Enough to Queue That Long To See.  You get a quick few words, a choice of photos, of which you pick one and get a short personalised message from your star of choice, then you move along thankyou thankyou and that’s that.  Ejected sideways, queue moves on, you look lovingly at your pic with YOUR NAME on it, and then put it away and avariciously start sizing up the other queues, for who you want to repeat the process with.  The cost of these autographs and/or photo shoots varied.  Carrie Fisher was £65 (icon woman)…Stan Lee came out second (I see why despite not being a comic book person) at £45; George Romero at £30 (which I actually thought was hugely reasonable seeing as I love his films and his effect on the genre of horror cannot be underestimated – really if he and Dario Argento stood there together, they could have charged mortgages).  Most people, actors, were charging £15 per mini chat and autograph; some £10. 

We wandered about, me goggling completely at all the people I recognised (oooo, look, Michael Biehn of Terminator – and he still looks so good, and look, his body language is so natural and he has a nice smile, seems like a nice person, that’s nice – flowing through my head), and all the people I didn’t (look that’s…no its not, who is that?).  Until, just as the Riddler had accurately and clearly (for once) prophesied, there sat George Romero alone at a table at the end of one side of the hall, signing pictures quietly – without even any queue at all.  Because he wasn’t sposed to be there, it was the wrong time.  Stanley beelined saying “I’d know those glasses anywhere”, and I followed happily, gawping at the costumes and the actors (I couldn’t decide what was more thrilling – TV and film people in the same room as me, therefore effectively living my kind of life which elevates my life of course; don’t go crapping on my logic with pity, please), or the wondrousness of all the cool people who got into these brilliantly done costumes, some clearly homemade at great time and detail expense, and who must’ve come here wearing them, braving the sneers of the sad and therefore angry people who think grown ups should always be grown up.  I came down on the side of the costume wearers in the end simply because there were more of them and they were just so stunning and inventive (a Transformer made from cardboard; a Cat Woman with a beautifully painted face and arms; someone who moved and looked the image of Arrow; some incredibly realistic zombies; an awful lot of Game of Thrones characters – whose costumes must have been the hottest, all the cloaks and faux fur in that heat…). 

I counted eleven Matt Smith Doctor incarnations on the way to George Romero, and four Sylvesters.  A girl in a TARDIS dress skipped past, and then we were at the table.  Stanley stood in front of it, momentarily silent.  I watched.  They spoke a bit, just a little bit.  The room had odd acoustics, in that you could hear perfectly, people talking from half the room away, but you had to lean quite close to hear the person standing next to you.  Stanley shook hands with Mr Romero and their conversation was over; I hadn’t heard it.  He asked the blue top next to him how much the autographs were – it was more than we currently had between us.  This is a warning to newbies: take lots of cash, they don’t accept cards and don’t have the machines.  Woe betide you if you need to use the cash machine in the Hall…it will charge you money to get at your money, and the queue will decimate your will to live.  We hadn’t expected to be here, so had hardly any cash on us.  Stanley was directed to the cash machine, a world away.  I said I’d stand guard and make sure Mr Romero didn’t try to escape.  (The Blue Top looked at me crossly, as if I was being disrespectful.)  Mr Romero laughed and looked up at me.  He had a very twinkly smile.  I asked him if he did many conferences like this (the English equivalent of a boring weather question; internally I did a big DOH, but that was what came out, so I had to let it stand there).  He replied, very drily, “not many”, and carried on signing his photos.  I asked if he enjoyed working the same genre for such a long time, if he still felt inspired by it, and loved all the emulations he had caused.  He lost me half way through and rose a bit out of his chair and gave me his ear, at which point I realised he was having acoustics plus a bit of deafness.  I repeated as best I could remember and he nodded and said he loved his work still, at which point I actually got starstruck and ran out of things to say. 

I noticed as well, that I had called him ‘Sir’, something I used to do with difficult clients at work, as it always helps for difficult people to feel they are dealing with a respectful underling.  I hadn’t done it for that reason here, I was being respectful to an elder who knew a lot of stuff; also, I realised it seemed more pertinent to address an American grandee this way than the informality I habitually use with anyone English – my nosy quirkiness usually breaks the ice for most English people, but I might not translate culturally, I had thought.  I shook his hand (nice handshake, firm but gentle) and told him it was an honour to meet him (which it was in a funny unexpected way), and then I retired to the side to wait for Stanley, not having asked ANY of the brilliant incisive questions that then occurred to me about his films. 

I did ask his blue topped guardian if I could take a picture on my phone, and she said when my boyfriend came back and paid I could.  So I stood about, getting very thirsty and watched the costumes and the lines of other star signers, contemplating this very bottom line capitalism and thinking, fair enough.  Especially for the actors and performers, their image itself, their likeness is their product; things they sign or touch are almost like little literal bargaining chunks OF them.  So I see the fuss, I get it.  Didn’t stop lots of people craning round behind me and using me as a tree to hide behind so they could sneak pics.

While I stood there, it seemed hundreds of people continued to appear infront of me.  The hall was getting so packed I started to think about Health and Safety.  No chance of me getting nabbed for breaking in; how would they find me amidst the thousands?  (And a troupe of The 300 that roamed past, clanking and oiled.)  A thin bearded man pushing a very large woman dressed in red in a wheelchair came and stood next to me looking awestruck.  “Is that George Romero?”  He asked in a squeaky voice with big eyes, all innocent.  I nodded.  “Oh my god, I love him!”  He smiled the hugest smile, and looked 12 though he must have been about 25.  I smiled back at him and agreed where would the world be without Dawn of the Dead?  “There’d be no Walking Dead, that’s for sure”, the man enthusiastically nodded, and started trying to count his money.  I told him it was £30, and he looked downcast.  I told him my boyfriend had disappeared to the cashpoint queue about, er…fifteen minutes ago…The large woman in the wheelchair adjusted her position and growled something at me, “Sorry?” I said, getting the impression from her body movements that this was someone to whom one deferred.  The thin bearded man looked alarmed and smiled at me and said, “What, mum?”

“They give the dead a bad name, they do, shows like that,” She nodded and glared at me very definitively, like she was up for a fight.

“They certainly do,” I said automatically, squelching any of my questions about the logic of dead people caring about TV.  The bearded man smiled softly, looking even younger.  “This is my sister Laura,” he said, and nodded me to a moonfaced woman who looked just like him, with a clear quiet smile and pleasant sleepy eyes.  I said hi.  They all stared at George Romero for a minute in total silence then the mother stamped her foot on the floor and glared up at the young man, whose face was now red, showing up a lot of eczema.  He looked put upon but malleable, still gazing at his idol.  “A Bad Name!” she repeated.  “I want to go home, it’s too hot in here,” she finished, and he nodded and started to turn the wheelchair.  “Oh, bye,” I started to wave at him, and he shook hands with me and started to move away, trailing Laura behind him.  Then he abruptly changed his mind, ran back and gave me the sweetest bear hug from a person I don’t know, that I’ve ever had.  “It’s so nice to meet you,” he said, his eyes tearing a little, before disappearing into the massed crowd, and I listened to his mother’s bass voice cut through as they went: “Get out of the way!  Get out!”…into the distance.  There was something very Rob Zombie family dynamic about the whole encounter, but, what a nice man…

I looked up to see Stan Lee going past behind George Romero, head down, hands in casual jacket pockets, looking very tired and rather fed up.  Seized by star madness I called out, “Hi!  Mr Lee, hello!” quite loudly and he turned to my manic shiny face (and I am not even into graphic novels) and looked at me like – ‘who are you?’, before carrying on without breaking a beat, to his seat further on, past Anthony Head.  He was followed by what looked like five actual Men in Black (to Mr Romero's one – all of whom had those little earpiece things with curly seethrough plastic wiring, all of whom were looking about, for, er, threats I suppose).  I stood for a minute longer, worrying about the fact that Paul McGann (the 8th Doctor, as well as The Monocled Mutineer and Withnail and I) was supposed to come back for a signing at quarter to 5 and it was half 4 and I wasn’t in a line and judging by the way things seemed to work at these events, queueing was THE business of the day.  I looked over at Carrie Fisher’s massive windy queue to her photo booth – I hadn’t seen her at all, but she and Stan Lee were the major draws here, and from what I’ve later read, the singular reason why this years event went crazy – apparently 3 times as many people came as last year – prebook sales AND on the door comers, purely down to the attendance of these two stars.  So I had seen one, and been glared at by them (cool!).  Didn’t look like I was going to get to Carrie Fisher before the day closed even if I did have £65 for a photo or autograph (which I didn’t).  Her queue had gone completely mad and was spiralling quite prettily, bumping up against all the other queues that were also long, but in straight lines, rows.

I turned round, bumped full face on with a very realistic Predator who hissed at me and caught me by the wrists so I wouldn’t tumble over.  I thanked him, and a tinny tiny high pitched voice from inside said: “This one’s free, next time I kill you!”  I nodded warily and he thrust me to one side and strode off looking very impressive, into a crowd of small children dressed as Hobbits who clearly had no idea who he was supposed to be and looked on wonderingly.  I texted Stanley and asked where he was in the queue, as Mr Romero was looking rightfully tired and was running low on photos.  He texted back he was 7th in line now, stuck behind a dumpy Alice in Wonderland. I texted that I had to go and get in the Paul McGann line or I wouldn’t get to see the sexiest Doctor (bar Jon Pertwee of course).  I said bye to Mr Romero, who adjusted his glasses and gave me a sweet smile and carried on signing, chatting with two fans who had come from different directions but both bought copies of the exact same old film book for him to sign – a lovely coincidence; there was laughing and smiling.

I started trying to get to the other side of the room.  This was very difficult.  The lines bisected the entire room in rows that almost blended, and most people were standing in groups, clumps.  Carrie Fisher’s line continued to insanely bisect a lot of the other lines.  Lots of Blue Tops buzzed about trying to discipline the lines.  I passed Anthony Head’s line, wishing I could queue for him.  I noticed his queue moved very slowly because he was properly chatting, in an animated and child like happy way, with all his fans, answering sometimes quite detailed Buffy and Merlin and Little Britain questions.  He seemed perfectly happy to chat and very relaxed.  He was one of those rare people with a very young and curious vibe coming off him – he wasn’t bored yet.  I didn’t blame many of the other actors for looking bored – it was getting hotter and hotter, very humid, some had no one standing in their lines, while next to them was someone like Michael Madsen  (Reservoir Dogs etc) with a big fat line (he was very smiley and solid looking, nodding brow furrowed to those talking to him; he had a deep rumbly laugh and very white teeth).

I saw Summer Glau from Firefly had a poster, but wasn’t in her seat; neither were 3 members of The Walking Dead cast, but a forth, Lawrence Gilliard Jnr, sat happily chatting to the Blue Top next to him, as if he had all the time in the world, between punters – he had a drifting queue, it came and went.  Jay of Jay and Bob had his head down, busily signing and nodding to the queue of overwhelmingly teenage boys and men in their 30s.  He looked so serious, unexpectedly.  Juliet Landau (Buffy, Angel) sat looking very slim and extremely regal and I was gutted I didn’t have enough money to get her autograph.  I tried to wave, but she was holding the hand of a small girl and looking sweetly at her while chatting to her mum.  I finally squeezed over to the Paul McGann queue, 5 minutes early.  This was clearly far too late as the queue had become mammoth.  I bumped into a Super Mario and said sorry; it wasn’t quite clear where the end of the queue was.  A very distressed and clearly stressed Blue Top came to inform Super Mario and me that we were on the wrong bit of ground.

“Anything past this line on the ground,” he said, indicating some tape, “and you have to come back later.  My supervisor says this line is too long, it breaches Health and Safety” (which I quite agreed with, though this line was nothing compared to Stan Lee’s and Carrie Fishers!). 

“But, but...”  I said, casting about for a reason to stay exactly where I was since it took me 10 minutes to move across the room in the first place, “But Super Mario is injured,” I said, pointing to his cast I had just noticed, on his foot, and his crutch.  “You can’t throw him out of the queue…and…It’s my birthday!” I finished rather lamely. 

The people in the queue in front saved us, by turning round and saying, “we’re a group, they’re with us.” 

“Yes," I chirruped back to the ever more stressed Blue Top, “apparently we’re a group and can’t be separated”. 

Muttering that he really wasn’t getting paid enough for this shit (turns out his age group got only £300 for 3 days work of which 2 were 12 hour days – that IS a bit slave labour) he clumped off.  And I chatted relentlessly in my thoroughly buzzed out way, to the gentle Super Mario, who seemed a bit surprised but not too worried that a strange woman was just rabbitting at him.  We talked of new and old Who, and Steven Moffat, and RTD and whether Capaldi would make a difference to the feel of things.  The line didn’t move.  It became apparent Paul McGann was late, and annoyed Blue Top came to theatrically tell us this, his fists screwed up in the corner of his tired eyes. 

“Bad news, guys,” he said as we carefully stepped over that taped line again (we had shuffled back to not crowd the group in front when he went away). 

“Ok, so tell us before we get heat stroke,” I said, wiping my forehead for the third time that minute. 

“He’s late!”  He declaimed, waving his arms for emphasis. 

“He’s still coming though?”  We all made worried face, and I became aware I had a killing back ache. 

“Yes, he’s just doing photo shoots with other fans,” said Blue Top, in a not entirely pleasant way, and wandered off muttering, “Oh yes, Mr McGann, we REALLY loved your film in 1990, get a life you sad….” And I lost the rest.  He was quite funny. 

I resumed chatting to Super Mario, and eventually, after 20 minutes (still no sign of Stanley, who had now been in the cashpoint queue for 55 minutes and counting), our line started to move, and at quite a pace.  I craned round and sure enough, someone with messy curly brown hair and a black sweater (in this heat?!) had sat down and was nodding enthusiastically at people while wielding a black marker.  I started clapping, and then remembered the applicable birthday was 43, and stopped, confining myself to grinning stupidly. 

“What are you going to say to him?” asked Super Mario (whose foot was the result of a loft falling incident; a good story to tell grandchildren if ever I heard one).  I realised I was so tired, so hot and so clearly past my comfort level of Dignified Behaviour in the presence of all these interesting Hitherto Imaginary Screen People, that I had no clue.  I started thinking, which was also difficult.  I finished my 3rd bottle of water and we got to the head of the queue.  Super Mario gentlemanly tried to let me go first, but he was definitely before me, and this line had been a bitch, so I insisted he go first, crutch and all. 

Suddenly I was before Paul McGann, who was insanely beautiful in a very real and dignified kind of way – a face with much life lived on it.  He had laughing eyes, like he wasn’t taking all this incredibly seriously, was getting a bit tired, but was happy enough.  I did the grinning thing, then found my voice and asked him if he thought I should take the Withnail and I pic of him, or the him and Grace in the TARDIS pic, from the TV movie. 

“Oh I can’t decide that,” he laughed.  “You could always pick this grumpy looking man here,” he quipped, pointing to the pic of him from the webisode Anniversary bit: a very scowly pic. 

I chose Grace and him and the TARDIS, figuring Fluffhead would recognise this best when I showed him.  He asked my name, and his accent was fascinating.  Not Scouse at all as I expected it; really well spoken, but with a lilt of deep Irish (?) underneath.  He had a beautiful voice, it had layers.  I chuntered on, telling him I thought he had been a really good Doctor, a very interesting gentle vibe, and I was sorry they hadn’t done more work with him, and did he think he’d be doing anymore, other than Big Finish? 

“Well,” he smiled lazily at me with his kindly face, “that’s the thing with Doctor Who, with the time travel and no one need really be dead – you can always come back, I’m open to it…” 

“Are you being cryptic?” I pointed at him and he laughed. 

“Not at all,” he shook his head. 

“Do you still enjoy it; all this mad Doctor Who work fuelled at the beginning by the fact the show has crazed fans?” I asked. 

“I don’t do anything I don’t like,” he smiled, and blew gently on the ink for my pic, handing it to me. 

Someone behind me trod on me.  I got the message.  I put my hand out, and he shook it, still smiling in a very peaceful and humourous way, as I told him it was a real pleasure to meet him. 

“You too,” he said, and I was off to the side and it was over, and Super Mario was asking me what I had said, and I was struggling to remember. 

My hand was all tingly, and I looked at Paul McGann’s handwriting, trying to decipher the secrets of his personality from the loops and circles.  I suddenly felt like Super Mario and I were definite kindred spirits – I had been right, these nutters were all My People.  And I too, was a frantic crazed nutter fan.  Quite a peaceful realisation.  Super Mario and I realised we were about to go in separate directions, and exchanged names for facebook finding.  I was sorry to see him limp away, but I had taken a pic of him, so he was immortalised in my day.  I realised I hadn’t taken a pic of Paul McGann, and saw there was a sign saying ‘No Posed Photos’, which I took to mean, if you want to stand next to him you have to go to the photo shoot bit and pay the £15 for that, separate to the autographing.  I leant over and asked if I could snap him signing the autographs. 

“Sure, take an action shot,” he smiled, and asked the name of the next in the line, who was dressed as Blade and very short.  I did.

I realised there was STILL no Stanley, so I wandered, meandered and apologised my way across the lines (all still massive, no change) to get back across to George Romero’s spot.  Once I emerged from several Avatars I saw Mr Romero was gone – and Stanley had been in that damn queue all this time – an hour and 5 minutes now!  I asked the Blue Top guardian if he was coming back today.  “Not today, it got too hot and he was tired, enough for now,” she explained, which was quite fair enough.  I had just realised I hadn’t eaten since breakfast which was a definite thousand years ago.  I texted Stanley, feeling quite bad, as George Romero was the only reason he had come in, really – though at least they had spoken and shaken hands.  Magically, he appeared by my side and I hugged him and said sorry for the pointless wait.  He was sanguine, as Stanley surprisingly is, sometimes, taking it in his stride.  We agreed we were starving and should leave and get something to eat. 

We started winding round the rest of the room to have one last look before going.  He spied Anneke Wills (‘Polly’, companion of the 2nd Doctor, Patrick Troughton), sitting languidly talking on her phone, along a side wall, with a quietly respectful mini queue of all men in the 40s and 50s in long coats and scruffy jackets.  We went and stood quietly there, waiting.  The men drifted away and she finished her phone conversation and looked up at us with a genuinely friendly welcoming smile.  Stanley had met her years ago, and she remembered him and they chatted a while (“Its not usually like this,” she gestured at the massed thronging people and the far off ceiling, lack of air, “its ..well, I’m not sure what’s up this year,” she shrugs with an oh well expression).  Stanley and she talk about Philip Morris and the Missing Episodes Saga, and Power of the Daleks.  She’s of the opinion that the more of us who think its there, the more likely it is to actually be there, regardless of if it isn’t there for us to see at the moment…I am so heatstruck by this time that this makes absolute perfect sense to me (and still does in retrospect – its positive thinking, really, and in absence of any info, might as well be positive).  She was very sweet when she heard it was my birthday and as we left, she sang Happy Birthday to me, while waving us goodbye (she also wrote Happy Birthday on my autograph).  What an exceptionally nice person.  She told Stanley about another event in October she thought we’d enjoy, that’s much smaller, and we could meet more specifically Who people, and even Tom Baker (who is increasingly becoming a rarity due to age and health).  We waved and she turned to another man. 

I found a man in my path sweating huge beads of sweat all over his bald head and looking very green.  I gave him what remained of my 4th bottle of water, and hoped they had St John’s Ambulance here (they must do with this lack of ventilation and heat?).  We moved off.  I fannned myself with a flyer for author Kit Cox’s new book about Jabberwocks – he was dapper and suited and very friendly, over on the author section, pointing out to me that his flyer was both great promotion and also great as a heat controller being made of strong board, not lacklustre thin paper.  When I got home, I promptly bought his book, as he was so kind and resourceful.

We got round to the other side of the wall of celebrities and actors, and I see Lita – ex WWE diva and extremely good and underrated female wrestler (this year into their Hall of Fame).  I can’t believe she’s there, all by herself.  There are sposed to be some other wrestlers present, I see from the posters above the seats, but she’s all alone, chatting to her Blue Top.  I take my last money and determine to get Fry such a great present of her – as when we both used to watch wrestling regularly, we LOVED her.  Not only was she astonishingly fit (in both recognised senses of the word), but nimble and feisty – she never came across as a doll or sex object without any personality – she owned her presentation, her attitude and her stories, and she was a kickarse character in that universe.  I bound up to her announcing how amazed I am she is there.  She is the calmest person, in fact, I might even say she could well be bored to death and I may even be heightening her boredom.  Nevertheless, I press on, with some semi intelligent stuff about how she helped to revolutionize the presentation of female wrestling in a very male oriented and sexist arena, and we loved her unique persona etc.  It’s odd, but unlike anyone else I met at the convention, I felt like there was a complete wall between me and her.  I felt she maybe wanted to go home (she was far from home of course), and maybe she’d just had enough for the day (entirely understandable).  She was completely polite, but I felt I’d hit a wrong note when I asked after what I’d heard to be a film career after she left wrestling, and she remarked shortly, “No, I just retired”.  She didn’t mention her band, or anything.  Yet – she was the only famous person I met all day, who happily let me take a pic of her with me, and didn’t charge extra or say it wasn’t allowed.  Before me, she’d been having a pic with a family and a baby, and I don’t think she charged at all.  She was kind and generous, if fed up.  I picked the sexiest pic for Fry I could, and she did break a grin at it (her Blue Top sniggered at my choice), and handed it to me with an “I hope he likes it,” to which I could not overemphasize how he REALLY REALLY will adore it. 

We passed Susannah Harker next, and I told her that despite being utterly out of money now, I just wanted to tell her I thought she was great in Ultraviolet and the legendary Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice, and that I wished I saw more of her on TV, because when she’s in something I always know it will be good, and will watch it.  Then I apologised for being gushy, and she gracefully said “we actors need a lot of praise” with a wink, which made me feel like less of a twit.  I think I did however continue to gush slightly, till Stanley pulled me away, with her saying how happy she was that people still remembered Ultraviolet as its subtlety had always been one of her favourites.

I caught a glimpse of Charlie Higson (The Fast Show, comedian actor and author, multi genre) peacefully signing copies of his books and chatting to some teenagers, before we were back into the Hall of Extremely Expensive Toot/Memorabilia, and at last seemed to be leaving.  We were only there for less than 3 hours, and yet it seemed like an eternity – a day at least.  As we broke out into the sun, and Some Actual Fresh Air, I realised I’ve found a new (and horrifically expensive) hobby.  I want to go to ALL the conferences!  I want to Starchase and compliment regular people on their costumes, and Actors/ Writers/ Directors on their acting/ writing/ directing and the pleasure they give me.  I want to be photographed with people who have had an effect on my life and the way I think – and I don’t want them to be always unreal and on a screen and never present. I want to shake their hand sometimes and thank them for helping my head, for making me laugh. 

It wasn’t till we got home later and I looked up the LFCC on the net that I realised I had missed one of my favourite actors – I simply hadn’t seen Robert Knepper’s poster!  One of the most versatile and underrated actors I know of, and I was in the same room with him and I didn’t know!!  Can’t believe it!  And he seems just the sort of person to NOT be overwhelmed by the amount of gushing admiration I can give out!  And if I had been able to go on Sunday I could have taken my Paul Cornell and Ben Aaronovitch books too, and got them signed – I could have met the pixie like and incredibly talented Holly Black, whose books I eat up whole in one sitting.  I could’ve met Colin Baker (6th Doctor)!!!  If I had even known the event was occurring, on Friday night, I could’ve met William Russell (Ian Chesterton, 1st Doctor Companion).  I goggled and ohhh noooooooed at the wonders I’d missed and promptly started a piggy bank for next year. 

It was a weird and wonderful intersection between everyday reality and total fantasy.  Its very scale meant it hadn’t become cliquey or strata-ed – though I was aware some people had priority gold passes for things, none of that had affected me. 

I think I’m hooked.  I loved this, I felt at home, I felt unfreakish surrounded by the other obsessives; everyone was kind and friendly and helpful.  What a good birthday I got, in the end.