It’s Not Who, It’s You.

We’re just over halfway through Peter Capaldi’s first series as the incumbent Doctor, and the online community has, as always, shared a wide range of opinions on the episodes presented so far. Doctor Who wouldn’t be Doctor Who if it didn’t split opinion, and attract a wide range of praise and criticism . I have agreed with some, and disagreed with others. I would happily exclaim my delight at an episode I loved, and would be equally vociferous about an episode I didn’t. I have however found myself of late stepping back into the shadows (to paraphrase the Eleventh Doctor), not because I became too big or noisy, but because I found I had been spending more time finding things to criticise than I did actually just sitting down with a drink watching the bloody thing. I’m not a critic. There are plenty of other people paid to do that. I’m a fan.

Some criticisms I’m seeing this time round though have started to infuriate me. I have no problem whatsoever if you don’t like the storylines. I have no problem if the Twelfth Doctor isn’t for you. I don’t even have a problem if you’re not happy with the writing or the acting. These are always going to be debated, and everyone’s opinion is always valid. What I would suggest is that if you don’t like ANY of the storylines, the Doctor, the writing, acting or directing (and some commenters are even criticising the theme tune and the opening credits), then perhaps this show isn’t for you.

I was 14 years old when I first heard Radiohead’s music. It was March 1995 – their second album ‘The Bends’ had just been released, and I was at a friend’s house listening to it in silent rapture after he’d bought it from the local Our Price. I remember being taken aback by it; I had been brought up on Roxette, Phil Collins and Simply Red at home, and even when I discovered music of my own it tended to be relatively easy listening, melodic pop gubbins. My CD collection was full of Oasis, Blur, Pulp, the usual Britpop stuff. That was my ‘jam’. So to hear an album like The Bends, with Thom Yorke’s astonishing falsetto over Jonny Greenwood’s furious lead guitar, chord changes that utterly take you by surprise and a rhythm section so tight you’d swear the players were mentally connected, was more than just a breath of fresh air. It changed entirely the way I heard music.

After a few weeks of barely doing anything else but listening to The Bends, I sought out Radiohead’s earlier album, ‘Pablo Honey’. I recall being surprised at the feel of the songs immediately. They were much lighter in tone, more predictable perhaps, certainly more accessible than The Bends. It wasn’t one of the best albums I ever heard, nor did I dislike it (some of the tracks on there are among my favourite Radiohead songs), but it was instantly clear how the band had changed the direction of their music for the second album.

Two years later I, like a great many of my peers, rushed out and bought OK Computer on the day of release. I remember at the time there was much talk of people hoping for The Bends 2, as was I if I’m honest. I rushed home clutching a copy of the CD, locked myself in my room and stuck it on. It was…different. On first listen, I thoroughly enjoyed parts of it. Other parts just sounded cold, and sparse. It sounded nothing like The Bends, and I was ultimately a little disappointed. I listened again. And again. The more I listened, the more I enjoyed, with the result that to this day, OK Computer remains my all-time favourite album. I found it difficult even to write this paragraph, simply because I can’t believe there was ever a time I wasn’t utterly in love with that record.

Radiohead’s music changed again with the release of Kid A. I bought it on the same day I was going to see them play live in Warrington (in a big top, no less). I listened for the first time at the same friend’s house where I’d heard The Bends that first time. I hated it. I wasn’t just disappointed by it on first listen. I just couldn’t stand it, from the first track to the last. It had nothing of the Radiohead I’d grown to love, and if I’d thought OK Computer had been sparse in places, this just seemed to be an electronic mess. Programmed drum beats, very little in the way of thrashing, gnarled guitars, and I was searching in vain for a melody. That’s it, I thought. Radiohead’s sound had changed so much that I no longer liked them. I was gutted. I went to the gig that night thoroughly despondent, expecting to be holding my hands over my ears most of the time. It turned out to be one of the most fantastic concerts I have ever been lucky enough to attend. I don’t remember a whole lot of it, but I recall having a dance and a sing-along, moshing one minute and wiping a tear from my eye the next. These were the same songs I’d been listening to with such despair earlier that same day.

On waking the next day I listened to Kid A again. I won’t say I had instantly warmed to it, but my god did I get it. Over the next few weeks I found more and more to enjoy in the album, and similar to my experience with OK Computer, it’s now one of my favourite albums. It’s actually an astonishing record, one I would recommend to anyone who hasn’t heard it.

I should start heading to some semblance of a point.

Following Kid A, Radiohead released Amnesiac the following year, then Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows. With each release came with a new style, a new direction; they were experimental, trying to push the accepted norms when it came to rock music. Each album resulted in them gaining fans and losing fans, as the rock guitars and heavy choruses gave way to dense, trippy electronica. Although from past experiences I knew that every new album would be a challenge, I found myself after a while feeling less connected to the band and their music, and despite occasional returns to the style I had grown to love, they inevitably headed in a direction I no longer found entertaining. This came to a head with King of Limbs, an album I have tried to enjoy so many times, but to no avail. It’s very much Radiohead, it got favourable reviews, it’s a popular album with many of my fellow Radiohead fans, but it’s simply not for me. It’s not a bad album. The band haven’t lost their ability – it simply caters for an audience other than my own. This is no issue to Radiohead. They will make many, many more fans from King of Limbs than they will lose. I certainly won’t be calling for Thom Yorke’s head.

Which brings me to Doctor Who. Since the show’s first regeneration from William Hartnell into Patrick Troughton, each Doctor’s era has ushered in a new style, a new feel. There’s the young, friendly one; the old, grumpy one; the action one; the egomaniacal one, and so on. There’s the Pertwee era with a huge proportion of it based entirely on Earth. There’s the whole Colin Baker series based around the ‘Trial’. There are certain mainstays, such as the TARDIS, the companion and the Daleks et al which makes this programme what it is, but we have a different kind of Doctor and a different kind of show every time, possibly never more so than with series eight.

At the time of writing the BBC have transmitted 7 episodes of series eight. That’s 6 different writers, with their stories directed by 3 different directors. We’ve had settings in space, Victorian London, a present day school, 15th/16t Century Sherwood Forest, and inside a Dalek. We’ve seen Gallifrey (or have we?) and we’ve had pre-existing and brand new enemies for the Doctor to face. The writers have even addressed the issue I had with the last series, and they’ve made Clara a much more layered personality. If you can’t find anything you like in any of that, then there’s only a certain amount of times you can blame Steven Moffat. I’m afraid you have to consider the possibility that the common denominator here is you. Perhaps you just don’t like Doctor Who anymore. You used to, of course you did. But it changes, it evolves. It’ll change again when Capaldi eventually regenerates, or the production team is replaced. I don’t get that benefit with Radiohead. The band are the band, they’re not going to change.

I’ve recently learned a phrase which accurately describes the nature of the Twitter commenters I’ve referred to in this post. It’s known as ‘confirmation bias’. I think it’s very well summarised by this cartoon:

IMG_9903

I would also throw in those folk who scour Twitter for posts they think matches their own in order to retweet them, and in doing so, try to prove a point. Confirmation bias is the act of ignoring anything which contradicts their own first impressions. It seems to me that there are some who have not enjoyed Doctor Who since Matt Smith left, or since David Tennant left (or, in one case I heard about, since Patrick Troughton left…) or indeed since Steven Moffat succeeded Russell T Davies as showrunner.

I’m not going to say that series eight has been perfect. Of course it hasn’t. One particular episode (Robot of Sherwood) irritated me no end. But then again I don’t recall the last series of Doctor Who that didn’t have one or two duff episodes as part of the run, and yes, I’m including series five in that. The problem is that some people are heading into the show already knowing that they want to hate it. Not everyone, obviously, but some. In doing that they’ll be looking out for anything negative, any line that doesn’t quite make sense, any plot hole which to anyone else would be barely recognisable. I saw one commenter this morning complaining that Kill The Moon didn’t accurately follow science, and therefore the episode lost credibility. This is a time-travel show, about an alien in a Police Box which is bigger on the inside who travels through time and space. There’s not a lot that follows actual science here. We can allow them a bit of creative licence.

I hate to say it, folks, but with this nihilistic outlook (regardless of who the showrunner is), you’ll never enjoy another episode again. But then, to quote that band I really used to like, ‘you do it to yourself, you do…and that’s what really hurts’.

Latersville.

Advertisements

Taking in a Deep Breath (SPOILER FREE)

Thursday 7th August was a massive day for me and my ‘companions’, as we travelled to Cardiff to join the 1600 or so lucky souls who’d acquired a ticket for Peter Capaldi’s hugely anticipated debut as The Doctor. I’m writing this a mere two days prior to the BBC transmission of the first episode of Deep Breath, so why not share my experience now, eh.

After another very early start (why do I keep doing this to myself?) we were on our way to Cardiff on schedule. We arrived just before 10am and scampered through the streets of the city toward St David’s Hall. Thanks to a number of contacts keeping in touch through Twitter we heard that there was still plenty of barrier space for the red carpet event, and this proved correct when we got there. We found a nice open spot pretty close to the TARDIS as we had a feeling that the stars would be hanging around this area the most, for interviews and photo opportunities.

view

So we took our spot against the barrier, and waited. We knew that the event wasn’t due to start for another hour or so, and thankfully we had the lovely Cardiff sunshine to enjoy. As the crowds started to grow ever larger, we were entertained by Daleks and Cybermen wandering around, interacting with the young – and not so young – fans. I remember one little lad letting out the most terrified scream when one Cyberman came a teensy bit too close, proving that even today Doctor Who has the power to frighten children at lunchtime in the middle of a busy city centre. Not long after that a Metro photographer snapped a picture of the back of my head (I’m in blue – screaming boy on Dad’s shoulders on my right).

IMG_9204

We were told that the red carpet event was due to start at 11am, with the actual premiere at 12:15pm. From what we could see there didn’t seem to enough time for the stars to meet everyone on their way up to St David’s Hall, so we didn’t hold out too much hope to get all the autographs we would have liked, but knew we’d get a bloody good view of everything where we were. As time moved on though, and the clocks moved on to quarter past 11, and half past 11, we were getting a little concerned as to how much time we would have before we had to vamoose into the theatre. The instructions we’d been sent told us we had to be in the auditorium by 12:15 or we wouldn’t be allowed in, so my anxious worried mode kicked in as we neared our deadline.

Steven Moffat reached us first. I had a feeling he would head straight past us, but brilliantly he wandered over from the opposite barrier and headed straight to me. I had a large print of the movie-style poster of The Day of The Doctor which he duly signed before posing for an ultimate selfie with everyone else. I tried to get into the shot myself, but couldn’t quite fit my huge head in. Here’s us as he signed:

memeetingmoff

And here’s the ultimate selfie, stolen from Jenny. From L-R: Andrew, Laura, Jenny, Adam, Moff.

IMG_9203

After SteeMo went on his way, I rolled my print back up and returned it to my trusty tube, before eagerly waiting the arrival of Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi. From our vantage point we could just make out our new heroes slowly making their way along the crowds, signing autographs and posing for photos with the fans. As we expected, given where we were standing, they were dragged away by interviewers and photographers as they neared us, so we didn’t get to meet them. Jenna I’ve met before, and I’m sure I’ll get a chance to meet Capaldi sooner or later, so I wasn’t particularly concerned. I was more interested in watching the premiere of the episode. We managed to briefly speak to Samuel Anderson, who will be playing Danny Pink in the new series, so that topped off our red carpet experience, before working our way through the massed crowds to St David’s Hall.

We knew already that we had great tickets. I always struggle to fight for tickets for these things but somehow I managed to get us seats in Row F in the stalls, so GO ME. Our view was thus:

deepbreathview

After a brief introduction from Jason Mohammed to the cast and some crew, the lights finally went down and we were treated to the feature-length majesty that was Deep Breath. As you’ll have spotted from the title of this post, you’ll be getting no spoilers from me. All I will say is that Capaldi nailed it, Jenna was as good as I’ve seen her in the role, and I love the new opening titles. There are moments in this episode that fans will remember for a long time. That’s all you’re getting. Wait until Saturday.

The episode came to a conclusion to a huge round of applause. I can only imagine how nerve-wracking it must be for Steven Moffat, sitting in the front row, with all those fans’ expectations on his shoulders. I think the reaction at the time will have helped him to relax a little.

Jason Mohammed returned to the stage and introduced Peter, Jenna and Moff to the audience again ahead of the Q&A. I’ve been to a number of Q&As in the last few years, and in all honesty, they range from boring to cringeworthy and back again at lightning speed. The actual interview, chaired by Jason, was very interesting. Capaldi came across as being extremely genial and gave some great answers to some decent questions. I found, as usually seems to be the case, that Jenna Coleman was overlooked somewhat. The majority of questions were directed at Capaldi and Moffat, and I got the impression that Jason tended to include Jenna just to make her feel like she wasn’t a spare part. I can partly understand this – she’s been in the show some time, and Capaldi is new to the world of Who (and obviously plays the lead role) so people want to hear from the new guy.

As usual far too many of the audience questions smacked a little of ‘wanting to speak to the actors without having a cogent and interesting question to mind’. One chap even asked half the previous person’s question before giving up and handing the microphone back. One particular highlight was the moment Capaldi was asked to wish a questioner’s friend a happy birthday, which he and Jenna did, before leading the whole audience in a rendition of the song (Happy Birthday, Sarah!), This I think endeared him to the fans even more. Anybody worried about Capaldi not being appealing to the younger fans clearly don’t know anything about younger fans. They don’t give a monkeys how old he is. And anyway, to a little kid, even Tennant and Smith were ‘old’.

With the exception of A) the family behind us inexplicably talking through the whole episode (one member of said family, mum perhaps, texting the whole time!) and B) a terrible sound system in the Hall, rendering a good half of the dialogue extremely hard to follow, I had a fantastic day out in Cardiff. I can’t wait for the evening of Saturday 23rd so I can start discussing the episode with everyone else. I think our new Doctor is going to be very popular indeed. There’s a new direction for this show. It’s still Doctor Who, just with a different face.

iwasthere

Photo courtesy of Laura Robinson

The Age of The Doctor

Peter Capaldi

It seems an age since the BBC announced that Matt Smith was taking over from David Tennant as the Doctor, but the debate that raged back then is still fresh in my mind. He’s too young, some said. He’s an unknown, others argued. I had similar reservations. I wanted a Doctor who looked like he’d been there, done that; a Doctor who had hundreds of years of knowledge, loss and pain in his eyes. I wasn’t aware of Smith’s earlier work but I will admit I feared the worst.

Smith’s Doctor turned out to be one of the most beautifully crafted, exciting and watchable incarnations of the character since the show began. I don’t think anyone can deny that Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor helped to sell the show across the world, and take it from cult sci-fi status to the stratospheric hit it is today. He leaves having given Doctor Who a truly worldwide audience.

Peter Capaldi has now been handed the keys to the TARDIS and, although his appointment has been met with almost universal approval, there are murmurs this time that he’s too old to play the part, that he’s not attractive enough for the role. I was delighted at Capaldi’s appointment, and not just because of his undoubted pedigree as an actor. I think we needed an older Doctor.

We seem to live in a time where an individual’s appearance is often considered their most important feature. A time where the youth of today aspire to be like Joey Essex or some other dimwit whose only observable redeeming feature is that they scrub up nice. Clearly this is not an accusation anyone could level at Matt Smith, who carried the majority of the last two series on his own with some excellent performances, but one does wonder whether quite as many official Doctor Who lunchboxes, chocolate bars and bath sets would have been sold with a less aesthetically pleasing face emblazoned on the packaging.

In a time where the majority of our ‘mature’ actors seem to be poked with a walking stick toward the retirement home that is Downton Abbey and the like, it’s a breath of fresh air to see Capaldi being cast in one of the most important roles this country has ever produced. A whole generation of young viewers will have an older hero for the foreseeable future, which can only be a good thing.

I think age can be deceptive. Although Capaldi is pretty much as old as Hartnell was when he took the role, he’s not portraying Twelve as an aged, white-haired man with a walking stick. Although he’s evidently not a sprightly young man like Smith, I don’t think it’ll be too much to ask for the new Doctor to engage in his fair share of action sequences.

It is important for the show and its progress that each Doctor is absolutely different to his predecessor. Indeed, we are already hearing on the grapevine that the Twelfth Doctor will be more ‘dangerous’ than his previous incarnations. Although I tend to take rumours with a pinch of salt, I don’t doubt that Twelve will be portrayed as a little darker, and in this respect I think Peter Capaldi is perfectly cast. Capaldi is a fine actor, who has a proven track record in comedy and drama and has already shown through his work on The Thick of It that he is more than capable of leading man status.

Perhaps he may not sell quite as many lunchboxes, but you can be sure that Peter Capaldi will give us a brilliant Doctor.

Latersville.

Don’t call me a Grammar Nazi

There are not a great many things I get annoyed about. I’m just not the type to complain, generally speaking. I tend to keep my more negative opinions to myself, which would probably explain why I don’t post regularly on here, but one element of modern life I find increasingly difficult to ignore is the frankly appalling use of the English language I’m subjected to on a daily basis.

As a child I taught myself to read very early on. I would read everything – road signs, adverts, magazines, books, album sleeves, newspapers, shop fronts – anything I saw made of words. In my nursery years, while all the other kids were painting pictures around a table lined with newspaper, I was reading the television listings pages from said newspaper to them. I was the first child in my year to be given a reading book by my school (a Tim and Tobias story entitled The Highwayman, for those interested) and that probably still remains my most prized achievement.

While I appreciate that there is an almost unending list of things more important going on in the world, I am hugely irritated by poor spelling in public places. I understand that errors can slip through the net, and that nobody is perfect. There’s probably a hideous spelling/grammatical error in this blog entry somewhere (or maybe I’ve put it there intentionally…).

Now fully ensconced in my adult years, I am regularly asked what I consider my strengths. Most of the time, my answers are expected to include such mundane delights as ‘organisation’, ‘attention to detail’ or ‘hardworking’ but although these are all perfectly acceptable responses, they’re not actually true. What I want to say is “I am fiercely proud of my ability to spell correctly and I can spot a spelling error from over fifty yards”. I never do, though. Nobody else seems to be that impressed anymore, to be honest.

In Manchester city centre, just off Oxford Road, there is an official council street sign I passed pretty much every day while travelling on the bus to work. The sign reads ‘Univerisity halls’. That’s univerisity. Okay, so that’s a spelling error. It happens. I don’t believe for a second that the signwriter actually thinks that ‘university’ is spelled that way. But what I don’t believe is that nobody involved in the process of writing, submitting, printing, making and placing the sign hadn’t spotted it. I also don’t believe that I’m the only person in Manchester to have seen it. So why hasn’t it been taken down and corrected? Even a spot of paint over the rogue ‘i’ would suffice. The sign is placed next to a school, so it’s possible (albeit unlikely) that the pupils at said school may not have seen the word ‘university’ written down before, and that they may assume that this is the correct spelling.

I received a printed taxi leaflet through my door some time ago. I kept the leaflet as I use that particular taxi firm a lot, and they’re always reliable. Their advert however offers “Taxi, Mini Bus and Privet Hire”. In this case, I can actually let it go that they’ve split ‘minibus’ into two words. But ‘privet’? That’s a type of hedge. They’re distributing leaflets through doors that people are going to read. If I had still been a nipper I would have taken that information in, and quite possibly learned to spell ‘private’ incorrectly. Why didn’t the printers fix it? Why couldn’t they just call their client and double-check? It’s both tragic and hilarious.

As I briefly touched upon earlier in my post, I can spot a spelling error incredibly quickly. It’s both a blessing and a curse, to be honest. I’ve lost count of the amount of restaurants I’ve visited, skimmed through the menu and spotted ‘ceasar/caeser’ salad on offer. It’s now the first thing I look for when the menu is handed to me. If they’ve spelled caesar correctly, then I can relax a little. Generally speaking, while I read a book or magazine nowadays errors almost jump out at me from the page, like when you spot a bug crawling across your wall from the corner of your eye. I can’t write texts like ‘Hw R U M8’ because I actually find that more difficult than typing out the whole thing.

Errors in published works are, for me, unforgiveable. Not only should the manuscript be double-checked by the author, but if it is written on a word processor the series of little red squiggly lines should make mistakes perfectly obvious (NB: I just looked up ‘double-checked’ online to confirm whether it should be hyphenated or not. I am not too proud to admit that I don’t know everything, and that if I’m unsure, I’ll look it up). After the author submits their manuscript to the publisher, the work should then be copy-edited and proofread to minimise misprints. There are people who are employed, both freelance and salaried, by the publishing companies to do this job. I’ll be honest with you, it’s my dream job. If I felt I could make enough money to live on while retraining as a proofreader/copy-editor then I would do it immediately. Unfortunately I’m a lawyer with fifteen years experience in my field and not much in the way of available savings, so I’m not in a comfortable enough position to leave my post to get myself qualified. Instead, I’m left to curse silently under my breath when I come across a mistake.

The internet is shocking. On social media I see post after post after post laden with badly spelled, badly worded entries which make me absolutely cringe. I feel however that I cannot do anything about it. It seems that nowadays there is a tendency to view anyone who corrects spelling as a ‘Grammar Nazi’. Why are we so derided by the public as a whole? Why, of all the negative comparisons people could use, are we compared to the Nazis? We’re trying to help, that’s all. I see arguments on YouTube (mainly because that’s all there is on there) where horrendous accusations and foul language and tirades of abuse are launched at anyone and everyone, and barely anybody does anything about it. It seems the acceptable norm. But as soon as someone points out a spelling mistake, THEY’RE the evil one. Apparently correcting someone’s usage of English nowadays automatically means you’ve lost an argument. Sorry, that’s just bollocks. Besides, I have never seen an online argument won or lost – just one side who thinks they’ve won and another side who’s decided they have better things to do with their day. But I digress.

I don’t expect everyone in the world to be able to spell perfectly. I can’t spell perfectly. There are plenty of enormous words in the English language I have never even seen, never mind learned to spell. But to use the word ‘Nazi’ to describe someone who cares enough about the written word to actually try to do something about bad usage is both disingenuous and downright insulting. I joke about being a Grammar Nazi myself, now. I learned a long time ago that the best way to make yourself utterly bulletproof from bullying and insults is to learn to not take anything people say about you seriously. It still doesn’t mean though that being proud of an ability should be treated as a negative.

Latersville.

The long, long Day of the Doctor….

1471387_623852814344463_104607893_n

So I was lucky enough to grab myself a ticket to the Official Doctor Who Celebration at the ExCel Centre, and even more so that it was on the actual Day of the Doctor itself – 23rd November. 50 years ago to the day at 5.16pm, the first ever episode of Doctor Who was broadcast on the BBC. Sadly, no bugger watched it because JFK had just been shot.

Luckily, quite a few more people watched Who the following week. If they hadn’t, this weekend’s celebrations might never have happened at all. Having spent the big day surrounded by Doctor Who fans, young and old, familiar and unfamiliar, I really wouldn’t have wanted to commemorate the occasion any other way.

It almost didn’t happen though…..

The night before the Celebration I packed a bag and prepared all the bumf that I’d need to ensure my day was as easy as possible. Having picked out an outfit and readied all my toiletries I jumped into bed early and set an alarm for 3:30am. And 3:40am. And 3:45am. And 4:00am. And 4:15am. Now, either none of these went off at all, or I simply didn’t hear them. The first time I woke up that morning was at 4:30am when the taxi driver I’d booked to take me to Manchester Piccadilly called my phone to tell me he was outside.

I suddenly woke up, a lot.

Panicked, I explained to the driver that I’d overslept and that I still needed to shower before I left. He very kindly offered to come back in 20 minutes, which he duly did after I spent that time running around the flat (and shower) screaming obscenities to myself a la Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral. My train was due to depart the station at 5:25am. Amazingly I got dressed in time, having made myself look beautiful, and leapt into the cab, poster tubes under my arms.

I spent the majority of the 15 minute taxi ride excitedly telling the driver where I was going at such an ungodly hour. “I’m going to London!” I said. “I’m going to the big Doctor Who Celebration at the Excel Centre!” I said. He didn’t know (or care) what Doctor Who was. He just concentrated on getting me to the station on time, which to his credit he damned well did.

We pulled up at Piccadilly just after 5:00am – which is miraculous, given the circumstances – and I handed the driver a tenner plus a well-earned 50% tip for his troubles. I grabbed my bags and headed into the station, found my train and got on. Soon, we departed, and I got myself comfortable ahead of the journey. This was the moment I was expecting to look through my bags and found I’d forgotten something important, but amazingly everything I needed was still there. I relaxed, and shoved a pair of earphones in.

Although I was meeting Jenny, Laura and Andrew at the Excel Centre, I’d arranged to meet Richard, a mutual friend of theirs, on the train. I’m not so great at making conversation on trains though. I get terribly self-conscious of my voice in quiet public places, so we agreed that we would meet up on the platform at Euston. This we duly did. After introducing ourselves we made our way out of the station and, after a thoroughly enjoyable cigarette we went to find a cab. Typically the Northern Line on the tube was down that weekend, and we had no other way of getting to Bank to join the DLR to the Excel. Eventually we flagged down a a cab and headed straight for London Docklands.

It was on arrival that my excitement started to materialise. Huge banners greeted us, as did a phenomenally massive queue once we’d entered the ‘waiting hall’ just near the main convention rooms. Richard and I picked up our lanyards and joined the back of the queue, where we were surrounded almost instantly by hundreds of Daleks, Weeping Angels and Doctors, the majority waving sonic screwdrivers in the air, excitedly waiting to be ushered forward. We got chatting to a lad in the queue, and our conversation (about whether the BBC could have devoted each month of the year to the corresponding Doctor) appeared to be a popular opinion all round.

We were led past a table with day planners and maps, and through an enormous 1960s television set into what transpired to be a beautifully realised version of the Totters Lane junkyard – home of the First Doctor in the first ever episode, of course – resplendent with classic TARDIS and a few of the old BBC studio signs. It was a lovely touch, and showed me that this wasn’t just going to be a drag-them-in-and-take-their-money kind of convention. Well, not all of it, anyway.

1422474_10151985802905379_1866233331_n

I’d already made a day planner for myself, as I had a lot to do and I had no idea how easy it was going to be to get through it all. First on the list was both a photo on the Eleventh Doctor’s TARDIS, and an autograph opportunity with Sophie Aldred. Richard headed off to join the autograph queue and I made my way to the far end of the hall to get my TARDIS picture. Thankfully the queue wasn’t too long, maybe around 10 minutes or so, and soon I stepped through the doors of the TARDIS and got my first real-life glimpse of the console. Sadly I didn’t get too long to stare longingly at it before I had to pose for my picture, but in what little time I had I was able to take in all the little details. As a special bonus, the organisers had even constructed the glass floor underneath. Again, just a little touch – which probably wasn’t necessary – but it was that attention to detail which impressed me. I left the area and picked up my photo straight away, and while I’m never keen on how I look in pictures, the console itself looks good. It’s just a lovely souvenir of the day.

1476651_10151989216205379_1225640090_n

So, after collecting my image and storing it away safely in my geeky little see-through folder, I wandered over to the autograph queue. I was very pleased to see that despite the Celebration tickets selling out within a few days, the overcrowding I’d worried about simply wasn’t there. The teams on the ground were organised and efficient, and made sure any queues were carefully placed so as to not cause too much disruption for other attendees walking by. It didn’t take long before I’d made my way to the front of the queue, where I was invited to join the smaller queue of fans waiting to meet Sophie. She was happily chatting to the fans about anything and everything, and there was no fear of just being hurried through.

Eventually I reached the front and said hi to Sophie. I should point out at this stage that Sophie Aldred was the first girl I ever fell in love with. She was Ace, and I was 7, and I was going to marry her. Although that never happened (still time, Sophie….!) I have met her once previously, at London Film and Comic Con, and all I remember about that was turning bright red, stumbling over my words and looking like a bit of a pillock. Sophie is so friendly, approachable and warm that she would put anyone at ease. We chatted about my earlier ‘fun’ racing to the station that morning and it transpired that she knew Manchester well, having attended university there. In fact, she lived not too far away from where I live now. I handed her a lovely print of the TARDIS I’d had made some time ago and after she’d signed it I said my goodbyes. Before I left the area however I decided that I now really wanted to meet Carole Ann Ford and William Russell. Thankfully there were still tickets left to meet them so I handed over the cash and joined Carole Ann’s queue.

Carole Ann was very pleasant indeed, greeting me with a big smile as I walked to her station. It was a relatively brief encounter, as there was only five minutes to go until their autograph sessions were over, but she signed my TARDIS image, including the date, which I thought was a lovely touch, and after a few words I went over to William Russell who was sat next to her. Again, this was a brief meeting but William was very welcoming and again signed and dated my TARDIS image.

I carefully rolled up the image, taking care that the ink was dry on all the signatures. As I did so, the tannoy blared out an announcement that I (and all the other attendees in the Weeping Angel group) were to make their way over to stage one, where the Regenerations panel was about to start. I decided to give that a miss. Although the panel featured Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, and therefore was a whole world of awesome, I’d noticed that the main hall was relatively quiet at this stage, and I wanted to take in the sights for a while.

The first stop on my magical mystery tour was the props and costumes area. I hadn’t known what to expect from this, as I’ve already been to the Doctor Who Experience at least three times, so surely I’d seen everything, hadn’t I? No, not really. Aside from the various costumes I had indeed seen before there were a number of fantastic exhibits I was seeing for the first time. The organisers had done a great job of procuring a mixture of Doctor Who, Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood displays, some of which came from private collections. I was impressed with Mr Smith, the computer from SJA, which also made an appearance in Doctor Who in series four, and next to that was Sarah Jane’s famous car, with her outfit displayed next to it. Quite poignant, following the death of Elisabeth Sladen.

The collection included the costumes from the cast of Torchwood, the speeder bike thingamajig (from the cheesy scene in Rings of Akhaten), Jon Pertwee’s old Bessie car, and of course all the Doctor’s costumes dating back to William Hartnell’s days. You could get a little closer to the exhibits than you could at the Experience, so I spent quite a while checking out the little details in each of the outfits. Matt Smith’s series five shirt is incredibly detailed close up. Also made me realise that buying one (as I tried to do) and wearing it would make me look a bit of a twat at work.

1450067_10151985805385379_603732796_n

I didn’t spend too long hanging around any of the other stands at this point. I hadn’t met up with the others yet and I wanted to explore the rest of the show with them. At this point they were in the Regenerations talk, and I was intending to head into the hall once the next talk started. The tannoy soon rang out again telling us to head over to stage one for the major talk of the day, The Eleventh Hour. I wasn’t meeting Matt Smith on the day (I’ve already met him) so I pootled over to the hall to see what was what. I sat on the back row. It wasn’t full, but there were a good 3000 or so people comfortably seated, while the impressive big screen flung special Doctor Who trailers at them for their delectation.

Jo Whiley was introduced onto the stage, followed soon after by producer Marcus Wilson, writer and showrunner Steven Moffat, Jenna Coleman and Matt Smith, for some reason wearing a Victor Meldrew-esque raincoat, unbuttoned except from the top button. I’m no fashionista, and this isn’t an article for Vogue, but – really? If I’m blathering on about fashion though I may as well give Jenna Coleman’s outfit a mention. She was sporting a fetching blue dress, which bore more than a passing resemblance to the TARDIS itself. Anyway, enough about clothes.

I didn’t make notes during the talk, and I was too busy listening to it to actually pay attention, so I can’t remember much of what was discussed. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of videos on YouTube though, such as this one:-

I do recall that we didn’t learn too much that we didn’t already know. They couldn’t talk about the Day of the Doctor obviously, given that it wasn’t on until later that evening, so the conversation was kept to general chat about Matt Smith’s tenure as the Doctor, and that his departure is quite sad for his colleagues. The Q+A session didn’t exactly blow us away either, with such incisive questions as “what was your favourite episode?”, “why did you want to play the Doctor?” (he didn’t actually seek it out – he was invited to audition) and “what’s your favourite colour I like the colour red it is nice do you like red too please say you like red I love you”.

Following the talk I made my way back over into the main hall. I joined the queue for Daphne Ashbrook and waited my turn. As seems to be the case whenever I meet anyone for an autograph, I get stuck behind the guy who wants to spend the next three hours talking to Daphne about ‘stuff’, while I wait. And wait. And wait a little more. It turns out he’d met Daphne before, at a convention in America somewhere, and wanted her to guess which one. Instead of telling her the correct answer after she failed to remember the first time, he let her carry on guessing. Good work. Eventually she worked it out and the guy left, happy enough. So then it was my turn. It transpired that Daphne had only arrived in the country at 11pm the night before, and as such was a little bit ‘frazzled’ (her word). She proved this by forgetting her name halfway through signing it. She got there in the end though, bless her.

I remember feeling a little sorry for Yee Jee Tso, Daphne’s co-star from the 1996 movie (he played Chang Lee) who was sitting in the next booth. He had nobody waiting for him in his queue, and I think I only saw him sign for one or two attendees. Still, he looked like he was having a good enough time, and he clearly got on well with Daphne, so I didn’t concern myself too much. Plus he was probably being paid a fair amount just to be there. Not bad work if you can get it.

After leaving the autograph area I found myself joining the queue again, as it was almost time for my final ‘guest encounter’ of the day, Jenna Coleman. I’ve met Jenna before, and I’m not normally one for collecting loads of autographs from the same people, but I wanted her to sign the TARDIS piece along with the others. That way, the piece would be a truly 50th anniversary memory – having being signed by the first two companions, my favourite companion (Sophie Aldred….), the companion from the 1996 movie, and the current companion. A nice range.

So I queued for Jenna, surrounded by excited fans. The organisers wanted to make sure that as many attendees as possible would be able to meet with Jenna so there was very little time for any real conversation. I managed to say hello, and ask how she was before handing her the piece and showing her where I’d like her to sign it. This she duly did and as I turned to leave she added that she thought it was a really nice picture. I knew this, of course, but it was lovely to hear it from her……

The finished piece looks like this. I won’t be adding any more names on it, as I like having something started and finished on the 50th anniversary.

564519_10151987545885379_1522575948_n

The hall was starting to get a little busier now. The earlier talks had finished and the attendees who had left the halls to get lunch were all starting to make their way back in, slightly fatter. I decided, in my infinite wisdom, to head for the market stalls (possibly the busiest area in the hall) where it was possible to buy absolutely anything you could ever think of with a Doctor Who logo on it. Seriously, if money was no object, I wouldn’t have been able to get it all in the cab home. As it turns out I didn’t go as crazy as I’d anticipated. I bought an Ace action figure, before I happened upon the Big Finish stand. Big Finish, for the uninitiated, are a cracking little production company given licence from the BBC to make audio dramas based upon the classic series. These dramas are extra special as they use the actors from the classic series to perform their respective roles.

I was (and remain) a huge fan of Paul McGann’s Doctor. I loved the way he played the part in the movie and I feel it was a tragedy that we were never given a full series with him. This is where Big Finish come in. They’ve made a full series of adventures starring Paul McGann, giving us the next best thing to an actual series. I heard one of these some time ago, but after being delighted by the amazing Night of the Doctor last week I wanted to know more about the 8th Doctor’s story. So, I spoke to the guys at the stand who cleverly sold me four stories on CD (including a Peter Davison story I didn’t even want) and I went away happy.

Finally I met up with the others. Jenny and Laura were at one of the market stalls filling their bags with badges, and Andrew was close behind. Pretty much immediately Andrew was due to join the autograph queue as there were three Doctors he wanted to meet – Peter Davison, Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy – who were all signing at the same time. By this point I noticed my phone was dangerously low on juice (it’s an iPhone, of course it was) so I disappeared again to go and recharge. The lovely folk near the classic screening rooms upstairs happily allowed me to use the plug sockets, so I sat up there for half an hour with a cookie (£2.20!) and waited for the others to get in touch after they’d done their business with the Doctors. The time came soon enough when Jenny and Richard came upstairs to join me. Jenny needed a bit of a recharge, and was coming to pick up her photo with Matt Smith taken earlier in the day.

Once we found the desk with the many photos on, it was clear that a great many of them had come out pretty badly. I’ve found with Showmasters events (the signing events I attend) that all the photographs are well lit, well set up and essentially uniform. These ones though, a little bit crap, truth be told. It seemed to be a little bit of a lottery as to whether you got one without too much flash/too little flash/a yellow hue etc, although it has to be said, Jenny and Laura’s photo with Matt is fantastic. I won’t put it on here as it’s not mine, obviously, but the pose is brilliant. Think a classic ‘Doctor in the middle, brandishing the sonic screwdriver, with the companions reaching out towards the camera on either side’ kinda thing.

We buggered off back downstairs, passing Sophie Aldred on the way, at which point Jenny decided to exclaim “Hey, there’s your girlfriend” right behind me. She was right, of course, but Sophie and I are clearly on a break. Temporarily.

Downstairs we came across Laura and Andrew. After a bit of a chat interspersed with excited fangirling over their picture with Matt, we headed into the queue ahead of the SFX theatre show. We worked our way through a packet of caramel chocolate Digestives and then found our seats in the auditorium. We found a decent seat in the middle of the hall, and waited for the host to arrive. Dallas Campbell (formerly of Bang Goes The Theory) was introduced onto the stage. He then in turn introduced us to Danny Hargreaves.

Danny Hargreaves is the lead special effects guy on Doctor Who, and has been for almost ten years. He’s responsible for all the physical, non-CGI effects. The show started with a highlights package of the SFX team’s finer moments shown on the big screen above the stage. After about ten minutes of this I was starting to wonder whether they were intending to show EVERY EXPLOSION EVER in Doctor Who….! Following this, we were shown an exploding Dalek, and attacked by a Cyberman, before a young lad dressed as Eleven was invited onto the stage and handed a prop gun bigger than him in order to save the day – which he then duly did.

The SFX team then sprayed the front row with the same ‘snow’ they use on the show, before turning on a massive fan and blasting air at them for a while. After this the floor was opened for questions to Danny. Sadly the questions again weren’t exactly mind-blowing. We were treated to such brilliance as “what’s your favourite effect?” followed by “what was the best effect you did?” followed by “what effect do you think you enjoyed the most?”. For those interested, it was the effect in Closing Time when the Doctor jumps through the glass in the patio doors. We also learned that Danny once set fire to David Tennant’s hair, and that the fireball in the Christmas Carol episode when Matt Smith comes down the chimney wasn’t exactly……planned.

One relatively entertaining show later we left and headed back again into the main hall. I had met all the people I’d wanted to meet, and bought all the things I’d wanted to buy, so we could spend the next hour or two just exploring. We went back over to the costume display and did a bit of posing with the gear – Jenny and Laura posed on the space-moped-thing from Rings of Akhaten – and I spent the whole time trying to decide whether I wanted to splash out on the full size Tom Baker scarf from one of the stalls. This one particular stall was selling that with an 8×10 signed by Tom Baker, all for £50. Sounds a lot, but the scarf alone is £50 in most shops, so I was really, really tempted.

As it happens, by the time we got back there they’d sold out of either scarves or 8x10s (or both) so that was my decision made. I will eventually get myself a Tom Baker scarf. I’m not sure whether I’d ever wear it if I wasn’t at a convention, although it’s a cracking Who fan locating device. You can spot them a mile away.

We arrived at the tail-end of the day, feeling the burn on the soles of our feet and ready to watch the BIG ONE. We got ourselves a cab back to the hotel, stopping for provisions (Hula Hoops, Pepsi Max, chicken butty) on the way. On arrival at the hotel, we checked into our respective rooms nice and easy. The others all headed up to Laura and Jenny’s room to prepare for the episode, and I headed back to my room to store my new ‘stuff’, shower and change.

Given the length of this post already I have no intention of including a review of the Day of the Doctor in here as well. That would be ridiculous. I can’t imagine for a second that anyone would have made it THIS far, in all honesty. What I will say is that regardless of the episode itself (which I loved very much for many, many reasons) I couldn’t have chosen a better bunch of geeks to share the viewing experience with.

Right, that was 4000 words. That’s more than enough. Thanks very much for reading this far, you did well.

Latersville.

Wales Comic Con

As I recently blogged, con season is upon me at last, and my long wait was finally ended with a trip to Wrexham’s Glyndwr University to attend the annual Wales Comic Con on Sunday 28th April. This is a long post, but then, so was the day….

This event is notable as being the first proper convention I’ve managed to drag my long suffering wife along to, mainly because a) it wasn’t very far away and b) I think she wanted to get an idea for herself as to what exactly I manage to spend hundreds of pounds on every year. As an added bonus two friends of ours, Tony and Viccy, came along for the ride, as our shared love of Red Dwarf, paired with their interest in Game of Thrones, meant that there was something there for us to really get our teeth into.

In the lead up to the event I’d made a list of the guests I’d wanted to meet. On this occasion my list comprised of the following: –

Warwick Davis (he of Star Wars, Willow, Life’s Too Short and An Idiot Abroad fame, amongst others)
Frazer Hines (Jamie from classic Doctor Who)
Paul Blake (Greedo from Star Wars)
Chris Barrie (Red Dwarf)
Craig Charles (Red Dwarf)
Robert Llewellyn (Red Dwarf)
Hattie Hayridge (Red Dwarf)
Norman Lovett (Red Dwarf), and finally –
Danny John-Jules (Red Dwarf).

On arrival at the venue, around half an hour before opening time, there was still plenty of parking, so my initial fears that we’d be running around trying desperately to find a space were alleviated immediately. We parked up and made the small walk over to the already sizeable queues gathering outside the main hall. After joining the early entry queue we were able to chat for a while and have a gander at the myriad outfits and cosplays on show from the attendees. As usual the queues were packed with Doctors, Stormtroopers, Avengers, and er……Gamers of Thrones (?), and the effort which had gone into each one again blew my mind. Cosplaying is something I’ve always toyed with in my mind but never ended up getting round to it – partly due to laziness and partly due to the fact that I don’t want to be dressed as a character when having a photoshoot with a guest, something I generally end up doing, say 99% of the time.

After a bit of a wait the doors were opened and the four of us entered the main hall. Central to the hall were the stalls, selling the usual canvas prints, jewellery, t-shirts, mugs, action figures etc. As Wales Comic Con is still a relatively young event, there were not a huge amount of stalls to browse through, and after around half an hour or so I think I’d seen pretty much everything at the stalls I’d wanted to see. I’m sure that will improve over the next few years and the vendors will increase in number and variety.

Around the walls of the main hall were the guests, and a great many of them there were – immediately to our right as we entered we spotted Warwick Davis, who already had an impressive queue five minutes in. I wanted to chat to him early doors as I had a feeling he would only get busier as the day went on. He was being assisted at his desk by his lovely family, and it was an honour to (briefly) chat to them as he signed my recently obtained gold ingot Star Wars Saga poster, which will be a long-ongoing project of mine. After signing, and having a brief chat about Life’s Too Short (I’m a fan……!) Warwick happily posed for a photograph with me at his desk, which I’m willing to bet he was doing a great many times throughout the day. Warwick has always been a highly regarded actor through his career but his recent projects certainly seem to have seen his stock rise.

Moving onto my next guest, I went over with Zo to meet Paul Blake, who played Greedo in the original Star Wars. I’ve met Paul once before, briefly, at another event – but as I was relatively new to ‘graphing’ back then, I tended to just approach the guest, quietly ask them to sign something and then thank them before walking away. Nowadays my confidence has grown exponentially and I feel much more comfortable chatting to guests. I don’t tend to talk about their roles or past work, I always end up talking about myself, or my posters etc, but I suppose these guys are so used to being asked the same questions about past roles (“Did Han shoot first or not?”) that they probably enjoy talking about something else. With Paul, we discussed the vast array of poster tubes now strewn around my flat, full of posters which will probably never be framed and on display as I’ll always be looking for new signatures on them. If you’re a Star Wars fan, and you’ve never met Paul, I highly recommend you head over for a quick chinwag. He’s a lovely fella and he clearly enjoys meeting people to talk about these things (or whether Han shot first – which he DID, by the way).

After our chat with Paul, we had a bit of a scoot around the rest of the hall to see where all the other attendees had headed over to. We soon realised that an entire wall (and corner) of the hall was devoted to the Game of Thrones cast and arguably the ‘headline’ guest of the day Billy Boyd (Pippin from Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit), who are extremely popular currently. That end of the hall was essentially a no-go area for me, as although I wasn’t intending to meet those guests, virtually everyone else was……! The queues for Billy Boyd were consistently long, for good reason, and I’m willing to bet that his writing hand was aching by the end of the day. Because of signatures, I mean. Tsk.

I finished up my guest encounters in the main hall by meeting Frazer Hines, who I wanted to sign my other ongoing project, a Doctor Who TARDIS poster – this poster is being reserved for signatures from either actors who have played the Doctor, or ‘legends’ from the history of the show. Frazer played Jamie McCrimmon, a companion to the second Doctor, and this meant his inclusion on the poster was more than warranted. Sadly, I forgot to ask Frazer to sign the poster in silver, which I’d wanted everyone to do, and he ended up signing it in black – a mistake I only noticed when it was too late to stop him. Not the end of the world, though, it’ll look great when it’s finished (if ever) either way. Previously I’d only had Matt Smith sign it, but this will be vastly improved upon at the end of May, when I’m meeting numerous legends and Doctors from the show at another event.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet three of the main cast of Red Dwarf before, in London – sadly Danny John-Jules had been unable to attend that day so my photoshoot with the cast (Lister, Rimmer and Kryten) was only improved due to the presence of a scale model of the eponymous craft joining us in the shot. This time, all six of the main cast were there, and it was a delight to meet each and every one of them. I’d headed over from the main hall over to a separate signing area in the Catrin Finch centre. The six Dwarfers were all situated in there – separating them from the main hall being a great idea due to their obvious popularity. Entering their signing area it was clear that Danny John-Jules (Cat) had the longest queue. This could be down to his rarity at recent events in comparison to his colleagues, but also possibly down to his tendency to wander off for a chat with the rest of the cast while his queue grew……..! It was all taken in good humour though, Robert Llewellyn (Kryten) reminding him to get back to his duties getting him back on track.

I met Robert first. I found him a very affable chap, but I didn’t expect anything less – Aside from Red Dwarf, I have followed much of his work throughout the years, not least his online interview/driving hybrid show ‘Carpool’, in which he collects interesting passengers (celebs and non-celebs) from a chosen location and gives them a lift in his car, into which he has fitted cameras and microphones. During the trip they chat, not exactly in an ‘interview’ format, but through general conversation. The wit exchanged during these conversations, and Robert’s infectious enthusiasm for his guests’ stories help to make the show very watchable indeed. I discussed the show with Robert as he signed my Red Dwarf piece, and he explained that this was something he set up entirely on his own, including the cameras/microphones, and he finds himself making phone call after phone call to arrange each guest. It’s a lot of work, but clearly something he really enjoys doing. He was proud to say that he had over 27 million views of the show on his website, and online was where he was intending to keep it in the future, despite Dave TV picking up the show some time ago. Robert seems to be one of those chaps who tends to have a smile on his face all the time, and it was an absolute pleasure meeting the guy.

I moved on from Robert over to Chris Barrie (Rimmer), a comedian/actor who’s been making me laugh since I was a nipper. I was always a huge fan of Spitting Image as a child, regardless of my total ignorance of the world of politics at the time, and it transpires that Chris was a regular voice on the show. I had also seen him doing some stand up early in his career, on what I believe was a Saturday night comedy show hosted by Ben Elton, the name of which I can’t recall. He’s also very well known for his turn as Gordon Brittas in The Brittas Empire, which, despite being a sitcom almost entirely populated by people I would ordinarily dislike, was hilariously written and acted throughout, certainly for the time. Red Dwarf of course is what Chris is most known for, and I would have to say that Rimmer is one of my favourite television characters of all time. So meeting him was quite a big thing for me, and although it was relatively brief, it was a delight to finally shake his hand. He asked about the image I was having the cast sign – a lovely hi-res image of the Red Dwarf logo on a black 12×16 background which a fellow grapher, Mark, had sourced for me a few weeks earlier. After signing the piece, Chris nicked one of my lovely brand spanking new silver pens (accidentally of course…..) but I can forgive that. Chris comes across as one of the more introvert of the crew of the Dwarf, very humble, and indeed I understand from the aforementioned Mark who spoke to him the day before, that Chris had admitted to him that “the longer this goes on, the more we realise how lucky we are”.

Sitting next to Chris, and surprisingly waiting without a queue at the time, was the lovely Hattie Hayridge (Holly MkII), who barely looks any different to how she did back in the early nineties, with the exception of a touch of cherry red lipstick (and of course, not being a disembodied floating head). Hattie was approachable, smiley and chatty – again, we didn’t head towards the subject of her career, and instead focused more on the subject of the parking at the venue…….as you do….but we had a chuckle for a couple of minutes and this time I remembered to retrieve my pen, which was a bonus.

I spotted Craig Charles (Lister) about to head out for smoke, so I thought I’d quickly leg it across the room to catch him before he disappeared. Luckily I caught him just in time, before almost showering him and his selection of images laid out on the desk with silver ink, as my pen broke in my hand. Craig took the image and signed it quickly, probably to avoid being inked, before zooming off for his fag out the back. I didn’t get a chance to really chat to Craig, which is a shame as I’d liked to have spoken to him about his work on the Funk and Soul Club he runs regularly at Band on the Wall in my hometown of Manchester. Still, Craig isn’t a rarity at these events, so it’s always possible I’ll get another chance in the future to have a proper chat.

Norman Lovett (Holly MkI) has always been one of my favourite cast members – I’ve always been a huge fan of his deadpan delivery of some of the best lines in the show’s history, and again, meeting him was quite an honour for me. I wasn’t able to chat to him for a long time, as it was one of the more brief meetings, in which he signed my image and while he did so I picked out one of his stand up DVDs, to watch upon my return home. Still, Norman is a lovely guy. Unassuming and still incredibly deadpan in real life, you’d think he barely needed to act at all to become Holly.

Finally I joined the still very long queue to meet Danny John-Jules. This was the moment he’d chosen to wander off for a natter before Robert ushered him back to his desk. I have to admit, after his cancellation of a number of previous con appearances, I was concerned that he would be one of the less enthustiastic guests at a signing show. How wrong I was – he was very funny, all smiles, up on his feet the whole time (he explained he didn’t want to sit down to sign as he felt like he was doing a thousand squats a day…..) and more than happy to share a joke and a photo with each of his happy punters. He was another guest to be interested in where I’d sourced the image he was signing. From their reactions I got the impression that they were mainly signing their own photos or copies of DVDs through the day, so being presented with something a little different made the whole thing a little more interesting…..!

After I’d met the whole cast, and in doing so completing a fully autographed piece approximately twenty minutes after starting it, I hurried back to the car to carefully store the finished product. I didn’t fancy carrying round a relatively flimsy piece which I’d just spent close to £100 getting signed. I’m delighted to report I got it home intact, and I’m now on the lookout for a decent frame for it. Ikea, here we come!

Post-lunch came the time for my photoshoot with the Red Dwarf folk – it was still unclear at this time as to whether the whole cast would be joining in for the shoot, but I was not to be disappointed. I had a photo taken with Chris, Robert and Craig last year, and although I’m very proud of it, it was always certainly lacking without Danny. This time all six took part, which was fantastic – and at £25, extremely good value for money! The one gripe I had throughout the day was the fact that something went wrong early doors with the photoshoots, so they ended up delayed by around an hour. This had a knock-on effect on the talks, as it turned out, as the plan was for the guests to head straight over for the Q&A immediately after finishing the shoot. Regardless, the Dwarfers were having a great old time during their shoot, and I enjoyed very much being amongst them.

After the shoot we headed over to the Q&A hall for the Red Dwarf talk. This was a beautiful, comfortable modern theatre, and the almost capacity 1200-strong crowd greeted the cast onstage in a manner very reminiscent of the much bigger San Diego Comic Con crowds I’ve seen (on YouTube only, sadly!). The talk itself, as generally seems to be the norm, was less a ‘talk’ than a series of questions from the audience – although the cast tended to allow the initial answer to develop into a more “In Conversation With….” type of discourse, which was consistently hilarious throughout. My only criticism was that Hattie tended to get drowned out by the rest of the cast, and as such we never really got to hear much from her. Chris was a little quiet at the outset but eventually found himself on an equal footing with the others, which was no mean feat, given Robert, Craig and Danny’s outspoken nature.

Once the talk was over there was little left to do except pick up the photoshoot images from the collection table. Luckily mine came out pretty much immediately and as such I collected it with little trouble – although my long-term gripe with these events is the frankly ridiculous people who surround the photo collection table before they are even put out to collect. They just make the whole thing a million times more difficult and awkward, and they don’t speed anything up for themselves or anyone else. I can only put it down to being new to cons, although even when I was new to these things I had a little more consideration for other people. I guess you just can’t force people to see sense.

That little gripe doesn’t even slightly put a dark mark onto Wales Comic Con 2013 – for a young event it was very well run and an enjoyable experience. As the event progresses in the future all the little issues will be ironed out, the guests will get bigger and better and it’ll be a welcome addition to my regular convention calendar.

And finally, it’s all got me into con season mode at last, and I’m looking forward to the next one in about four weeks’ time. Smashing.

20130430-011512.jpg

Who’s left me feeling Cold….

This post contains spoilers for the recent Doctor Who episode “Cold War”. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, don’t read on.

I may be jumping the gun slightly here, as last week’s episode of Doctor Who took a repeat watch before I realised just how much I enjoyed it, despite the niggling little issues I had with it. Tonight’s episode, Cold War, was one I was looking forward to, due to the high regard in which it’s been held by previewers, however I must admit I wasn’t as satisfied with the finished product as I’d been hoping.

Firstly though, I’ll concentrate on the positives. This episode was the first one in a while which genuinely felt like a ‘classic’ episode of Doctor Who. Aside from the return of an old enemy, the Ice Warriors, the close-quarters nature of the submarine in which the action was set meant that we could enjoy a largely CGI-free 45 minutes. Such is the epic and grand scale of much of current Doctor Who that CGI is used frequently (albeit to wonderful effect). Cold War, conversely, gave us scale models and real sets, showing that hi-tech wizardry isn’t always required to provide the audience with a visual feast. The direction of the episode was outstanding, giving us a real tangible feeling of suspense, especially once the Ice Warrior himself discarded his protective suit and started to hunt the crew, in a style similar to James Cameron’s Alien.

It seems we have seen the Doctor’s first sonic screwdriver with a ‘red’ setting, first hinted at when we saw River Song’s screwdriver in Silence in the Library a few years ago. It seems therefore that we’re heading toward the moment the Doctor gives River that screwdriver, which I’m willing to bet happens in the final episode of this series, or perhaps the 50th Anniversary special. More importantly though, I was chuffed to see Mark Gatiss writing in a situation where the Doctor was separated from his sonic as well as the TARDIS, something I’d been hoping for in a previous blog entry. On this subject, I note that the TARDIS now has a restored Hostile Action Displacement System (H.A.D.S.), which in the classic series was created to remove the TARDIS from dangerous or violent situations. I will return to this shortly.

I enjoyed some of the performances in Cold War, not least David Warner as Professor Grisenko, the resident scientist on the submarine, and Tobias Menzies as Lieutenant Stepashin harked back to the classic days of Who – the turncoat who tries to partner up with the key antagonist of the episode a la Tekker in Timelash. And of course the return of the Ice Warriors provided the costuming department with the unenviable task of creating a new, credible look for the Martians which had the feel of the classic monster without looking hackneyed or out of date. Grand Marshall Skaldak (for that is his name) was realised very well indeed, and casting a 6’7″ actor in Spencer Wilding was an excellent move.

In general however, Cold War didn’t quite hit me like some previous episodes have. It didn’t feel like an episode which was part of a “series” – in that it could have been put in anywhere and didn’t link to anything we’d seen earlier – and the Doctor and Clara being there in the first place just didn’t seem to make any sense. According to the Doctor, they were heading for Las Vegas and clearly totally got the time and destination absolutely wrong, despite the previous episode suggesting that the Doctor had just got the hang of his aim and skill at piloting the TARDIS. What happened to the days of the Doctor checking where they were after he landed before opening the police box doors? I appreciate that Neil Gaiman established in The Doctor’s Wife that the TARDIS regularly goes where the Doctor NEEDS to go rather than where he WANTS to go, but I still feel that their presence on a Russian submarine in 1983 was a little contrived.

The opening sequence too puzzled me. The Ice Warrior was sealed in thick ice from the outset. We hear from one of the crew guarding the creature that Professor Grisenko wanted to wait to return to his laboratory before releasing the beast from its icy prison, however that same crew member decides (for no apparent reason except for mere curiosity) to blatantly disobey orders and takes a blowtorch to the frozen block, allowing Skaldak his escape.

Shortly after the Doctor and Clara arrive, and are captured by the Russians (and for some reason not immediately shot) the H.A.D.S. kicks in and removes the TARDIS from trouble. I very much hope that the Doctor disables this device as soon as he returns to his craft, as this is a far too simple way for future writers to remove the TARDIS from the Doctor’s reach. We have seen a good example of how this can be done effectively in The Almost People/The Rebel Flesh, where we see the ship sucked into the ground early in the first episode, only to be rediscovered at the end of the second. Simple, but effective, and an excellent way to make things more difficult for the Doctor and his companions.

Something about Clara bugged me throughout Cold War. Assuming this episode is set after The Rings of Akhaten, we know that Clara has already been uploaded into a Wi-fi cloud and directly battled a sun-sized parasitic creature in space. I would have thought then that she would now be on the way to fully-fledged ‘companion’, especially given that they were supposed to be on their way to a jolly in Las Vegas. I sensed much more doubt in her this week, which surprised me, as she certainly didn’t seem full of self-doubt last week as she flung herself across space on a moped to save the universe from a planet-scoffing alien sun, armed with just a leaf.

I found the majority of this episode mostly forgettable, sadly. I never really believed that we were on a Russian submarine – surely an accent of some sort from the cast might have helped there – but for me Cold War was a little….dare I say it….dull. The middle 30 minutes tended to just trudge along, with a few stops for conversation, in which we learned precious little about the characters, culminating in the final showdown in which the Doctor threatens to destroy the sub rather than allow Skaldak to fire the nuclear missiles on board. The trouble with this scene was that I just didn’t believe that the Doctor would have carried out his threat, and as such it seemed far too obvious that in the end, Skaldak wouldn’t press the button. For the second week in a row, Clara stepped in to defeat the enemy where the Doctor failed, with a callback to an earlier throwaway conversation with the Martian about his daughter. It was during this scene we were shown Skaldak’s face without his helmet, which, compared to some of the special effects we’ve seen in recent years, was terribly unconvincing.

I felt that we’d seen the basic premise of this episode before. The lonely monster, the last of its kind, captured on Earth – all factors explored in the Eccleston episode “Dalek”. It’s a clever way to reintroduce a species we haven’t seen in the Whoniverse for around 40 years, granted, but it was all a little bit of a rehash. It worked in “Dalek”, as there was an obvious comparison between said Dalek and that incarnation of the Doctor, who was also the last of his kind due to his recent actions in the unseen Time War. It didn’t have the same impact here.

The ending of the episode was all a little ‘E.T. Phone Home’, featuring the inevitable return of the rest of Skaldak’s species who came to pick him up in their pretty cheaply rendered CGI spaceship. At this point we learn that the TARDIS has relocated itself at the South Pole, and not the North Pole, where the episode is set. Most amusing indeed, but it all felt a little sitcom-y. I can only guess that the Doctor has an override system built into his sonic screwdriver, because I’m not sure that he or Clara would get very far travelling on foot, given that Clara is only wearing a wet evening dress and the Doctor’s jacket doesn’t look like it will keep much of the cold out.

I have a feeling that Cold War will be one of those episodes which will be popular with a great many people, as the things it does well, it does very well. And I’m sure we’ll see Skaldak and the rest of the Ice Warriors in the future, and I must state that I’m not against this generally. It is refreshing to encounter a Doctor Who monster who actually can be reasoned with, unlike the Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels et al. But the episode itself, I feel is somewhat of a let down after the building up of the return of the Ice Warriors.