Forbidden to Dump Bodies in the River:
Event review: DWAS convention/Day of Armageddon screening
By Fiona Moore and Alan Stevens
Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 317
On Saturday, 26th June, the Day of Armageddon took place. Well, actually, it was the combined TIME2 event and "Day of Armageddon" screening, but that doesn't sound quite so exciting! What follows is a brief record of our impressions of the day. The event as a whole was generally very enjoyable. There was an entertaining and interesting mix of guests, with Bernard Kay's ever-so-slightly scandalous interview being a particular highlight, and Scott Fredericks, Gabriel Woolf and Sylvester McCoy being, as ever, interesting speakers. Dalek operator and Imperial trooper Cy Town also turned up at the last minute, to sign autographs and chat informally with attendees, and Nicholas Courtney provided a typically charming introduction to the "Day of Armageddon" screening. It's also a nice development that, with the new series coming ever closer, we're now once again seeing guests and panels relating to the future rather than the past of the programme: in this case, we had writer Rob Shearman and Jason Kay of BBC Licensing (the latter of whom gave some interesting insights into the legal hurdles involved in producing DVDs).
The event's location was also one of its highlights. As well as the Riverside Studios (to say nothing of the Hammersmith area in general) having strong connections to early Doctor Who and being a source of pleasant memories for most if not all of the guests, there was good and plentiful food and drink available from the café-bar, with cheaper establishments within a stone's throw of the place if one preferred. As a result, quite a few of the guests and attendees hung around afterwards for a relaxing post-event drink, rather than racing off in twos and threes in search of pubs and eateries. The Riverside Studios thus definitely gets our vote as a future event venue!
The most exciting part of the day for us, however, was the screening of the recently-rediscovered second episode of The Daleks' Master Plan, "Day of Armageddon". This was truly fantastic, even if slightly marred by the fact that the picture was too big for the screen and bled out onto the carpet. The experience brought home very much the fact that one of the drawbacks of experiencing lost stories through audio and/or telesnaps, while certainly better than nothing (and possibly, in the case of stories with poorer production values, something of an improvement on the original) means that the subtleties of a cleverly-done story such as "Master Plan" are lost. On audio, the details of the wonderful performances of Kevin Stoney and William Hartnell are obscured, reducing the layers of meaning and motivation in their characters' actions: the audio commentary, for instance, gives the impression that Mavic Chen and Zephon are unaware that they are overheard in their conversation, whereas it is quite plain that Stoney is playing the role such that Chen knows very well that they are being observed, and, consequently, is goading Zephon into saying more and more arrogant and self-aggrandizing things, such that the Daleks will regard Zephon as a potential traitor, and leading to his execution the following episode. Hartnell, for his part, turns in a wonderful performance as a man desperately trying to keep one step ahead of his foes; it is interesting that many of the best Doctor Who stories (e.g. "The Caves of Androzani," "Kinda," "Image of the Fendahl") are those in which the Doctor and his allies are very much on the back foot, and struggling to overcome the challenges which face them.
The newly-discovered visuals also reveal that much effort has gone into creating a believably alienesque future world. Chen, for instance, is the only delegate who applauds to show pleasure, and the delegates all make strange gestures of greeting when they meet each other. The scene in which Chen is seen writing in a peculiar, spiral way is much more eerily effective than the audio commentary's reference to Chen "going over transcripts," and the video also reveals details like Trantis' amazing-looking teeth. The Daleks are revealed to have a range of eyestalk movements, which serve to make them sinister and alien, such as when a Dalek glides past Chen on a walkway, and keeps looking at him.
The video also shatters the myth that SF inherently dates more rapidly than any other genre. The design of the episode comes across as beautifully retro rather than hokey or silly (it must be said that Celation's Supermarionation walking raised a laugh from the audience, but it came across on the whole less as something cheap or outdated than as the actor/director trying to be a bit arty and failing). Although the scene where Zephon, unable to free himself from his bonds, hops into the room, also got a laugh from the audience, one suspects that this was intentional. Zephon himself is nicely weird-looking, kind of like, if one can picture such a thing, a sinister lettuce. Part of the reason why the story still feels fresh is down to Camfield's inspired direction, which acts to conceal the small size of the sets and their other physical limitations through using a lot of close shots of the actors (in contrast to other stories of the period, such as "The Ark" and "The Celestial Toymaker", which have been shot at wider angles and have a much less dramatic feel to them. It also, however, must be said that the plot is one which doesn't date at all: now, as then (and as for most if not all of Western civilisation), we have power-hungry politicians with overweening ambitions, willing to sell out their own people to achieve their ends. It's also telling that a non-Doctor Who fan who we persuaded to attend the screening emerged with a very positive reaction, comparing it favourably to Babylon 5. The screening thus scotched a second long-standing myth: that 1960s Doctor Who appeals only to hard-core fans, and can't be successfully sold to the general public!
All in all, the Hammersmith event made us really hope that more 1960s Doctor Who is rediscovered very soon. Perhaps, however, it is the rarity of such discoveries that makes events like this one that much more special.