Doctor Who Celebration:
Twenty Years of Cheated Memories
By Alan Stevens
Celestial Toyroom Issue 423/424
In 1983 I was
seventeen years old, and an avid Doctor
Who fan, so when I heard about the 20th Anniversary celebration
due to take place at Longleat House on 3rd and 4th April, I immediately
sent off seven pounds for my two day ticket.
Strangely, although my mum and dad were willing to take me to the event, they didn't want tickets themselves.
"I really think you should, you know. There's going to be lots of things going on there."
"But we're not interested in Doctor Who," replied my mother, "It may interest you, but it's not going to interest us."
"So, what are you going to do all day instead?"
"Oh, we'll think of something."
And that's how my Mum and Dad came to spend twenty-two hours sitting in their car, parked in a muddy field. I, however, armed with a Philips tape recorder and microphone, was free to roam the estate at will.
My first destination was the large marquee where they were to stage the opening ceremony. I managed to position myself on the floor right in front of a speaker, so I could get a good recording. First on was The Marquess of Bath, who welcomed everyone to the event. "My wife and I watched the first episode," he told the crowd, "I don't know how long ago that was now... but it featured cavemen."
Next up was Peter Davison, who as well as wearing full costume, also appeared to be in character, as on seeing the audience he looked terrified and started sweating profusely.
"Er... as you see, I've brought the weather from Gallifrey!"
The audience laughed politely.
"Um... we Gallifreyans are not awfully good at speaking... at public speaking..." Davison left the stage and was replaced by Jon Pertwee, who emerged from the TARDIS prop sporting a cloak and a lime green frilly shirt.
"Where's Worzel Gummidge?" someone shouted.
"We do not talk of scruffy scarecrows in the same breath as the good Doctor," replied Pertwee with aplomb. "I have reversed the polarity of the neutron flow and so I'm here today to welcome so many of you... I'm here for two days so I'm not going to take up much of your time now..."
Suddenly John Nathan Turner, wearing a bright red jacket and dark glasses, appeared from the sidelines and whispered something.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Whisper, whisper, whisper."
"What, just like that? Without you doing anything?
"You're a lazy bugger, aren't you? He says it's a question and answer session. Where's Davison?"
This got a huge laugh from the audience.
Following the interview, which included various permutations on "What's your favourite/least favourite story?" and "Can you recall any embarrassing moments?" a large shaven headed gorilla, wearing a green bomber jacket, made its way through the crowd towards me.
"'Ere," said the uncultured ruffian, "Were you recording that?"
"Yes," I replied, standing my ground.
He held out a piece of paper. "Send me a copy."
"Sure," I replied, and hastily left.
Outside I read the note. "Ian Levine," it said. "C/O The Doctor Who Production Office."
I threw it in the nearest bin.
The next thing to attract my attention was a cloud of black smoke billowing from a tent labelled BBC Visual Effects. I ventured inside and found a man wafting a newspaper back and forth over an exploded Dalek with exposed Kaled mutant.
"There's a smoke machine built into the Dalek, and some idiot turned it on."
"What did he look like?" I enquired helpfully.
"He was wearing a Panama hat, pince nez, cricket pads, and a twenty foot long scarf."
I surveyed the milling throng. "Could be anyone."
Walking around the rest of the exhibits, I was struck by how empty it all seemed. There were various plaques saying, "Cybergun," "Chumbly" and "Quark," but said items were missing. I approached the guy with the newspaper again, and asked him where all the props had gone.
"Oh, my God," he screamed, "Some bastard's nicked the lot!"
Upon entering the Merchandise tent, I found the famous Target Book cover artist Andrew Skilleter selling some new Doctor Who prints. I bought two, one of some "Earthshock" Cybermen, the other featuring Omega from "The Arc of Infinity." Next I crossed over to the BBC Enterprises table and was promptly given a form to fill out concerning which Doctor Who title I'd like to see released on video. Apparently hundreds of people had written down "Revenge of the Cybermen," because they had liked "Earthshock." I decided to screw with everyone's head and wrote down "The Daleks' Master Plan." I then went on to buy a Commemorative Programme for fifty pence, and some postcards featuring Patrick Troughton, Nick Courtney, Tom Baker and Sarah Sutton, who was dressed in her underwear.
Moving on, I passed another table behind which stood a man I recognised. I had seen him in a photograph that had appeared on page fifty-five of Doctor Who: The Making of a Television Series. His name was David Saunders and his picture had been captioned "Superfan."
"Hello there!" said David, "Would you like to join The Doctor Who Appreciation Society?"
"No," I replied. I'd heard all about this dubious organisation from my chum Keith and had been put right off.
My next port of call was the marquee that housed various Doctor Who studio sets. Somehow I had to get around the huge queue.
"That's a nice costume," I lied to someone dressed as the second Doctor, who just so happened at be standing at the head of the line.
"Oh, thanks. My gran knitted it for me. There's a zip in the back where I climb in."
Suddenly a soldier wearing a UNIT badge came up and asked to see our tickets.
"Okay," he said, "You can go in now."
What a stroke of luck!
Inside, there were various sets from the then as yet unseen adventure "The Five Doctors" as well as a TARDIS control room. One fan, dressed as Peter Davison, thought it would be a jolly jape to ignore the rope barrier and pose next to the TARDIS console, and indeed a lot of people did take photographs as he was tackled to the floor and beaten to a pulp by the squaddies.
According to the public address system, the Doctor Who Cinema tent was about to show "The Dalek Invasion of Earth," but when I got there the programme had already started, and they weren't going to let anyone else in. I put my ear to the canvas wall to see if I could pick up any dialogue.
"Oi, what are you up to?"
I turned, expecting a military psychopath looking for a fight. Instead, I found Keith Jones. He was wearing a Panama hat, pince nez, cricket pads, a twenty foot long scarf and over his shoulder was slung a Cybergun.
"Hi Keith, fancy meeting you here."
Keith began to stroke his lapels, "Not Keith, Doctor."
"Did you drive down?"
"I came by Tardis." Keith called his car the TARDIS. He also owned two cats, one he had named Aggedor, the other Sutekh the Destroyer, because it scratched the wallpaper.
"Where did you get the Cybergun?"
"Auction tent. It was sold to me by my third incarnation."
"How long have you been here?"
"At this present moment of the time band, about three hours."
"Don't you feel hot wearing all that clobber?"
"I have an internal body temperature of sixty degrees Fahrenheit."
"Where are you going to go now?"
"To meet up with some of my past companions. They are waiting for me in the Orangery."
And off he went. I followed him at a discreet distance, watched as he joined the beginning of a queue that stretched for two hectares and left him to it.
Later I saw Keith being carried away on a stretcher by the Saint John Ambulance, apparently having collapsed from heat exhaustion.
As for me, the rest of the day was spent failing to get into any more marquees. That evening I made my way back to my parents' car.
"How did you get on?" asked my father.
"Not bad, but the crowds are enormous."
"We could see them from here," said my mother, "There were whole families standing in line for hours. Peter Davison came right up the queue shaking hands with everybody. What a nice man."
4th April was a Bank Holiday, so we set out extra early to avoid the traffic. We drove into Longleat at the crack of dawn, which meant I was able to wander around the event before it had even opened. One guy thought I was a member of the set-up crew and asked me to help carry a piece of black painted hardboard into the Doctor Who Exhibition. I also paid another visit to the Visual Effects tent. It was completely empty, except for the exploded Dalek, this time minus its green Kaled mutant, which had been torn apart by various souvenir hunters desperate to get their hands on a piece of television history.
Generally, however, I kept a low profile until the event officially opened, after which I went to the Doctor Who Cinema tent and made sure I was first in line for "Terror of the Autons." I found a seat right next to the speaker, took out my microphone and taped the entire production.
I was surprised at how incredibly violent this adventure was, especially in comparison to the rather feeble fight scenes we'd recently got in stories like "Terminus" and "The King's Demons." The Third Doctor, although charming, was also far more aggressive and arrogant than his Target book persona. In fact, the man up on screen was exactly like the man I'd seen the day before taking the piss out of John Nathan-Turner. What an amazing discovery.
My next destination was the Auction tent. Crowds were starting to form again, but after an hour's wait I eventually gained access, working my way to the front, where I found Jon Pertwee taking bids for various bits of BBC tat.
"What's this from?" asked Pertwee, waving a meat cleaver at Ian Levine.
"The Talons of Weng-Chiang"
"That's not one of mine, is it?"
"No, it's a Tom Baker story."
Pertwee spat on the floor, and picked up a Cyberman head instead. I stuck up my hand. "Twenty pounds," I said.
"Thank you, sir. Twenty pounds I'm bid. Can anyone improve on twenty? Oh, fifty from the back. And you sir, how much? One hundred pounds. Do I hear one hundred and twenty five? Yes, to you sir. Do I hear one hundred and fifty? One hundred and fifty I am bid...."
The head finally went for two hundred and fifty pounds. That's the equivalent of seven hundred and thirty pounds in 2013. I made my way over to the rich bastard who'd bought it. The head was very battered and the handlebar ears were missing, but, as an original prop from "The Moonbase" and "The Tomb of the Cybermen," it was probably worth every penny.
I was finding the auction a bit depressing, so I joined a queue and got access to the Doctor Who Forum tent. The guest panel consisted of Elizabeth Sladen, John Leeson and Carol Ann Ford. The usual array of idiot questions were asked, including, "Why don't we see Caroline on the TV any more?" Prompting Carol Ann to reply, "Do you mean Caroline John? I don't know. You'll have to ask her."
The panel highlight came when John Leeson informed the audience that K9's first story was called "The Invisible Enema," causing Sladen to quip that John was "like a dose of salts."
Forty-five minutes later the panel was over, and it was back to the endless queues, but then I saw him, making his way to the back of the Forum tent, surrounded by a huge crowd of autograph hunters. It was Tom Baker. I homed in, clutching my Fourth Doctor post card. A bunch of squaddies, no doubt intent on getting Baker to his forum panel, punched, kicked and generally fought their way to him. I followed behind in close formation.
"Please sign this, Mr Baker."
And Mr Baker did. In blue Biro he wrote, "Tom Baker" and then disappeared into the tent. I never made it inside, but stuck my microphone through a gap in the canvas and recorded both his panels.
Baker was witty and sharp.
"Why did you leave the programme?"
"I was pushed... by Anthony Ainley."
"Why did you put so much comedy into Doctor Who?"
"Comedy? I can't even spell comedy!"
The day was almost over, but as I was making my way back to the muddy field where my lift was waiting, I saw a group of costumed fans standing at the entrance to Longleat House.
"A lot of the guests are leaving through this door."
"Who have I missed?"
"Heather Hartnell, Nick Courtney and Richard Franklin. But Jon Pertwee is still in there!"
I quickly dashed off.
"Where are you going?"
"To fetch something."
Rushing across the field to my parents' car, I pulled open the back door and fished out a piece of art-board on which I had cut out and stuck a photocopy of Chris Achilleos' book cover artwork for "The Three Doctors," taken from The Doctor Who Monster Book. I had coloured it in with green, yellow and orange crayons and had, if I do say so myself, made a pretty good job of it.
"Are you ready to go yet?"
"Almost," and I was again off like a shot.
Arriving back at the entrance, I was told I had missed Valentine Dyall.
"Oh, well. I'm sure I'll get to meet him at some future event."
I never did.
Suddenly Pertwee appeared, and the fans gathered around.
"I'm running late. I haven't time to sign anything."
"Won't you please sign this, sir?" I asked, waving my giant "Three Doctors" picture at him.
"Oh, give it here!" he said, and wrote, "Jon Pertwee. Dr Who No. 3."
A few minutes later, as I trudged back across the field, who should I find but Keith Jones, strapping a twenty foot long orange fibreglass Zygon to his roof-rack.
"What's that?" I enquired, pointing to a brown furry mass sticking out of his top pocket.
"Anthony Ainley's toupee."
"No," he replied, "Washroom."