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Galaxy Con

A Report on the first Scottish Doctor Who convention

By Alistair Hughes

Galaxy Con was a two day Doctor Who convention held 26-27 May 1990, probably the two hottest and sunniest days that Glasgow will see this year.

Before I gush with my usual superlatives I'd have to say, that in all honesty, the convention was not especially well organised. When I first contacted the organiser in early April, I was told that the guests would include the ever-popular Nicola Bryant, the ever-courageous JNT and Doctor Solon himself, Philip Madoc. (I was surprised to hear that an actor as established and prolific as Mr Madoc was interested in a Doctor Who convention but apparently he'd been waiting to be asked for years!)

As it happened, various other commitments prevented these people from appearing. That's fine - everyone knows that these things happen, but I felt that it would have been good to announce the change at the beginning of the convention. Most attendees were left to ascertain for themselves from various rumours, which publicized guests would be there or not. Having said this, the guests who did appear gave no-one any cause to complain. And Who did appear? Well, yes he did, and others (including one particularly distinguished actor whose presence, as far as I'm concerned, made this convention the first of its kind anywhere).

First - just one small moan - any itinerary would have been nice. The friendly informality of the convention was one of the best aspects, but when the presenters didn't seem to know what was happening next, the novelty wore thin. There must have been an awful lot of fans in the audience, sitting with their legs crossed, afraid to leave the auditorium to relieve their bladders in case they missed anything important, having no way of knowing when things were supposed to be happening. On the other hand, perhaps this complaint is just sour grapes from me, because my artwork was supposed to be on the front cover of the itinerary, but there wasn't one.

This aside, it was a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable two days. The infamous Nick Briggs of Mythmakers fame held everything together (as much as possible), keeping the audience and guests thoroughly entertained. His interview skills were also put to good use.

No one could dispute that another Nick, also present, more than deserves all the acclaim his portrayal of the Brigadier has drawn. But I found that Nicholas Courtney's caring and dedicated attitude towards fans is surely as great a reason to salute him (pun intended) as a main factor in the popularity of Doctor Who. He endured not just one but two grueling autograph sessions, smiling and finding time to speak to everyone. Going beyond the call of duty, he then spent a further hour posing for photos with fans, smile never wavering. Nick's `panel' was a perfect blend of earnestness and humour, and he gained many rounds of applause for his replies to questions. Especially, when a member of the audience asked him how he felt about the Brigadier's job being taken over by a woman.

"She's a Brigadier," he conceded, "but not the Brigadier." It was clear that he cares very much about the character and the program, when he revealed he turned down a West End play to do Battlefield, explaining that 'he knows where his loyalties lie'.

The following day we were treated to the company of another charming man - the surprise 'special guest' of the convention. A screening of The Crusade was another good hint to his identity, before Julian Glover took the stage. The audience warmed to him immediately when, asked why he had been interested in appearing in such a `small programme' as Doctor Who, he gestured to the 150 plus fans in the auditorium and said: "But obviously, it's not just a 'small' programme."

Throughout his panel, clips from For Your Eyes Only, The Empire Strikes Back and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were shown, highlighting his spectacular career. At other conventions, I suspect that some guests might be guarded in their replies to questions, perhaps only giving answers that will please fans. Julian Glover was having none of this and cautioned that he would only give perfectly straightforward answers. Offering his personal opinions on the two Doctors he had worked with (apparently Tom Baker and Lalla Ward thought that they were the "intellectual powers of the BBC, if not Europe") and the current state of the programme (apart from Sylvester's performance "it's gone down the sink"), Julian's honesty (and considering the environment in which he raised his views - courage) could only be admired, and fortunately it was. It was gratifying to see the audience ask as many questions about other parts of his career, although Julian's memories of his Doctor Who stories were very clear. Would he return? Yes - but it would have to be a very good part.

The person everyone had been waiting for was "Percy James Patrick Kent Smith from Dunoon" - or at least that's how Sylvester McCoy introduced himself as he stepped from the TARDIS. Every other guest appearing had shared the stage with a professional interviewer, or at least a very clued-up fan to outline their careers, get them talking and invite questions from the audience, single-handedly sending us into fits of laughter with an unending stream of hilarious and totally irreverent replies to questions. Although immensely entertaining (it's obvious why he's been called the human bomb) it was clear that no-one was going to get any serious answers about Doctor Who.

Fan: "Sylvester, what kind of fans annoy you?"
Sylvester: "... Um, the kind that make whirring sounds when they go 'round and keep you awake at night."

This changed slightly when Nicholas Courtney crept up behind Sylvester and joined him on stage, and finally Julian Glover joined them both and the perfect balance was struck. Sylvester on one side being maniacally anti-serious, Nick in the middle with his 'informative humour' and then Julian on the other side with his more dignified approach. My feeling is that you'd have to go to a great many conventions to find a panel as entertaining as this one. The three actors seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as their audience, and questions directed towards them resulted in three very different, but equally interesting viewpoints. My question of how they personally felt about science fiction provoked some interesting viewpoints. Julian was in the process of reeling off the names of his favorite fantasy films while Sylvester was hopefully suggesting a certain BBC programme.

Julian: "Oh, there's 2001, that was well done..."
Sylvester (stage whisper): "Doctor Who...?"
Julian: "And, um, Star Wars, of course..."
Sylvester: "Doctor Who"
Julian: "And there was..."

Sylvester later proceeded to impersonate Jon Pertwee, Nick impersonated Sylvester, while Julian did a creditable Roger Moore voice (they had competed for the role of James Bond). Advice to budding young actors was even offered before the panel finally ended (reluctantly) and another marathon autograph session began. I took the opportunity to tell Sylvester he had been voted NZ's most popular Doctor (in the Who View poll, anyway). "That's funny," he replied, "I think I was voted the most popular one here too - maybe it's just the BBC who don't like me."

A very memorable photo session took place as the six-foot something Julian Glover, immaculately dressed in elegant grey suit and silk tie, posed with a five-foot-six Sylvester McCoy, unshaven and scruffily dressed in a grey jacket and faded blue jeans - outside the TARDIS.

Other guests included Fiona Cumming (Planet of Fire Part One was shown as an example of her directorial skills) and Russell Hunter (Commander Uvanov in The Robots of Death) and Ian Fraser (Production Manager on The Curse of Fenric) were also there, as were panels featuring the Mythmakers production team (and a screening of their hilarious James Bond spoof Licence to Myth), Doctor Who Magazine, The Frame and In-Vision.

Mark Ayres and Dominic Glynn were present to speak about composing incidental music for Doctor Who. Dominic's presentation was particularly interesting, focusing on the last 10 minutes of Survival Part Two. One version was shown, time-coded and without incidental music or sound effects, and then the final version as transmitted with Dominic's soundtrack added. Believe it or not, Anthony Ainley's notorious 'howl-scene' is even more embarrassing before the sound of a wolf is dubbed over his own attempt.

The auction was held across both days and made an interesting contrast to last year's Trakon auction. Whereas our New Zealand one tended to concentrate on merchandise not readily available, Scotland didn't have this problem and so the items auctioned were usually original scripts (all six episodes of Shada, Vengeance on Varos and copies of The Tenth Planet featured) and original artwork (by Alistair Pearson and Colin Howard). The wit of Nick Briggs came to the fore when he auctioned original music from Time and the Rani by "Keff McDrum Machine" - beginning the bidding at 50p. My unused artwork went for a surprisingly good amount - having your own work auctioned must be one of the most nerve-wracking experiences possible - but it was good to know that all proceeds were going towards cot-death research.

And so over 150 Scottish (plus one NZ) Doctor Who fans left the Eastwood Recreation Center on Sunday evening excited and satisfied with having come into much closer contact with the world of Doctor Who than before possible. Still no news of the future of Doctor Who as a television or film production, but evidently the Doctor is very much alive in the person of the actors playing him, in the minds of the artists and technicians who have realized him, and - most importantly - in the hearts of the fans who believe in him.

And next year, promise the organisers - Galaxy Con II!

This item appeared in TSV Special #1 (December 1990).