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Space Mountain III 'The Final Fling'

The Princes Theatre, Clacton on Sea, 23-24 October 1993

Event report by Graham Howard

Space Mountain was to be my first and only British Doctor Who convention. I actually knew very little about what was to take place at the convention beforehand. I had no idea what guests had confirmed attendance or what activities were planned. Nevertheless my expectations were quite high as the train pulled into Clacton on Sea early on Saturday afternoon, and fortunately I was not to be disappointed.

My first task was to find the Princes Theatre, register, and then find Jon (unlike me, he actually knew people who were attending), who had left London for the convention on Friday. Although the con opened on Friday, because it was my last weekend in Britain I decided to have a 'night on the town' in London on Friday (hence my later than intended arrival on Saturday - but that's another story...), and travel to Clacton on Saturday morning, as the fact that attendance on Friday was free implied that I would not miss too much.

The Princes Theatre was just across the road from the station, so finding the convention didn't pose any problems. This was a comparatively small event of (I would guess) around 100 or so people. Thinking the bar might be the easiest place to start looking for Jon, I was not too surprised to see him sitting at a table with Gary Russell and Paul Cornell, who were chatting with two men whose contribution to Who has been immense, Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks, who were having lunch. As I wandered over to the table, past Jack and Debbie Watling (Professor Travers and Victoria), I wondered if my decision to stay out quite so late on Friday had been wise after all (I was subsequently rather relieved to learn they had all just recently arrived!) Listening to Messrs Letts and Dicks talking, it was clear their forthcoming panel would be one of the convention's highlights. Not very long after having sat down, we somewhat reluctantly moved into the main hall where Debbie Watling and her father had just begun their panel.

The Watlings provided numerous anecdotes from their time on Doctor Who as well as commenting on many of the other stage, film and television roles they had. Debbie expressed particular regret that so many of her Who episodes were destroyed by the BBC. She also gave a glowing tribute to Alan Disdale, co-organiser of previous Space Mountains, who had recently died, and dedicated the convention to his memory.

Next up were Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks. They both provided some fascinating insights into their time with the show, but also discussed many other topics. For example they described the inner workings of the BBC - how things get done / don't get done, happen / don't happen. They also offered their quite candid views on 1980s Who, specifically where it went wrong - views, I would add, which to me seemed to make a lot of sense. Regarding the 'cancellation' of 1985 Terrance remarked that it was ludicrous for BBC bosses (specifically Jonathan Powell) to tell the production team that production was being postponed for 18 months, without telling them what was required of them to improve the show, or (apart from vague comments about 'too much violence') what they were doing wrong in the first place. In Terrance's view the problems caused by this lack of direction were compounded by the fact that instead of getting some new blood into the production team, the existing production team was left intact - Doctor Who therefore came back in the 23rd season worse than before the cancellation. Terrance said that his new New Adventures novel was 'progressing'. Over lunch he had indicated to Gary Russell that he would be very pleased to write a Prelude for DWM. Barry Letts described how The Paradise of Death had come about. Barry noted that he was presently writing the novelisation of the play. Of particular interest, he indicated that he had just (gruesomely) killed off a character who survives in the play... He also mentioned that had it not been for the demise of Radio 4 (on which the play was broadcast) in its present guise, work on another Who radio play would have already begun. A conspiracy theorist in the audience jokingly (?) pointed out that Radio 4's fate was probably a direct result of it having played Doctor Who! Barry noted that it was expected The Paradise of Death would be repeated on Radio 2 around Christmas. Any further radio plays would probably now be played on this station. Because of the excellent sales of The Paradise of Death audio another radio play is very likely.

An attendee asked whether Barry and Terrance were familiar with Red Dwarf (the sixth series had started on BBC2). Barry said he had seen a recent episode and that his initial reaction had been: 'if the BBC can do this, why can't they do Doctor Who?' Terrance and Barry noted, however, that to be fair there were a number of differentiating factors between the two programmes which would make any new Who a more costly and difficult programme to make than Red Dwarf. Terrance believed there were two main reasons why a new series of Who had yet to appear: low ratings and cost. Because any new series, to be a credible offering, would need to look somewhere near as good as say Star Trek: The Next Generation a much larger budget would be needed. The fact that season 26's ratings were so poor makes it difficult to justify such expense, especially as there is no guarantee the series would be any more successful. Terrance added that a further significant reason why Who had not returned is because, (at least until Alan Yentob) there has not been anyone willing to push for the show at senior BBC management level. Of note, both Barry and Terrance expressed an interest in 'having another go' at television Who...

Adrian Rigelsford, author of The Dark Dimension was the next speaker. Apparently Graeme Harper, who was to have directed The Dark Dimension, was also to have been present but unfortunately could not, due to filming commitments. Adrian's talk was also extremely interesting and illuminating. He was clearly very disappointed that The Dark Dimension had been cancelled. Although the cynic might say it is easy to say how great it would have been now that it is not being produced, the tit-bits of information revealed by Adrian indicates to me that it could really have been fantastic. The Dark Dimension was to have been essentially a 96-minute feature film. Adrian noted that Graeme Harper believed the script was excellent and that he viewed the project as his opportunity to make a film akin to Blade Runner. He noted that Tom Baker also thought the script to be excellent. Interestingly, according to Adrian, the script first came about because Tom Baker had approached the BBC and had told them he would like to play the Doctor again. The script had been written with this in mind. Although Tom Baker had by far the largest role, the other Doctors would have had (from memory I think) around twelve or so minutes each plus scenes at the end where they would appear together. Their appearances were therefore to be much more than mere cameos, and had been written with the definite intention of letting the actors showcase their Doctors. The later scheduling of the The Dark Dimension had allowed a far more 'adult' approach to be taken than had ever been possible with the TV series - Adrian tantalizingly noted this was especially so for the climax...

Daleks, Cybermen and Ice Warriors were to have been present, but as per the instructions Adrian had been given these were 'Daleks, Cybermen and Ice Warriors without being Daleks, Cybermen and Ice Warriors!'

If The Dark Dimension does not yet go ahead, apparently Peter Darvill-Evans does not wish to release a novelisation of the script, though Titan are very keen to release it as one of their script books.

Adrian indicated there may yet be some hope the project will be salvaged. However he said it was probable only Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy's Doctors would appear. He noted that all surviving Doctors had been 'lined up' for The Dark Dimension prior to its cancellation. Adrian also noted that a lot of pre-production work had been done, that set, costume and monster designs, were well advanced or completed (Jon and I caught a quick glimpse of the new Cyber designs - wow!). The new title sequence had been done. In other words a fair amount of time money, effort and enthusiasm had been expended on the project prior to the plug being pulled. According to Adrian if the ratings for The Dark Dimension had been good it would have led to a new series. However, he noted that should the project still go ahead, in the wake of the cancellation fiasco, ratings performance would not be quite so important, because less would be expected of the story. Ironically, therefore a new series would be even more likely to follow. Nevertheless Adrian's talk really did make you regret the behind the scenes machinations at the BBC which killed The Dark Dimension!

The final event before the dinner break was described as the 'Great Video Giveaway'. What this meant was that the first person in the audience who bid for a set of videos, as the price called out by one of the con organisers dropped lower, bought the videos at that price. The videos had belonged to Alan Disdale and comprised a multitude of videos from a very wide range of television programmes.

The main event of the evening was 'The Third Space Mountain Challenge', whereby through a series of tests both mental and physical (e.g. miming a Hartnell episode title in charades fashion while eating a bigger and drier British equivalent of a Weetbix), attendees were eliminated so that one person (the winner) was left. Jon and I actually managed to make it to the final stages, though I think it fair to say that for some of the activities at least, luck played more of a part in determining the outcome than skill. But it was all good fun and obviously not supposed to be taken too seriously. In fact this part of the evening was a bit reminiscent of the atmosphere of Doctorcon II.

The next day Paul Cornell gave a talk about his interest in Who and how this led him to write New Adventures (As Paul is now a member of the NZDWFC he can correct me if I horribly misquote some of the comments made!). Paul indicated a preference for writing New Adventures over the new Past Lives (later renamed The Missing Adventures). He expressed some reservation that the requirement that each Past Lives story must occur between two televised ones could inhibit character development, because you must always leave your characters as you found them. Nevertheless he said he would be writing a Past Lives adventure. Paul also feared New Adventure sales could be hurt when the Past Lives series began, especially when considering the number of titles which are planned to be released over a twelve month period. Paul seemed genuinely interested in what people liked and disliked about his books and the New Adventures in general (he managed to elicit a few 'dislikes' from the audience) and said he does take into account fan views when writing New Adventures. On canonicity, he did not think that the New Adventures could realistically be viewed as canonical in the sense that if the television series ever returned it would be likely the production team would ignore events that had taken place in the New Adventures, and it would be unreasonable to expect the general viewing public to be familiar with them. An essential ingredient to the Doctor's character is that he is a moral figure always on the side of right. His pet Who hates are Eric Saward's script editing and Jon Pertwee's Doctor.

Peter Miles was the final guest of the con. He talked a little about his character Nyder (in Genesis of the Daleks) but mostly about The Paradise of Death, and was clearly delighted it was selling so well. Peter said that most of The Paradise of Death's dialogue was able to be done in one take, and that where more than one take was required this was normally for technical reasons. He seemed quite happy at being cast in the role of the nasty villain (again). Perhaps as a way of illustrating his suitability for such roles he had the slightly unsettling habit of declaring that he was 'not insane' in such a way as to make you doubt his sanity!

The quality and quantity of items in the auction was astounding, compared with the typical New Zealand fare. Fortunately there was nothing I simply had to have, as I probably couldn't have afforded it - though some items were surprisingly cheap. This did not apply to props, however, especially if it was thought they were genuine (e,g. a Blake's 7 teleport bracelet, said to be an original, not a fan copy went for something like 75 pounds (times by three for rough NZ equivalent!), while an original Masque of Mandragora mask went for 150 pounds.) Debbie Watling returned briefly on Sunday to assist in the auctioneering - just in time to sell episodes of scripts of The Web of Fear ('I haven't seen these for 26 years!').

I should mention the dealers' table as there was some good stuff there, including lots of videos, books and professional and amateur zines. I picked up some copies of a zine called Skaro which looked really good. Gary Leigh (DWB's executive editor) managed to persuade Jon to take some copies of the impressive DWB compendium back to New Zealand to sell. I bought a copy for myself, as even though I probably had most of the articles it was nice to get them under one cover (especially all the photonovels). Later that night I noticed that Gary had used my photo of the Assassin at Peking (Marco Polo episode 7) film can without asking (or paying!). I would have hassled him for a free copy of the compendium the next day if he had been there, but alas, he wasn't.

By six thirty or seven o'clock the con had begun to wind down as people picked up their auction items and videos and departed. I had a quick beer with Jon and Anthony Brown (DWB editor) while we waited for the next train back. Anthony was laden down with a pile of videos he had picked up in the 'Giveaway' - including every episode of Bergerac!

In all, it was an enjoyable weekend. Events ran very smoothly and it was good to be able to see and meet some familiar Who names in the flesh.

This item appeared in TSV 36 (November 1993).