The Life and Times of Neil Lambess
So, how does it feel to be involved directly in all the media hype over a lost Doctor Who episode? Let me recount the ways...
13 January 1999
... And so it begins
“Neil... You're FAMOUS!”
Suddenly everyone in ‘Caffeine’, the little coffee shop where I've spent all my lunchtimes for the last five years, turns around to look at me - including the 12 people in the queue in front of me; including the elderly couple that Fleur is serving. Yes, Fleur, the person who just shouted a declaration of my ‘fame’ to the assembled masses. Fleur, who now pronounces “You're on the front page of the Herald”, stops serving the elderly couple, rushes to a patron sitting at a table, steals back a shop copy of the Herald, runs to my place in the queue and points to the indifferent gaze of William Hartnell on the front page.
“Oh my God,” I exclaim. “This is nuts!”
Fleur starts clapping and suddenly all the patrons in the café - most of them regulars, whom I've seen over the years but never spoken to, start clapping as well...
“Don't worry,” I whisper as I pass the bewildered elderly couple. “Happens all the time.”
Later that evening
I am vilified when I show my father (a man who writes for the local paper and who, when I found The Lion, told me that it was probably the least newsworthy thing in the world), the front page of the Herald. He shows me the local rag and fittingly, in my own hometown, I'm only mentioned on the inside back page. “They only printed it ‘cos no one died,” he says... however we turn on the television news and it's the third item on TV3. Thankfully (and fearful of what would await me in Caffeine tomorrow), I am not on the Network News...
A couple of days later
My horoscope (ironically, I'm a Leo) in The Herald goes on about how I should keep following my ‘crusade’ no matter what the cost! (You mean episodes 2 and 4 are still out there?!!)
Everyone I know has written or phoned me about the find except David Lawrence in Wellington! David earns my everlasting respect for this. Jon Preddle rings and points out that my name's been in every New Zealand metropolitan newspaper. Josh Preston rings and tells me I'm in the Sydney papers. I check the Internet and my name's on BBC Online. In tribute, I sing the BBC song from Austin Powers in the shower before once again exclaiming “Oh my God, this is nuts!”
One week later
Entering my name in Yahoo brings up 1,896 postings!!!!
The owner of my local video store asks me when it's coming out so he can rent a copy.
I keep telling people - including the girl from Work and Income New Zealand that no, I am not getting any money from this find.
Two weeks later
Bruce Grenville hits the newspapers again with the news that both he and the BBC are threatening to sue each other. As someone who knows both sides of the story, it's obvious this is a misunderstanding, but most major newspapers see it as an excuse to run a ‘Geek of the Week’ story. Fortunately, I am not mentioned.
Jon and Paul send me photocopies of the Doctor Who Magazine article (issue 275) which is really cool... I show it proudly to my close friend Noel (a non-Doctor Who fan), who comments dryly, “Yes, it's very nice but it's not exactly The Face, is it??”
I like Noel 'cos his perspective will keep me sane over the coming months.
My bedroom study wall
I have just pinned a newspaper clipping to my wall... It's there as a permanent reminder of just how many deaths of Amazon rain forests I am now directly responsible for.
It is from the Cedar Rapids Daily Gazette.
“Cedar Rapids!! Cedar Rapids - in the middle of heartland USA for God's sake - who the hell would want to know about me in Cedar Rapids?!” I exclaim before wondering furtively if this means that I'll get the keys to the city...??
“Oh my God, this really is nuts!”
The country house at Hounslow
Scudder the groundsman mentions something about the boathouse as he delivers my latté in the gazebo.
“Messers Chas and Nigel are here to see you about the missing episode, sir,” he states quietly.
“Oh really?” I reply. “Tell them that this is the wrong column and could they please sod off! There's a good chap.”
“Certainly, sir,” replies Scudder with E.M. Forster-like efficiency.
Then I wake up screaming - little realising how precognitive this dream is.
The wedding of Paul and Rochelle
“Oh, hi,” Warwick Gray's face lights up. “You're that Neil Lambess,” he beams as we meet on the boat for the first time.
“No, no,” I reply, trying desperately to extract myself from forever being associated in fandom with 25 minutes of telecine transfer. “I'm his evil twin brother, the one that wasn't on the National Lottery...”
Warwick laughs and buys my story. Later in the day however it comes back to haunt me when Warwick mentions that the boat has anchored for the wedding in Crusade Bay. (No, really it's true, just look at any nautical map of Auckland's Waitemata Harbour and it's just north-west of the harbour bridge. So far I've checked 836 of these maps and it's on every one of them).
Because of this, Jon Preddle and I briefly debate jumping into the tide and drowning ourselves until somebody mentions that as we reached the sea bed, we'd find the film cans of Fury from the Deep.
“Nah,” I reply, “It'd be Underwater Menace 3 again.”
Paul and Rochelle say “I do”
Just after Paul and Rochelle tie the knot, and with impeccable timing, a noisy speedboat whizzes past. Everyone on the boat turns to look and erupts in laughter as the boat's name is revealed to be Exterminator and it is written in four-foot high letters along the entire hull.
I swear Davros was driving.
Later Warwick (or was it David Ronayne?) spots another yacht... it's the Romana. Reality does another backward flip and for the rest of the cruise, the party looks for every conceivable Who reference possible... Oddly enough, we find lots of them, except of course for me... I am getting happily plastered on wine after finally realising that I am not at Paul and Rochelle's wedding after all but am in fact inside a Paul Cornell novel...
The foyer of the Centra Hotel
It is the national science fiction convention and I am with several friends awaiting the arrival of security guards with a certain film can for its public screening.
Apparently the guards are armed, and Paul and I debate doing a ‘Butch and Sundance’ by stealing the film can at the right moment and getting shot down in a hail of bullets. The event will make the national news, as both TV1 and TV3 are there to record it, and make us martyrs for the BBC.
History has also been re-written; Bruce Grenville is now, according to the media, the man who single-handedly rescued The Lion from oblivion, realising the film's true worth in six figures rather than, as was nearer the truth, someone who was blissfully unaware that it was even missing in the first place (or that it was worth more than $5 until Paul and I told him exactly what it was he had... hmm, if he does get a six figure sum does this mean Paul and I get consultancy fees??)
Unfortunately the media is now portraying Bruce in typical ‘Sci-Fi Geek of the Week mode’. This is made worse by Bruce's entrance, flanked by what I am now told are fake security guards as he walks slowly, film can outstretched in front of him, at a funereal pace through the foyer... It looks like an Egyptian ‘day of the dead’ ritual and I swear the film can is glowing, but it's probably the TV lighting bouncing off it. People are laughing.
In front of the waiting audience, Bruce holds up the can and the crowd cheers - he introduces himself as the man who found it (having previously advised the organisers that Paul and I were not “expected” to participate in the screening). At this point, a large part of the crowd chants “Lambess, Lambess”, and Bruce acknowledges my part in the discovery. I'm quite cheered by this and wave to the crowd. Naturally, the media edits it out of the evening news, which is a blessing as the reporting is quite derogatory of science fiction in general. I make a mental note that at the next con I'm going to dress as a Martian from Mars Attacks! This will guarantee media attention, at which point I shall pull out a working KilI-O-Zap ray gun and melt all the media people present. They all deserve it and it couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of guys...
On a flying visit to Aucks, I go into a magazine store - before me is an entire 12-foot long magazine rack that, due to the three-month shipping delay, is full of SF magazines about the episode find. I am simply dumbstruck as I pick up magazine after magazine about the find - my name is in most of them. A toucan alights on the latest issue of SFX, no doubt attracted by the small rain cloud that is starting to form above this particular rack, which was until recently its former home.
“I'm sorry. If I'd known this was going to happen I wouldn't have told anyone,” l tell it quietly.
“Actually,” says the toucan, “I was wondering if I could have a copy of the episode??”
I bludgeon it to death with issue 42 of Cult Times...
Later, on a phone call to Paul Scoones about Megamags, he tells me the ultimate news.
“We're in Jackie Jenkins.”
Oh my God, I think, the mythopoeic Jackie Jenkins has mentioned The Lion... In my eyes this could only be surpassed by Grant Morrison mentioning it in his comic/testament The Invisibles.
“Wow,” l tell Paul, “we've really made it.” Even though we're not named, the fact of the discovery has gone into the semi-fiction of Jackie Jenkins' column in DWM, completely shattering the grip a severely wounded reality has on me (I mean, you try walking into a shop full of magazine articles about you in the third person and see just how surreal it is!!)
“Good Lord!” I reply. “It makes it all worthwhile now, doesn't it!!”
16 February 1970
Upper Plain Rd, Masterton
“Doctor, the Macra's going to get Jamie!!” I scream, but I'm too late. The scary music starts and I burst into tears. Mum comes in to see what's wrong, and tells me it's only a TV show.
“But Jamie's going to get eaten!” I plead, to no avail. I'm seven years old and I want to go and save Jamie and the Doctor, go through time and space with them, save the Doctor from oblivion, become part of the programme forever.
29 Years Later
It's 1999. I'm 35, I've done it; I've repaid the Doctor the favour I've owed him all these years. I've gone back and found him through time and space. I've become part of the programme's history. I've had an adventure with him (and the media). I've got him back and, most importantly, I've saved him from oblivion...
And I wouldn't change it for the world!!
Welcome back old friend.
Cue end title music...
This item appeared in TSV 57 (July 1999).