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A Day Out with DWM

Doctor Who Magazine's Birthday Bash

Report by Jon Preddle

In August 1979, before an enthusiastic crowd of fans attending the DWAS's third annual Doctor Who convention, Marvel comics editor Dez Skinn held up the cover mock-up for the first issue of the soon-to-be published Doctor Who Weekly. Issue one of DWW went on sale two months later. Almost two decades to the very day that the first issue was published, and in the very same university auditorium, Dez Skinn sat before another large group of fans, this time to help celebrate the magazine's twentieth birthday. This is a milestone that very few magazines survive long enough to reach.

I arrived at London's City University on the morning of Saturday 2 October 1999, only one day after flying into London, tired and jet-lagged after a hectic two weeks of touring the mid-west of the United States of America. I wasn't exactly sure where to go, but soon spotted the familiar face of Doctor Who researcher Richard Bignell, so at least I knew I was at the right place!

At a little after 10 am, the doors were eventually opened to admit the restless fans. I have yet to attend any organised fan event that has run to its planned schedule!

[photo of cake]
No birthday party would be complete without the cake!

As is the usual practice at these British events, the audio-visual guys put together cleverly edited musical interludes featuring popular songs, with the lyrics matched to appropriate Doctor Who clips. The opening ‘titles’ for the Bash was Fat Boy Slim's ‘Praise You’ (a tune that has been hijacked by NZ Telecom for their most recent series of television commercials). Later in the day we saw a brilliant clips compilation to Geri Halliwell's ‘Look At Me’. We also saw clips of various motor vehicles from the series, with the opening narration and music from Wacky Races put over. And the best one of all had to be the K9 And Company titles dubbed with the theme from Scooby Doo, Where Are You? These productions really ought to be released on video! I want a copy, please.

Another visual treat we were privileged to see was the first five minutes of Invasion of the Dinosaurs episode one - in colour! This was not the work of the BBC's restoration team, but a private project - and those five minutes were as far as they had got!

The first event was a fun panel featuring writers Steven Moffat (of The Curse of Fatal Death fame), New Adventurers Paul Cornell and Mark Gatiss, and DWM writer Nick Pegg. With Gareth Roberts as MC, the panel were put through a round of trivia, true or false, and blankety-blank style questions, all based around passages from past issues of DWM. The blankety-blank round was based around extracts taken from Gary Russell's DWM reviews. One question was: “Warriors of the Deep was a Blank story”. Needless to say the various answers were wide off the mark (the actual word was “flawless”). Poor Gary!

One interesting fact that arose from these questions was that the cover price of the magazine had risen by 2,666% over the years: from 12p in 1979, to £3.20 today. Another astonishing ‘fact’ that emerged was that Bonnie Langford doesn't wear any knickers!

Between panels, the audience, using sheets of paper marked TRUE and FALSE, were asked rather obscure questions about Doctor Who trivia in an elimination round that rewarded the last man standing a prize. Despite my best efforts I didn't win.

During a break after the first panel I visited the dealer's room, and within a few minutes I had managed to sell off all of the copies of TSV that I had brought with me! TSV's reputation speaks for itself. I bumped into Warwick Gray, who was seated with DWM strip artists Roger Langridge and Adrian Salmon. I also introduced myself to Gary Gillatt and Alan Barnes.

The first serious panel of the day featured four personalities from DWM's history: the aforementioned Dez Skinn; super-fan Jeremy Bentham, who wrote all the factual information for the first 72 issues; Gary Russell, whose editorship guided DWM to become more of a reference journal; and researcher/Archivist Andrew Pixley, who spoke about the “boring” process that went towards putting an Archive feature together.

One humorous incident recalled by Russell was when Marcus Hearn phoned him after finding the missing telesnaps: “I've just found something so hot it's burning a hole through this planet,” he apparently declared down the phone line.

During the 90 minute lunch break, those few who stayed in the auditorium were treated to Richard Bignell's documentary on the making of Fury From The Deep, which is included on the latest telesnap reconstruction video. The newly recovered behind the scenes footage was beautifully augmented with interviews from the cast and crew of that particular classic from the Troughton era.

The next panel featured Colin Baker, who was making one of his last ever convention appearances before going into self-imposed convention ‘retirement’ at the end of the year. Nicola Bryant, still looking as gorgeous as ever, joined him. Both spoke enthusiastically about their then forthcoming Big Finish production, Whispers of Terror, and were looking forward to working together on future recordings. Baker was at least grateful that the audio medium meant that he didn't have to wear “that coat” again!

The final celebrity panel was Mark Strickson and a very pregnant Sophie Aldred. When asked which of the Spice Girls Ace would have been, Sophie replied, “Wicked Spice”. Strickson revealed that he thought Bonnie Langford was sexy, much to the amusement of the audience. (Perhaps it was because she didn't wear knickers?!)

By the late afternoon it began to get very hot and stuffy in the auditorium, due to the fact that there was no air-conditioning. It was funny to watch people's expressions when they entered the room, and were suddenly faced with the whiff of over 100 sweaty bodies!

[photo of panel members]
The celebrity guest panel (L-R): Colin Baker, Sophie Aldred, Nicola Bryant and Mark Strickson

The final panel had all four celebrity guests together, but we could only ask questions that all four could answer. One question presented to them was what they thought of the McGann movie, specifically in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Mark Strickson's strength: “the cast”, and weakness: “the plot”; Bryant: “the Britishness / the Americaness”; Baker: “Sylv and Paul / the fact I wasn't in it”. Gary Gillatt then asked, “And the weakness?” Gary then broke all speed records when he rushed up to Baker to apologise for making that crack! Well, the audience was amused. It was kind of hard to tell what Baker was thinking...

[photo of cake] Preparing to blow out the candles (L-R): Sophie Aldred, Colin Baker, Dez Skinn and Mark Strickson

The last scheduled event was the cutting of the birthday cake, which was done by a very sozzled Dez Skinn (who apparently slipped out to a nearby pub during the lunch break). Being the current as well as longest-serving editor of the magazine, Gary Gillatt was the unfortunate candidate to undergo 20 ‘bumps’ - a strange English custom where the birthday-boy gets thrown up into the air!

After the scheduled events, those who wanted to were invited to join the DWM crew for a drink at a local pub. I stuck around to talk with various people, so by the time I left the university, everyone else had gone on to the pub. Everyone but myself and a even more intoxicated Dez Skinn that is. My strongest memory of this day is wandering around town with Dez, asking several passers-by if they knew where the pub was, but with Dez saying “f**k” every second word, it was surprising that people bothered to stop! After an hour of aimless wandering we were about to give up when a helpful security guard directed us to the right street. It seems we had turned left when we should have gone right!

Jon adds: Some of the panels and behinds the scenes goings on were recorded by Reeltime Pictures for their Myth Makers interview series. The Doctor Who Magazine 20th Anniversary DVD (RTP0316) is currently still available. And look out for the back of my head in one shot!]

This item appeared in TSV 59 (January 2000).