Good Times! #1 PanoptiCon 4 (1981)

NEW SERIES! For 21 years from 1981 to 2002 I attended dozens of Doctor Who conventions and events  reviewing many of them at the time for various print fanzines. In this series of posts I’m reproducing some of those reviews which hopefully capture the spirit and flavour of what conventions and also smaller events were like. They remain largely unedited except for anything completely embarrassing! These are very much personal opinions of the events, what I saw and the people I shared them with. We start at the beginning (for me) with PanoptiCon 4 held at Queen Mary College in London in August 1981.

(Originally published in 1981 in `Steel Sky`)

So there we were, in Euston Station at midnight, Andrew Smith, (yes, him), Mark Crowder and myself when this bloke looking about as healthy as Muto stumbles towards us asking for money. There was I, having just spent about fifty quid on Panopticon IV and this guy will sleep on the stone cold floor of the station. Welcome to the real world. You may think your city centre is large but that's peanuts compared to London, as Douglas Adams might say. It is a huge teaming mass of people each to his own. You could be alone and forgotten in a crowded street of milling thousands. You never see London. You see bits of it and fleeting images stick with you, but every time you go back its a whole new place to explore. 

This was my first convention and my companions through the labyrinthine corridors of our beloved capital were Mark Crowder, (who luckiIy knew the place fairly well) and Ian Mackenzie, (hot on ideas, but not on how to get there). Still we managed to find our way onto the Tube and finally arrived at the accommodation centre. Our sense of anticipation was soon replaced by boredom was we watched Ian McLachlan bravely try to sort out someone else’s mistakes with the room listings as familiar figures milled about, everyone trying to pretend they had nothing to do with a Doctor Who convention. Over in the pub opposite a small band of people clustered around tables; Martin Wiggins tried telling everyone how good `Savage` was and, failing this, vanished into the raining darkness. Not an auspicious start.

Saturday morning- wet and grey and that was only our breakfast. Ian and I made our way to the station after failing miserably to extract any information from David Stead as to forthcoming events. In the tube, off the tube. A long walk through puddles to a small wormhole in London’s splendour – Queen Mary College. No sign of Queen Mary, only a long queue and plenty of umbrellas. Inside, it buzzed. Human ants in a concrete anthill. Executives dashed about dutifully keeping in touch via snazzy little pocket intercoms. It was a weird venue really. We sat about the length of the Lyceum away from the stage, while the stalls held the fanzine sale and a video camera , which filmed the whole procedure and relayed the action to half a dozen TV sets up in the gallery. Paul Tarns spent roost of the morning moving people from the live wires in the front row and Mark Woodward made a classic entrance - in dark glasses, would you believe. Philip Ince, on the other hand, opted for a shirt which doubled as an incredibly long apron and wore no shoes! Mark Sinclair co-hosted the events with Janie Goddard, although nasty rumours suggested that David Howe was a little miffed about this as he had been slated to do the job. Sinclair was entertaining and as befits the head of the DWAS Drama department made all his announcements as if it were a talent show in Blackpool, starting in a deep, sombre voice as if he was to announce the deaths of all the guests simultaneously on the way to the venue then built up to a Shakespearian crescendo! 

We all knew by then that the planned screening of `The Dead Planet` was to be a “we regret to announce” scenario but few could have guessed it’s replacement would be the Dr Who and the Daleks film, a rather dangerous move by the organiser after the incomprehensible slide show. However things hotted up through the humour of Peter Howell and Dick Mills and the first appearance at a DWAS event of original producer Verity Lambert, perhaps the most successful woman in television. They then retired for a lengthy autograph session; you should have seen the length of the queue. Once done it was back to the zine sale which saw quite a plethora, (John Fencher's favourite word) of titles on sale. The last ever `Gallifrey` (sob), the regenerated `Colony In Space` (hurrah) and the aspiring `Steel Sky` while Andrew Byford tried to deny all connections with a zine called `The Space Museum`. Oh yes the Wiggins / Gallagher circus set up too and I even saw William Gallagher smile. Yes, I did.
The afternoon brought us three of the best loved characters from the Pertwee period namely Nicholas Courtney, Richard Franklin and John Levene. The chemistry that prevailed in the 70' s was still there and they spoke with fondness about their time with the show. They,too, took part in a lengthy autograph session and John Levene expressed concern about the Liverpool riots, (my home you see) while Richard Franklin and I had a short caht about his work in our local Playhouse Theatre.

Unfortunately I missed Terrance Dicks and half of Robert Holmes while queuing for the UNIT autographs. The queues were really a problem though full marks to the stewards for handling it well with the minimum of hassle. The best part of the day had to be when, following the introduction of Heather Hartnell, we saw the BFI clip of `Worlds End` which I had not seen and which was very powerful to watch. Saturday night was billed as a disco but that title was quickly and wisely dropped for buffet, when it became apparent that there was hardly enough room to swing a giant maggot. The room divided into small groups, who each did their best to pretend the others weren't there. Sandwiches were in abundance and eventually a record player arrived. Despite rumours that Matthew Waterhouse was to DJ, it was a rather tipsy Andrew Zeus to whom the honours fell. Actually, the rumours about Matthew Waterhouse began when he was driven into the accommodation centre, earlier hiding in the back seat of a car. We thought he had been kidnapped. We took residence by the speakers and controlled the flow of music emanating from them by bombarding poor Andrew with requests as most of the other people there did not seem especially interested in music. Russell Stone did his Davros impression and Mark and I played the drums, (well, not quite), while Stephen Crooks, (yes, your humble editor – I bet he edits this) looked as if he wanted to get out quick. Andrew Byford and Paul Hickling tried to bring sanity to the evening, a move firmly squashed when, from behind us, the shrill tones of David Howe singing `Vienna` emerged. Martin Waites decided to it would be a nice idea to pretend he knew the plot to `Castrovalva` (most of us are still trying to spell it!) and Kevin Davies left early. Mark Sinclair had `Flash` put on the turntable while Matthew Waterhouse turned up and left two seconds later. Andrew Zeus finally had one to many and was unable to operate the equipment. 

Sunday crawled through the door and we trundled off to the college again. Paul Zeus could constantly be seen dashing from one room to the next. Frazer Hines was the first guest however was unable to stay for autographs. Following that, Mat Irvine showed us in graphic and painfully slow detail how he blew up the gateway in `Warriors Gate` and had K9 menacing Mark Sinclair. During another infamous break, a host of monsters paraded downstairs and we did our best to stand behind them so we could be in everyone's photos. Matthew Waterhouse blew his cover and sat behind one of the fanzine tables deep in discussion with Chris Dunk. The Fanzine Awards were then presented to a deserving Geraint Jones and Tim Dollin of `Gallifrey.`

In the afternoon came a most welcome video item, thanks to John Nathan-Turner and the BBC, clips from every Tom Baker story as a tribute to the fourth Doctor. An excellent set of clips that brought back many memories for all of us. Then, well hold your breath and count them: John Nathan – Turner, (with good news about the repeats), Janet Fielding, Andrew Smith, Eric Saward, Peter Grimwade, Angela Smitn, Jane Judge, Chris Bidmead, Sarah Sutton (who received loud applause even before her name was said) and Matthew Waterhouse. Christopher Bidmead collected the Season Poll award. Chris Dunk handled all these interviews with Parkinson-like ease, while earlier both Gary Russell and Ian McLachlan had done equally well.It was here that Mark Sinclair was seemingly winding the event up when the doors of the on stage TARDIS opened and out stepped Anthony Ainley to be greeted by an ovation that lasted several minutes. He walked to the centre of the stage and gave a regal bow. He sat down and inquired about the Test Score. Throughout  the whole interview (conducted by Mark Sinclair) applause followed very answer and his charisma held the audience’s attentions. Well, who cared that there was a one and a half wait for autographs. All were amicable signees and I was so overwhelmed I forgot who Eric Saward was!

So that was that. After a trip back to the centre and a quick pint with the some of the mob from Sheffield, Mark and I made our way back to Euston. At Tottenham Court Road who should we bump into but Andrew Smith whom we spent over an hour talking to. Our train home was a 1.05 am and arrived in Liverpool at 4.30 in the morning. Took a week to recover.

However it was all worth it. I’ll be there next year and I’d like to thank all concerned for a great weekend. Thanks also to all those Liverpool and Sheffield people who kept me company and to David Stead, Andrew Byford, David Howe, Andrew Zeus, Andrew Smith and Mark Crowder. See you in ’82.

Xtra! PanoptiCon 4 on stage

Summarised from the DWAS 1982 Yearbook review written by Pam Baddeley of the events on stage…


Slide Show – Slides were shown in chronological order with an often humorous musical soundtrack,
Dick Mills & Peter Howell – Demonstrating the effectiveness of incidental music by using a scene from `Meglos` when Meglos shows Caris the shrunken Dodecahedron, maybe not the most dramatic moment in the series’ history but showing just how the incidental music plays its part. Doctor Who and the Daleks movie screening part 1.Verity Lambert – She seemed to have retained vivid memories of her time with the show some 18 years earlier.
Nicholas Courtney / Richard Franklin / John Levene - interviewed separately and then on stage together. NC talked about his radio work and also that he would have liked a better departure from the show than he had. RF focussed on his theatre work. JL talked about having left the acting profession and his then current career in commercial graphics and also referenced his conversion to Christianity. All three talked fondly of `The Daemons` in particular and the `UNIT family`. Peter Howell- talking this time about the show’s latest version of the theme music. He explained how each element of the music had been assembled, this was fairly technical and left some of the audience somewhat behind.

BFI clip of `The Dalek Invasion of Earth`. Introduction of Heather Hartnell who received warm applause. Terrance Dicks / Robert Holmes – TD talked about the novelisation he was working on at that time as well as how his script for the cancelled `Vampire Mutations` ended up as `State of Decay`. RH mentioned that books were not his field after he had tried but failed to write one of the Target novelisations.

Fraser Hines – told several amusing anecdotes including various practical jokes the cast had played on each other. Roger Limb – discussed his incidental score for `Keeper of Traken`. Mat Irvine – talked about remote controlled models in particular K9 who himself trundled on stage as well. He also talked through the explosion of the gateway in `Warrior’s Gate. Monster costumes- made by Toby Chamberlain. Doctor Who and the Daleks movie screening part 2

Current stars and production team – John Nathan Turner announced details of the repeats to be included in the forthcoming `Five Faces of Doctor Who` season and also details of K9 and Company. He also denied any old monsters were returning to the show (!). Eric Saward talked about `Black Orchid` Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding and Matthew Waterhouse appeared as did Christopher Bidmead, Peter Grimwade, Andrew Smith, Jane Judge and Angela Smith.
Awards – Christopher Bidmead for `Logopolis` winning the season poll, Geraint Jones and Tim Dollin for `Gallifrey` winning the Fanzine poll. Anthony Ainley – Cricket and smiling! Huge hit with the audience.
Full Convention booklet -


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