Vale Ian Cullen

The DWCA was very saddened to receive the news on 16 November that actor Ian Cullen had passed away at the age of 90. He was known and loved for appearing alongside William Hartnell in First Doctor story The Aztecs, as well as on audio with Eighth Doctor Paul McGann in Dark Eyes. He was also a special guest of the DWCA back in 2013 – a regular visitor to Australia when visiting his family here. By complete coincidence his last appearance in a Doctor Who related program was on the first episode of Australia’s own Whovians. As part of the program host Rove McManus was recorded running into a pub shouting “shark” to emulate Peter Capaldi’s performance when the Twelfth Doctor briefly visited Australia in The Pilot. He was as surprised as anyone when one of those in the pub turned out to be veteran Who actor Ian Cullen!

Actor, comedian and Whovians head researcher Patrick Magee recalled the moment himself when he was interviewed at a DWCA event, stating: “I remember my favourite part from the recording – it was such a surreal thing. In the very first episode, we had this idea that Rove would run into places yelling “Shark attack!” to see who would react. And we did it, and we ran into this pub, and this guy was like, “What are you filming for?”, and we told him it was a Doctor Who wrap-up show. He was like, “I was in Doctor Who”, and we were like, “No you weren’t, old man.” And then it turned out it was Ian Cullen from The Aztecs! It made no sense! Why was he in this pub at the exact moment we were filming this thing for Whovians? And he was wonderful.”

To commemorate Ian Cullen, his life and his contribution to our favourite show, we’ve reproduced here his interview with the DWCA that took place back in 2013, originally printed in Data Extract #221.

The Aztecs was just the sixth Doctor Who story to be made, so it would have seemed very much a new show that had no reputation behind it. How much were you aware of the programme before being cast in it?

Doctor Who was hardly on the radar of the professional theatre, ‘cos we were all theatre people. It was just a little children’s series which the BBC were doing, and the only people who watched it were children. The bigger actors thought it was a bit of a joke, and they wouldn’t have dreamt of going into Doctor Who. They were nervous about going into television at all. In those days, actors thought television was a step down; film actors thought their careers were over if they went into television. And we weren’t aware of Doctor Who. Doctor Who was happening in the studio as a bit of fun, but it was not considered to be important. Everybody thought it would run for six episodes and would disappear.

So how did the role of Ixta come along?

I was very lucky, because I’d been cast in a BBC television children’s series. I was playing David Balfour in Kidnapped and Catriona for 13 episodes. It was all on film, nothing in the studio, and the director of The Aztecs, John Crockett, happened to see some of it; he was watching the editing. He asked me if I’d like to play Ixta, and I said yes please! It wasn’t quite my first television role, but Kidnapped I don’t count because that was all on film. Doctor Who was my first chance to do a television play, and be in the studio for several episodes, so I grabbed it.

How have attitudes to TV changed since the ‘60s?

The big change is that back in the early ‘60s, almost everyone who was working in television had come from theatre. The writers, the directors, the actors, the costume people, the make-up people – they were all theatre people. We were accustomed to doing what we now call continuous recording, which means a show starts at the beginning and it goes through until the end, and it doesn’t stop. That’s the way it was, and that’s what people were good at. I think you’d find it difficult now to find a writer who could write a film script that could be filmed Scene #1 first and continuously record and go through ‘til the end. And almost impossible to find an actor who could learn it. Nowadays if an actor has to learn more than five lines, he gets into a panic.

Did working in theatre help you work in TV?

It certainly did help that we were theatre people, and we could therefore do continuous recording. But when you were working on television, you had to be infinitely more precise than you were in the theatre. Everything has to be in exactly the same place every time, so the camera sees it. You learn to be much more precise where you put the cup down, and with the timing, so when you pick up the cup, the camera goes with you to your mouth. When you go back into the theatre, that precision makes actors very charismatic. Instead of being a bit loose and relaxed about it, it taught us to be very precise, and that precision made theatre work much more interesting. Stage actors became much better as a consequence of working in television. It’s the opposite of what most people think.

A lot of effort went into creating some amazingly beautiful costumes and sets for The Aztecs, for something that we were only ever going to see in greyscale. Why was that?

That was precisely the reason – the colours had to be very clear, very bright, in order to get the greyscale, otherwise it just would have been black and white, and television would have been much less interesting. I still like black and white film; I love watching films and television programmes in black and white. But also, at that time, they were thinking ahead to colour television. They were very conscious of the fact that there were deep bright colours and sharp distinctions and definitions, and there were people during The Aztecs who were taking photographs and then going off and putting them on what we call a grey scale, in what was going to be a colour camera, to see what they looked like. They were working towards colour television and wondering whether it would have to be very different. In fact my wife was in the very first television play to be done in colour – a big epic called Hassan. It’s like watching a pantomime, because the colours are so bright, the costumes are so vivid. You can hardly watch it. The BBC had to learn to be more subtle with their lighting, and the colours for the costumes, when they went into colour.

The scripting and the performances in The Aztecs make it particularly theatrical. Was that a conscious thing, or just a hangover of the theatre?

John Ringham’s performance was a conscious thing. John was a friend of mine until he died, and he always hated that performance. He was bitterly ashamed of it; he thought he’d gone far over the top. But there was a big difference between actors who’d done a lot of television, like William Hartnell and Bill Russell, and even I’d done Kidnapped; and actors who’d only done theatre. And the actors who’d only done theatre tended to give theatrical performances. It does stand out, but it’s brilliant. John Crockett could easily have said, “Tone it down a bit”, but he liked it.

Whereas Tlotoxl is an out-and-out villain, in many ways Ixta’s just doing what he thinks is right. How did you approach that?

You’re quite right – Ixta was right. Ixta was the good guy, because these people had come along and were intruding in his life. They were invaders, and that’s the only point of view to play it from. There might be someone there who’s so progressive as to say, “We must communicate with these aliens”, but Ixta wasn’t one of them. And that is always the approach – whatever part an actor’s playing, even if it’s an absolute villain, you have to do it from his point of view. In your own head, you’re doing the right thing. You might be doing very bad things that you know are bad things, but your reasons for doing them are good. The one exception is Richard III, who was John Ringham’s inspiration for Tlotoxl. Richard III enjoyed being a villain, wanted to be a villain. But that’s very rare.

In Episode Four you had your fight sequence with William Russell, who had already done a few daring adventures. Facing him with a balsa wood sword, how did you take on that sequence?

First of all, you take it on because you know you’ve got a balsa wood sword, so there’s not a really strong element of danger. Then there was the attitude of, “We mustn’t frighten the children”, so it didn’t have to be too realistic. Finally, we weren’t very good at it. We had to have some fairly rapid fighting-with-balsa-wood-sword lessons from the fight director, and then we went at it very gingerly. We kept breaking the swords, it was very difficult. He cheated; I should have won.

How much preparation time did you have on the day?

All of ten minutes. But we’re taught stage fighting at drama school, and we all know the basic moves. If you watch that fight, it is the basic “over the top, down to the side, parry, down the other side, parry, in the front, parry, parry, gotcha”. It’s half a dozen basic moves, and we repeated them.

And there’s no opportunity to make a mistake because of the way it was recorded back then.

This is one of the reasons why we were slightly careful. It wasn’t careful so much because we were frightened of hurting each other, but we were frightened of making a mistake and having to cause an edit, a retake, ‘cos that was serious business.

Were there any edits while you were shooting?

Not that I recall. There must have been, in a four-part serial. Editing was very expensive, and actors who constantly forgot their words, or fluffed their lines, didn’t work a lot, unless you were William Hartnell. But if you had technical mistakes, like a camera misses its shot, or a sound technician doesn’t get the boom there in time, they always edited those technical mistakes out first. And if they ran out of editing time, they kept the actors’ mistakes in. The punishment for making a mistake was that your mistake would be watched by millions of viewers. That’s all you could think about; knowing they were going to watch you fluff your lines. But actors like William Hartnell just got into the habit of letting it go. It became part of the fun. “There’s Bill forgetting his lines again.”

Even if mistakes did go out, you’d have the comfort that it wouldn’t be repeated. But now with repeats, DVD releases, books documenting every fluffed line, etc, those performances are put under a great deal more scrutiny. How nervous does that make an actor like you?

Some actors are more embarrassed than I am. I’m not embarrassed for it, but there are some actors who get quite distressed, because there used to be a rule that the BBC or the television companies couldn’t show a programme after 15 years without your permission, mainly because people don’t want their young selves to be on television when they’re trying to get work as a 67-year-old. That’s gone – they’ll show anything nowadays. I’m still haunted by lifting the concrete slab to block the secret passage in The Aztecs. We had to act lifting, ‘cos it only weighed about 2 ounces. I acted lifting so badly; if ever I watch it again I’m always constantly aware that I’m lifting that slab so very badly. Now at the end, I dropped off the top of the temple and splattered on the cobbles. In those days the cameras were huge, and there was no way they could swing one of those cameras up in the air and film me lying dead on the cobbles. So what they did was, they repainted the floor against the wall, so the cobbles were on the wall, and then I had to go onto the wall and pose. It looks very good! Those kinds of limitations forced creative solutions to problems; there was always an answer. That was the great thing. And the answer was never money. I don’t mean that as a joke, because the directors had to find a way of doing it. This is what you’ve got to do, it’s an impossible task, there’s no way we can do it – how do we do it? And they worked it out. Whereas now, the answer is, “It’s going to cost us a million dollars, we’ll do whatever we need to do. We can sink the Titanic, we can raise the Titanic”. So the answer now is basically money. You’ve got a problem, throw money at it; but in those days, you’ve got a problem, solve it.

Do you think that because you couldn’t rely on big budgets or CGI, there was more pressure to tell a good story, rather than just throw in some explosions?

That’s certainly right. There are so many films now which are virtually unwatchable. I can almost identify all the ones that I wouldn’t want to see because I know what’s going to happen. There’ll be a lot of explosions, a lot of car chases, at the end there’s going to be a very big building that blows up and the hero just escapes by jumping out a window. The pyrotechnics have more or less taken over the industry. It’s a great excuse for not being able to write well. I think the writing industry has suffered enormously, the theatre has suffered, because there aren’t many writers now  who can write plays. I watched a play the other night that was 75 minutes, and my complaint when I came out was that it was too slow. What they had, basically, was a 25-minute play which they stretched out to 75 minutes. It’s very difficult to find writers who can actually write a play, and I think it’s disgraceful that we can’t find writers who can write films. They’re almost paint-by-numbers. The film industry’s in a sad place at the moment.

The Aztecs blew a lot of us away because it was such a strong script. It’s a shame the historical stories died out, because I can’t think of a historical Doctor Who story that’s actually bad.

It is a great shame that they didn’t want to go on with the historical ones, although the series would have ended. When I was young, one of my favourite writers was G.A. Henty, and he wrote a great series of books called I Went With Marco Polo, I Went With Francis Drake, and so on; about 40 or 50 of these books, with the whole of history laid out from the point of view of a young boy who somehow gets hooked up to the hero. I’ve just recorded I went with Francis Drake for an American radio company who are going to make all the Henty stories. I wish they were doing them on television, but it’d be very expensive. But the idea is still around, and hopefully these Henty stories might make radio popular again.

Speaking of radio, you hold the record for the longest gap between performances in Doctor Who – 48 years, from 1964 with The Aztecs until last year when you were in Dark Eyes for Big Finish, with Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. How did that come about?

Forty-eight years out of work! When I did The Aztecs, I honestly never thought I’d hear about it again. I never thought that my grandchildren would be watching it… and they don’t. It is a very exciting phenomenon. It is a great pleasure and a privilege to be here now, in Sydney, talking to Doctor Who fans. We do this quite often in the UK; I’ve done it once in America. It’s amazing to go around the world and find people who are linked by a common theme. And it’s not only a common universal theme; it’s always a very nice theme. The Doctor Who gatherings that I’ve been to, including this one, are very pleasant and happy occasions.

We’re lucky that The Aztecs is still with us, because so many episodes are missing. But some of your other work has been lost: the bulk of Emergency – Ward 10 and Z-Cars. It must be sort of galling that we have such a different attitude to television archives now.

With the benefit of hindsight, and the example of America, where they kept everything, right back to the first bit of film that was shot, it is astonishing that so many British programmes just disappeared. Back in the ‘60s, we couldn’t believe that the BBC and the other companies were not keeping programmes that they were recording. The argument was that nobody would ever want to watch it again; it’d be out of date, a police series like Z-Cars especially. The idea of Doctor Who, remember, is timeless. But police series, hospital dramas, they move on. Things change. When I was in Emergency – Ward 10, I was a brain surgeon, and I suggested to the producer that I should have my own little ambulance fitted up with equipment, so that when there was an emergency I could jump in my vehicle and perform a bit of surgery, with an operating theatre at the back. And she thought I was crazy! She said people would laugh at me. And that’s exactly what you’ve got now; paramedics buzzing around in their little ambulances. But I think the trick they miss is that for people to look back and say, “That’s the way it was” is always interesting. They’ve lost the idea of nostalgia being financially rewarding. It is a shame. But it’s also fun to think that the BBC, who wouldn’t pay the money to archive the episodes, are now spending a fortune trying to track these old episodes down, put them together and restore them. It’s ironic, really.

There was also an attitude that if you were repeating a show, you were putting actors and production staff out of work, because those were half hours where someone else wasn’t having to work to fill that slot.

I hadn’t actually thought of that. I remember, I was in a play called The Mousetrap in the West End; it was in its 17th year, and it’s now in its 61st year. I was virtually assaulted in the street by an actor who thought it was disgraceful that one silly little thriller should occupy a West End theatre for 17 years. He said you could have 50 plays on in that time. But I said to him, “Well actors are still working. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a new play every month; it’s still employing a different cast every year. Actors are still working, audiences are coming to see it, and that’s what the theatre’s there for.” But he was very upset, and I’ve never come across it, but I daresay people did feel that about television repeats. But I find it very odd to believe, unless you weren’t working in television, because if you were working in television you loved repeats. You got paid for them! One of my best friends has been an actor for 70 years, and he’s never been able to get near television. He can’t understand why, and that’s something we don’t understand; why some do and some don’t.

Some actors want to do television because it can become a good pension plan, and for a lot of Doctor Who actors, you’re still being paid for the work you did near 50 years ago.

My fee, when I did Doctor Who, was £60 an episode. I couldn’t give you precise figures, but I reckon I’ve made at least 5-10 times that every year from DVD sales, personal appearances and all that sort of stuff. It just goes on and on and on, and it’s been amazing. And for the guys who played Doctor Who, it must be a great pension plan! I wish somebody would ask me to play Doctor Who.

Eventually you got into long-term roles as a regular character, which must have been a bit of a change; going from bit-parts to having the next few years plotted out in front of you.

It was a great feeling to have a two-year contract. For an actor to be told that for the next two years, you know what you’re doing, it’s wonderful. Especially if it’s something interesting and exciting. I like fast-turnaround television; I’ve done a lot of it. In 1997, Family Affairs was starting. For the first time, they were trying to do a five- times-a-week soap, and everyone said it was absolutely impossible. EastEnders could only do three, Coronation Street could only do three, The Bill tried to do four and fell flat on its face. But the ace up the sleeve of the people who were running it was that they had Reg Grundy, who produced Neighbours. They imported all the knowledge that Grundy had accumulated doing five-times-a-week television in Australia, and they took his technique, the way he ran his show, they adopted it, and it worked like a charm. We were doing five-times-a-week television without any bother at all, it was the easiest job I’ve ever had, we were always home early, we always had weekends off, and to be quite honest we could have done eight. It was the happiest two years of my life, ‘cos there was no pressure, so it was great fun.

So where does life take you now?

I’m enjoying what is in many ways the most exciting time you could have. I’ve got a marvellous family, seven grandchildren; the youngest is just over four weeks old and that’s why I’m over here, to visit her. And also having a few jobs come along. Dragonslayer was great fun; Dawn of the Dragonslayer was an American film, made on a low budget, about fighting dragons. Marvellous part, I had; I got to stick a sword in my daughter. The same people have asked me to do another one. There’s also Drake; quite a lot of radio has come along. If I was asked to do some more five-times-a-week television, I would say yes. Or do another year of The Mousetrap.

What’s been your favourite medium?

Theatre’s my favourite. In television terms I would rather do fast- turnaround television than one play. If you do a play on television these days, you have to rehearse for weeks, and that would drive me nuts. I was at the Royal Shakespeare Company and we rehearsed King Lear for six months, and I only had two lines. Then we had to play it for six months. So that sort of work, I couldn’t face again. I do a lot of teaching; I teach Shakespeare. Look up Early Shakespeare if you’ve got children, because my wife and I do the voices for that. We’ve done Romeo & Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream; we’re doing Macbeth next and then The Tempest. They’re great fun to do and they’re no stress. And that’s what I want at the moment – no stress so I’ve got time for my grandchildren.

Having worked with both William Hartnell and Paul McGann, how would you compare them?

It’s like trying to compare the prehistoric age with the future. It’s a totally different world, because actors are totally different. William Hartnell was actually a very important person; I don’t mean that Paul McGann is lesser, but the actual treatment, the attitude, and the way that people behaved, was just so different. I liked William Hartnell and I actually got on very well with him, we were friends for a long time, but if an actor behaved now the way that William Hartnell behaved, you’d think he was a joke. William Hartnell was very grand; he demanded a certain respect for his position and what he did and who he was, and he was very proud of his profession, and he was very aware that there were people who treated the profession lightly. He wanted people to be impressed by actors. He was like the actors of the late Victorian era, who were desperate for respectability. Whereas Paul McGann might walk in in jeans and a sweater, and say, “Mate, how are ya?” He wants to be treated as a sort of equal, thinking, “There’s nothing special about me, I’m just an actor”. That’s totally different to what William Hartnell was doing; he was saying, “I am an actor and I am special”.

What do you remember about your role in Blake’s 7?

Do you remember what I was saying earlier on about editing? That they wouldn’t pay for an edit? I got a telephone call quite late at night from a director who I’d worked with before. He said, “Ian, can you help us out? Can you come in tomorrow and do this long speech? The actor we’ve got can’t remember it, and so we’re going to have to edit”. So they sent a messenger round with this script, which I learned, and I went on and did it in one take perfectly. That’s how I got that job, and that’s all I remember about it. I turned up, I went in, I stood there, said it, and went home. So I don’t remember much about it. I knew Paul Darrow very well, we were in Emergency – Ward 10 together so he was a very old chum, but I didn’t meet any of the other cast. It was the most extraordinary experience. That was the reason for that; because an actor couldn’t learn his lines and the BBC wouldn’t pay for the edit. It was cheaper to get another actor; much cheaper than paying for a five-time edit. Roughly speaking, it cost £250 an edit and £60 for an actor. So if you’ve got an actor doing a speech and it needs five edits, forget it. Pay him off and get another one.

Was your accent in The Aztecs your choice or the director’s?

It was my choice. One of the traps of television and film is that you have to turn up with your performance worked out, and you do it. The director can tweak it, but if you turn up expecting the director to tell you what to do, you’ve had it. An awful lot of actors fall into that trap. With my performance, I kept saying, “Ee-an”, and if you listen to Dark Eyes, and this is completely accidental, but I’m doing exactly the same thing with a girl I called “Moll-ee”. It’s exactly the same trick, and I’d forgotten I’d done it in The Aztecs. It worked out well, it makes it interesting.

A lot of actors have rituals they go through, like a glass of champagne on the first performance. Have you come across any interesting rituals like that?

There are some extraordinary rituals. Jimmy Durante couldn’t perform if he saw a hat on a bed. He was doing a play on Broadway, and for a joke, one of his friends got into his flat and they put about 50 hats on the bed. And he didn’t perform, he couldn’t go on that night. He was absolutely terrified. James Stewart had a hat which he insisted on wearing in every film. If you look at any of his Western films, he’s always wearing the same hat. It was his lucky hat. He got into a great big argument with the director of The Man from Laramie, who said, “You can’t wear that hat, it’s not right”. So Jimmy said, “Well I’m not playing the part”. They had a great Hollywood standoff, with the contracted actor confronting the whole studio, and in the end the studio gave in and he wore his hat. I do a talk called The Curse of Macbeth, about superstition in the theatre and film world, and there are many very strange superstitions that actors have.

How do you think they would approach The Aztecs now, with modern technology and modern Who?

I think they’d spoil it by making it too complicated. They would be able to fly, and there’d be all sorts of explosions and battles, and there’d be superhuman beings and all the rest of it. There was something about The Aztecs; the feeling that they could come into your drawing room. There was something immediate about them, which made them believable and slightly frightening. And I think they’d lose that, probably; I can’t imagine them making something as simple as an Aztec.

Could you talk some more about William Hartnell?

We’re going back to the early days of television when everything was a bit experimental, and William Hartnell was carrying a great big load on his shoulders. He saw himself as leading this thing, and if it fell apart, it would be his fault. For that reason, he didn’t take fools gladly. Anybody who didn’t do their job properly got a kicking. He could be very irascible, but very often in television, there’s a lot to be irascible about, especially in the early days when the technicians, the directors, the producers, they were all trying things out. William Hartnell was learning a script a week, and with all the technical stuff he was trying to cope with, and the problems that he had to cope with, it’s amazing that he wasn’t more irascible than he was. I thought he was just totally professional and very much objected to anybody who wasn’t. I thought he was a great guy. I first met him when I was in a film with him; Sean Connery, Malcolm Lynch and William Hartnell were the three stars, and I had a tiny part. And on that he was quite irascible; I remember him being really cross with Sean Connery. He wasn’t easy by any means, but he was usually right. He had a lot of pressure on him, he was an elderly man thrown into a completely different world and coping with it magnificently, and I think a large part of the reason that Doctor Who is still with us is because of the footprint that William Hartnell laid down. He set the standard, saying, “This is not just a children’s series, we’re going to take it seriously as a drama. We’re going to do as well as we can possibly do”. He made everyone – including the joking BBC technicians who would rather be doing something more important – take it very seriously. And I think because he did that, it has longevity. So we owe him a great debt.

The costumes that you wore in The Aztecs were pretty outlandish. How is it wearing a cat’s face on your head?

To any actors out there, I suggest that you go and buy a mask and put it on, and see what happens to you, because it’s quite extraordinary. You put on a mask, and you take on the personality of the mask. You put a child in a tiger mask, and the child will become a tiger. So the moment that mask went on, Ixta become royal and terribly important. Before that he was less secure; he actually changes personality because suddenly he becomes The Man.

What was it like working with the companions?

The ethos in the theatre is that you get into a play, you meet for the first rehearsal, and the cast bond and become at least supportive of each other, if not great friends, for the rehearsal period and the run of the play. The moment the final curtain comes down, they never see each other again. But the feeling of friendship and family, when you’re working on a project together in the theatre, is very strong and real. In Doctor Who, the regular cast were the family, and they were looking after the rest of us. They protected us from William Hartnell! They were nice actors, nice people, they knew they were lucky to have that job, and they were thoroughly enjoying it. It was great fun to do with them; they were very happy and very pleasant. I’m still friends with Bill Russell and I’ve seen them at conventions since. They were lovely, very happy company. There was a certain feeling that Bill Hartnell was the King, and then there was the rest of us. We were all aware that we mustn’t upset Bill. We were warned, “Whatever you do, don’t forget your lines, ‘cos he’ll kill you”.

When your character in Z-Cars got killed off, it was a big shock. Were you involved in that decision?

A new producer came in, he rang me up at midnight, and he was drunk, and he said, “We’ve decided to kill you off”. It was a shock, and I was very upset. In those days it was a fairly new thing, but the pattern is now fairly set: if a soap is beginning to sag a bit, they kill somebody off, or they marry them off, or divorce them; they do something dramatic. I got short-strawed and I was killed. Good death though!

Would you ever work on the modern Doctor Who?

I would if I was asked. I’d do anything for money, dear!

TV Legends for season opener

Stephen Fry and Sir Lenny Henry are stepping into the world of Who with both slated to appear in the series opener of Doctor Who next year.

The two television legends will join Jodie Whittaker who is reprising her role as the Thirteenth Doctor.

But will they be friend or foe? That’s the big question but really Stephen Fry is just happy to be appearing in the iconic show.

“Short of being picked for a British space exploration programme and I readily concede that I’m past the age where I’d be considered (if I was ever the right age for such a posting) – then being in an episode of Doctor Who will certainly do as a very sweet second-place excitement,” Fry admitted.

It was a sentiment backed by Henry.

“It was absolutely brilliant to be welcomed into the fantastical world of Doctor Who,” he said.

“The nearest I have been to the TARDIS was when I played the Caribbean Doctor in the Lenny Henry Show , so as a life-long (hiding behind the sofa type) Doctor Who fan this is a very special moment for me.”

Showrunner Chris Chibnall promised a big opener for the long-awaited new series.

“Doctor Who is coming back with a bang – with two great British icons in major roles,” he said.

“One of the great joys of Doctor Who is getting to work with actors from your wish list. Stephen and Lenny are two of my absolute favourite actors – and to be able to bring them into Doctor Who, in one of our biggest ever stories to kick off the new series, is an absolute thrill.”

 

Enter the Virtual Whoniverse Down Under

For decades fans have dreamt of stepping into the Whoniverse and experiencing all of its wonders and terrors first hand. Now finally that dream can come true, through the wonders of Virtual Reality in the fully immersive environment of Doctor Who: The Edge of Time. This VR game allows players the opportunity to pilot a Dalek casing from the inside, wield the sonic screwdriver and face off against the Weeping Angels. Full of action, puzzles and cinematic effects, the VR game also features Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor and Nicholas Briggs as the voice of the Daleks. While the feature length game will be widely available online for those with VR headsets from 12 November onwards, a special 20 minute version will also be hosted by arcades across the world. Best of all, for once we aren’t left out in the cold here in the land Down Under, as six arcade locations across the continent plan to host the game. From Western Australia to Queensland, New South Wales to Tasmania, the door to the Whoniverse will open for the 56th anniversary on 23 November 2019 (Doctor Who Day). It will run from that day onwards, with no end date currently announced. Although bookings aren’t essential, to avoid disappointment at times of high demand it is recommended to call the arcade prior to visiting. Don’t miss out!

The Australian locations hosting Doctor Who: The Edge of Time are:

VR- ARRIVAL : 295 Albany Highway, Victoria Park, Western Australia, 6100

Free Space VR Arcade: 295 St Pauls Terrace, Fortitude Valley, Queensland, 4006

Central Coast Virtual Reality : 26 The Entrance Road, The Entrance, NSW, 2261

VRROOM Entertainment : 315 The Entrance Road, Long Jetty, NSW, 2261

VR Corner : 49 Regent Street, Chippendale, NSW, 2008

TAS-VR : Shed 3, 1 Pipeworks Road, St Leonards, Tasmania, 7250

Forty Years of DWCA Events

November 24 marks a very special occasion – exactly 40 years since the first-ever DWCA event in 1979.

To mark to occasion the DWCA have an upcoming Day Event on the weekend just after the 40-year milestone on December 1. The event will be held at Club Burwood in Sydney.

http://dwca.org.au/events/sydney-day-event-december-2019/

In preparation for the celebration, we’re sharing here Ashley Tuchin’s article Unconventional: A History of The ADWFC’s Doctor Who Parties which first appeared in Zerinza Volume 1. Zerinza Volumes 1 and 2 are both still available through the DWCA store.

http://dwca.org.au/products-page/dwca-publications/

Unconventional: A History of The ADWFC’s Doctor Who Parties

By Ashley Tuchin

In the beginning, there was nothing. Fast forward a few million millennia and there was something, but it was still rather boring. Skip forward a bit further and there was finally something worth talking about. That something was called Doctor Who. Nowhere was this charming little television series loved more than in our strange and far away land of Australia. Perhaps it was because our country so resembles a strange and alien world, complete with bizarre life-forms, that it resonated so strongly with many of our youth. In 1976, some of those plucky youths came together to form a club: The Australasian Doctor Who Fan-Club (ADWFC). Now, the whole point of a club is usually to socialise and fraternise with other like-minded people, celebrating or honouring a particular thing that serves as a common point of interest. It makes sense then, that the ADWFC eventually set about organising little get-togethers or “parties”, for members of the club to come together and celebrate all things Who. These were smaller affairs than the average convention – even by the standards of the day – and the club could not, at the time, afford to bring out any guests, hence the quieter, more intimate term, party was used. Although, just because the club couldn’t afford to bring out any guests, that didn’t mean that they weren’t able to secure some over the years. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, let’s start at the beginning.

For the first few years of the club’s existence, it didn’t really host any social events or functions at all. The main focus of the club in its first three years was its magazine – Zerinza – so membership to the club essentially just meant a subscription to Zerinza and vice versa. The reason for this was that any event organised by the club would inevitably be Sydney-based, which was deemed to be pretty unfair to the majority of the club’s membership, who were from rural areas or even inter-state. A magazine, on the other hand, knows no such discrimination and was equally accessible to all members of the club. On top of this, the Sydney University Science Fiction Association (SUSFA) already had their own events and get-togethers and there was a large degree of crossover between the members of both groups (they even shared the same President). It was therefore deemed unnecessary for the ADWFC to have its own social outings as well. This viewpoint didn’t change until Tom Baker’s visit in early 1979 which “breathed life into a LOT of fan clubs all around Australia”, according to ADWFC founding member and original president, Antony Howe. It was around this time that Antony started looking at the club in a different light, due in part to the fact that other interstate groups were becoming more active, so he felt that he had to start doing something more with the club.

This led to the first ADWFC Doctor Who Party, held on Saturday the 24th of November 1979, from 12 to 6 pm, just one day after the show’s 16th anniversary. This party was organised by Antony, aided by some friends from SUSFA. Since he was a student at the time, he couldn’t afford to fly a guest out from overseas, for risk of the event running at a loss. There was, however, an initial attempt to circumvent this problem by coordinating with another fan group in Melbourne. The idea was that they would host a weekend-long convention, between both cities. That way they could pool their resources to bring out an international guest and have them appear in Sydney on one day and Melbourne, the next. Unfortunately, though, money still proved the biggest issue with, once again, nobody involved having the income to guarantee the costs, should they run at a loss. Compounding the issues with this idea, the Melbourne club’s facilities were, in the words of Mr Howe, “restrictive”. He and Dallas Jones, another club founder and eventual President, did make a test run down to Melbourne, to check the validity of this plan, but in the end it was labelled a failure and the whole thing was scrapped.

Thus, with the idea of an intercity, weekend-long event featuring a special guest now thoroughly scrapped, Antony turned to organising a smaller-scale and more cost-effective event. It also has to be remembered that at this time, most of the fans who attended these events were children which provided just another reason why costs had to be kept low. So, Mr Howe found himself faced with the task of organising an event that would be cost-effective for both the club and attendees, while also being entertaining and suitably exciting enough to attract a crowd. The result was a charming yet exciting affair, held at the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F) Hall in Clarence Street, that featured: a market that sold various Doctor Who goodies (monthlies and weeklies, Target novelisations, dolls, jewellery, stickers, photo stills from the series, and various other bits and pieces), a raffle (prizes included old issues of Zerinza and a tape-recording of Tom Baker’s interview with the club), a slide-show, discussions about the series, a replay of interviews from Tom Baker’s visit to Australia (which happened earlier in 1979) and a masquerade competition (back in the days before the word ‘cosplay’ had entered common parlance), suitably named ‘The Masquerade of Mandragora’ (if you don’t get that reference then you’d best Google it immediately or risk losing your Doctor Who fan card). Remember also that this was a time when Doctor Who merchandise was a lot harder to come by. There was no ABC Shop, nor JB-Hi-Fi or Amazon or online retailers of any kind (mainly due to, you know, the lack of internet). The first Doctor Who home videos (kind of like DVDs, but more rectangular) didn’t even start coming out in Australia until 1987, so the opportunity to buy Who merchandise of any kind must have been a dream come true for most fans.

The second party was where things were really kicked up a notch. Held in mid-1980, this was the first party to be held at Sydney Uni’s Stephen Roberts Theatre, which would become home to the club’s parties for many years to come. Even more importantly though, this was the first party to have a special guest from the show, and who did they get, you may ask? Oh, only Jon “Third Doctor” Pertwee! That’s right, the master of Venusian Aikido himself, U.N.I.T’s very own Scientific Advisor, was in attendance at the ADWFC’s second ever party. You see, it was all a matter of perfect timing, or some might even say fate. Jon was in Australia, touring with his cabaret show and very graciously agreed to appear at the party, free of charge! Then on the day of the party he stayed back several hours more than agreed, to finish signing autographs and graciously talk to fans. On top of that, he even went to Antony Howe’s place for a special dinner with everyone involved in organising the party, again free of charge and completely in his own time. Now, how many celebrities would do that? Seriously? This wasn’t the first time that a Doctor had been to Australia – as mentioned before, Tom Baker had come Down Under the previous year – but it was the first time that a Doctor had attended a locally run and organised fan event. Fortunately for us though, he wouldn’t be the last.

Now, unfortunately, this didn’t start a trend of big-name guests showing up at every club party for free, though it sure would have been nice if it had. For the most part, ADWFC parties were low key affairs more in the vein of the first one. Party number three followed this model, as did number four. Party number five, however, was another one for the history books.

The ADWFC’s fifth Doctor Who Party was held on the 19th of September 1981, once more at the Stephen Roberts Theatre, and featured the ever-lovely Katy Manning as the guest of honour. Katy, of course, played Jo Grant alongside Jon Pertwee’s Doctor between 1971 and 1973 and is not only the DWCA’s patron but also lived in our fair country for a number of years. This visit, however, was before her emigration and gave Aussie fans their first chance to meet Jo in person. It’s only a shame that she and Jon could not have attended a party together; their chemistry was legendary.

As with most of these early instances of having overseas guests at parties, Katy was already in the country, taking a look at the lay of the land, with the intention of moving here eventually. After some initial difficulties in contacting her, communication was eventually established and she agreed rather enthusiastically to attend.

The party kicked off at 2 pm with the usual festivities and decorations as well as the Doctor Who theme music playing throughout the theatre. For the first few hours, fans mingled, browsed and shopped as they inspected the market stalls, eagerly awaiting their special guest. When she did arrive, she was met with warm applause from a fan-base that very much adored her. She took to the stage immediately and was interviewed by Antony Howe, before answering questions from the audience. Just like Jon Pertwee, she was kind and friendly, answering questions with warmth and supplying an endless number of anecdotes about her time on the show. Once the question and answer session reached its conclusion, it was time for the autographs as Katy spent more than an hour signing away and chatting to her fans. As the autographing, and the party, came to an end, fans would no doubt have felt a sense of amazement and disbelief: two huge guests just over a year apart, surely it couldn’t get better than this. Could it?

The sixth party was another quiet, more standard affair, but fans didn’t have to wait too much longer before being treated to more special guests. 1983 was coming and it would be a year to remember for the ADWFC, taking their parties to new heights and shattering the expectations which had originally been held for them.

Starting off this amazing year was party number seven, held on the 10th of April 1983. This was the second party to feature a Doctor as a special guest – Peter Davison. Excitingly, Davison was still the incumbent Doctor at the time and he brought his wife – Sandra Dickinson – with him, who most Who fans would have known as Trillian from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy TV series. So, it was essentially a two guests for the price of one situation since there’s a great deal of crossover between Who and Hitchhiker fans.

They were lucky to get them at all though, seeing as the club had a great deal of trouble with Myer, who were the ones who had actually brought Peter out here. They were having their own signing tour, with Peter travelling around the country to several of their stores. Unfortunately though, Myer’s representatives proved difficult to work with and quite unsympathetic to the club. It was so bad that Antony had to actually call Peter’s agent in London, just to get an answer as to whether he would even be willing to attend the party. Fortunately, he proved to be much more helpful and confirmed that Peter would be delighted to attend.

The problems didn’t stop there though, as the party had to be organised in a very short period of time, all the while battling against Myer and their ever-changing schedule. You see, by the time they’d finally received confirmation of Davison’s attendance, the club were left with only two weeks to prepare and organise the party. One of the biggest problems was promotion, as Myer had done very little in that regard other than some in-store promotion. Therefore, it fell upon the ADWFC to advertise not only the party, but the Myer tour as well, hoping to draw in as many fans from outside of the club as possible. With so many hurdles placed before them, it’s amazing to think that they managed to get the party off the ground at all. But against all odds, they did. “Brave heart” and all that.

When the day finally came, the party kicked off much like any other club party, and I’m not just referring to the fact that it started late. Held once again in the Stephen Roberts Theatre, it had the usual array of market stalls and the venue was adorned with a litter of decorations; posters, wall-hangings and Dalek cut outs. Guests spent the early part of the day mingling, enjoying the market and attending a special screening in the nearby Carslaw building, which was also suitably decorated, including wall paintings of a Dalek and a Terileptil. The big man himself arrived at two o’clock, accompanied by his wife and the lady from Myer – Leora Cohen. Unfortunately, they’d been placed on a very strict two hour time limit by Myer, which Ms Cohen refused to extend. This meant that at the conclusion of the two hour interview and question and answer session, the Doctor and Trillian were whisked away, back into the TARDIS. Well, a Saab.

Unfortunately, this meant that Peter did not get to sign autographs or mingle with fans, as Jon Pertwee had. But he was still a friendly and charming man who enthralled all of those in attendance as he spoke and answered questions about his career, the making of the show and the like. Likewise, Sandra was friendly and graciously answered all of the questions directed at her, despite only having arrived in the country that morning. The whole experience would have been rather like Peter Capaldi’s trips to Australia over the last two years, for the Doctor Who Festival and Doctor Who World Tour. The current Doctor, named Peter, came to Australia and spoke to fans, but was unable to sign autographs or mingle (although, the Davison party was certainly a lot cheaper than either of those more recent events!).

As mentioned before, 1983 was quite a big year for the ADWFC parties. They managed to have not one, not two, but three in the one year – all with special guests! More than that, this second party came less than two months after the Peter Davison party and featured his on-screen companion, Janet Fielding, a.k.a. Tegan. That’s right – the current Doctor and one of his companions, less than two months apart! When the club had found out that Janet would be in Australia, they had to make the quick decision whether or not to throw a party in her honour, given that they were still recovering from the Davison party. They eventually decided to go ahead with it because Janet would be in Australia for a decent length of time and thus they could hold the party towards the end of her stay. Janet agreed quite happily to attend, although there were some minor hiccups. Upon contacting her a second time, it was discovered that she’d got the dates mixed up and thought that the party was one month earlier than it actually was. Fortunately, this was sorted out fairly easily, but then she told them that she would have to leave an hour earlier than originally planned, meaning she could only attend from 12 to 3 pm, not 12 to 4 pm. However, Janet very kindly offered to arrive an hour earlier to make up for her early departure. It did cause a lot of trouble for Antony Howe’s mother, Rosemary, though as she had to keep re-writing the program for the day.

The party was held on the 29th of May 1983 at the Stephen Roberts Theatre, which by now had well and truly become the unofficial home of the ADWFC parties. It kicked off a little earlier than most, staring at 10:30 am due to Janet’s need to leave early to catch her flight back to Brisbane. It’s heart-warming to see just how dedicated and caring she was towards her fans, taking time out from her own holiday to essentially pop down to Sydney just to say hello. The same can be said for all of these party guests. It seems almost unthinkable in this day and age, where conventions are big business and actors’ time is worth quite a bit of cash.

About 270 people attended the party, some of which came from as far away as Tamworth, Brisbane and Adelaide. This was a much bigger turn-out than the Davison party, which could probably be attributed to three things: the longer publicity time, the fact that this was Janet’s only appearance in Australia, and the availability of autographs. The party followed the traditional mould, with the usual decorations on display and goodies available at the market for the first hour and a half. The guest of honour herself arrived at 11 am and immediately started signing autographs.

Unfortunately, due to Janet’s time constraints, there had to be a limit of only one item signed per attendee, which I’m sure that some found disappointing and also conflicting as they had to choose which of their beloved items would be marked for posterity (again, compare this to modern conventions, where you have to pay per item to be signed, usually around the forty to sixty dollar mark per item). Janet, thoughtful as she was, also brought along a stack of postcards of herself for attendees to get signed, if they didn’t have a personal item (something that has since become standard practice at most modern conventions). At the end of the signing session, everyone managed to walk away with something signed, which is the main thing.

Following the autographs, it was time for the masquerade competition. Initially, there had been one planned for the Peter Davison party, but it was eventually scrapped due to the troubles with Myer and the organisational problems that it created. The competition had a massive fifteen competitors, including three Masters, two Doctors, a Dalek, a Cyberman, a Nimon, Davros, Turlough, the Brigadier, Victoria, Jo and a partridge in a pear-tree. The competition was judged by Antony Howe, Kerrie Dougherty and David Wraight, while Ian Craddy and Karen Lewis were the MCs for the day. The lucky winners were Michael Crocker for the overall winner – dressed as the Fifth Doctor in his Black Orchid harlequin costume – and Chris Guest for the best juvenile award – dressed as an Earthshock Cyberman (Cyber-boy? Cyber-tot?). Both of the lucky guys were awarded their prizes by Janet herself.

The final item of the day was the cherry on top of the cake: an interview with Janet, conducted by Stephen Collins and David Wraight, which was also opened up to questions from the audience. The whole of which lasted a staggering two hours! Given that these days most Q&A sessions at conventions last fifty minutes to an hour, this is mind-boggling. One would think that the well of questions would dry up long before that, but clearly not. Clearly there were 270 people in that room with burning questions that only Janet could answer. Perhaps those who have grown up with the internet, such as myself, can never truly appreciate a time when a fan’s questions could not easily be answered; a time when besides Doctor Who Magazine or conversations with other fans who were in the know, the only real way to find out behind-the-scenes titbits was to hear them from the horse’s mouth? Today you can find answers from DVD special features or watch interviews online and there’s a good chance that when you hear a question asked at a Q&A, you may very well already know the answer. Not that it isn’t still a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ask a star a question directly, but maybe my generation can never truly grasp just how much more special it was once upon a time? Anyway, just a thought.

With that, the ADWFC’s eighth party drew to a close and Tegan, I mean Janet, took off on her journey back to Brisbane. The day was a brilliant success, with a large turn-out and another friendly and engaging guest. But there would still be one more party to be held before 1983 came to an end. Unfortunately, the club was unable to complete the hat-trick and round out the then-current TARDIS team by getting Mark Strickson. That would have been quite the feat indeed. But fans still had a lot to look forward to at the next party, which saw the return of a previous guest who was not only hugely popular, but would become quite a friend to the club over the years.

After the whirlwind couple of months that had encompassed the Peter Davison and Janet Fielding parties, it was realised that the club had to yet to host the annual Mastermind trivia competition for the year. Additionally, the show’s 20th anniversary was fast approaching, which meant that the club would have to organise another party, but it was decided to give everyone some breathing room by leaving it to as late a date as possible. Trying to leave it until after uni exams, but with enough time before Christmas, it was decided that somewhere in the first two weeks of December would be the magic spot.

In the end, the ninth ADWFC party was held on the 11th of December 1983, just a few weeks after the show’s 20th anniversary and the accompanying special – The Five Doctors – aired in the UK.  Fortuitously, the ABC announced that they’d be airing the special on the following Tuesday, meaning that interest in Doctor Who would be heightened. After the spectacular year they’d had thus far, and in keeping with the celebratory nature of the party, it was decided that a guest was needed and so an invitation was sent out to Katy Manning, who was living in Australia by that point, hoping that she’d be up for a return after two years. She had been forced to cancel an appearance with the South Australian Doctor Who Fan Club due to work commitments, but that club was able to help the ADWFC get in touch with her. She agreed to attend, work permitting, from 3 to 6pm and would be willing to stay longer if necessary. She also agreed to be a judge for the masquerade competition, which was being held again after the success of the previous one.

With more time to prepare than with the previous two parties, a great deal more publicity was possible. The biggest boost came from an interview that Antony did with the Sydney Morning Herald’s TV guide, during which he was able to promote the party. It was also during this time that Kerrie Dougherty was able to secure a second guest, Dr. John Tulloch, author of Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text, who agreed to give a brief talk on his book.

Things seemed to be going smoothly when everyone arrived at the Stephen Roberts Theatre at around 11:30am to set up. But, as per tradition, Murphy’s Law was soon in full effect as it was realised that the float for the merchandise had been forgotten. This necessitated a last-minute change to the program so that it could be retrieved. This meant that the Mastermind competition had to become the first item on the agenda, rather than the usual market and the necessary set-up time resulted in the doors opening fifteen minutes late, at 1:15pm. When the doors finally did open, they were hit by an unexpectedly long line of people, with around three-hundred and forty people in attendance! This was a staggering number and more than a hundred more than had been anticipated; there weren’t even enough programs and membership cards to go around!

This created another logistical problem as everybody involved had flashbacks of the Janet Fielding party and the autographing nightmare that entailed. Discussions needed to be had on how to deal with autographs for such a high volume of people and it was eventually decided to ask Katy if she could stay back after her interview, to finish off the autographs. Katy, being the lovely person that she is, very graciously agreed.

Katy was picked up from her house and arrived at 3:30pm, when she immediately began signing away, working through the sea of fans, patiently waiting their turn. This first bout of autographs lasted half an hour, with the occasional pause for a photo or a chat with a fan, before a short break so that she could refresh herself and meet some of the people involved in organising the party. With so many people still awaiting autographs, it was decided to make another change to the program, lest the party should finish sometime after 8pm. They asked Dr. Tulloch politely whether he’d mind starting his talk at 4:50pm, while the autographing was still winding down. The masquerade then followed the talk, rather than the other way around, as originally intended.

This masquerade was even more successful than the previous one, with the contestants including: three Fourth Doctors, one Second Doctor, one Third Doctor, one Fifth Doctor, two Time Lords, Adric, the First Master, Sutekh and Magnus Greel. The top prize went to Mathew Crocker as the Time-Lord, Zorac from Arc of Infinity, while two juvenile prizes were awarded to Clive Parkin as Sutekh and Bill Wodrow as the Fifth Doctor. Katy also gave special mention to Karsten John, the only Third Doctor that she had ever seen (apart from Jon, of course), and Anthony Martin who was dressed as a Time-Lord Archivist and whom Katy thought gave an excellent speech.

Once the prizes were handed out for the masquerade, as well as the Mastermind competition, Katy left for another short break. She returned to the stage a little later for the final activity of the day: her interview. She was her usual, dazzling self and kept the audience enthralled and enamoured as she answered their questions and regaled them with stories and anecdotes. The interview and indeed, the whole day, came to an end at about 7:20pm. After getting off to a shaky start, the party had managed to correct itself and wound up being an enjoyable, albeit exhausting, day for all involved. The ADWFC had managed to celebrate the Doctor’s 20th anniversary in style, with a record crowd that held promises of more good times to come in the future.

The ADWFC would continue to hold parties once or twice a year, well into the late eighties, before fading out and being replaced by (regenerating into?) Whovention. But the parties hold a very special place in the club’s history as well as the history of Australian Who fandom. From their initial conception as an inexpensive social gathering for fans to meet other fans, shop and engage in activities, they soon grew into something so much more. They quickly expanded beyond their own mission statement, to become one of the only events in the country to allow fans to meet the stars of the show. What’s more, they did it in a way that maintained the close, intimate and inexpensive atmosphere that Antony had originally envisioned, creating a type of event that is difficult to imagine in the age of Supanova and Oz Comic-Con. But even when they weren’t able to host big guests, they were still fun, engaging and important events for the fans who attended them. They allowed people to see Doctor Who serials, new and old, in a time before home media; they gave fans access to merchandise that they couldn’t get elsewhere; but most importantly, they allowed fans to come together and just bask in the glory of Doctor Who with other like-minded people.

Unfortunately, those parties are now relics of a bygone era that we are unlikely to relive again. With geek culture now achieving a popularity that was never before felt possible, conventions and other fan events have become a business enterprise and a profitable one at that. This means that while big, weekend-long conventions with high-level guests are pretty commonplace, smaller, more intimate conventions are severely endangered. Not that there’s anything wrong with larger conventions – they have the resources to bring out dozens of high profile guests at a time, which provides some amazing opportunities for fans. But it also means that stars are now less likely to attend smaller events that can’t offer convention-level money.

I suppose that’s why it’s important for us to look back at these early parties, to be reminded of a simpler time when you could meet Jon Pertwee for a few dollars and get an autograph or photo for free. It was a time when the ADWFC, and Australian fandom, was still finding its feet and without those parties, we couldn’t have the club or the events that we have today. Now that’s something that we should be truly thankful for.