Friday, 28 September 2007

Interview - Fanboy Mastermind (Part Two of Two)

(Matt) How does NZ fandom compare on the world scene? Are we really very different from, say, British fans? And how come?
(Jon) I think the main difference between us and UK fans is that they get a more stable and regular diet of Who—eg. repeats on satellite TV, the books are readily available and they get to attend at least two conventions a year where they can meet stars from the show. They are rather spoiled because of this.

It is relatively easy to travel around the UK because they have such a splendid train system. This enables fans from all over the country to amass at these conventions. In New Zealand we don not have the same ability to get around the country to attend any sort of organized event, and as a result they don't get organized! Only local events seem to keep the interest alive.

We have been very privileged to get to see people like Tom Baker only because of circumstances rather than by design. Sadly, Baker has had to pull out of attending the 'Conquest II' convention in Auckland next year.

That's a great shame. And a blow for NZ fandom no doubt. Do you think the series itself will ever come back as new, or even repeats to New Zealand (as TVNZ no longer holds the rights)?
Ooo, tough question. If the show comes back to NZ screens it will probably be as an early weekend morning filler. I'd be very surprised to see it in prime time. Of course, the new Prime station or Sky's TV channel could be the new home for Who in NZ.

Will the show come back? It's possible, but I doubt it will happen before the turn of the century. Personally, I'd prefer to see a series of irregular TV movies (four a year?) rather than a twenty-two episode series. The idea of several two hour movies is more appealing as it gives scope for bigger and more epic stories.

If the show was to return full time, chances are it will adopt the now familiar concept of a story arc. There are very few SF TV shows nowadays that don't have some form of story arc in them (it's a very Nineties concept!). Doctor Who has previously used umbrella themes (Key to Time, E-Space) so the concept is not new.

What did you think of the telemovie and the new DWM regeneration?
From a production point of view the movie couldn't be faulted. It was a beautifully crafted piece of film with great direction from Geoffrey Sax. Sadly, the script didn't live up to expectations (but it was a darn sight better than some of the earlier scripts as seen in The Nth Doctor book). I've seen the film five times now and I still can't work out what's going on in the last few acts!

As for the DWM regeneration, I kinda expected it had to be a hoax. It's very healthy, I think, to give fandom a kick in the pants like this from time to time!

How about the BBC Books? As products of the BBC are the new books canon, and what do you think of them?
Technically, the books are a product of BBC Worldwide Ltd., which is a merchandising wing of the BBC, whereas the programme was made by BBC Drama, so there's no real reason why the two should even be considered part of the same continuity! But then of course the 1996 TV movie was co-produced with BBC Worldwide, so bang goes that line of thinking!

The subject of canonicity is one I prefer not to get too involved in, having already had my fingers badly burnt saying they aren't canon in the rec.arts.dr.who newsgroup!

Besides, it's all very good and fine to think about and then decide what is and what isn't canon, but unless you actually do something constructive with it, there isn't really much point in choosing, is there!

But, no, I only consider the TV episodes to be canon. That is not to say, however, that I don't enjoy other aspects of Doctor Who, such as the books and the comics. I read the books for enjoyment, not because I need a new fix of Doctor Who adventures; I don't need the books to be canon. I only get the books for my ever-growing Doctor Who collection. And with two new books a month, the pile of unread novels just grows and grows!

I've read only fourteen of the BBC books so far (a mix of both Eighth and past Doctors); some I've liked, some I've hated. I don't like Paul Leonard or John Peel's work, for instance, but I love Lance Parkin and Justin Richards' stuff. And before you ask, I have no intention to write one! While I do have some ideas, I don't have the time or the ability to write a novel.

You stole the questions right out of my mouth! Apart from Who, what else do you do outside of fandom?
I work for the National Bank; have been employed with them for fourteen years (although some times it feels like forever!). In terms of non-work interests, obviously there is my Doctor Who connections, but I should point out that I am a fan of general SF. I belong to a local SF club here in Hamilton. I love all SF films and TV. I don't get to read as much as I'd like to. (Probably 'cos I have far too many Doctor Who books still to read!)

I also collect merchandise. I have zillons of videos, plus books and magazines about movies and SF shows. In my overall collection I have novels, scripts, annuals, activity books, view-master slides, non-fiction reference books, film posters, lobby cards—I could go on but I don't want to bore you! I have a few rare items. My oldest Doctor Who collectible is the 1964 Radio Times with Marco Polo on the cover. But the oldest book in my non-Who collection is dated 1899. It'll be 100 next year!

What are your other science fiction interests? Why do you place Doctor Who at the top?
I think this was answered in the last question. My interests cover most media SF: Babylon 5, The X Files, Blakes 7, Thunderbirds, etc. And yes, I'll admit to watching and liking Star Trek! I'm looking forward to the new film, due either Boxing Day, or Easter next year—I'm not sure which. I am also very much looking forward to the new Star Wars films. There is just so much new SF on TV that it almost gets impossible to keep up with it all and still have time to sleep!

As for placing Who at the top, I think it's because it has such a rich continuity that is both complex and simple at the same time, and that makes it so much fun. Other long running series like Star Trek also have continuity structure but with Trek it is all spelled out for the viewer. Who still has a lot that is still a mystery. But now I find that I enjoy the behind-the-scenes analysis more than I do watching the show.

Why did you fold SF On Screen?
There are two reasons. Firstly, the idea of SF On Screen was that it was intended to act as an introduction to the TV shows and movies that were due to appear on NZ TV. The episode lists are a combination of stuff I get off the internet ad from the various SF magazines that I subscribe to, so I was pretty much up to date. But trying to predict what new shows TVNZ and TV3/4 were going to screen in the new year proved a nightmare. Neither broadcaster was prepared to divulge advanced screening information, so SF On Screen was either too early with info (Space Precinct has still not been shown in NZ!), or too late (Dark Skies screened before I had covered it). I simply got frustrated with this.

Secondly, for the past two years I've been working on a rather complex Doctor Who-related project which has taken up a lot of my spare time. I had to simply make a decision not to continue with the newsletter. It is possible—just possible mind!—that I will resurrect the newsletter some time in the future. We'll see.

Sorry, but its probably time we called it a day. That deadline is getting close! Last question—What is your most embarrasing moment (that you're willing to share!)?
One that springs to mind is when I phoned a friend to wish them a Happy Birthday only to discover that not only was I month late, but I had also phoned the wrong person ...! I guess you had to be there.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Interview - Fanboy Mastermind (Part One of Two)

Interviewed by Matt Kamstra (in 1998)

(Matt) Let's start from the beginning. What were your first memories of Doctor Who?
(Jon) I was born in August 1964. My first memory of Doctor Who comes four years later and is the scene from Planet Of Giants in which two figures (the Doctor and Susan) climb down a plug-hole and water pours past them. My only other memory of William Hartnell's Doctor is his regeneration at the end of The Tenth Planet. Curiously, despite their later impact on me, I have no recollections whatsoever of the Cybermen!

Patrick Troughton had more of an impact on me because I was older by the time his stories aired in New Zealand. I do have very vivid recollections of seeing The Moonbase, The Macra Terror, The Evil Of The Daleks, The Tomb Of The Cybermen, The Web Of Fear, and The Wheel In Space. If you chart out when the stories screened—as recorded in Paul Scoones' Listener guidebooks [now online here]—you can see that these Troughton stories aired around June through October 1969, 1970, and 1971. We didn't own a television set, we only rented one during the winter months, which explains the 'gaps' in my viewings.

And yes, I can honestly say—although it's an embarrassing cliche to admit to—I did watch the show from behind the sofa, or through a crack in the door! I can remember being scared to go to sleep one night, an eye on the open bedroom doorway, afraid that a Cybermen would come in and take me out of my bed (obviously after watching The Moonbase), and then almost having a fit when a dark silhouette suddenly appeared in the doorway—my father coming to bid me a good night!

So when was it that you first realised that Doctor Who was more than just a casual fancy?
There are two significant dates: one is 1979, the other 1984 ...

I had watched the programme on and off during the Pertwee years and the early Tom Baker seasons (we had bought our first colour TV during that period), but due to the show always screening on Saturday afternoons I missed a lot of episodes. I can say however that I did see at least one full episode of every story that screened between 1975 and 1979.

1979 could be considered the turning point as it was when I first started reading the Target novelisations. To cut a long story short I started collecting the books when I managed to buy about ten of the books very cheaply in a book exchange. New paperbacks were considered expensive back then at $1.25 (rather cheap by today's standards!) because I got only $2 a week pocket money! But from that point on I made it a goal to collect all the books as there were only about forty at that time.

I had no idea of the story order for the books, but in 1982 I got a copy of Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke's book The Making of Doctor Who which contained an episode guide up to The Hand Of Fear. Soon I was able to recite the broadcast story order off by heart—the first real sign of being a true fan! I also started to subscribe to Doctor Who Monthly around that time. So Who was becoming a hobby ...

In 1982 we got our first video recorder and I was able to tape Part Four of Logopolis a week later, which I played and played and played to the point where I could literally recite it all word for word. And then in 1983 I started taping the Peter Davison episodes.

As I stated earlier, 1984 was another significant year. It was when I met a fellow fan who had obtained 'bootleg' tapes of old Hartnell, Troughton, and Pertwee stories from another fan in Australia. You can imagine my reaction! After much pleading (!), she kindly made copies for me. From that point on I became a Doctor Who video junkie. And that would be when Doctor Who became more than just a casual fancy—I was now a FAN, in capital letters.

And, alas, now a super fan! You must have a favourite moment in fandom/as a fan? Would I be right or wrong in guessing your appearance on Mastermind?
Actually you're wrong! Mastermind would have been my favourite prior to 1990, but subsequent events superceded that experience.

I have three really favourite moments as a fan, and all of them took place in England! The first was in 1990 when I appeared on the fan quiz slot during the BSB Doctor Who weekend. I got to talk with many of the stars from the show during the set-ups. I'm still 'recognised' by British fans for that brief TV appearance.

Another favourite moment as a fan would have to be attending the 30th Anniversary 'Panopticon' convention in London since it was the fandom event of 1993. The five surviving Doctors were there (I even got to share a dressing room with Jon Pertwee!) as well as many of the companions. It was also a chance to rub shoulders, if you like, with some of the 'new' Who writers such as Gary Russell, Paul Cornell, Kate Orman, and Gareth Roberts, as well as a chance to meet up again with some ex-pat Kiwis like Warwick "Scott" Gray, and Alistair Hughes, who were there also.

The third moment was another convention, 'Space Mountain', which was also in 1993. Again, it was an opportunity to meet fans, and stars, and production personnel from the series.

As for Mastermind, that was ten years ago, and I see it now as having been a challenge from a personal level rather than as something I did as a fan. It's something which I'm a bit embarrassed to talk about now, especially with non-fans. It was still fun to do though.

But if I had to single out one of the above as my favourite, favourite moment, it would have to be 'Panopticon '93'. That was simply awesome!

Yes, well, not much has been written about either of your television experiences. Perhaps you could fill us in a bit?
I applied for Mastermind in January 1988 and was subsequently called up for an audition. A few weeks later I received a letter stating I had been selected for the series—incidentally the programme's thirteenth season (but I'm not superstitious!). I had about two months before recording to brush up on my general knowledge. I knew from studying previous series of Mastermind that they have a mix of recent current events, sports, history, pop culture, and music questions.

They record three editions of the programme at a a time. I was in Heat Seven, which was the second of three editions being recorded that day. They record the show from start to finish, with only two brief pauses between rounds. After the first round (the specialist topics) I was in the lead. After the second round (general knowledge) I was tied with one of the other contestants, but I answered one more question. If it had resulted in a tie, I think I would have still won on the basis that whoever had the least number of 'passed' questions wins.

I was more nervous watching the televised programme than making it. I hadn't told many people, only family and friends. I was a bit scared to show up at work the next day—I was hoping that no one had seen it. Unfortunately one of them had, and he'd told the others!

The semi-final was recorded a few weeks later. Unfortunately due to nerves, I stuffed up the first question which lost me valuable time. I came last! Judith Medlicott—who is a lecturer I believe at Dunedin University—was the winner that year. She got a 100% score.

As for the BSB appearance, I was on holiday in England for three months during late 1990. One of the satellite TV stations, BSB (now defunct), was running a forty-eight hour screening of Doctor Who episodes one weekend in September. They sent a film crew along to the Fitzroy Tavern, a pub in central London at which fans gather once a month, to film 'fans in action'. I was there and when they heard I was visiting from New Zealand they asked if I would appear in the fan quiz in order to give it an international flavour. Naturally I said 'yes'. I was picked up by taxi very early one Saturday morning and taken to the studios. During the day various Doctor Who people came and went to film interviews and links for the weekend. It was very long and tiring—but exciting day. I got to meet and get autographs of many of the actors from all eras of the show.

You mention Mastermind as something you did on a personal basis. How do you see your Mastermind appearance in light of your appearance on BSB?
While Mastermind was a 'serious' experience, the BSB quiz was nothing more than a bit of fun, something which only fans would even see or appreciate. I remember reading a review of the weekend in a UK fanzine which said the people in the quiz were a bunch of 'bores' (my fellow quiz members were John Nathan-Turner, and UK superfans Andrew Beech, and Jean Riddler. The questions had been set by David J. Howe.). Only two of the UK magazines that covered reviews of the weekend even mentioned the quiz, and one of them spelt my name wrong!

David Ronayne asked me to ask you if you ever got your prize from BSB?
No, I didn't! The swines. It was to have been a jersey knitted using one of the pictures from the Doctor Who knitting book. I chose a black jersey with a Dalek. Sadly BSB were subsequently bought out by Sky to become BSkyB, so obviously my prize wasn't seen as an important part of the merger! I did get paid for my appearance though.


Monday, 10 September 2007

Flashback - A Blur of Orange (RTP! #7)

Videos, Videos, Videos

By issue 7 Matt Kamstra's contact with Village Roadshow (distributors of the BBC Video releases in Australia/NZ from 1996 onwards) had developed to the point where we were receiving free copies of the current releases to review. This had begun with The Happiness Patrol (reviewed in issue 5), blooming to four video reviews this issue. Although it must be pointed out here that the review of The Ice Warriors release was based on my copy of the UK release. Rather amusingly I think Timelash came out better in my reviews than Horror of Fang Rock did.

I remember being quite pleased at how issue 7 turned out, feeling that the fanzine was really beginning to hit it's stride. The issue also featured our first, and to date only, survey of our readership. I'm of the mind to believe that if we had another survey today it would garner much the same result. I also recall Matt and I wasting much time coming up with silly things to take photos of which would accompany Jeff Stone's "A Day in the Life of RTP!" article ...

Thursday, 6 September 2007