Five Hundred Eyes

Longleat Revisited?

It puzzles me how an event mentioned twice in one magazine connected with a series, supposedly with a falling audience, can still attract thousands of people to queue on a blustery and cold Saturday afternoon in the hope of a glimpse of the present incumbent to the role of the Doctor.

Puzzling, but then the popularity of the programme in questions has always been under-estimated, particularly by those claiming to be in the know. Perhaps someone should have invited Jonathan Powell (Controller of BBC 1) along to explain to all these people (fan-fans, kids, parents, they were all there) why there's unlikely to be another season of Doctor Who made in-house at the BBC.

The seemingly auspicious occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Doctor Who Magazine had prompted Marvel UK and Titan Books to collaborate in organising a signing session. To mark the event, copies of 'Silver Nemesis' were made available a couple of weeks early and there were lots of bundles of the 'DWM 10th Anniversary Special' around.

As per usual with Forbidden Planet signings, the venue was the Cafe Munchen, a rather small bar usually frequented by yuppies. I mention this now because it was to be ages before I actually got in there!

I was brought to a dead stop by the sight of the queue disappearing round the corner. This was well before the start time of midday. I made a pointless forary to FP in search of a copy or two of 'Silver Nemesis'. Amazingly enough I found an assistant who didn't try to communicate by grunting or picking imaginary fleas off me. He assured me there were 'loadsacopies' available in the Cafe.


I joined the queue, resigned to a long wait. If I'd known how long I probably would have just headed home instead.

A man leapt in front of me.

"Excuse me, are you a fan?"

Oh God, it's going to be one of those days.

"No. I'm a Russian and I can't break the habit of joining queues."

"There are Russians in The Curse of Fenric."

Oh brother ... like Jasper Carrot, I seem to have a halo around my head saying 'Nutter Lover'. What is it about Doctor Who fandom? There seems to be a whole sub-species of total and utter wazacks and they all wear striped shirts!

"Jamie wore a kilt you know?"


"And the Master was the baddy in Castrovalva."


Mrs Pritchard ... the strait-jacket please! Tell Gwendoline there's another tedious toy to send to Java.

Thankfully as the afternoon wore on he gradually shuffled forward but stay tuned - he does return later.

An on-the-spot competition had been devised to keep the crowd amused - the prize being a year's subscription to ... yep, you guessed it, DWM.

Soon after that was over, a Tomb/Invasion Cyber-suited figure was trundled out. Normally I wouldn't envy the person inside the costume - who in their right mind wants to dress up in Baco-foil? - but today the wind was gusting hard enough around Centre Point to cut a person in two and I would have swapped in a second.

The kids in front were getting restless and snuck off for a look into the bar. Breathlessly, on their return, the youngest child announces :

"Sylvester McCoy's here ... and he's not wearing his clothes!"

That certainly caused a bit of a commotion, I can tell you. There was definitely a Sunday Sport headline coming on - until his brother clarified the situation.

"No, bog-brain. He's not wearing his costume."

These two continued to provide quarter-hourly bulletins throughout the afternoon.

"He's got a beard and he's ever so grumpy."

This sounds like a fair description of JNT but was in fact the little boy's impression of Sylvester!

It's amazing how time flies when you're enjoying yourself, and even when you're not, particularly, it still moves on.

Incredibly time had 'flowed by'. The hands of the nearby St Giles's church clock ticked inexorably towards three o'clock, the time when the signing was supposed to end. There was a faint undercurrent of dissent beginning to ripple through the crowd who, up to now, had remained quite cheerful despite the weather and the sheer tedium of standing so long in such a totally unispiring part of London. But Lo! What was this? Daniel entering the lions' den? John Freeman (editor of DWM) is walking down the line and apologising for the delay and explaining why. Brave, impetuous fool!

You've got to give the man his due : he got the guests to agree to stay until the queue ended and, again, to his credit he did venture out several more times to keep everyone up to date.

By 4pm there was a 'London during the Blitz' atmosphere sweeping the line; all that was missing was the community singing ans the W.I. handing out teas and bacon sarnies! It surprised me that no on had actually set up a hamburger stall, but there were groups of people taking it in turns to visit the nearby McDonalds to stock up on supplies.

By 4.30 my tolerance threshold had been stretched to the limit by 'Multi-Stripe' whose name was, apparently, Cyclops. He was, indeed, "unceasingly agitating", and I'd just about had enough. I was cold, windswept, my feet ached, I was in dire need of the loo, and I wanted a drink.

By now I could see the Cafe, but there was still a long way to go and I still couldn't see the end of the queue! I'd waited so long, it would be silly to give up now ... wouldn't it? As I was about to flip a coin to help me decide, the bloke behind me tapped me on the shoulder.

"Excuse me, someone in there is trying to catch your attention."

Thinking this was a mega wind-up but too fed up to argue, I looked towards the window to see a certain book-cover artist waving at me. I waved back and decided to wait just a little bit longer. I'd scarcely drawn another breath before he was outside saying hello.

"Alaister, I'm so cold."

Sorry guys, I totally let the side down, but I was in desperate need of warmth and human comfort so I returned his hug. And no! There was no repeat of the freak-out at Honeycomb. I conducted myself with the restraint and decorum that you'd expect from me!

Apart from the fact that I dsicover that 'Silver Nemesis' had totally sold out within one hour of the signing starting, things did brighten up a bit after that.

Did I want to see the proofs of 'Happiness Patrol", just back from the printers? I nooded; in my naivety I thought he meant when I finally got inside, but no, he returned with the original artwork from four book-covers. While explaining the idea behind the 'Programme Guide' cover, which got quite involved, he told me to think Castrovalva. Cue Cyclops :

"The Master was the baddy in that, you know."

Withering glances are a speciality of Alaister's, but Cyclops remains impervious.

"Do you by any chance know the person that paints these?"

"This is the person, or rather the Pearson."

"Ooh. I really liked your 'Attack of the Cybermen' cover."


"That wasn't one of mine," Alaister replies through gritted teeth.

Much to Alaister's delight a crowd of people want his autograph so he lays down on the pavement and scribbles away while I guard the artwork with my life. After a quarter of an hour he realises that the queue has hardly moved, reclaims the artwork and promises to try and speed things up a bit.

Shuffling forward I become aware of a presence at my right elbow.

"Can I interest you in a copy of The Tomb?"

Oh my god, that's all I need.


The subtle approach fails to work. It transpires that he's sold a lot of zines today, I suppose people were desperate for something to read. I'd got through nearly two Dr Who books!

About then a steward of sorts arrives.

"You're not buying anything inside, are you?"

"No, I'm not."

Toombs continues to flog his flaming zine to unsuspecting members of the public. The steward is still hovering.

"You just want something signed, don't you?"

It was taking me all my time to remain patient, but what the hell, she seemed to be trying to help.


"Right then! Follow me."

Arranging to meet Toombs inside for a bevy, I followed and was ushered into the presence of JNT.

For a man supposedly out of a job he looked very happy. Could it be that he really is relieved to be out of the programme? I supposed the fact that he won't have to spend the next year guarding plots and being insulted helps.

Sylvester is not at all grumpy, perhaps a little miffed about the lack of Doctor Who next year, but very chatty.

How can they both be so cheerful after FIVE hours of signing their names and still no end to the queue in sight? And can I have a bottle please?

Alaister declines the offer of a drink but prattles on about something or other. I excuse myself and head for the bar.

HALLELUJAH! They sell draught cider!

The people that provided the sound equipment at Honeycomb are there. They have been playing the 'Variations' record non-stop since 11.30 am. It is now 5.30 and the bar-staff are doing very good 'zombie' acts.

Without doubt one of the most memorable moments of the day was still to come. Toombs took himself off to the loo, located in the basement. On the way back he took the wrong turning and ended up in the ladies! Laugh? ... I very nearly did. His friend Schitz O'Phrenia (would I lie to you?) thought it was hysterical.



"Coo-ee! It's me, Cyclops."

"So it is. Look everyone, it's Cyclops. Meet Toombs and Schitz O'Phrenia."

I can't belive I really said that! Tragically, Cyclops was unable to join us as he had to head home. But he comforted us by promising to go to a convention or two next year!

It was about 6.30 before the queue finally dried up, by which time John Freeman was looking positively suicidal! The sound people took the cotton wool out of their ears and cheered.

Well, it had certainly been an exercise in endurance. Never again ... well, not until the next time.

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