Five Hundred Eyes

Fear and loathing at the SAC - a savage journey to the dark side of fandom

"You have served the people and the people's superstitions, all you famous philosophers! - you have not served truth! And it is precisely for that reason that they paid you reverence.

And for that reason too they endured your disbelief, because it was a joke and a bypath for the people. Thus the lord indulges his slaves and even enjoys their insolence.

But he who is hated by the people as a wolf is by the dogs: he is the free spirit, the enemy of fetters, the non-worshipper, the dweller in forests."

- Nietzche, "Also Sprach Zarathustra".

A review of PanoptiCon IX ... My problem is this: how, writing days after the Event, in the security of my own room, the Andante from Bruckner's "Romantic" swirling about my head, can I hope to recapture in words the ambience of such a hideous whirlpool of viciousness, paranoia, drunkenness, dry-retching, bribery, blackmail and madness, sprinkled with ash, wine and catamites? For make no mistake, this year's Con had a fearful smell of death about it, the death of the show, the death of fandom perhaps. Oh, of course there was an all-smiles facade - there had to be (all the geeks ROARING with applause as Sylvester McCoy's face appeared on the title-sequence montage...). But it was like a red plastic nose stuck on the face of a long-dead corpse, the innards riddled with evil worms chewing themselves to bits in a blind, suicidal frenzy. Yes!

*  *  *  *

Imperial College, it seems, has now become the permanent locus for the DWAS convention - a damn shame, because the place is, on the whole, a heap of shit. The ritual humiliation of being escorted to your room by a guy who knows exactly why you're here and, you can be sure, regards you as ripe for the Happy Home because of it; the annual billeting in grim 1960s student accommodation (ah, those rooms ...! The sash windows apparently welded shut, the bobbing angle-poise lamps with a baleful life of their own, the taps which dispense raw sewage which laughably goes under the name of "water"...); - surely life has more to offer than this?

Anyway, I checked in on the Friday and dumped my stuff in my room (no. 666, which entailed many stairs). The morning had got off to a bad start when I'd discovered that Forbidden Planet had moved from its delightfully seedy back alley into flash premises, on two floors, coated in glittering white plastic. Which rather destroyed the raison d'etre of the shop, I thought. It was here that I saw my very first DWB headline of the weekend : "And the new producer is ... John Nathan-Turner!"

It was in subdued mood, then, that I shambled back to reception to enquire as to which room Mr Richard Augood was staying in. Why did I want to know where Mr Richard Augood was staying? Because David had lumbered me with a HUGE Sturdi-Box of videos to deliver to him, that's why. (I should explain. David was not actually present at this year's do, due to other commitments/lack of funds/not giving a toss.)

Two flights of spiral iron stairs, and R. Augood was mysteriously absent from Room no. 423. I waited for about quarter of an hour. No one came ... Unpleasant suspicions began to nibble at the back of my mind. Was I the victim of some ghastly, fiendish practical joke on the part of David? Did Augood even exist? I drew the cork of a litre bottle of cheap wine I had with me in case of emergencies such as this, snaffled a plastic cup from the kitchen annex on that floor, and proceeded to drown my despair ...

Three quarters of an hour later, a large young American lady poked her head out of no. 420 and asked me if I was waiting for anyone. I explained that I was, and, reeling rather unsteadily towards her, solemnly enquired whether she knew, or indeed was, Richard Augood, before collapsing in hysterical laughter. The head withdrew and the door slammed shut. Extraordinary.

Quarter of an hour later, the large young American lady suddenly burst from her room wearing nothing but a towel, and lurched, Harryhausen-like, across my goggling field of vision, disappearing with the most appalling crash into the shower-cubicle, the door of which swung silently to behind her. This was as much as I could take in my current condition. I had heard that Friday's events began sometime in the evening: it was now six o'clock, so I decided to see if anything was happening. Hugging bottle and Sturdi-Box, I staggered off in the direction of the Sherfield Building, away from locked, empty rooms and crazed American females ...

*  *  *  *

That morning, on the train, I had re-read the Con blurb. Two sentences had struck me as rather sinister :

"Stewards and security guards posted at various stations throughout the venue will be checking that all attendees wear their badge."

"In recent years there has been increasing bad behaviour in the shape of insultingly phrased questions during interview panels and jeering. Whatever their opinions, attendees will be expected to behave at all times in a polite and courteous manner. ANYONE FAILING TO COMPLY WITH THESE SIMPLE RULES WILL BE REQUIRED TO LEAVE THE EVENT."

'Security guards'?!? What did THIS mean? Visions of horror ...

during the big JN-T interview panel a lone, wild-eyed heckler suddenly jumps to his feet and begins screaming abuse. Within three minutes he is being quickly hustled away by a posse of uniformed thugs brandishing rubber truncheons, while JN-T watches from the stage, his mouth twisted into a frozen smile, his beady eyes flickering from side to side. The guards carve their way through the confused crowd, frogmarching their helpless, struggling charge out of the area. Hands reach out uncertainly from the audience to help, to restrain the uniformed gentlemen. A truncheon lashes out, a sharp cry of pain, blood flows, and the crowd turns ugly and threatening. Suddenly the situation is serious. More security guards come running, Uzi submachine-guns are levelled, CS grenades are produced; and JN-T and his grey-suited bodyguard are moving swiftly towards the back exit, heading for his personal escape helicopter on the roof of the building ...

Could it happen, I wondered ... Was JN-T so out to lunch that he'd see half the attendees at the official DWAS convention massacred by blood-crazed mercenaries brought in to police the event? Who WERE these security guys, anyway? Would the official Con organisers and stewards have any say in the matter? Or would they keep their trembling heads down, confused and frightened by the rush of events, their convention hijacked by sinister walkie-talkie-toting professionals in sharp suits and dark glasses, helped, no doubt, by fanatical young collaborators ...?

Ugly thoughts, but we live in ugly times. Look again at that interview in DWM #140, at the leading photo of Nathan-Turner ... He stands, arms arrogantly folded, chin jutting, head tilted back, staring with calm, benevolent wisdom into the middle distance. The Man Of Destiny. The Father Of His Country. Such a man would risk the world to win his desire ...

(Incidentally, is there such a word as "attendee"?)

*  *  *  *

It's 6.10 pm on Friday and your intrepid reporter, raffishly caparisoned in shabby coat and green brocade waistcoat, stands glumly in line in the queue which has been enduring a half-hour or so wait in the howling wilderness of the concrete courtyard of the Sherfield Building. Behind the tinted glass, PanoptiCon organisers, if that's the right term, move purposefully about on mysterious errands ...

The sky is ash-grey, flecks of rain threatening to whip through the atmosphere. Some queuers huddle together, muttering in low voices; most stand silent and alone. Now and then I can see the glowing orange point of a cigarette, hear the rustle of a DWM or a DWB being desultarily flicked through. In years past they had at least bothered to lay on some entertainment for the shivering masses - '87 had treated us to the sight of one DWAS Big Cheese haring off across the courtyard after another DWAS Big Cheese, while roaring (if memory serves me true): "HUTCHINGS! I want your BODY!"

The doors are opened at last, and the damp, steaming line shuffles forward. Inside, in the cosy golden light, DWAS Big Cheeses stand around looking warm, dry, plump and well-fed. Bowls of gruel are handed out grudgingly. Walkie-talkies are cocked importantly to ears. The Event has begun.

*  *  *  *

As we queue inside to register for the damn thing, I get into a conversation with the guy directly behind me. He's noticed my Prisoner umbrella badge (I had decided to wear this with reservations: suppose some waterhead took it to be a Sylvester McCoy umbrella badge???), and starts talking about the last PortmeriCon, which he attended. He relates a heartwarming anecdote about a family on holiday there who, while on the beach, had got cut off by the incoming tide. A collection of green, bloated corpses bobbing gently in the surf would certainly have put a bit of a downer on that year's PortmeriCon. But they managed to swim to safety - he thinks.

By this stage the line has moved on, registrations are made, and bumf is collected. Unlike the Brighton PanoptiCon's glossy colour affair, the '88 Con brochure is a grotty little thing dashed off on a low-grade photocopier, and it announces that tonight's attractions go under the name of (wait for it) - "The Making of Dragonfire"!!

"The Making of Dragonfire". Jesus Christ, is that the best they could do?! It wasn't quite as bad as the CyberCon "Robert Holmes Tribute" (the second half of episode one of The Two Doctors!), but all the same ...! Pretty dire, I think you'll agree. The Prisoner freak behind me certainly did.

I scanned the brochure. Did you know that one of the Iceworld guards had originally been called 'Eisenstein', but that this had been changed for the final version? Neither did I. Did you know that he was "named after the German film director, Eisenstein"? Neither did I. Come to think of it, I didn't even know of any German film director called Eisenstein, although I had, of course, heard of the famous Russian film director, Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein (1898-1948), responsible, among other things, for "Battleship Potemkin" and its celebrated sequence of brutal, bayonet-wielding Cossacks stomping down the Odessa steps (cf. The Invasion). I wondered if these two Eisensteins were by any chance related ...

*  *  *  *

As I plunged into the dark little corridor that links the registration area with the Main Hall, the Sturdi-Box full of videotapes was suddenly torn from my grasp by a pair of hands. The hands belonged to someone wearing a powder-blue Steward's badge. He was talking to me: was I sent by David, were those his tapes?

Could this be the mythical Richard Augood? His badge said so, and he confirmed it - David had been telling the truth after all.

We entered the Main Hall together. In the warm near-darkness row upon row of seats stretched out in front of me, supporting a great seething mass of humanity, whispering, chattering, laughing, buzzing like a nest of frenzied ants. The audience! The fans! The hot dark air was charged with electricity, occasional half-seen faces were glimpsed moving about, briefly illuminated by the vague stroboscopic flickers from the main screen.

Augood and I huddled near the double doors of the entrance/exit, pressed against the wall. Others were there, and the dregs of the litre bottle of bevvy (Grandway's Piesporter) were passed around in a solemn ritual.

Alec Charles was prowling, long pale vulpine face, ankh dangling from one ear, hair savagely cropped (no longer Ribena), eyes glowing - Hugo Wolf with a temperature, a character out of an Edvard Munch painting. I had good reason to be suspicious of this person. I'd last seen him at a pyjamas-and-spirits party held in one of the more blasted areas of Oxford: I have awful memories of lying full-length in an empty bathtub, retching repeatedly, the cool white porcelain pressed against my burning brow; of waking up at 6.00 am the next day in a total stranger's garage, freezing to death as an icy wind cut like a razor to the marrow... Horrible, horrible.

The bottle continued its rounds. Another face I had seen before loomed through the shadows. Sean somebody ... the one who had tried to flog red Paisley neckties ("as worn by Sly") at PanoptiCon VIII ... Now he was brandishing a large portfolio at me, thrusting pieces of artwork in front of my gaze ... Yes, the Clockwork Soldier was perfect for "Surrealism", I had indeed mentioned The Mind Robber; yes, the cover art WAS mind-bogglingly good; yes, from what I gathered about the current state of #3, David would certainly be pathetically grateful ... would give it a bit of class ... All present agreed that Sean's stuff was first-rate. Memories of David's Traced Silurian - the infamous Traced Silurian - could now be laid finally to rest ...

*  *  *  *

Suddenly the lights dimmed even further, the speakers crackled with life. Conversation ceased, a hush descended on the audience, as the European Song Contest jingle blazed forth majestically and a huge black-and-white logo flashed up on the screen: "PanoptiCon Nine, Doctor Who 1963-1988, TWENTY-FIVE YEARS!" Cheers, applause, whistles. Silence, blackness. Then more music, more images. The title-sequence montage! Would they - please, God, let them - would they include the Second Pertwee? Yes!! RAPTURE. Things were looking up, even if the bloody computer-generated pink'n'silver splodge did get a disturbingly large cheer from the multitude. "Why are they doing this?" I enquired of Augood, puzzled. "Why are they cheering?" "Shit knows ..." he replied, a disbelieving frown crossing his brows. As Cardinal Borusa put it, we live in Evil Times. Indeed we do. Never was a truer word spoken.

All of a sudden someone came amongst us, wearing a silver filigree weskit that coruscated brilliantly in the gloom. Short dark hair, sharp eyes. "Get that alcohol out of here!" Someone terribly official, then. A deeply unpleasant and intolerant remark to make, seeing as there was only a small cupola of wine left in the bottle, and seeing as no MENTION of wine had been made in the warning bumf. Cigarettes, yes, but not wine.

I later learned that Silver Waistcoat was, in fact, none other than Andrew Hair, the Convention Organiser himself, who had previously flown into a choking rage on reading Richard Gibbs' "Unconventional Conventionalists" in FHE #2, which had mauled the standard DWAS con's style and structure ... Was this now his petty revenge for that perceived slight? Had he overheard me and Augood discussing the projected #3, and acted accordingly? "Pull down thy vanity / How mean thy hates / Fostered in falsity / Pull down thy vanity / Rathe to destroy, niggard in charity / Pull down thy vanity / I say pull down."

Nevertheless, the bottle was sadly deposited outside the doors. Rules is rules, after all, the awful majesty of the Law, etc.

*  *  *  *

An interview panel is being held. I recognise nobody save Sophie Aldred. They are discussing costumes, I think. Of course - "The Making of Dragonfire"! The dragon's costume is mentioned - apparently it was originally meant to be a pink (or was it green?) blob. THAT cliffhanger is also mentioned, but I forget whether any explanation was forwarded by any of the panel. Who really cares?

*  *  *  *

I am outside the Main Hall. I can see the abandoned green bottle standing outside the doors. There is still some green liquid in it. I lunge for it, take a deep swig, and receive a mouthful of cigarette-ash.

*  *  *  *

The dark sky is dotted with silver stars. I am outside in the cool, fresh London air, walking the streets with Augood, Alec, and others. Alec is leading us to a student bar he assures us is of excellent quality. We arrive, the doors are locked and bolted. We head back to the SAC and descend into the Stygian gloom where the basement bar is to be found, where pallid Shades huddle in shadowy corners, or hunch feverishly over the pool table, clacking balls. We purchase intoxicating liquors, enter the TV area and collapse at a battered table. Scotches are down, cheroots are lit, and talk is made of many things ... Proust; Ben Aaronovitch; the likelihood of John Nathan-Turner being slung in the chokey for certain extra-legal activities enacted across the Atlantic; the absolute refusal of anyone to consider succeeding him as Producer on account of his showing copies of DWB to all possible candidates ("THIS is what I had to put up with in this job!"); the resultant demise of Doctor Who; and so on. I learn that Richard Augood has himself encountered a VERY strange person I met at CyberCon, and whom I had since explained away as a collective hallucination suffered by the Gibbses and me when we attended that egregious event ...

And so the night wore on. Glasses clinked and matches flared, liquid went down and smoke went up ...

*  *  *  *

Memory grows distinctly hazy at this point - if, that is, one can talk about something being "distinctly hazy". But then, isn't that the whole point of such a mead-round? To blur the barriers of time and space, to submerge oneself in the roaring, rushing maelstrom, the ever-foaming flux of existence proper ... Submerge oneself, I say, and be sucked into the quivering black eye of the whirlpool, only to burst through the other side, chastened and enlightened through contact with some thing ecstatic and inexpressible ...

Indeed, at the turn of the century, to let one's blood and brains be streamed into alcohol was considered to be the first of many steps on the ladder leading upwards to the next evolutionary stage of mankind ... Yes, Charlie Baudelaire had the right idea, sure enough.

Saturday 17th September

mother mother I feel sick
send for the doctor quick quick quick

The rain drums hard, thundering against the glass, making the whole room flicker with a peculiar yellow-grey glow. From another part of the corridor I hear a radio squawking with a brash tintinnabulation. I roll onto the floor with a thud, clawing for my clothes, before I realise that I'm still fully dressed. Water on my face and I'm staring out at the wet, yellow sky. There is, in fact, no rain at all, but it's a queasy, evil sight all the same and I start wondering what I'm doing here, in this strange place ...

Then I catch sight of my old collection of 'Skaro's strewn out on the battered desk, veteran of coffee-rings going back a half-decade at least, and all becomes suddenly, hideously clear. Of course. The convention ... 'Five Hundred Eyes' ... That's why I'm here. Oh God.

*  *  *  *

"You got your badge, squire?"

I gaze blearily at the bizarre apparition standing before me bellowing these words. A big, beefy chap in a dark uniform and peaked cap, wearing a black leather belt that gleams like water. White silk ribbons are looped across the broad chest, attached to cherry-red epaulettes. Surely not one of those security guards?

"A badge. You got one or not?" Patience is clearly wearing thin. I fumble in my coat pocket and extract the flimsy wafer of laminated cardboard bearing my name, show it to the menacing thug with a sickly smile. He scrutinises it ...

I am allowed to pass through the glass door and head towards the Dealers' Room, due to open in five minutes or so. But the experience has shaken me. I mean, you don't expect to encounter such a brutal, fascistic orang-utang at a Doctor Who convention. Least of all at ten o'clock in the morning. Degeneracy ...

*  *  *  *

The doors to the Dealers' Room were open and a great mass of humanity flooded in. I roved. We had been advised by some- one official-looking to "shop around" for copies of Peter Haining's "25 Glorious Years" (sic), because some dealers were selling it at cheaper prices than others. Well, well.

The Dealers' Room ... I remember it well. Where, last year, our own little table had been groaning under the weight of unsold copies of FHE rearing skyward like the World Trade Centre buildings. The humil- iation had been compounded by the fact that our weedy stall had been squeezed in between 'The Frame' and CMS, fat, sassy and selling madly. ("Hey! Quit kicking that sand in our faces!" "Lissen, skinny ...") Copies

had begun to shift eventually, of course ("Oh Mac! You ARE a real man after all!"), and David had let the shekels run through his fingers like water, cackling madly all the while. Then he locked them away in a little tin box. Sigh.

Enough of nostalgia, I had things to do. I hunted among the hawkers. I bought quantities of the CMS/In-Vision releases (damn good); I bought quantities of the latest DWBs for David. Gary Levy stood behind the DWB table, his flies gaping disconcertingly open, but this did not deter me.

(Last night Augood had told me that he refused to buy a single issue of the Bulletin ON PRINCIPLE. He regarded Gary Levy with extraordinary, intense hatred. Alec said that he regarded DWB as responsible for dragging fandom down into the gutter. (I hadn't known that HE had started 'Opera of Doom' ...) I could see their collective point, but I couldn't help feeling that the more unsavoury aspects of the Bulletin were more a symptom than a real cause of anything rotten in the state of fandom ...

Ian Berriman was lurking, flogging 'Cybermag'. What a brilliant 'zine! It really is GOOD! Buy it, whatever you do, buy it!! (One good turn, eh ...?)

David had asked me to buy 'Spectrox'. I bought 'Spectrox' - from someone in a pith-helmet, bestudded with Cat Badges.

David had also given me a War Games review intended for 'The Frame'. David Howe had commissioned this from him YONKS ago and he'd only just got round to doing it. It wasn't a bad review, marred only by the painfully obvious fact that David hadn't seen the story for years and couldn't really be bothered to watch it all over again ... Still, David Howe seemed genuinely pleased to receive it. (I'd naturally gone to the trouble of correcting all the grammatical solecisms...)

Otherwise, the Dealers' Room seemed pretty normal, much the same as it had always been. I had heard that it would be drastically shrunk this year, but I couldn't discern any such shrinkage, not really. Just the usual foul nest of venality, commercialism and greed ... Where poor innocent saps looked eagerly around for the cheapest edition of that slim volume, "Doctor Who - Twenty-Five Glorious Years".

*  *  *  *

Time for a panel. In the Main Hall they were showing The Evil of the Daleks part two, a good episode. Afterwards we had a Troughton line-up, including Victor Pemberton and Morris Barry. The interviewing began, The Moonbase was the topic of conversation :

INTERVIEWER Did you have any say in the design of the new Cybermen costumes?


INTERVIEWER What about the new electronic-sounding Cybermen voices? Did you have any say in them?

MORRIS BARRY Not really ...

Victor "weed'n'beaches" Pemberton went on to tell it like it is when he proffered the opinion that "a Good Story is a Good Story" whether it be made in 1968 or 1988, and that foggy, nostalgic memories have nowt to do with't. Victor Pemberton has the root of the matter in him, no question of it.

*  *  *  *

3.15-ish, and The Daemons part two is showing. God knows why - one is the episode of that story. This is followed by another video presentation - of Jon Pertwee as Worzel Gummidge, apologising in Worzelese for not being present. Much malicious gossip about Mr Pertwee being in his Second Childhood. (He was down as a guest in the brochure, but apparently he had gone sailing off on a holiday somewhere.)

Finally, the PERTWEE PANEL. Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks, Richard Franklin, John Levene, Nicholas Courtney, Terry Walsh (or was it Derek Ware?). Letts and Dicks restrict themselves to a few intelligent remarks about violence on television, but before long John Levene is off :

"Wouldn't you have loved to be part of it? Wouldn't you have LOVED that? And we were. We WERE. Isn't that WONDERFUL? ... Who thinks we should start again? Who thinks we should start again FROM SCRATCH?"

(Embarrassed silence from audience.)


"Clobber 'em with your philosophy, John!" gurgles old Five Rounds Rapid, beaming and rubicund ...

*  *  *  *

The Pertwee Panel Signing Session. I meet up with Richard Augood who wants his Mind of Evil novelisation signed, and together we approach Terrance Dicks, complimenting him profusely on the brilliant opening he wrote for that book, achieving a sense of chilling incongruity sadly lacking in the televised version. (Mind you, I used to think that Terrance had really surpassed himself in writing the prologue to The Time Warrior. Whoops.)

Actually, Our Tel is a MUCH better writer than he's usually given credit for, even taking into account his (obscenely underrated) Williams novelisations ... (Room for an article there, David?)

*  *  *  *

Augood and I head for the SAC bar, lose grotesquely large amounts of tin on some evil machine, and head back towards the video theatre, clutching butts of foaming sack.

Genesis of the Daleks part four is on, and we proceed to indulge in the time- hallowed pastime of annoying everyone else in the room by whispering very loudly, discussing politcal cartoonists, quoting the Davros speeches, etc.

Augood then shows me the Hospitality Suite, a poky, dingy little room enlivened by serried ranks of bottles of many colours ... On a chair I see some more artwork by Sean, his In-Vision Genesis stuff. Up for auction, apparently.

*  *  *  *

The auction ... Wading through waist-high mounds of plastic beer glasses we took our seats in the sweltering heat.

(On leaving Hospitality we'd bumped into Johnny Byrne. Richard got his autograph, and we both smarmed him shamelessly about Keeper of Traken, JN-T's third best, after all.)

Before the auction was due to begin, we hunted for the Debate ("Doctor Who is not what it was - Discuss.") that was supposed to be held in this room at half-past seven. Nobody seemed to know where this debate was. Nothing seemed to be happening. In the end, after being kicked out of the LG Mega-Quiz as illegal participants, we engaged in some half-hearted discussion with a few other people who happened to be sitting in the room, devouring fish-and-chips. The general consensus among these people seemd to be (a) that last season was crap, and (b) that DWB was crap.

Auction time. We were seated behind Gary Levy and someone Richard said was Sheldon Collins ("The Brain Behind Gary Levy" as he put it). Gary and Sheldon were busy criticising JN-T. "I'm a fan of JN-T!" cries Richard. Much rolling of eyeballs. "You'll grow out of it," says Gary, wearily. Augood is outraged. He turns back to me and hisses in my ear, "Have you got a knife? I'd like to stab him!" I try to explain that such things shouldn't be taken so seriously, but he brooks no opposition. "That's not the point! He BRUSHED me aside, without even listening to what I had to say! I'd like to kill him!"

*  *  *  *

After Richard had uttered his dire threats, the next thing I remember is us both sitting in the registration area with Alec and some others including a large fellow with an earring, Craig somebody, I think. Much drinking. Behind us, the auction rumbled on. I had stumbled across the unfinished glass of red wine that Nicholas Courtney had quaffed from during the autograph session. I had appropriated it. I was drinking from the same glass as Nicholas Courtney! The silky wine flowed freely.

Sunday 18th September

2.30 pm approx. More beer. Back in the Main Hall a Panel is being held consisting of people involved with the projected Dr Who - The Movie. Caroline Munro, Johnny Byrne, and a clutch of Faceless Ones whom I didn't begin to recognise. One of these is speaking about the aims of the film-makers: "... bring back the terror ... not a pantomime ..." It seems that JN-T's laughable notion of giving them fourteen cassettes of Season 24 to show them how it should be done hasn't paid off. What a pity.

Questions from the audience. Why, someone wants to know, wasn't the television Doctor cast as the movie Doctor - as JN-T wanted? The Faceless One proceeded to do a consummate Sir Humphrey : "Well ... stylistic development ... transfer to the big screen ... er ... would be regressive ... etc., etc." (Translation : "Because we think the television Doctor is a load of crap! ")

There is a rumour going around that Donald 'Klute' Sutherland has been netted for the role. Donald Sutherland would make an excellent Doctor, but ... Will this movie ever really get off the ground? According to this panel they haven't even got a costume designer yet.

"What was it like working with Tom Baker on 'Sinbad'?" someone asks Caroline Munro. The audience sits up, eagerly awaiting some juicy horror stories. "Lovely man ... piercing eyes."

Someone else wants to know what Johnny Byrne thought of the transmitted version of Warriors of the Deep. Johnny suddenly looks very haggard and ashen.

*  *  *  *

Three o'clock. At last, Epiphany time. The Current Team Panel. John Scott- Martin, David Banks, Sophie Aldred and Sylvester McCoy. Huge applause. Many interesting anecdotes. John Scott-Martin informed us that there were TWO types of casters designed for the Daleks in Remembrance. David Banks held up a picture of the new Cybermen costumes for Silver Nemesis. "This is the first time these have ever been seen!" The camera zoomed in on them, people craned to see the blurred image on the big screen. They looked exactly like the now-standard Earthshock costumes. Round of applause.

And then there was Sylvester. Those who've read my Time and the Rani/ Paradise Towers reviews last ish will know that I find Sylvester's performance wretchedly bad, but there's no denying that, in the flesh, he's a genuinely witty man. As with Colin Baker, I couldn't help feeling that he'd be so much better if he'd only play himself on screen, so to speak, restricting his "acting" to just learning his lines (if you see what I mean).

Anyway - Sly fired off jokes and the audience convulsed itself. A conversation with a vicar had apparently come to grief when Sylvester had remarked upon his unfortunate tendency to "ejaculate a lot". And so it went on, until it had to end. The audience filed slowly out of the Main Hall, buzzing with conversation, and streamed into the registration area, spilling swiftly down the stairs towards the cold, bracing evening air ...

I met up with Richard Augood again in registration, staring at a postcard of Caroline Munro, and we settled on the 7.30 pm train to Hull via somewhere he had to get off at (Peterborough?). Time was not yet a problem, so after collecting FHE #3's artwork from Sean (afterwards to be forwarded to Gary Levy for some reason), we drift off metropolis-wards with John Connors and another Merseyside Local-Grouper (Ian somebody ...?) to a mysterious, deserted, plastic fish-and-chip shop, where the strange Peruvian-sounding woman behind the counter in the lime-green-and-white paper hat seems incapable of understanding my perfectly coherent order for haddock. Much frantic gesticulating in the direction of the menu-board. She seems to understand. We huddle in the half-lit basement until individually called by the Peruvian woman to collect our plates piled high with mounds of greasy, steaming flesh.

*  *  *  *

After our nourishment, and we're back in registration, watching the last few dregs of humanity filter slowly away. I go to vent the bladder, and something very odd occurs ... From the neighbouring cubicle I hear strange grunting noises being emitted, to which I attach no particular significance. As I am about to leave the gents, an absolutely HUGE guy enters and, without noticing my presence, somehow manages to enter the occupied cubicle. The door swings shut, and I hear cheerful greetings being exchanged. A conversation starts up - in the toilet cubicle.

I blunder frantically towards the door, shaking uncontrollably. Somehow I have to get OUT, quickly, before my tortured brain finally decides to call it a day and quivers into a grey, gelatinous blob of aspic, incapable of any sort of cogent thought ...

*  *  *  *

A strange, almost baroque little curlicue to round off three very twisted days ... A totally drunken panel that somehow got through Security and up on to the stage ... A psychotic female, apparently with close links to the production team, trying unsuccessfully to hurl herself under a bus on the Sunday ... Did these grotesque events ever really take place except in someone's vicious imagination? And if they did - what terrible implications for future Cons??

Was there any remote connection with the sinister rumours of a DWAS "membership cap" of just 2,000 - necessitated, so they say, by a financial fuck-up of unspeakable proportions? And what about the mysterious "kangeroo courts" rumoured to be taking place inside the exec?

Gibberish, gibberish ...

*  *  *  *

The 7.30 train to Hull is chuntering along. Pitch black outside the windows. I return from a foul buffet like something out of a Zola novel, bearing cans and packets of cheesy crisps.

Richard Augood has been flicking through the DWBs I bought for David. "Put these things away!" he suddenly shrieks. "I'll tear them all to PIECES!!" It seems that he's stumbled across a letter in one of them from David, begging Gary Levy not to shut up shop "now that JN-T's going". Richard is in a strange mood, he remembers how Levy cut him dead in the auction room. I seize the opportunity to tell him about David. "Don't ever go near him," I say, "never even APPROACH him, if you know for a fact that he's had more than two cups of coffee." Richard stares at me.


"It's the caffeine. It - affects him ..." Richard leans forward, puts away his comic.

"Affects him? How do you mean?"

"Well, it's like this ..."

I explain that David, after his third or so cup of coffee, flies into a sudden, foaming rage. He slashes his pillows, he pounds the walls, he chews the carpet. In short, he goes absolutely ape.

"Once," I said, "he even punched his fist through his own window at college."

"What! No! Seriously?"

"He told me so himself. You want to watch that guy if you ever get to meet him. Mad, bad and dangerous to know. Joking apart, he can be very dangerous."

"Christ!" Augood slumps back in his seat, shaken. The train rattles on its way, through the darkness.

*  *  *  *

Yes, but what did I actually think of the damn event, I hear you cry (assuming, that is, you're still with us, and haven't thrown this babble into the nearest waste-bin in disgust ...).

Well, you know how certain things make you just glad to be alive on this earth? You know, cats, Rilke, City of Death, the episode ending to part three of The Face of Evil, that sort of thing?

And you know how certain other things lead one to consider Life a seriously-overrated pastime? Like - accidently biting into a mouldy nut, almost the whole of Enlightenment (sorry, David, that had to be said), that CSO cliff in The Stones of Blood, and so on?

Well, PanoptiCon IX fell, for me, with a bump somewhere between those two categories. I have to say that the official programme of events, the organisation, if you like, was a bit of a shambles. Panels were generally as stodgy as dough, with few new names being wheeled in, and the same old anecdotes about the kaffir-bashing Kroton and the three types of Dalek voice, etc. It's all very well saying that first-timers will come to these panels fresh as dew, but there's no reason why the rest of us should suffer - after all, first-time convention-goers would come fresh to new panels as well. As for the video theatre - well this was a joke. Lots of fans don't have access to the old stories and may rely largely on the annual convention to show these episodes. If so, I can well imagine that such fans would be pissed off at the prospect of sitting through Frontier in Space 6, Colony in Space 5, The Mutants 4, The Sensorites 1, The Ark 4 and The Web Planet 4, for God-knows-what-time running. Certainly all those listed episodes were screened way back at the Brighton bash, and have been dusted off every year since then. Not exactly a sparkling bunch, are they? And WHAT happened to the debate scheduled for 7.30 on Saturday? It seems that no one actually bothered to set the thing up! For once an opportunity for the ordinary attendees to actually get involved, instead of being treated as passive lumps of flesh by the organisers - and the opportunity was wasted.

Yes, I'm sure that a hell of a lot of hard work went into this con; just as I'm equally sure that a lot of people did thoroughly enjoy it. But I don't think I'm alone in feeling a bit fed up at seeing the same tired old formula being exhumed year after year with little or no variation. It's not enough to retort "Don't go if you don't like it!" These conventions are paid for by ALL the members and should attempt to cater for ALL the members; and if original ideas are wanted by enough of 'em then original ideas are what should be provided. Certainly there's no reason for the sort of basic sloppiness which led to the non-appearance of the debate.

Again, I appreciate that the exec do all this stuff voluntarily, in their spare time, and that they don't HAVE to do it, etc., etc. ... But given that they DO offer to do this; and seeing that we DO give them the money to do it, it smacks of special pleading if they start sulking when we start criticising. If they're not going to use their "spare time" in setting up something half-decent then they'd be better off keeping that time to themselves. Otherwise it just seems a wholly pointless exercise for all concerned - them and us.

*  *  *  *

O.K., hectoring, unconstructive rant over. And who knows? Perhaps none of my criticisms are valid, perhaps ninety-nine percent of those who went really did have the time of their lives ... Fair enough.

Which brings me on to my second point. I said I thought the official programme stank - but it also has to be said that the "extra-curricular" activities left one's brain sufficiently detached from one's normal senses not to notice the smell ... And perhaps, in the final analysis, that's all a convention really needs to do - to get people from far-flung corners of the globe to come together in one warm place, and to provide them with a well-stocked bar.

*  *  *  *

The train has just hissed in at Peterborough. Richard Augood is yelling goodbye, lurching off down the carriageway, clutching bulging bags. Just before he steps off the train, he turns and bellows something; it sounds like "... and tell David to stop brown-tongueing Gary Levy ..."

Then he's gone. I see a vague shape looming through the condensation- misted window, but it's dark and I can't be sure if it's him or not ... Who can tell?

The train jerks, then moves off again. Will we never get to Hull? I gaze bleakly at the debris of crisp packets and crushed cans littered over the little plastic table in front of me, gleaming brightly under the harsh fluorescent lighting, and I curse hell that I've not got my Walkman with me. If I'm to survive this awful journey, I need Wagner, fast ("That Kraut stuff," as David calls it). No soap.

It is late, very late. In my tote-bag is a ragged wad of paper, feverishly scribbled notes, mangled impressions of the previous weekend jotted down in spare moments. From these chits must come an Article. The thought oppresses me.

It is late, so dark, and I am so very tired.

Issue three contents
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