While this Whovention is technically Doctor-less, having four international guests more than makes up for it. Today was largely dominated by interview sessions with the four imports, all of whom made for entertaining viewing.
Of course, if you’re a dedicated Who fan and you’ve read all the reference works, then the odds of any of the stars coming out with an anecdote you haven’t encountered before is fairly low. I often find the best bits are when the actors describe other elements of their career, since these are stories we haven’t run into before. Frazer Hines’ tales of what children tell him when invited on the stage during pantomimes (one young girl explained that she was there with Mummy and Uncle George, “the nice man who comes and stays when Daddy is driving his lorry”) were particularly amusing.
I’ve tended to find at UK conventions that the people associated with Big Finish provide the best and freshest Who-related tales — quite possibly because they’ve done the work in question much more recently and haven’t been doing the convention circuit for twenty years or more. This was certainly the case today.
Rob Shearman gave a fascinating account of the writing process for Big Finish, which seems to involve a lot of random pitching of ideas in pubs followed by frantic creative bursts. We learnt that he can write an audio script in around two weeks; in contrast, work on ‘Dalek’ for the new TV series stretched for over a year. For that reason, he said he thinks it’ll be a while before he writes for TV Who again, if only because there are so many other projects he wants to pursue and committing to the series makes that largely impossible.
Of his Big Finish scripts, he loved Robert Jezek’s performance as Frobisher in The Holy Terror and The Maltese Penguin, but really doesn’t fancy writing for penguins. He got his revenge by killing Frobisher in a short story for a fan anthology. Jubilee is about “an hour too long”, he reckons, though the central concept is good.
He enjoyed working on The Chimes Of Midnight but thinks that it leaves too many questions unresolved — he pitched it as a “haunted house that isn’t” story, and forced himself to write an episode a day, creating a series of “great cliff hangers” that he didn’t always get around to resolving. (Personally, I think it’s a great story.) The Unbound script Deadline is his personal favourite from his Big Finish, though he says he’s received loads of hate mail about it. And he wrote Scherzo, the Eighth Doctor/Charlie two-hander, on his honeymoon.
India Fisher bubbled with enthusiasm over her trip to Australia so far (she’s been here for a week and is hanging around for another fortnight after the convention finishes). She kept mischievously pointing out that since Big Finish producer Gary Russell wasn’t here (he’s a constant presence at UK conventions, and has been at the last couple of Whoventions as well), she could say whatever she liked about him. “Of course, with the Internet it’ll get back to him even before I’ve said it,” she added. So for the record: Gary never tells anyone anything until the last minute, often casts actors with just a couple of day’s notice, and is infamous for only wanting a single take when directing. None of this would cause him any sleepless nights, I suspect.
India’s keen to pursue more comedy work (ideally in a Catherine Tate-style sketch show), but says she’s very happy doing audio work, which is coming her way in ever-increasing volumes thanks to her ongoing work with Big Finish (where she’ll soon have done more than 30 stories). She boasted that only she and Nicholas Courtney had full copies of the script for the anniversary story Zagreus, since printing a full script for everyone would have consumed huge numbers of trees.
During the lunchbreak, we got another treat: the first public screening of ‘Paris In The Springtime’, the making-of documentary that will feature on the DVD release of City Of Death. This was both informative and amusing, neatly mixing archive footage and documents, contemporary interviews and even a cartoon-style retelling of ‘A Gamble With Time’, the story which Douglas Adams was forced to rewrite radically over a single weekend to create the finished script.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should also point out that, as usual, I became consumed with competitive envy during the charity auction and ended up paying a small fortune for a signed Doctor Who 2005 annual. Well, it is for charity, after all, and it did boast a bunch of signatures from contributors to the annual (including Rob Shearman, Clayton Hickman, Steven Moffatt, Tom MacRae and Dave Houghton) who I’ll probably never track down otherwise.