Dimensions 2013

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Dimensions is an annual Doctor Who convention held in Newcastle by 10th Planet Events. 

Saturday 26th October

The day started with a panel of Hartnell alumni: William Russell, Anneke Wills and Peter Purves. But first came an announcement that Peter Davison was ‘missing’; and that Janet Fielding was trying to find him.

I was really pleased to see that William Russell was nowhere near as frail as I expected him to be. Throughout the panel he would stand up and gesticulate to illustrate a point. Apparently he can’t keep still when performing for Big Finish, and recording is stopped because of the sound of the chair moving. He response was, “Well put another cushion on it!” He was incredibly sharp and witty, and the audience loved him.

He was the most popular guest for autographs by some way, with queues across the hotel lobby and out into the street. At 88 years-old he kept signing for over an hour past the end of the allotted session, with a warm smile and greeting for each fan, showing no sign of boredom or fatigue.

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Hearteningly, all three actors believe more missing episodes have been found, with Peter Purves subscribing to the ‘Massive Haul Theory’ of ninety or more being recovered. His report on The One Show about missing episodes was recorded in March, and he had to stop by after a Big Finish recording session to overdub ‘one hundred and six’ with ‘ninety-seven’. Prompted by an audience question his number one choice to be located was The Massacre. Wills went for Tenth Planet episode four and Power of the Daleks; while Russell opted for Marco Polo.

Anneke Wills has both seen the movie and visited the set for An Adventure in Space and Time, witnessing the time rotor prop malfunctioning and Mark Gatiss commenting, “Plus ca change.” Purves feels the story will be good (“Gatiss does not write rubbish”), but the people not as he remembers them. Russell remembers the real-life Harry, his character in the film, demanding to see parking passes even after the cast had been there for a year.

They were all positive about Peter Capaldi’s casting, with Purves doing a sweary impression of the new Doctor berating his character, Steven.

Following that panel I went for some autographs. Mr Matthew Waterhouse first, as his was the shortest queue by some way. His co-stars Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton were queued out of the door. Still no sign of Peter Davison, and after a while they took his poster down. Rumour has it he is filming for Law and Order: UK.

Paul McGann was signing autographs at the same time. He was really friendly, taking time to really discuss Doctor Who with the fans. His queue was relatively short, I think because he was a sponsored guest (meaning you pay separately for autographs and photos). He’s a striking-looking gentleman too, very wiry and lean. I asked him if we’d see him in the fiftieth. I figured it was worth a punt. He said, “On telly?” Then spread his arms in a classic nothing-to-hide manner, and said, “I’m not in it!” He’s such a damn fine actor it’s impossible to tell if he’s lying or not.

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Above: William Russell, Anneke Wills, Peter Purves and Debbie Watling.

Sunday 27th October

Sunday morning started with another 60s-era panel, featuring Wendy Padbury and Anneke Wills. For me the biggest revelation of the weekend is that Wendy discovered Matt Smith. I’m really surprised this isn’t well-known; or if it is, then it’s completely passed me by.

When Wendy Padbury retired from acting she became an agent and part of her job was talent-scouting at the National Youth Theatre. On one visit she saw the young Matt Smith give an electrifying performance on stage, and then surrounded by girls in the bar afterwards. She approached him and handed over her card, telling him to call if he wanted to be an actor. A few days later Smith phoned to take her up on the offer. Later that same day Padbury received another phone call, this time from the Royal Court Theatre, saying they were desperate for a young male actor who could do a New York accent. She replied she had just the man, but didn’t have any head-shots yet. They said they trusted her judgement and to send him over. After that she said producers were queuing up to give Smith his first television work.

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When discussing the animated episodes, Anneke Wills said of The Tenth Planet, “I could have done the drawings better!” On The Invasion ones, Wendy Padbury said, “Well they made Frazer look handsome, so that was obviously an error!” There was much good-natured banter about Frazer Hines. Both were very positive about Peter Capaldi being cast as the Twelfth Doctor, but Anneke Wills said she felt like Zoe Ball and Lisa Tarbuck didn’t have anything to do with Doctor Who. Wills had filmed her contribution to Doctor Who Live a while before, and was not told what it was for.

Anneke talked about the day the regeneration scene was filmed on The Tenth Planet. The vision mixer had realised that both William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton both had high cheek bones, and spent a long time lining them up for the transformation effect. She said that her and Michael Craze reacted to this piece of television history by worrying that they would miss last orders at the pub.

Both spoke about Patrick Troughton being the most mesmerising and charismatic man they’d met, fascinating to the point that he captured your entire attention. They agreed that his sons Michael and David have inherited this trait, along with grandson Sam, who was briefly talked-about as a potential Twelfth Doctor.

Later on it was Sylvester McCoy’s turn to take to the stage, alongside his Big Finish companion Philip Oliver. A member of the audience asked if he’s going to be in the next  Hobbit movie, he replied that he’s in the trailer, so he thinks he probably is. A follow-up question was if he has finished filming for the films, and he said, “Yes! Yes… But maybe not.”

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Like most of the guests this weekend McCoy was asked for his opinion on Peter Capaldi’s casting. He picked up on the fact that it’s another fellow Scot. He expounded a theory that drunken Scots bang on the door of the police telephone box on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow, saying they want to be the next Doctor Who, and ocassionally the door opens and they let one in.

On Colin Baker’s panel at the end of the day he admitted to being a hypocrite about reality TV, although quantified this by saying it was offering work to actors now, when his previous concern had been the lack of drama being made. “I don’t talk about Pointless!” He joked, having gone out in the first round, because he assumed most British people would know who the prime minister was during World War Two. I don’t like to talk about Pointless either. I auditioned earlier this year and didn’t get on. On the subject on TV shows, he revealed he has stopped watching Downton Abbey since the rape story-line, but loves Doc Martin, which he really wants to appear on.

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Colin was joined on stage by Gareth Jenkins. This is the guy who starred in a short Doctor Who sketch after writing to Jim’ll Fix It. He explained how he was selected from a short-list of ten children who had written in. At this point Colin Baker said, “You must have been the best-looking!” Now, I’m sure he meant this purely as a compliment, but the connotations were not lost on most of the audience, and and there seemed to be an awkward silence afterwards.

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Above: Wendy Padbury, Anneke Wills and Colin Baker.

Last thing was to get Sylvester McCoy’s autograph, another hugely popular guest with long queues. He’d only flown in from LA that morning, so he was suffering pretty badly from jet-lag by this stage. He looked bleary-eyed and exhausted, but kept going until he’d seen everyone.

It was a terrific line-up for Dimensions this year, almost all the guests were Doctors or companions; the only downside to this was some tough choices to make when there were two places I wanted to be at the same time. It meant missing the panel with Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton and Matthew Waterhouse (my dismay further compounded when I saw how hilarious Waterhouse was on the Fifth Doctor’s The Doctors Revisited that was shown on Sunday afternoon on Watch), the Big Finish panel and probably most disappointingly Dick Mills on stage.

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