Big Finish Day 5

Big Finish Day 5 was a convention held at the Copthorne Hotel, Slough, 13th September 2014.

The multi-talented Nicholas Briggs opened the day. Warm and witty, he’s a natural compere and kept the panel going nicely. After a humourous introduction, he was then visibly moved by the long applause in tribute to the late Paul Spragg. After a brief panel with Big Finish colleagues Jason Haigh-Ellory and David Richardson, Briggs introduced Tom Baker.

It was a joy to see the great man step out of the TARDIS once more, but he now seems very unsteady on his feet. He was walking with difficulty, even with a stick.

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Once he’d taken to the stage, though, Baker was in great form. A consummate raconteur, his famous voice still boomed out with warmth and eccentricity. I was there early, so I grabbed a front-row seat, and it was a real privilege to see Tom Baker on stage at such close quarters. He has lost none of his gift for story-telling or comic timing. For a man who must be so used to audience appreciation, he was charmingly delighted by the applause and laughter. Shortly afterwards he was joined by his erstwhile producer, Philip Hinchcliffe.

Looking tanned and dapper, Hinchcliffe is lean and straight-backed. He didn’t get to say much while his leading man held court. Baker matched every question from Briggs or the audience with a hilarious anecdote, from childhood confessions in the Catholic church to shocking a royal at Buckingham Palace (while John Hurt stood on his foot in warning). He spoke about how happy he is now, something which is re-iterated in the excellent Big Finish release Tom Baker At 80. It’s good to hear, especially in contrast to when he touched on not wanting to leave Doctor Who rehearsals because his home life was so unhappy. In his autobiography, Flight of the Budgerigar, John Leeson talks about Baker being late for rehearsals one day, explaining when he arrived that he hadn’t been able to stop crying.

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“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. Because, as you know, I’ve never stopped being Doctor Who. Well, I started being Doctor Who because of course I’d been playing Doctor Who for years before I got the part. So nothing much has changed. There’s a continuity to my life.”

“Being Doctor Who is so much more interesting than being Tom Baker. So therefore I’m not going to give up what’s interesting am I? just to revert to being Tom Baker, who, for all I know, whoever he is, he might be full of anxieties and like the average man in the street. I’ve never wanted to be the average man in the street. Well, I don’t mind being in the street, but I wanted people to laugh and I wanted to be involved in adventures.”

Unfortunately I, along with much of the room, missed Philip Hinchcliffe’s interview as this was the slot for a photo with Tom once he’d left the stage. I would have liked to hear him the former producer speak. Again, Baker was on fine form for his fans over the next few hours posing for photos and signing autographs. He had time for everyone, answering questions and giving an enthusiastic response, even when it looked like he didn’t really know what someone was talking about.

The Early Adventures Panel

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Companions of the First Doctor William Russell (Ian Chesterton), Maureen O’Brien (Vicki) and Peter Purves (Steven Taylor) assembled on the stage. They are all starring in the Big Finish Early Adventures series.

Peter Purves on regeneration: “I think that lots of people expect that because we were in it, therefore we know all about it. We were not necessarily fans of the programme after we left it…. I enjoyed Patrick’s performance, but he could never be the Doctor. And I was a very good friend of Jon Pertwee’s. He was never the Doctor to me. He just couldn’t be. I thought it was preposterous performance, but I loved him as a man. Funnily enough I always thought that the nearest anyone came to being my image of the Doctor was Sylvester, and that of course was when the show met its untimely BBC end.”

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Maureen O’Brien on An Adventure in Space and Time: “I just didn’t think it brought to me what the people were really like… I just didn’t go with it, and I found it depressing, because Bill, although he had his snarling, nasty side, was full of joy and fun, and loved actors and acting, and all that. It just emphasised the wrong things about him. I found it depressing, sad and it wasn’t like that, you know. With the exception of this wonderful girl, I’m now going to forget her name of course, who played Jackie Hill. And she was simply wonderful. Shivers up and down my spine every time she appeared. I thought, ‘Oh my God it’s Jackie.'”

Purves on Day of the Doctor: “We saw this incredible production, which had the three Doctors in it. I’m sorry, I haven’t a clue what was going on. I thought it was magnificent, it looked stunning, the effects were brilliant on it. What the Hell was it about? I’ve no idea. The show actually defeats me. It’s beaten me. I’ve given up. I can’t follow the modern stories, they’re too complicated for me.”

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O’Brien on Christopher Eccleston: “I never watched Doctor Who at all after I came out of it. Not before, not after. Because I’m not crazy about science-fiction. It just doesn’t interest me. So I never watched it until Christopher Eccleston, because he’s an actor who really interests me. I thought, ‘I’ll have a look at this.’ And I watched several episodes then and, for me, he came the closest to Bill Hartnell. I thought he and Billie Piper together were simply wonderful; they were so motivated and there was a reason why they were whizzing around space. They were both addicted to kind of travel. Anywhere for anything. I just thought it was a wonderful relationship and he was a wonderful Doctor. He had this quality that Bill Hartnell had, which was this kind of real, human anger, or fixation, or something about him that was frightening. And I think that was an element of Doctor Who that all the Doctors in-between, well I think, I could be wrong, between Bill Hartnell and Chris Eccleston lacked. They were funny. They were charming. They were a bit dizzy and whizzy and wozzy, and they were charming, but for me they lacked this element of real human danger.”

William Russell on playing the First Doctor for Big Finish: “I like it very much. I always like doing it because it brings back Bill; I remember him and I think about him when I do it. So I am very concerned about how it goes over and I’m always delighted, I mean someone just came up to me and said to me how much they really love me as Doctor Who.”

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William Russell on Jacqueline Hill: “We became great friends. We planned our removal, which was difficult with Bill, because we knew what the reaction would be. But we worked it together, Jackie and I. Sort of went and said, ‘We won’t be here next week, Bill.’ …It was very difficult. But Jackie was a great friend. We did a play together, a Terrance Rattigan play together, when we left and I enjoyed that very much But she was, I felt, somehow such an underrated actress. She was a really wonderful actress and her capacity was never really tested, in a sense, in Doctor Who I think. But she was terrific, Jackie.”

There was much to fit into the rest of the day. One room had Blakes 7 costumes in it, so at least I saved ten minutes there. There were opportunities to speak with, and get autographs from, Maureen O’Brien, Matthew Waterhouse, Peter Purves, William Russell, Dan Starkey, Nick Briggs and Lisa Bowerman. Writers on hand included Jonathan Morris, Justin Richards and Andrew Smith. I particularly enjoyed speaking with Mr Smith. We discussed his recent appearance on The Memory Cheats podcast, our fears that Douglas McKinnon gave too much away about upcoming series eight stories in his recent Radio Free Skaro interview, and writing his writing for Tom Baker and Lalla Ward again. He was very generous with his time, and seemed genuinely interested to know what I thought too.

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Dan Starkey judging the cosplay competition. I hadn’t realised what a fan he is; he identified which season this Fourth Doctor outfit is from.

Order:

Tom Baker at 80

Doctor Who: Domain of the Voord (Doctor Who Early Adventures)

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2 thoughts on “Big Finish Day 5

  1. Fascinating stuff! I particularly enjoyed the comments by Peter Purves and Maureen O’Brien about the new series, and I love that William Russell is still recording new material almost 50 years after leaving the show!

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