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4,000-plus 'Who' fans come out

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A Japanese ninja walked up to a wizard in flowing robes and conical hat and said, "Hello, what time frame are you from?"

It was a common sort of scene in and around the San Jose Convention Center during the weekend. where knights in full armour clanked about, teams of Ghostbusters roamed the hallways and literally hundreds of people were swathed in 20-foot wool scarves in imitation of an alien Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey.

More than 4,000 people attended Timecon '84 Friday through Sunday, billed as a "Science Fiction. Fantasy, Doctor Who and Dark Shadows Festival." Most of the attendees were devotees of "Doctor Who," the long-running BBC television show that has attracted a cult following all over the world. The show, about an alien time traveler known as the Doctor, is seen locally on KTEH, Ch 54.

The main attractions at the convention were Jon Pertwee, who played the Doctor from 1970-74; Nicholas Courtney, who as Brigadier Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart has been the longest continuing actor on the series; and "Doctor Who" producer John Nathan-Turner. Approximately 1,000 people showed up for Pertwee's first appearance on Friday afternoon and hundreds stood patiently in line Saturday for the chance to get an autograph from one of the special guests.

Caroline Hurd of Milpitas was one of the fans waiting for an autograph. "This is my vice," she said. "I've been a closet fan for two-and-a-half years ... I really enjoy the special effects, which range from very creative to a Grade C lizard eating London. You never know what you're going to get."

Lareena Smith, a senior at Brigham Young University, had driven from Provo, Utah, for the convention. "It's curious what makes people like this show," she said. "He's so heroic. If you pretend you're the Doctor, you feel so confident. He's a fun guy to wish you were."

There was also a lot of activity in the huge dealers' room, where people could select from miniature Tardises, talking Daleks and other souvenirs from "Doctor Who," an array of science fiction literature (with a preponderance of "Doctor Who" books and fan magazines), buy tribbles and other "Star Trek" memorabilia and just about anything else even remotely associated with science fiction.

Pat Sobrero was manning a table for Recycle Books of Palo Alto. "'Doctor Who' is the biggest seller at the store," she said, "and I've probably done more business here than the entire store did today."

Across the street at the Sainte Claire Hilton the activities continued. The hotel was the base for the Dark Shadows Festival, which featured guest appearances by Jonathan Frid, who played the tormented, sensitive vampire Barnabas Collins on the 1960s soap opera.

Fans willing to pay an additional $15 over the $25 convention fee had the opportunity to see the "Doctor Who" guests step out of character and perform in late night cabaret shows on Friday and Saturday. The highlight was Pertwee's nightclub act, though it was cut short Friday when he broke a string on his guitar.

Fans had a chance to show their creativity Saturday night at a costume contest that was characterized by interminable delays and several teams of Ghostbusters.

Caption: Ghostbusters were nearly as popular as "Dr. Who's" at the "Science Fiction, Fantasy, Doctor Who and Dark Shadows Festival" over the weekend. Among the ghostbusters were (from left, above) Jim Marcolina, Curt Corum, Steve Horne, Tiffany Cullum and Dan Oak. Judging the costume contest are Jon Pertwee (below left), the third Dr. Who, and John Nathan-Turner, producer of the show. A wit in the audience called the character at left a "space poodle"

Caption: Matthew Clayson (from left), Paul Grover, Christopher Stroth and Rick Veronda portrayed different incarnations of Dr. Who.

Fans turn out to pay homage to 'Doctor Who'

When one thinks of alien beings, images that spring to mind usually do not include an elegant, white-haired man in a ruffled shirt and velvet smoking jacket who travels about through time and space in a battered English police callbox.

This dapper alien is one of the most popular ever to grace a television screen, however, and thousands of fans turned out in San Jose this weekend to pay homage to British actor Jon Pertwee, the third man to play the title character in "Doctor Who," and to Nicholas Courtney, who as Brigadier Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart has been with the show longer than any other actor.

Pertwee is not at all surprised by the cult following the show has generated in the United States. "The surprise is that it took so long," he said.

Pertwee starred as the Time Lord from Gallifrey from 1970 to 1974. There have been six Doctors since the popular BBC children's show began 21 years ago, made possible by the Doctor's convenient power of regeneration that comes into play whenever an actor leaves the show.

Pertwee's Doctor was the first to be syndicated in America, in the mid-1970s. It was not a success.

"American stations weren't used to serials as opposed to series," he said. ("Doctor Who" stories are generally four or six half-hour episodes.) "So they would interrupt the serial for three weeks with baseball games or whatever, and pick it up later in the middle of some other story. So of course it never made any sense."

Later the show began showing up on PBS stations, with Tom Baker as the fourth Doctor, and its cult following became firmly established. Pertwee's episodes have only recently been made available for syndication again and KTEH (Ch 54) is airing entire serials at 11:15 p.m. Saturdays.

Pertwee had only seen one serial of "Doctor Who" — which had featured his first wife Jean ("Upstairs, Downstairs") Marsh — when he heard that the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, was leaving the show. He asked his agent to put him up for the part. The show's producers had already decided they wanted him, and so he began his career as an alien.

"My character came about as an accident," Per-twee recalled. "Pat Troughton was a tramp, a cosmic hobo. I thought I'd go the opposite direction and be the cosmic dandy."

He went to his first photo session as the Doctor wearing his grandfather's Inverness cape, a velvet smoking jacket and a ruffled shirt which was in style at the time. The show's producers liked the look and the third Doctor's reputation for elegance became firmly established.

Nicholas Courtney said his long involvement with the show came about by chance. He was hired in 1968 to play the part of a captain in UNIT, the United Nations task force working with the Doctor to protect the Earth from alien invasions, when the actor who had been hired to play Col. Lethbridge-Stewart got a better part and walked out. Courtney was offered the part. "Of course I took it," he said. "It was a raise in rank, even though the money was the same."

It turned out to be a shrewd move. The character he was originally hired for was killed off.

When Patrick Troughton left the show, Col. Lethbridge-Stewart was promoted to Brigadier and became a much-loved regular during the Pertwee years. His part was gradually phased out during Tom Baker's tenure. "When Tom Baker took over from Jon, they wanted the series to evolve, and the idea of UNIT just sort of faded away," he said.

He has returned occasionally, most recently In "Mawdryn Undead" with fifth Doctor Peter Davison. "When (producer) John Nathan-Turner came along, he remembered the Brig and brought him back. Not much has changed in the character, except he's gotten slightly wider," Courtney said.

Courtney, who has worked with all the doctors except the newest one, Colin Baker, has found very little in common with the Doctor's different regenerations. "They've all had huge honkers — that means noses — and a degree of eccentricity," he said. "And they've all had very interesting dress sense."

Pertwee, who races cars and motorcycles, brought his love of mechanical gadgets and fast transportation to "Doctor Who."

"Most of the gadgetry is stuff that I found. We beat the James Bond films several times," he said proudly. He once wiped out two camera crews while filmming a scene with a hovercraft (he had never driven one before) and used to delight in leaving expensive sport-scars in the dust with his souped-up Edwardian roadster, Bessie.

Pertwee also was known for his pranks on the "Doctor Who" set. Courtney's favorite came about when he was playing an evil Brigadier with a black eyepatch from a parallel universe. Pertwee and co-stars Katy Manning and John Levene came on wearing eye-patches as well and, instead of breaking up when he turned to face them, he just went on with the dialogue while the three pranksters had a fit of the giggles.

Viewership increased steadily during Pertwee's tenure, and in 1974 he decided the BBC wasn't paying him enough. He told the management that if he wasn't given a raise he would leave.

"They said, 'We're terribly sorry to see you go,' and that was that," Pertwee said. "I was very surprised. I thought 1 was better loved than that."

Pertwee said another factor in his leaving was the fact that his team was breaking up. Roger Delgado, who had played his arch enemy the Master and was one of Pertwee's closest friends, was killed in a car accident and then script editor Terrance Dicks and producer Barry Letts left the show. "It seemed to be the end of an era," he said. I thought, 'Now's the time to go.' "

Pertwee has gone on to star in "Worzel Gum-midge," another children's show which also has developed a strong following in England.

"I like working for children," he said. "Because, you see, we're all children at heart. There isn't anyone who doesn't relate to that."

Caption: Jon Pertwee, the third man to play the title character in "Doctor Who," is not at all surprised by the cult following the show has generated.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Smith, Karen (1984-08-06). 4,000-plus 'Who' fans come out. Peninsula Times Tribune p. C1.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Smith, Karen. "4,000-plus 'Who' fans come out." Peninsula Times Tribune [add city] 1984-08-06, C1. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Smith, Karen. "4,000-plus 'Who' fans come out." Peninsula Times Tribune, edition, sec., 1984-08-06
  • Turabian: Smith, Karen. "4,000-plus 'Who' fans come out." Peninsula Times Tribune, 1984-08-06, section, C1 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=4,000-plus 'Who' fans come out | url=,000-plus_%27Who%27_fans_come_out | work=Peninsula Times Tribune | pages=C1 | date=1984-08-06 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=1 December 2023 }}</ref>
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