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Celebrating an alien obsession

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For loyal fans, Doctor Who is still a timely traveller, writes Mark Juddery

A BBC-owned quarry was the set for every second alien planet

AS a teenager back in the 1980s, I was visited at home by some classmates. One of them, snooping through my bedroom, pulled down a poster which I had on my wall. The poster was of English actor Sarah Sutton, alias Nyssa, one of the Doctor Who girls at the time.

"This is Mark's dream girl," scoffed my classmate, mentioning something about how flat-chested she was. The others all thought this was highly amusing. I didn't try to defend myself because, to me, Nyssa was wonderful. Besides, I didn't want to explain the real reason she was on my wall: I couldn't find a poster of my personal favourite, Jo Grant -- equally pretty and equally flat-chested -- who had been the good Doctor's assistant back when we were babies. Back in 1985, going retro was really embarrassing.

Later, the same classmate would privately admit that, while no Samantha Fox, Nyssa didn't look so bad. Her only problem: she was a Doctor Who girl -- and having one on your wall was a sign of acute geekiness.

So what? It was part of my life. While other teens were getting real girlfriends, I was spending my spare time publishing a Doctor Who fan magazine. (Today, it would probably be a website.) The classic science fiction series -- about an alien time-travelling hero, saving the universe from the likes of the Daleks and the Cybermen -- brought out my obsessive side. My first episodes starred the charismatic Tom Baker, complete with his rainbow scarf, his bohemian jacket and his inventive one-liners ("'Eureka' is Greek for 'This bath is too hot"'). Many fans still see him as the archetypal Doctor (perhaps rightly), but my favourite was his predecessor, Jon Pertwee, especially when accompanied by (sigh) the lovely Jo Grant. After seeing a few reruns of their episodes, I was hooked.

Others are equally obsessed. This weekend, the Doctor Who Club of Australia will hold a convention in Sydney, to celebrate 40 years since the series premiered on the BBC in the UK. Though membership has dwindled over the years, about 200 fans will still be attending.

Around the time of the 20th anniversary, as a 12-year-old enthusiast, I was attending conventions myself. If we were very lucky, the special guest would be Sydney-based actor Katy Manning, previously from England. Fine with me. She was charming, she was funny (she later became a stand-up comedian), and most of all, she was Jo Grant. Yes, the Jo Grant.

Of course, things have changed since those days. For starters, Doctor Who is no longer produced. "As the program's gotten older, fans have gotten older," says Dallas Jones, who has been part of the scene since co-founding DWCA back in 1976. "In the '70s and '80s, fans would meet by going to people's places. Nowadays fans meet at the pub. Also, being adults, they can afford to do things on a much larger scale. Conventions now have overseas guests."

Two UK-based former Doctor Who stars, Wendy Padbury (alias the cute genius, Zoe) and Queensland-born Janet Fielding (alias the bossy Australian air hostess, Tegan), will attend Whovention. Manning, now the official patron of DWCA, will also make an appearance.

In some ways, Doctor Who didn't really end. Though no longer on television, new novels are published every month (for adult readers), and audio plays, starring actors from the series, are produced on CD.

According to Jones, however, many of the old gang have gone on to other things. Kate Orman, a former DWCA president, went on write some of the novels. Sarah Groenwegen, herself a teenage fanzine editor in the '80s, later came out, writing a thesis suggesting that Doctor Who is a gay icon. (Jones is not convinced, though he agrees that many fans are openly gay.)

Watching an episode of Doctor Who nowadays, one is surprised by the cheap production standards. The budget was even lower than that of the original Star Trek series, which could at least afford to make alien planets out of polystyrene. Doctor Who would take even greater short cuts: a BBC-owned quarry was the set for every second alien planet. The monsters were generally unconvincing, and the special effects would not impress younger science fiction fans, familiar with the computer-generated worlds of Red Dwarf and Stargate SG-1.

Beneath the surface, however, the stories and ideas of Doctor Who still far surpass the bulk of today's science fiction films and TV shows. OK, this is a fan talking. Twenty years later, the series still retains its brilliance ... even if it has lost much of its innocence.

Whovention runs Friday to Sunday at the Carlton Crest Hotel, 169 Thomas St, Sydney.


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  • APA 6th ed.: Juddery, Mark (2003-04-02). Celebrating an alien obsession. The Australian p. 22.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Juddery, Mark. "Celebrating an alien obsession." The Australian [add city] 2003-04-02, 22. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Juddery, Mark. "Celebrating an alien obsession." The Australian, edition, sec., 2003-04-02
  • Turabian: Juddery, Mark. "Celebrating an alien obsession." The Australian, 2003-04-02, section, 22 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Celebrating an alien obsession | url= | work=The Australian | pages=22 | date=2003-04-02 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=1 March 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Celebrating an alien obsession | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=1 March 2024}}</ref>