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Dedicated fans keeping the Whoniverse alive

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It might be one of the most popular shows on TV, but a lucrative and far reaching industry has grown up around Doctor Who outside of the programme itself. As the 50th anniversary special of the iconic series prepares to air tomorrow night, Dave Owens meets those dedicated to keeping the show alive when it's off air

THERE can't be many people who can say they've flown in the TARDIS and appeared as a monster in Doctor Who. Similarly, there aren't many people who can boast about being the host of the world's longest-running Doctor Who quiz.

The CV of Michael Williams is pretty impressive - that's if you're in thrall of the world's most famous Time Lord.

Three years ago Williams and fellow lifelong Whovian Ioan Morris founded Quiz Of Rassilon. Its birth was borne of necessity when Williams, then working as an entertainment manager at Cardiff venues Buffalo Bar and 10 Feet Tall, was asked to come up with a night to fill a gap. It was a no brainer for the Who devotee.

"We just had a space in the calendar and that's it really, it went from there," he explains. "Now it has absolutely transcended into a community night out. I've met some of my best friends there."

Held every first Monday at Buffalo Bar in Cardiff city centre this year it has been celebrating the build-up to 50th anniversary of Doctor Who - the long awaited 50th airing on BBC One tomorrow evening - with each month's event highlighting a particular Doctor. The reach of the iconic TV series is such that Williams reckons it appeal is across the board, which is mirrored in those who turn up to the quiz.

"It's a mixture between the hardcore, the younger, the people who work on the show, the flamboyant, the cosplayers (those that dress up as characters from the show) and the general fans, I love them all," he says.

The quiz has seen some memorable moments over the years, with Doctor Who/Sarah Jane Adventures writer Gareth Roberts penning a special round, ex-producer Caro Skinner attending, writer Neil Gaiman confirming a contested answer over Twitter, and the writer of the Doctor Who Encyclopaedia, Gary Russell, contributing questions every month.

Introduced to Doctor Who when he was just four years old thanks to his dad buying him a Day of the Daleks video, the host reveals that the quiz is so tough, no-one has yet cored 100% while playing, which is some revelation given the buffs who turn up, but unsurprising when you have 50 years of material to draw from.

"No team has ever managed to get full marks. Needless to say, the questions are fiendishly difficult, but that is how the quiz participants like them," says Williams, who is employed as a runner at BBC Wales.

Until recently the 28-year-old was working at the Doctor Who Experience at Porth Teigr in Cardiff Bay, where on a daily basis he would "fly" the TARDIS for wide-eyed kids and mums and dads alike, as part of the visitor attraction's immersive sensory offering.

"The Experience was great. I relished every day and still got chills travelling in the TARDIS even a year and half after starting work there," recalls Williams who fulfilled a dream when he appeared in an episode of Doctor Who. "Being a monster on it was one of the best things ever to happen to me. I'm a Slab in the episode Smith and Jones which starred David Tennant as the Doctor and Freema Agyeman as his assistant."

The Doctor Who Experience is another nod to the tourist industry that has grown exponentially around the show which is filmed in South Wales, offering a tourism boom for the area.

Now, in addition to the Experience, which was formerly housed in the Red Dragon Centre in Cardiff, there are also tours of the actual studios where the programme is made, as well as bus tours for fans of the series who want to see at first hand the locations at which the series was filmed.

The location idea has also been taken to its logical conclusion by sci-fi journalist and self-confessed Whovian Nick Griffiths, who has penned a new edition of a travel guide exploring the bizarre filming locations of the hit show - following a pilgrimage to Wales.

He made the journey this summer, tracking down locations used for the 50th anniversary episode, The Day of the Doctor. The eagerly anticipated episode featuring David Tennant and Matt Smith, began filming in Neath in April this year and also shot in Monmouthshire and Cardiff.

Among the locations set to feature are Gelligaer Common in Caerphilly; the Ivy Tower in Neath; Chepstow Castle; MOD Caerwent; Mamhilad Park Industrial Estate overlooking the Brecon Beacons; and spots around Cardiff such as Gladstone Primary School.

Griffiths visited them all and has now updated his humorous Doctor Who travel book Who Goes There, published by Legend Press, which has taken in locations used in the show since the 1960s.

The writer said the 50th anniversary was such a big event, he felt compelled to follow in its footsteps.

"It's the 50th anniversary which, for a television show, is immense. It seemed churlish not to. But it's quite difficult to get people to come with you to these places - it's quite a nerdy mission."

Griffiths said his latest visits were a departure with the past because they saw him visit locations before he had actually seen the episode in question.

Although he admits he found visiting the locations an enlightening experience.

"It's about the history of these places. It doesn't just film in office blocks, it's in quarries and on railway bridges and stuff and the idea you could combine a travel book with weird locations seemed like a good one."

The publishing industry has benefited hugely from Doctor Who. In addition to the monthly Doctor Who magazine published by Panini, there are the ever popular annuals and a plethora of books to sate the appetite of even the most demanding Whovian.

Leading sci-fi writer Alastair Reynolds, from Barry, jumped at the chance to pen a Doctor Who book when he and a number of other authors were invited to do so by the BBC and publisher Ebury Press.

The result, Harvest of Time, was published in June this year and features the Third Doctor (as portrayed by Jon Pertwee), his assistant Jo Grant, the Master (as portrayed by Roger Delgado), Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and other familiar characters from the Third Doctor era of Doctor Who.

As well as being a successful writer, Reynolds confesses to being a huge Doctor Who fan.

"I always have been. Doctor Who seems to me to offer much more creative scope than any other franchise universe," he explains. "You can do almost anything within the frame of a Doctor Who story.

"BBC/Ebury said that they were interested in bringing in outside writers to do Doctor Who books and they were open to ideas about earlier incarnations," says the 47-year-old, taking up the story of how the book came to life. "I was immediately certain that I wanted to do a UNIT era story with the Third Doctor, Jo, the Master, Brig and so on.

"I think those episodes come from a time when I first connected with the series and began to understand it on some level. As it happened no-one else had gone for the Third Doctor yet so that wasn't a problem. My friend Stephen Baxter (The Wheel of Ice) is a big fan of the Troughton era so for him that was the natural one to do. I think Jenni Colgan (Dark Horizons) and Mike Moorcock (The Coming of the Terraphiles) both went for the current Doctor.

As luck would have it Reynolds finds himself a part of the 50th anniversary celebrations, albeit by chance.

"It's largely accidental, I think, but I couldn't have hoped for better timing!"

GRAPHIC: Michael Williams, host of the world's longest-running Doctor Who quiz - Quiz of Rassilon - on the set of the TARDIS

Spelling correction: Jenny Colgan

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  • APA 6th ed.: Owens, Dave (2013-11-22). Dedicated fans keeping the Whoniverse alive. The Western Mail p. 30.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Owens, Dave. "Dedicated fans keeping the Whoniverse alive." The Western Mail [add city] 2013-11-22, 30. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Owens, Dave. "Dedicated fans keeping the Whoniverse alive." The Western Mail, edition, sec., 2013-11-22
  • Turabian: Owens, Dave. "Dedicated fans keeping the Whoniverse alive." The Western Mail, 2013-11-22, section, 30 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Dedicated fans keeping the Whoniverse alive | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Dedicated_fans_keeping_the_Whoniverse_alive | work=The Western Mail | pages=30 | date=2013-11-22 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=25 October 2021 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Dedicated fans keeping the Whoniverse alive | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Dedicated_fans_keeping_the_Whoniverse_alive | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=25 October 2021}}</ref>