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Who's Who? (The Spokesman-Review)

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It's 'Doctor Who' - that's who - and up to 4,500 fans of the show will gather in Spokane

Everything depends on your place in time and space. You're either a fan of "the Doctor or you are not. If you appreciate the intricacies of the world according to "Doctor Who", then August 15-17 are three of the biggest days of the year.

Organizers call the event TimeFest '86 and to Whovians -- followers of the cult TV show "Doctor Who" -- this is Spokane's biggest leap into serious entertainment.

For the uninitiated, it'll be a swarm of merchandise, costumes and videos featuring strange characters talking about time travel and saving the universe from diabolical creatures.

But for the true believers, it'll be an out-of-this-world experience.

Objectively speaking (as the Doctor himself would say), TimeFest '86 is nothing more than a long and glorified science-fiction/fantasy convention.

But don't say that to a true Whovian, who regard a "Star Trek" gathering as mere child's play.

"Doctor Who" diehards from far and near -- some coming from the East Coast and Alaska -- will serve at the Sheraton-Spokane and the Riverpark Convention Center to celebrate their favorite Time Lord.

If the organizer of the event -- the Inland Empire Doctor Who Appreciation Society (IEDWAS) is right, there'll be 3,000-45,00 people here during the convention, many of them paying $45.00 apiece.

That's a lot of people, according to Ron Katz, president of the national "Doctor Who" fan club in Denver, Colo. For a first time venture by a relatively new organization, Spokane's TimeFest '86 is frighteningly ambitious.

"I'm a little frightened for them. This is a big effort and if you've never done this before, all sorts of things can go wrong," says Katz.

Katz himself will be on hand to see how TimeFest '86 comes off. He'll present a merchandise booth and a "Doctor Who" photo and artifact display for convention-goers.

Katz gives credit to Spokane's 350-member "Doctor Who" group for thinking big. Events like this are major sources of interest in the 23-year-old British-made TV serial, which can be seen Saturday nights at 10 on KSPS-TV in Spokane. Katz says interest in the show continues to grow, with more than 50,000 members this year and used to join the national "Doctor Who" Fan Club.

"The idea of having big conventions has slowed down a bit in past years, but I'd say there are probably 10 or so major conventions for "Doctor Who" fans in the country. If this draws as many people as they think, it will be one of the top 10," Katz predicts.

The TimeFest attractions are certainly present what looks like an all-out of cult-TV mega-event. The names of guests are not household words, but to Whovians, they're worth getting excited about.

Until recently, the show's headliner was supposed to have been Jon Pertwee, a British actor known for playing the third Doctor (more on that later).

Pertwee's is unlikely to show. The "definates" include Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney, Richard Franklin and John Levene, who played different "companions" during the show's long history of production by the BBC.

The show is, incidentally, the longest running TV show still in production in the world.

Also scheduled are Terrance Dicks one of the show's cheap writers, and John Nathan-Turner, the show's current producer. Don't forget Anthony Ainley, who played The Master, one of the show's arch-bad guys.

Never heard of them? Most of us haven't. Most viewers of public-TV wouldn't know those names from Queen Elizabeth. But remember we're talking series cult TV here. This isn't just another party.

In this country, the Doctor has pockets of interest scattered around the country. The show was extremely popular in the East, but out West, interest varies with which PBS stations carry the syndicated show.

Seattle, for instance, doesn't get it. Spokane viewers have been hip to "Doctor Who" for more than three years, dating back to June 1983 when KSPS-TV began airing half hour episodes of the show.

Because the programme is more than mere science fiction, it has woe an immense following of fans around the world. On the 20th anniversary of "Doctor Who" in 1983, more than 10,000 fans gathered in Chicago to throw a grand party.

The Spokane version will be nearly as long as the Chicago area, if less well attended. Even so, is there going on to fill three days of activity? Well, there'll be videos of never-seen or seldom-seen "Doctor Who" episodes. The celebs will take part in question-and-answer sessions. Some of them will present a cabaret performance Saturday night, right before the costume ball and contest. Photo and autograph sessions and an awards banquet will complete the calendar.

Mostly the gathered will talk. "There'll be a lot of people who don't socialize a lot or go to many parties," says Katz.

"Many of these people spend most of their time watching TV or reading books, let's admit it. This will be one party where they find people are interested in the same thing. And once they get started, it's hard to stop."

But the interest in "Doctor Who" is broader than one would imagine, he insists. Its appeal is from 7-year-olds to senior citizens, he says, and from day laborers to nuclear physicists.

What they'll talk about, actually, is the show, which over 23 years has established and enshrined heroes, villains and oddities to fill several volumes of trivia.

To an outsider, many of them and details make no sense. An initial problem was explaining why there are six Doctors with the same name over the history of the show, and why they all look different from each other. The Doctor, who hails from planet Gallifrey, has two hearts, you understand. And his unique alien biology allows him to regenerate from time to time, enabling another actor to take over the character.

One needs to know that the Doctor looks like us but he's really a Time Lord, a brainy, crusading do-gooder who travels around the universe and across the centuries in a vehicle he calls the TARDIS.

The space travelling sounds like "Star Trek," but the appeal of the show is hardly traditional science fiction. The Doctor almost never resorts to violence, relying on wits and cleverness in overcoming his foes, who range from the awful Cybermen to mutant machine-things called Daleks who go around and say "Exterminate" a lot.

The camp appeal of "Doctor Who" also derives from the remarkably cheap special effects used in the series. Machines said to be a extraordinarily high-tech look like kitchen utensils taped to spare bicycle parts. The show's producers rely on script quality, not special effects.

"I think the reason it's popular," says Spokane Whovian Clay Breshears, "is its appeal to all sorts of people on all sorts of levels." Breshears, a computer instructor at EWU, is a member of Radio Free Gallifrey, a Spokane-based "Doctor Who" fan club that formed after disgruntled members of IEDWAS wanted to pursue their own interests.

"You have to lure of the science fiction, but you also have the comedy. This is a British show and its humor is offbeat and oddball. It's unique and something you don't see a American TV," Breshears adds.

Another Spokane die-hard Whovian, Lawrence Softich, says the appeal of the show's its weirdness. "I have to say the show was weird, since the main character is always getting into a machine which looks like a large spaceship inside but outside looks like a British police box. And when he does, it never works right, so he always ends up somewhere else than where he planned.

The interest around Spokane is high, but nothing like the avid fan following the show has in Alberta and British Columbia. Canadians act like "Doctor Who" is the next best thing to hockey. When KSPS-TV holds pledge drives, the largest response it receives comes during "Doctor Who" episodes, and most of the money pours in from Calgary and cities in eastern British Columbia.

KSPS, on the Saturday evening of the convention, will offer two Jon Pertwee "Doctor Who" episodes to observe the occasion. That will also be during the station's summer pledge, and guests from the convention will go to the KSPS studio to make money pitches for Channel 7.

Jamie Decker, the IEDWAS club president and TimeFest coordinator, says she plans to set aside enough money from the convention's receipts to underwrite another year of "Doctor Who" on the channel -- estimated by the station to be about $70,000

But for an event that's described as a public television benefit, KSPS's interest and support in TimeFest '86 are surprisingly modest, Decker says.

Decker claims she knows of no other "Doctor Who" club in the country that's held a convention as a benefit for PBS station. She's a bit miffed at KSPS for waiting until last week before carrying on-air announcements of the event.

The irony for her is that public TV stations in Tacoma in Salt Lake City have been carrying notices for viewers about the Spokane convention for more than a month.

Bill Stanley, program director at KSPSS says he intends to carry the show next year, if possible. A substantial amount of money provided by IEDWAS will ensure "Doctor Who" will continue through 1987, he adds.

Stanley goes on to say that he won't give area Whovians what they used to have -- the old format of having the half-hour episodes shown twice each night, then repeated on weekends.

"I think we may have spoiled them a bit back when we showed it that often. When we cut back, it caused all kinds of headaches for us. Current station priorities will keep the Doctor of the evening PBS program lineup, he adds.

"But I want to keep the show (on the air). It fits our cornucopia idea of having something on other station for everyone."

Station manager Claude Distler says KSPS gave some thought earlier this year to getting its fund-raising arm or special events committee involved in the event. But that didn't happen, for a couple reasons.

The two chief reasons, says Patty Starkey at KSPS, was that the convention was considered an event belong to another group.

"It wasn't one of our projects and we didn't feel it was something that required our assistance," Starkey says.

A second reason is "they never really asked us for our help," according to Starkey, the executive director of the station's fund-raising arm, the Friends of Seven.

Decker and another local fan, John Warden, both think the real reason goes back to earlier contacts between KSPS and area Whovians.

Warden, a 35 year-old insurance salesman, became a dedicated Whovian three years ago. But he went to the station explained that he wanted to bring Tom Baker -- the best known Doctor in the show's history -- to help build interest in the show as well get a local fan club off the ground.

But Warden couldn't get Baker anywhere near Spokane -- he'd already left the show and was pursuing his acting career in England. Warden believes KSPS management felt a trace of egg on its face "for having stuck its head out on a relatively obscure public promotion.

Decker will only add that she sees diminishing effort as KSPS to keep "Doctor Who" in time slots that are convenient for Spokane-area fans. In any event she intends to speak softly and pull off a major lot of major success with TimeFest and use it to build greater demand for the show.

Decker is a homemaker who does occasional seamstress work to supplement her husband Ralph's income. Her chief occupation, she says, is serving as a volunteer. In 1985, she received a national award from the Public Broadcasting Service for being the outstanding PBS volunteer in the country.

She and her husband -- who works as a technician at KSPS -- worked for several months preparing TimeFest.

"It's gotten really crazy here the past week, with people working at our house until midnight or later finishing details, she said.

The payoff for that effort may be astronomical. The net gross receipts, before all expenses are covered, may total $200,000.

Some of the remaining funds will likely be set aside for next year's KSPS "Doctor Who" costs. A portion, adds Decker, were mailed to the PBS stations in Salt Lake City and to call that helped promote the event.

A percentage will remunerate those who toiled on TimeFest, herself included. The rest of the earnings of the set aside for next year's TimeFest '87, which she's begun planning for the Sheraton and Convention Center next summer.

"I'm already looking into paying airplane tickets for people we want to fly in," Decker says.

TimeFest '86 begins Friday at the Sheraton and at the Riverpark Convention Center. Tickets are $45 for all three days, $17.50 for Friday and Saturday, $10 for Sunday only. Sunday's banquet is not included and costs on an additional $10. For further information, call

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  • APA 6th ed.: Sowa, Tom (1986-08-10). Who's Who? (The Spokesman-Review). The Spokesman-Review p. E12.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Sowa, Tom. "Who's Who? (The Spokesman-Review)." The Spokesman-Review [add city] 1986-08-10, E12. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Sowa, Tom. "Who's Who? (The Spokesman-Review)." The Spokesman-Review, edition, sec., 1986-08-10
  • Turabian: Sowa, Tom. "Who's Who? (The Spokesman-Review)." The Spokesman-Review, 1986-08-10, section, E12 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Who's Who? (The Spokesman-Review) | url= | work=The Spokesman-Review | pages=E12 | date=1986-08-10 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=28 November 2023 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Who's Who? (The Spokesman-Review) | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=28 November 2023}}</ref>