John Freeman provided us with his insights into attending the Doctor Who Appreciation Society’s Capitol IV convention, as a guest, earlier in the week. I thought it would be a nice contrast to offer a few of my own observations, from the point of view of an attendee.
(By way of a disclaimer, I was involved with the organisation of DWAS myself for a number of years and I know most of the organising team of the Capitol very well. So this can’t claim to be a totally objective review. That said, I had no personal involvement with the running of the event, so I hope that I’m detached enough to offer a few thoughts and observations).
This was the fourth Capitol but, for various reasons, the first that I’ve been able to attend. For many years, the DWAS concentrated, very successfully, on smaller one day events. Then, in 2016, the Society decided to try its hand at an ambitious, two day event, a little like the Panopticons of years gone by. Proper, old school Doctor Who conventions, the Capitols seem to me to be just the right size – big enough to feel like a major event but small enough to be both intimate and friendly.
The event began on Saturday morning with a parade of Daleks wheeling around the foyer of the hotel. This was great fun, and provided an original and very enjoyable start to the weekend. Actor Terry Molloy, famous for playing the 1980s version of the Daleks’ creator Davros, led the parade and was followed by Davros himself and a motley collection of Daleks. All highly entertaining and a cracking start to the weekend.
As with all conventions, there was an awful lot to see and do, so I wasn’t able to watch all the panels but I did manage to see a good few of them. The convention started with a Dalek panel, featuring Terry Molloy, Dalek voice artist Nicholas Briggs and Dalek operator Jon Davey. Martin Parsons was the man asking the questions – and he really should be presenting a chat show on the BBC such is his skill at putting interviewees at ease.
Julian Glover, star of movies such as Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, is always a popular figure when he appears at conventions, having guest-starred in two classic Doctor Who stories – The Crusade (1965) and The City of Death (1979). Karen Davies, who interviewed Julian, is a long-time friend of the actor and managed to steer him towards some classic anecdotes. The close friendship between the two made for a warm and interesting interview and Julian was on top form, displaying his trademark razor sharp wit.
They were later joined by Ian Cullen (Ixta in the 1964 Hartnell classic The Aztecs), who provided some fascinating insights into working on the very first season of Doctor Who.
The Saturday evening featured the recording of a segment for a special Big Finish podcast and an auction of unique Doctor Who items skilfully hosted by former Blue Peter presenter Peter Purves, who played companion Steven Taylor opposite William Hartnell’s Doctor in the 1960s. Peter auctioned off a number of desirable items including signed prints, CDs and even a scarecrow’s head from the David Tennant story Human Nature/The Family of Blood – and a considerable sum was raised for some worthy charities. Artist Alister Pearson then took over to auction some unique items of artwork.
The first panel of Sunday morning featured two former editors of Doctor Who Magazine – John Freeman and Tom Spilsbury – celebrating 40 years of the title. It was fascinating to hear their insights into the making of the popular publication.
Another highlight was the appearance of respected stage and film actor Steven Berkoff, who appeared in the Matt Smith episode The Power of Three. This was a classic panel and interviewer Tony Jordan skilfully guided the actor through an extensive overview of his career. It can be challenging to interview an actor of such gravitas and status, but Tony was up to the task and got his guest onside by asking intelligent and well-researched questions.
The final panel of the weekend featured 1970s companion Louise Jameson, who played Leela opposite Fourth Doctor Tom Baker, and remains one of the most popular companions from the classic era of the programme. Louise spoke passionately about her work for Doctor Who, Big Finish, Tenko and Bergerac and gave some interesting insights into the internal politics of working on EastEnders. At the end of he panel, she received a DWAS lifetime achievement award, an honour also accorded to Peter Purves and Alister Pearson.
Outside of the main hall, there was more than enough to keep attendees occupied. In addition to the traditional merchandise room, there was the ‘Members of the Academy’ area where fans could mix with well-known Doctor Who artists such as Chris Achilleos, Jeff Cummins, Colin Howard and a relative newcomer, the excellent and highly talented Sophie Iles.
Special mention must also go to the autograph sessions which were exceptionally well organised. The volunteers who sat at the tables with the guests were incredibly helpful, taking photos when required and ensuring that the guests signed items in the right place and with the right dedication. The guests were very keen to chat to the attendees and I must mention Jennie Linden (Barbara from the Dr Who and the Daleks movie) who was utterly charming, Clem So who talked to me with great enthusiasm about his roles in the Star Wars movies and Third Doctor companion Katy Manning – who insisted on hugging very attendee in her autograph queue!
Thanks also to those terrific sports who attended the event in various cosplay costumes – an excellent Brigadier, Third Doctor and Thirteenth Doctor were amongst those present.
The Capitol is set to change venue in 2020 (it will be materialising at the Crown Plaza, Gatwick) but I’m sure it will continue to be one of the most enjoyable and value for money Doctor Who events around. Friendly, fun and well organised, Capitol IV set a high bar for future events.