And it’s a piece about which I have no ‘additional’ material whatsoever to share at this bit, before the break. Instead, I’ll solicit good internet karma by popping in a link to the website where you can purchase the DVD under review.
“We’re here at the Copthorne Hotel in Windsor,” says Sophie Aldred, in an uncordoned-off corner.
If anything is indicative of this DVD – and the Myth Makers catalogue as a whole – it’s that scene, the opening for the Volume 4 section (we’ll explain how this all works shortly). “We’re here…” she says, as if a velvet rope has been lifted, the first person plural communicating the communal effort required to make such an expedition. But, in truth, the set-up has all the radiance of a corporate video, and that’s what these productions are – Doctor Who corporates, covering every section of the business with instant enthusiasm.
This release is rooted in last summer’s celebrations for 500 Glorious Issues of DWM, but in a shrewd realisation that more equals more, Reeltime Pictures have accompanied their new documentary with three previous productions, which celebrated the magazine’s 10th, 20th and 25th anniversaries. These are designated as separate ‘volumes’ on the menu screen.
In terms of the Doctor Who industry, a feature on DWM puts us some distance away from head office, but it’s always more fun out here by the gates. Then again, I would say that, because it’s where I work.
The three and a half-hour double package commences with producer Keith Barnfather and host/director Nicholas Briggs presenting a 10-minute induction. It’s a low-wattage scene with both men yakking in an edit studio, a freeze-frame of Tom Spilsbury – all explaining hands – behind them. Luckily Briggs has a gift for modulating excitement out of mediocrity, and guffaws heartily when trailing a funny cameo to come from John Levene.
To Volume 1, from 1989, when “the Monthly” was based on Arundel Street in London. “This is the nerve centre!” announces Briggs as he arrives. It was the TV vocab of the day for people to be seen arriving. John Freeman was editor, and there’s a lovely present tenseness in his concerns, as he steers the publication definitively towards the weird-to-describe mix of enthusiasm and irreverence I would assert it demonstrates today. A chief conundrum for him is the role of “opinionated articles”. Others are the imminent Doctor Who movie, and how DWM had just managed to survive the show’s recent 18-month stopover.
We also follow Briggs to the printers for beguiling discussions about “plates” and “transparencies”. To this day, it remains as impenetrable a process as Bernard Lodge’s slit scan titles.
Now it’s 1999, and Volume 2 mini-busses us to City, University of London for 20th anniversary celebrations. For those intimate with the modern-day soap of DWM, it’s a jolt to see Colin Baker at the top, giving out slices of DWM Cake. But just you wait! In the main hall, Gary Gillatt is now running the show, and what we’re presented with is his stewarded panel with our founder, Dez Skinn, plus Gary Russell, J Jeremy Bentham and Andrew Pixley. The latter is brilliantly self-effacing, describing his retrospective on The Tomb of the Cybermen as “the most boring Archive I’ve ever written,” and wistfully wondering if we’ll ever learn who was first cast as Sarah Jane Smith…
One reader, vox-popped by Briggs in the hall, reveals she was drawn to the paper by news of “the movie” (can’t be long now until that ‘Denzel Washington is…’ cover-line!). Meanwhile, discussion continues about what kind of critical voice DWM should adopt. “There’s no role for cynicism” says Gillatt, when cornered by the camera for a breakaway moment.
But it all ends in tragedy, seemingly precipitated by the boy-editor provocatively inviting his final guests onto the stage in order of their Doctor Who debut, rather than their accepted clan ranks. Colin Baker – introduced after Nicola Bryant and before Sophie Aldred – takes deadly revenge as The Cake is brought out for a ceremonial celebratory slicing, and he commands the audience to bay for Gillatt to be given “the bumps”. At which the stars of Doctor Who fall upon the protesting figure as if he were so much carrion.
“This is the Pantiles!” says Briggs, who’s once more arriving. This time it’s the quickie Volume 3. We’re now in Tunbridge Wells, 2004, for a 10-minute chat with boss Clayton Hickman, and a child called Tom Spilsbury, who wonders what the upcoming new series will mean for us all…
Then to 2016, where Sophie Aldred is our host, and it’s a shift to see a companion talking in fan-ese as she reflects on when Christopher Eccleston was about to don the leather jacket. The assessment now of DWM is that it’s “objective, while still supportive”, and this stint mixes interviews recorded in the office and at the celebration in Windsor. That means, yes, Cake, but thankfully no family flare-up.
Back in Tunbridge Wells, a grown-up Spilsbury digs into that subject of critical commentary. “I think this is a really important area, and it’s something I’d like to talk about.” Which he does, citing some of the DWM Review lowlights from the past five years as evidence of the magazine’s editorial independence. We also hear from assistant editor Peter Ware (spotted in the dealer’s room in 1999, clearly a nexus point in DWM history), plus designer Richard Atkinson, editorial assistant Emily Cook, and comic-strip creators Scott Gray, Mike Collins, David Roach and Martin Geraghty. Although there’s a disconnect between Aldred’s questions – posed to camera 60 miles away and some weeks later – this hour feels the most complete in communicating DWM’s own peculiar microclimate.
That’s not quite the end. In addition to the homemade video messages of goodwill from Doctor Who actors recorded on an array of mobile phones over 2016, a 2006 iteration of Nicholas Briggs pops up to introduce “an irreplaceable moment in history” Reeltime caught on camera at a 1988 convention, and now present to us as Doctor Who Magazine Team. It features Gary Russell who chairs a panel with John Freeman, Matrix Databanker David J Howe, artist Lee Sullivan, and humourists-cum-Black Lace replicants Tim Quinn and Dicky Howett. Howe comes closest to fulfilling Briggs’ hyperbole when he discloses a reader’s letter asking, “Did the Fourth Doctor dye his teeth?”
And that noise you may have heard just then was the door slamming behind Ben Cook, who’s rushed off to address that point over one more last-ever lunch with Tom Baker.
Meanwhile, it falls upon me to sum up without seeming too self-serving. If there’s a through-line to these epistopic interfaces of the DWM spectrum, it’s of calm and, hopefully, thoughtful people on a quiet endeavour to make a nice thing. Unlike the happenings in the Cardiff HQ, that process has never been remotely televisual. So God bless Reeltime for continually coming back to it, and for capturing all those happy times and places.