Thursday, 25 May 2017

Our Disappearing Planet 2 - A Detailed Review

Guests met and discussed in this review (with the franchise I most associate them with personally) :-

• Bernard Cribbins (Wilfred Mott from “Doctor Who”)
• Annette Badland (Margaret from “Doctor Who”)
• Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones from “Torchwood”)
• John Leeson (Voice of K-9 from “Doctor Who”)
• Peter Purves (Steven Taylor from “Doctor Who”)
• Matthew Waterhouse (Adric from “Doctor Who”)
• Jill Curzon (Louise from “Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.”)
• Ray Brooks (David from “Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.”)

Two quick notes before we get started...

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With that being said, let’s dive in...

This past Saturday, May the 20th, I attended the “Our Disappearing Planet 2” event at the Stevenage Arts & Leisure Centre in Stevenage. Unlike most conventions or self-styled “Comic Cons”, ODP2 was an event where 100% of the proceeds went to charity – the charity, of course, being ‘Our Disappearing Planet’, hence the name of the event. “Our Disappearing Planet” raises money in order to preserve endangered species and their habitats by making grants to charitable organisations that are designed for that purpose. They give at least 20 donations/grants to animal charities every month rather than fixating on just one, which means that at least 240 organisations benefit every year. It’s a very worthwhile cause and it’s nice to know that the money I’m paying to attend the event isn’t lining the pocket of some already-rich (well, some of them at least...) organiser, but is instead being used to preserve the very Earth on which we live.

Like most people in attendance, my primary reason for braving the two-and-a-half-hour journey east was the legendary Mr. Bernard Cribbins. ‘The Cribb’, if you will. I attended a convention with Bernard years ago, but due to a lack of funds and a very tight schedule, I couldn’t meet him. At that time, Bernard was approaching his mid-80s, so for the past few years I’ve lived disheartened in the knowledge that the opportunity had passed me by and the likelihood of getting to meet Bernard again was slim at best. I’d also heard through the grapevine that Bernard was no longer partaking in conventions and he was only making an exception for this one because it was a) for charity, and b) close to his home (NOTE: BETWEEN WRITING THIS REVIEW AND UPLOADING IT, BERNARD HAS BEEN ANNOUNCED FOR ‘LONDON FILM & COMIC CON’. I GUESS THAT ATTENDING ODP2 GAVE HIM THE BUG AGAIN! SO GLAD I TRAVELLED ALL THE WAY TO STEVENAGE...). I only found out about ODP2 a few weeks ago, but I instantly knew that I had to take the opportunity. So what if my final ever Master’s degree exams were 18 days later? So what if I should have been revising or trying to keep my head clear for the exams? This was Bernard Cribbins, and Bernard takes precedence. Like many people, I’ve been following Bernard’s 60+ year career for a long time. Granted, I wasn’t born until 1989, so a lot of Bernard’s career that I have followed has been watching tapes of events that took place decades before. In addition to knowing Bernard as the narrator of “The Wombles”, the first thing I remember seeing Bernard in was Fawlty Towers’ “The Hotel Inspectors”, which my grandfather used to watch religiously. As I entered my late teens, Bernard became an important part of the new incarceration of “Doctor Who”, portraying Wilfred Mott, grandfather to the Doctor’s latest companion, Donna Noble (Catherine Tate). From the first moment ‘Wilf’ was on screen, I fell in love with him. He was the kind, bumbling grandfather I’d always wanted and he very quickly became a favourite character of mine. Not only was his comedic timing stellar, but he was even better at the emotional scenes. David Tennant’s last story in “Doctor Who” (barring his return for the 50th anniversary special, “The Day Of The Doctor”), “The End Of Time”, was the standout performance of Bernard’s “Who” career and in many ways was for David Tennant too. Their conversation in the cafe, their conversation on a spaceship looking down at the Earth, and their conversation just before the 10th Doctor submitted to radiation and saved Wilf’s life being particular highlights. I’m not even a, at all....but that last conversation always has me blubbing like a baby. Without going off on too much of a “Doctor Who” tangent, this is what the show is missing more than anything the past handful of years, in my opinion. While the stories have gotten more elaborate and the CGI has drastically improved, the emotion, the interactions, and the nuances have been somewhat lost.

Anyway, I digress...

Myself and my friend Hayley left Gloucestershire at 7am. We arrived in Stevenage just after 9:30am and we chilled in the car for a little bit before we spotted my friends Natasia and Adam, whom we headed inside the Stevenage Arts & Leisure Centre with. As this was a) my first event in Stevenage and b) my first event organised by ‘Our Disappearing Planet’, I didn’t know what to expect. In actuality, the entirety of ODP2 took place over one leisure centre hall. Half the hall was designated to the talks, while the other half was designated to the displays, guests, vendors, and professional photo area. Both halves were separated by one large black curtain. If I were to make a guesstimate, I’d say that roughly 300 people attended ODP2 over the course of the day. What was weird for me was that so many people I knew from different conventions were in the same room! People who I only usually see at Showmasters events, people I only usually see at Starfury events, people I only usually see at Wales Comic Con events were all inside the same leisure centre crewing for ‘Our Disappearing Planet’. I can only assume that ODP2 was close to home for many of them, but it was a bit like stepping into the twilight zone at first.

While Bernard Cribbins was my primary reason for attending (I wouldn’t have gone at all without ‘the Cribb’), I also wanted to meet Annette Badland while I was there, as I thought she was also phenomenal in “Doctor Who”. Particularly “Boom Town”. If funds were more ample, I’d also have met Colin Spaull and Clive Rowe, but, alas, it was not meant to be on this occasion. This left my agenda for the day impressively simple and achievable – the “Doctor Who” panel from 11:25am-12:20pm, then straight to Bernard’s photo session, leaving the afternoon free to collect Bernard and Annette’s autographs. Simple, easy, and the equivalent of a sunny holiday followed by a deep-tissue massage in convention terms.

Now, I must admit, while 99% of my convention reviews come from memory, I will occasionally make notes for panels. Just one-word notes that will jog my memory when it comes time to write. However, due to my Master’s degree exams taking place two-and-a-half weeks after ODP2, I decided to keep the room in my brain free for revision...or “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” trivia. Both are equally important. I didn’t make any notes and I shall not be doing my usual panel highlights. Instead, I shall just list a few things that I remember and that stuck out as particularly interesting or funny :-

·        The panel started with just Gareth David-Lloyd, Peter Purves, John Leeson and Matthew Waterhouse. Bernard Cribbins, Jill Curzon and Ray Brooks didn’t join until about halfway through.
·        There were some technical difficulties throughout the panel, with the microphone occasionally cutting in and out. It didn’t disrupt the flow too much, it just made some parts a little harder to understand until the microphone cut back in. I think a couple more speakers are needed moving forwards. One placed either side of the audience about halfway down.
·        Peter Purves isn’t a fan of ‘New-Who’ (“Doctor Who” since it came back from a long hiatus in 2005). He said the show is visually impressive and it’s certainly still a high quality venture, but the show doesn’t have the same audience demographic now and isn’t what it was originally created to be, so while he can appreciate ‘New-Who’, he definitely prefers the ‘classic’ era of the show.
·        John Leeson talked about his agent calling him and ecstatically informing him that he’d been offered not one, but two roles in “Doctor Who”! John was so excited! He could see his career blossoming before his eyes! Until his agent said, “well...with one of the roles you’ll be voicing a monster (the Nucleus)...and with the other you’ll be voicing a robot dog”. John could instantly picture his career nose-diving into the ground. The way John told this story was hilarious. However, John then mentioned that he’s been working as K-9 steadily for 40 years, he attends conventions around the world for voicing a robot dog, and it helped his career reach new heights. So the amusing story has a happy ending at least.
·        Matthew Waterhouse said that one of the cool things about working on “Doctor Who” is that it opens so many doors. Even now, years after he left the show. He said that thanks to “Doctor Who”, he can be working pretty consistently if he so chooses. Case in point: the Doctor Who audio-stories by ‘Big Finish’. If Matthew wants to work on an audio-story, they’ll basically write one for him. That’s awesome! If you haven’t checked out any of the ‘Big Finish’ audio-stories, I would recommend them. Not only are they usually very well told and written, but they reunite all your favourite characters. Plus, it’s usually always the actor who portrayed them in the television series voicing the character. For instance, there are three stories where David Tennant and Catherine Tate returned to voice the 10th Doctor and Donna Noble respectively. Also, David Tennant and Billie Piper are returning to record three stories. How cool is that?!
·        Bernard Cribbins, at 88 years old, is as young, charismatic, and vibrant as he’s always been. He’s still as mischievous and sarcastic as ever and he still carries that twinkle in his eye and smirk across his face. Bernard said he was briefly interviewed to play the Doctor after Jon Pertwee left the role. They asked him what skills he had, so he told them that he could swim very well, he could which point they said, “oh no, the Doctor never fights!” Fast-forward a year, Tom Baker is now the Doctor. What’s the first thing he does? Punch someone. Hilarious. Bernard also talked about snorkelling with Peter Cushing and how Peter tried to talk to Bernard when they were down in the water. All Bernard could see was Peter’s smiling face and all these bubbles coming out. He obviously couldn’t hear a thing!
·        Bernard also talked about working on the Doctor Who movie, “Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.”, in the mid-60s. Bernard said that the Director, Gordon Flemyng, had to tell Bernard off because Bernard couldn’t stop laughing. See, for the movie, they had an Australian gentleman reading the Daleks’ lines during the shooting of the movie, which would then be changed over in post-production. The only problem is that the Daleks yelling at Bernard in an Australian accent made him crack up laughing. A lot.
·        Pretty much every actor on stage said that they don’t really like the ‘death puppets’ that can be used in movies these days, such as Peter Cushing appearing as Grand Moff Tarkin in ‘Star Wars: Rogue One’ in 2016, even though he died in 1994. To be fair, while it’s quite cool, it’s mega fucking creepy. They don’t look quite right and it’s really jarring to see them on screen. It doesn’t work right now.
·        The panel was very amusing and insightful. In my opinion, Bernard was the highlight, but John Leeson and Peter Purves ran a close second. Good stuff all around though!

Soon after the panel finished, it was time to head to the other side of the curtain for my studio photo with Bernard Cribbins. The “Doctor Who” group photo(s) was first, then it was Bernard’s solo shoot. It’s a testament to Bernard’s career, reputation, and charisma that almost every single attendee either had a group photo with him in it or a single photo with him. There were very few attendees that didn’t get some kind of studio photo with Bernard. The man is a living legend! Plus, it’s been really rare to meet him these past few years and I can’t see that changing moving forwards. Bernard was, as expected, bantering with everybody during the photo session. He was linking arms with the ladies, making quips, and generally being awesome. After linking arms with a young female attendee, a young male was up next. Bernard said, “I won’t do that with you, sir. People will talk!” The way Bernard said that line just had me in stitches. His comedic timing in real-life is every bit as good as it is on screen. When I sat down next to him (both Bernard and the attendee were sat down for the photo...the man is 88 after all!), Bernard looked at my bandana and asked if I had a head wound that the bandana was keeping in place. I told him it was keeping what remained of my brain from dribbling out of my ears. This exchange made the photographer laugh and it took him a few seconds to regain his composure enough to take the photo. While the photographer was bending-over laughing, I turned to Bernard and said, “See, Bernard. Now look what you’ve done! You’ve broken the photographer!”

The session was great fun all around. The atmosphere was relaxed and energetic, everything ran on time, and it was expertly organised....which, to be fair, you’d expect from a convention so small. The photo was printed about half-an-hour after it was taken, which is absolutely fine.

With most of the guests now on their lunch break, myself, Hayley, Natasia, and Adam talked for about an hour and checked out some of the merchandise stalls. I bought a very nice Wilfred Mott (Bernard’s character in “Doctor Who”) print for £5, which I later got signed. There were also live insects, spiders, and snakes in an area of the venue, where you could look at them or touch them in some cases. After all, the money raised from this event is dedicated to maintaining animal populations and habitats, so it makes sense that there would be some animals there too. It’s pretty unique for a convention to have animals inside the venue.

Bernard Cribbins: Eventually, Bernard returned from lunch. Myself, Hayley, Natasia and Adam were talking near Bernard’s autograph table, waiting for him to come back, and somehow we started a queue. Suddenly there were 50 people behind us! We weren’t right next to his table, so we had no idea that we’d formed a queue or indeed that we were in one at all. The only downside to this was that Bernard’s queue was now huge, leaving little time for extended conversations. It was going to be one of those situations where you’d be lucky to get a minute with him. No matter, a minute chatting to Bernard Cribbins is still better than no minutes! I told Bernard that I was taking a break from revising for my Master’s in order to come and visit him in Stevenage. He asked where I was from, I told him, and he seemed genuinely appreciative that I’d travelled so far just to meet him. We also briefly discussed “Fawlty Towers” and I told him about my grandfather and how it was his favourite show. My grandfather was from that generation where “men were men” and they didn’t really do the whole ‘feelings’ thing. Therefore, once I’d left that ‘young child’ phase and entered my teenage years, bonding with him was tough. He wasn’t the easiest man to get to know. However, one thing that did really bond us was “Fawlty Towers”. I’d lost count of the amount of times we watched it together before he passed away when I was 16. One of his favourite episodes was “The Hotel Inspectors”, which featured none other than Mr. Bernard Cribbins. Bernard smiled throughout my telling of this story and said that he was happy to have played a part in my relationship with my grandfather. Before the event, Adam and Natasia were told that ‘selfies’ with the guests would be £5 each and that Bernard wouldn’t be doing them at all. That’s fine. That’s fairly common for conventions in the U.K. in 2017. I’ve seen guests charge up to £30(!) for ‘selfies’ lately and there have always been some guests that won’t do them at all for various reasons. However, just before we got to the front of the queue, we could see that Bernard was doing them for £5. I’m fine paying for selfies as long as it’s relatively cheap. Anything over £5 is bullshit if you’re buying an autograph already. I was happy to pay £5 for a back-up picture with Bernard, particularly as the money was going to charity. The photo was taken, I thanked Bernard for his time, and we were on our merry way. Guest Type = Big Guest/Responder. What that means is that he was a ‘big guest’, with a long queue, but he was still talkative enough to reach the ‘responder’ level at the same time. If his queue was short/dead, he would likely be a ‘conversationalist’.

(Apologies about the line in the middle. It's an A3-print and my scanner is A4, so I had to scan it in two halves)

(Regular readers, you can skip this section)

“Shangel, what’s a ‘Big Guest’?”

I’m glad you asked. Many years ago, after attending numerous conventions, I devised a system whereby to categorise my experiences with guests and their level of interaction in order to compare the quality of my experiences across conventions and time. I have O.C.D., shut up. The following three types were found :-

·       The Responder: This type of guest is often polite and friendly. If you ask them a question, they’ll happily answer. If you comment on something, they’ll respond or smile gratefully. However, they won’t carry the conversation forward, you have to. These are the most common type of guest, and this is what you expect when meeting someone at a convention. This is a great category to be a part of.

·       The Groucho/Big Guest: There are two aspects to this category. Firstly, you have the groucho. The groucho is there for monetary purposes or is generally just having a bad day, or is a bit of an ass. If you meet enough people, one of them is bound to be an ass! The grouchos aren’t interested in conversations above a few words. They’ll say ‘hi’ (sometimes they don’t bother with that), sign, say ‘bye’ (sometimes), and you’re on your merry way. Of course, in certain situations this is relevant and expected, which brings me to the second part of this category, the ‘big guest’. Some guests are going to be insanely popular. Such as Stan Lee at LFCC ‘14, who had an entire building to himself basically. When you get a huge queue like that, the guest can’t take a lot of time with everyone. If they did, many people would go home disappointed at not getting to meet them at all. Therefore, the convention company and the guest want to get through as many people as possible. You cannot have a huge guest and expect to get above a minute with them, which is perfectly fair.

·       The Conversationalist: This is easily my favourite type of guest. They’ll answer your questions with a smile, ask you questions in return, and are happy to chat for an extended period of time (extended = above 2-3 minutes), regardless of where the conversation leads or how long you’ve been talking. Obviously, there has to be some cut-off point if there is a queue behind you, but you leave the experience feeling euphoric and like you gained a lot more than just the autograph you queued for.

Feel free to let me know your experiences with guests in the comments below or on social media!

Soon after leaving Bernard’s autograph table, it was time to go and meet Annette!

Annette Badland: The first thing that struck me about Annette was that she’s way skinnier now than she was during her time on “Doctor Who”. Between that and her shiny blonde hair, she was barely recognisable in some ways. For some reason, before even getting to the venue, I just knew she’d be lovely. I just had a feeling. I was correct. Annette was a delight. While she wasn’t quite talkative enough to get to that coveted ‘conversationalist’ level, she was still a strong ‘responder’. She seemed genuinely enthusiastic to talk to me, she seemed like she was legitimately pleased to be at ODP2, and she seemed as though she was there for the charity and for the fans. Of course, we talked about “Doctor Who”, as that’s primarily what I know Annette from. I asked Annette how it was filming “Doctor Who”, particularly as it was during the first series of the show after it was brought back from a long hiatus. She said it was great because there was a lot of freedom. The BBC didn’t know how successful it was going to be, so they left Russell, Christopher, and Billie to their own devices to a certain extent. Definitely more so than in 2017! Annette mentioned that she was never intended to be brought back for “Boom Town”. She was supposed to have died with the rest of the Slitheen at the conclusion of “World War Three”. However, Russell liked her performance so much that he specifically wrote “Boom Town” with her in mind. “Boom Town” wasn’t the greatest episode, but “Margaret’s” interactions with the Doctor were stellar. We continued chatting about “Doctor Who” and Annette mentioned that over the past decade, if a young person recognises her in public and she thinks they recognise her from “Doctor Who”, she’ll mimic unzipping her forehead to scare them (that’s how the Slitheen took off their human ‘meat suits’ in the show)! How amazing is that?! Side note: Annette would have made a spectacular Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter movies. I was expecting Annette’s ‘selfie’ charge to be £5, which is what Natasia and Adam were told before the event, but it turns out it was free! Bargain! Guest Type = Responder.

By the time I’d finished chatting to Annette, my studio photo with Bernard had been printed. That was it. The agenda was complete. It was time to leave...not before chatting to Natasia and Adam for another half-an-hour, of course! We were back in the car by 4:00pm and home again by just before 7:00pm. All-in-all, ODP2 was a great day out! The crew were awesome, the event was very well organised, the venue was used in the best way possible given the space available, and both guests I met were tremendous. A better microphone, a couple of extra speakers in the talk area, and you’ve got yourself a winner. Would I return to ‘Our Disappearing Planet’? It’s hard to say. As most of you know, I primarily attend conventions for the guests. If ODP gave me a guest worthy of travelling two-and-a-half hours for, I would. However, I can’t think of many guests that would fit the bill. If they got Tom Baker, I’d be there in a heartbeat.

I’ll see you all next at the “Collectormania: Birmingham” Showmasters event on Saturday the 3rd of June. I will only be there on the Saturday. It’s the weekend before my exams, so I can’t justify going on both days. If you see me, hug me. Cradle me and tell me that the exams will be fine.

Stay safe, stay strong, and stay positive. I know the world is a crazy, scary place to be right now...but for every evil act of terrorism, there are people and communities pulling together and building relationships. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.


1 comment:

  1. ODP did actually have Tom Baker at their previous event in November 2016 - perhaps it clashed with your v busy convention schedule :-) Bummer!

    Glad you enjoyed this one :-)