Disclaimer: The author of this piece is a Dr Who fan, but largely by marriage. In events such as this he is often reliant on his wife to explain what’s going on. As such, any mistakes in the following article are entirely the fault of the institution of marriage. Please forward any complaints to @Archbish_Cantab with the hashtag #justcauseorimpediment
Being late to the party Who-wise, I was only privileged to attend the last two Regenerations conventions. The organiser, Cary Woodward, is of that dying breed of convention managers who run non-profit events because they love the shows and adore the guests. Sadly, it seems to be the price we pay for Who’s renaissance that the powers that be have finally recognised the financial might of Who fandom; the consequent increase in official conventions and the heft of their price structures might well end up pricing the smaller event managers out of the market.
As Regenerations was not a corporate event, then, it was all the more remarkable that Mr Woodward and his team managed to attract such a high calibre of guests. Only last year Sir Derek Jacobi was on hand to give his Master, and this year Hollywood was represented by none other than the Antichrist-wrangler himself, David Warner.
Mr Warner at interview gave the impression that he was not well-used to the convention circuit, and he was initially rather cagey. Fortunately, his interviewer, actor Charlie Ross, knew better than to push and instead concentrated on getting his subject to relax. By the end of the hour things had warmed up a great deal and David Warner left to a warm round of applause, looking like a man who had expected death by lions and had been pleasantly surprised with death by chocolate.
Also in attendance were Big Finish Productions. These gentlemen have appeared at Regenerations before but made a big push this year as part of the fiftieth anniversary celebrations, bringing along not only their home-grown talent but also Sarah Sutton and Paul Darrow. As a consequence their panel was something of a blurry affair, as guest interviewer David Bickerstaff did his level best to give everyone a fair go at the mic. Certainly I got the impression that Mr Darrow would have preferred a little more airtime; but when a guest is as sharp with the one-liners as the erstwhile Avon, they don’t need the full hour to make an impression.
Other highlights included the panel of Troughton Companions, in which Anneke Wills, Wendy Padbury and Deborah Watling laughed themselves silly at Frazer Hines’ infinite supply of innuendo; monster panels, including one with Michael Kilgarriff and Stephen Thorne in which Kilgarriff was – I think the term is “forthright” – with his views on working through the Pertwee era; the ever-engaging Colin Spaull, pointing us out from the stage when we arrived late to his panel; and Terry Molloy, one of the original motivators of Regenerations, settling in to an audience that evidently knew him like a favourite uncle.
Many who attended arrived the Friday evening; such was the array of Dr Who luminaries that the panels started before nine in the morning on Saturday, and at the same time on Sunday. To counteract the inevitable wearing effects of too much booze and two early mornings, Regenerations ended each day with a high-energy panel. On Saturday Sylvester McCoy sat like a wise owl fielding questions as Sophie Aldred ran through and clambered over the audience with a microphone; on the Sunday McCoy had the field to himself, and roved through the assembled throng dispensing well-turned anecdotes and cracking out puns like the natural entertainer he is. Despite the long hours of panels – a full working day, if you please! – I came out of these last shows feeling freshly energised. Not least when I walked out of Sylvester’s panel and found Paul Darrow in a borrowed fez doing Tommy Cooper impressions to a small crowd.
So that was Regenerations 2013. A lively event, filled with interesting guests skilfully interviewed, and well worth the price of admission. But aficionados of Cary Woodward’s events will tell you that’s only part of the charm.
You see, Regenerations took place in a hotel on the outskirts of Swansea. The main interview area was a large conference room in which a temporary rostrum stage is set up. There was no proper stage area, no proper lighting and no proper green room.
The great benefit that the attendees got from this was an unrivalled amount of access to the guests. Whether heading to the bar for a drink, stepping outside for a smoke or just calling a taxi from the foyer, the guests were there in front of your face wherever you went. There was no sense of “us” and “them” separation; you were all fans together, and you could approach for a chat or a cheeky autograph and nobody minded, and nobody got security to chuck you out bodily.
On the last night of Regenerations a film was shown on a folding projector screen behind the little rostrum stage. It was a thank you to Cary that had been filmed without his knowledge, and every guest – I do mean every one of the guests – who had been present this year took the time to say a little hail fellow to camera. From the guests who had attended year after year, your Willses and Molloys, your Aldreds and McCoys, the message was always the same: this event isn’t like the others; at this event we can be fans, we can mix and mingle, we can relax and have a drink. This isn’t like a job, this is almost like fun.
Certainly from a humble attendee’s perspective it was a lot more like fun to be standing at the bar, knowing that at any moment Davros might appear by your elbow and order a pint, than it would be queuing in a Docklands warehouse for a ready-signed photo. I’m glad I was there for that much, at least.