Image Credit: James Ashworth Image Description: William Russell
James Ashworth reports from Fantom Films’s Time Flight
Fantom Films have become renowned for their Doctor Who convention and publishing exploits, be it their flagship Utopia event or the Valiant convention that flies the flag for Who in Sheffield. This year, they launched a new event: Time Flight, which was held in Banbury on 1-3 February 2019. Focusing on the 1960s, the convention invited a range of guests, including companions, supporting cast and even a monster or two. I paid Time Flight a visit to see if, in an increasingly packed field of conventions, it was worth stumping up for.
Guestwise, I was impressed by the line-up. Top of the pack would certainly be William Russell, who at an impressive 94 is still a Doctor Who icon, though he is now understandably more fragile than he used to be. Peter Purves was also in attendance, and though I was unable to attend his talk (I only went to the Saturday), his commentary on The Celestial Toymaker Part Four gave an revealing glance behind the scenes of this serial, such as his working relationship with Peter Stephens (lovely) and Michael Gough (frosty). Alongside him at the commentary was Donald Tosh, another feather in the cap of the convention. As one of the major contributing factors to his resignation, Tosh focused on the politics of the show’s management of the time, especially the conflict over this very serial. Indeed, it is clear to see the strong emotions he holds about this, and as such, this is the first time he had ever watched it.
Aside from these heavy hitters of Who, there were supporting actors from other serials, such as Martin Cort (Voord, Warrior, and Aydan, The Keys of Marinus; Locke, The Seeds of Death), George Little (Haroun, The Crusade), and Wendy Gifford (Jane Garrett, The Ice Warriors), among others. The talks were always interesting, spurred on by a knowledgeable moderator who explored their work both in and out of Who. Perhaps the most interesting was that of Paul Vanezis, who described his restoration and recovery work in depth (summarised in this very issue). Even relatively minor players in the pantheon of Doctor Who could be relied upon for an interesting tale. For example, George Little, with some assistance, discussed how his friendship with Douglas Camfield had helped him on to the show, even when he was suffering a fever brought on by Flu, and had to lie down between takes! These little insights are what I believe conventions should be about.
Aside from the guests, Fantom conventions are also noted for their entertainments. Here, unfortunately, I felt Time Flight dropped the ball. The event didn’t quite seem to have the polish associated with some of its siblings, and I overheard one audience member describe it as “not their most successful.” Possibly the main reason for this was that large chunks of the day were effectively empty. A significant amount was filled with Mythmakers interviews played on screen, which though interesting couldn’t really justify the expense of the tickets. It didn’t help that there wasn’t much to do in the centre of Banbury except shop, and this was somewhat tainted by the knowledge that Christopher Barry had died here after a fall doing just that. Partly to honour his memory, and also to fill a gap in the schedule, I popped to the cinema next door for a couple of hours to watch Mary Queen of Scots. Attendance didn’t seem particularly high either, with the room’s thirty chairs never fully occupied. This may not have been helped by the poor weather and last minute guest dropouts, but it still meant that Time Flight had something of a hollow feel to it.
After reading all this, you’ll probably think that I didn’t have that great a time at Time Flight. Certainly, Time Flight could do with a bit of tinkering to make it an event of similar quality to Utopia. But I don’t really care. About a year before Time Flight, I set out on a mission to meet William Russell. I missed out on a signing in London, was thwarted by the weather at Valiant, and so this was my lucky third attempt. The ability to talk to him was all I wanted from the event, and the ability to meet the other guests (including a Voord!) was just icing on this TARDIS-shaped cake. So while Time Flight could be tuned up, if there’s someone you want to meet at an event, then I would wholeheartedly recommend you go for it.
This article was first published in The Tides of Time Special Edition Summer 2019