Found in the Dark Blue Dimension – The Oxford Doctor Who Society’s 30th Anniversary Party

Image Credit: Oxford Doctor Who Society

Image Description: The attendees of the Thirtieth Anniversary Party

James Ashworth reports on the Oxford Doctor Who Society’s Thirtieth Anniversary Party on 28 April 2019

A thirtieth birthday is a notable achievement for anyone. Whether it’s 1560 weeks, or 10,957 days, it’s a significant milestone in a life. The same is also true, perhaps more so, for societies, especially with their fluctuating popularities, and, more crucially, memberships. This year, the Oxford Doctor Who Society celebrated its thirtieth, sharing that landmark with Patrick Troughton’s grandson Harry Melling. While I can’t speak for Mr Melling, the Society has seen a lot in its thirty years, including the demise of the show it honoured, and its subsequent rebirth. As such, it was time for the occasion to be marked with a proper get together…

While there had been furtive mentions and the odd discussion of a thirtieth anniversary party, it took until the very end of 2018 for organisation to begin in earnest. Beginning on 27 December, a crack team of agents who bore a striking resemblance to the WhoSoc committee assembled. The first action of this team was settling upon the date of 28 April for the party, close enough to the Society’s founding yet also skirting any collections and exams Trinity had to offer. It was a resounding success, until we later realised, after much of the organisation had taken place, that it clashed with the Capitol Convention, unfortunately preventing some alumni from attending. As the Doctor says, “never give up…”

The date also had some other unintended consequences, with one in particular coming in the form of a location. Initially, the celebration was planned to be a garden party, much like the twenty-fifth anniversary. However, private green space is hard to come by in Oxford, and our prime target, Worcester College, was unwilling to host a party involving alcohol during the run-up to exam season, even at the start of term. Lady Margaret Hall, the venue of the previous party, was out of our price range, leaving us to settle on the Victorian surroundings of Mansfield College’s hall. As for the meal, a variety of venues were considered, with everything from the Randolph Hotel to Jamie’s Italian on the list at one stage or another. In the end, the best combination of price, offering and location came in the form of Quod, with a meal hosted in its Gallery Room. With this booked on 20 February, we were rapidly approaching the party itself, but were missing a crucial element. After all, what’s a party without any guests?

Invitations were sent out far and wide to all the members we still had tabs on, be that via email, social media, or even a letter. However, we found that many members, especially from the early days of the society, were missing from our records. Were they lost, or just trying to hide from us? Fortunately, the long arm of the society, or in this case, Matthew Kilburn, was able to reach down into Who fandom (and LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter – Matthew) and catch up with many members we’d fallen out of touch with. We also searched back through the archives, finding out exactly who our honorary members were, eventually compiling a tally of eighteen, including Bakers Tom and Colin, Terrance Dicks, and Terry Molloy. Invitations were sent out, and while most were unable to make it, we were pleased to host Jeremy Bentham, Daniel Blythe and Matt Fitton at the event, while Andrew Smith unfortunately had to drop our at the last minute due to a severe case of the flu. Some of our honorary members were also able to be present in spirit, with John Leeson sending over autographed photos for attendees, while Katy Manning recorded a special video for the occasion. It was almost time for the party to begin…

28 April began much like any other day. In Spain, a general election was taking place, while a dive into the Mariana Trench would break the world record for depth. In Oxford, it was overcast as the sun crept up into the sky, perhaps reflecting the trepidation of the organisers. As the clock ticked towards 2pm, it brightened up, but their hearts were still heavy. The hall had been decorated, the stash laid out, the screen prepared. But would anyone arrive? At first, there was but a trickle, but it soon became a regular flow as members past and present arrived, pursued by an anxious treasurer who was making sure they’d paid! As guests continued to turn up, the treasurer retired to behind the stash stand, while the entertainments began. Alongside conversations between friends old and new, there was an abridged history of the Society (found elsewhere in this issue), a screening of an animated episode of The Wheel in Space Episode 1, and a quiz, of which the author now realises was probably made too difficult for a party! For four hours, WhoSoc was in its own Argolis, minus the murder and galactic domination, as we celebrated the society we were all a part of. There were also some particularly touching moments, foremost being Adam Stephens’ toast to the group he had founded some thirty years ago.

Once the snacks had vanished, the drinks demolished, and a group photo taken, attendees were whisked away to Quod. While Mansfield may have been departed, attendees were suitably wined and dined over their three courses, with a few short toasts for good measure. At this point, the committee were relaxing, assuming themselves safe from any slip-ups. And thankfully, they were. Attendees began to slip away to a mysterious place known only as the real world, while a hardy few, in time-honoured WhoSoc tradition, continued onwards to the Mitre, raising one final glass to the society. Bar a few last things to sort out, the committee breathed a sigh of relief – they’d done it.

Though this may be published many months after the party itself has ended, the memories of the day remain some of my fondest at WhoSoc. It wouldn’t have been possible without the time and effort of everyone, not least my fellow committee members, but also of everyone who came to celebrate the occasion. Julian Mander (president, 1992-93) even managed to make an impact without attending, generously donating to the party to help it go off with a bang. With a new series of Doctor Who over the horizon, and the society entering into a new academic year, we can only hope to be back for the fortieth anniversary sometime soon!

Tides 44 is, at time of publication, available to buy through this link

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