INVASION 2008 by Sam Catalino

It was cool English March day in the county of Essex in the town of Barking which is northeast of London that 700 people descended in an auditorium called Castle Green. What would bring so many people there? It was a Doctor Who convention which featured two actors who had played the title role. What is Doctor Who? Suffice to say it is a BBC television series which first debuted the day after JFK was assassinated. The title character is a Time Lord (always with the royal names with the British) who has a ship called the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) which is bigger on the inside than the outside. At the end of his life he regenerates and this is the explanation they use in changing actors in the title role of the Doctor. He travels through space and time and has wild adventures. Also accompanying the two actors were several companions and young actors who have recently appeared in the current Doctor Who and Torchwood.

I had arrived in London a few days earlier, and as soon as I got off the plane, I took the Hotel Hoppa to my hotel, checked in, acquired a daily pass to the tube (the largest subway system in the world), and headed out to the rail station. I took it to Salisbury and took a double decker bus to Stonehenge. You cannot get close to the stones, but I took some nice shots. The next day I would be going to Invasion.

My morning began by rising at five in the morning with a wakeup call which was not needed. Although my enthusiasm for this event had not waned, I was quite calm about the events unfolding. This was the first time I was visiting England in thirty-eight years, and the glow of Stone Henge had not faded from my memory. The dark of the morning had a mystical quality which comes before the break of dawn. A bus from my hotel took me to Hatton Cross station, and I descended to the tube.

Hatton Cross is on the West side of the Piccadilly line, and I was headed toward Cockfosters, but would need to change at South Ealing to go onto the District Line. It was the District Line that would head northeast to take me to Becontree, the station of my destination. There was an issue. The District line would not be running this weekend from Earls Court to White Chapel. Yes, that is the White Chapel of Jack the Ripper infamy. This is where the tube maps come in handy. An employee of the tube volunteered me the expedient way to get to my destination. He said I should get back on the Piccadilly line and head toward Cockfosters, but change to the Central line at Holborn, take the Central line east until I reach Mile High and it would be there I would acquire the District line which would take me to my final destination. Trust me; you really need to know your train lines and which direction the lines are going as it can be an adventure.

While traveling the tube, I met a rather inebriated lovely lady who had been partying a great deal the previous evening. She did not know of the suspension of service from Earls Court to White Chapel, so the information I acquired was of benefit to her. She was headed toward Barking and was to get off the Barking station. Barking is a town, but there are several stops there, and Becontree was the one which would be the easiest to access directly to Castle Green. Barking was also the city where the 10th Planet (which was sponsoring the convention) resides. She was excited (Vania was her name) that something was happening in her area. “Nothing ever happens in Barking!”

We were joined by another lady, and to my delight she informed us she was going to Invasion. Her name was Val and she was from Pennsylvania, the state I was born. We would spend the entire day together at the convention.

We all got out at Becontree, and walked up Gale Street for a period of time chatting away, when Vania decided to back to the train and head home. She had a call earlier from her boy friend inquiring as to her whereabouts (she was growing closer to me snuggling up to me) and so I imagine she felt the need to go home.

I came to Baltimore for a comic con show, and someone tried to politically con me. That is something I cannot and will not deal with.

Val and I came to Castle Green and got into a line to pick up our tickets. We received our tickets, and then got into line for the special items. To my dismay, I discovered that we would only be receiving one free autograph ticket for Tom Baker (NOW YOU KNOW WHO THE HEADLINER WAS), but we could additional autograph tickets for five pounds each, which I did. There were also photo sessions with the stars, and I snapped up the ones for Tom Baker and Paul (the Eighth Doctor) McGann. I was disappointed that I could not attend both the coffee sessions; I was pleased with acquiring the photo sessions which cost fifteen pounds each.
>br? The coffee sessions were five pounds each, and they were limited to approximately 25 people who would have an hour of intimate time with the star. You may guess which star I chose. Although we came just a few moments after these went on sale, I was fortunate to acquire the second Tom Baker coffee lounge session. They went fast!
>br? After purchasing our autograph and photo session tickets, Val and I entered the auditorium where we saw the vendors set up. There were few indeed and they were at the back of the auditorium. There were probably less than ten vendors there, and prominent among them was 10th Planet selling photos of the stars.

The time was at hand and the first event that Val and I would partake of was to have our photo taken with Paul McGann. The line was not long, and when I met Paul, he was a delight to meet and greet. It was over in a flash; however, I must give credit to the thoughtfulness of the staff that held onto my camera, jacket and bade while I was having my photo taken with Paul. This photo session went quite smoothly.

The next event would present another dilemma for Val and me. This photo even would be with Tom Baker and that would be a very long line (queue in England) so our plan was to go immediately to the Tom Baker line. We located it after finishing with Paul McGann; we took our place at the Tom Baker queue. Our plan succeeded quite well, it did not take long to get through to Tom, have our pictures taken and go into the main auditorium where the other events were taking place.

As I met Tom Baker, he made a compliment about my hat. I offered it to him, but he politely declined. He then went into a soliloquy about types of hats. He had a bag of jelly babies, but since we were caught up in conversation he did not offer any if such was his intention. Val had gone before me, and among the many photos of Tom and fans, hers was the only one where he smiled broadly. One cannot blame him as Val is a very lovely lady. As a matter Tom (I addressed him as Mr. Baker) and I were so engrossed in conversation, he had asked if the photographer if he had taken our photo or not. He had. Such was my first encounter with Tom Baker. More would come later.

Val and I met in the auditorium after the photo shoot where we listened for the next several sessions. This one included Jean Marsh, Sylvia Syms, Johnny Dennis and the late arriving Sophie Aldred. She arrived at the end of the session (due to Gallifrey One, a very popular Los Angeles convention) and was complimented by Jean Marsh (who was married to Jon (the Third Doctor) from 1955 to 1960) as to how nice she (Sophie) was during the filming of Battlefield (a story in Doctor Who).

The next session featured Paul McGann who was entertaining as he spoke about the tales of the current audio series of the Doctor. He has no objection in appearing in the new series. He spoke about how he wore a wig (shades of William (the first Doctor) during the filming of the movie he starred in. He noted that he was quite amused that when he played basketball with Eric Roberts (who played the Master in the television film), that Eric did not recognize him. Although I find it hard to believe, he commented that he is the same age as Marlon Brando was when he did The Godfather. He sure does not look it.

Another item I was not aware of was that he was raised in Liverpool (as was Tom Baker) and he grew up during the rise of the Beatles. He mentioned that there was a great deal of tourism in Liverpool because of the Beatles and that his parents would dress him and his siblings up. He also promoted Liverpool, being that it had celebrated its’ 800th birthday. Paul encouraged us to check it out and sung its’ praises. He also mentioned that Ringo had stopped by during the 800th celebration and thoroughly enjoyed it. You can all found out how much Ringo enjoyed it in his latest album and the single Liverpool 8. Click photo below.

INVASION 2008 Part 2 by Sam Catalino


After sitting through Paul McGann and Nicholas Briggs on stage, there was a brief fifteen minute break. Val and I went out of the auditorium and got into the queue for some refreshments. The line was long but we were served swiftly. As soon as I wolfed down my food, I strode swiftly back through the auditorium to locate the room where I would go to have some time along with twenty or so other attendees with Tom Baker.

I discovered the room, opened the door and there was Tom Baker sitting on the left side of the room within the circle of chairs occupied by other fans. I still had my hat on from our previous meeting when I had my picture taken with him. Quietly trying not to act too inconspicuously, Tom greeted me with: “And here is the producer!” After sitting down with my Coca Cola (which would remain unopened for the entire session) I listened and was enraptured with his tales.

He discussed Doctor Who and his time portraying the Time Lord. One of the things that he spoke about was how would drive producers and directors nuts when he would improvise during his scenes. After all, he knew the part better than they, they were just passing through. He also mentioned that most of the producers which he had difficulty with died lingering painful deaths. So my suspicion is that many of the directors and producers gave him a great deal of difficulty. He gave an example of this where in a scene he would be walking and then suddenly lift his hand and stop, even though the script did not call for it. It is probably due to his improvisation that made his tenure a success. One might think there is some bitterness and he believed those who gave him a difficult time were visited with karma. I suspect there was a bit of condescension in some of these people which caused this lingering feeling and he cited one case. This producer would hold his hand up to keep him silent during a conversation which was during a social gathering. One might also thought that Tom’s comment about me as producer was a bit of a rebuke for me being tardy; I did not take note of it.

He informed us that he currently resides in Hastings where nothing has happened since 1033. He spoke about his wealthy wife, and how she teased him when they would watch past episodes of Doctor Who where he would run up the hill after or from someone. She would quip to him, “You can’t do that anymore, can you?” Tom also spoke about is time in the Catholic monastery, and how his mother was Catholic and his father Jewish, but his mother’s religious desires won out. Also since God was the big boss, Tom wanted to be on the right side of him. Suffice to say, Tom does not have a favorable opinion about the Catholic Church, but I suspect he has only seen one side of it.

The most interesting story he told us was about a problem he had in trying to adopt a dog. All he wanted was a chum to walk with him. He went to the place where they may be obtained, and he then relayed his tale of woe. There was a woman who would interview people who adopted unwanted dogs. I got the impression that this was the English’s version the SPCA. A few weeks later, Tom was presented with a letter informing him that if he wanted these dogs, he would have to build a large fence around his property.

Tom could not believe this, but being that he wanted these two dogs (one I believe he mentioned had three legs and how far was that dog going to go), a person who builds fences was contacted for an estimate on the fence. Eleven thousand pounds was the estimate. Tom took the fellow aside and asked him about this, and apparently this fence man knew all about this woman and this was standard fare for her. Suffice to say, Tom did not have a favorable opinion of this woman, another bumbling beauracrat drunk with power. Suffice to say, Tom does not have a favorable opinion of government either.

Many people asked him questions, and some were standard fare, so I decided to ask him something off the wall. I prefaced it by saying the question I ask would have nothing to do with Doctor Who.

What kind of question would I ask him? I knew that Tom Baker had grew up in Liverpool during World War II, so I chose to ask him what was it like growing up in Liverpool during the War?

He then took us back into time and reminisced about his youth. They would create wooden replicas as planes (this is something that Steve Ditko would do in his school years in the high school shop) and he and his classmates would try to identify the German bombers and to distinguish them from the RAF fighters. Tom spoke about that as a child, he would make money by locating scrap metal from exploded bombs and wreckage of bombers shot down.

He thought it was a great adventure at the time and was sad when it was over. Tom was born in 1934 and was six when Germany invaded Poland and World War began in earnest. He related another story of the prisoners of war who were interred in that area. There was a different bit of treatment as to how he looked at the German POWs and the Italian POWs. They looked upon the Germans as savages but the Italians, they were from the same country as the Pope was, so they could not be all bad.

It was a delightful 45 minutes and went by too quickly and Tom Baker was captivating the entire session. All good things come to an end, and he left to prepare himself for the last part of the show, the one hour on stage.

Also remember that the show was running some ten to twenty minutes behind schedule and that would cause some issues further down the road.

Much of the last hour of the show with Tom Baker brought back much of what was discussed in the coffee room. The dog story was revisited and the story about his parents was brought up again. One thing he seemed whimsically a bit sad was that when his parents grew old (the impression he gave), they lived in separate rooms. His mother said about his father: “I want to outlive that old goat.” His father survived his mother and mourned her passing. Tom noted what a waste to have lived all of those years together unhappily. It seems that on his third attempt at marriage, he has succeeded.

Another fan asked him if he was a good tipper. Tom told the story of being in a cab where he did not know whether the cabbie meant to insult him or did not actually know who he was. The cabbie referred to him as Jon Pertwee, but Tom said he gave him a good tip nonetheless. The “fan” then revealed that Tom had been one of his fares and given him a poor tip. I wondered about what kind of service this “fan” had provided, but this cad seemed to have an agenda, and I was stunned that he was not roundly and loudly booed for his set up job. Tom took it in stride though.

What does he think of the new show? He does not fancy the new found intimacy between the Doctor and his current companions. He believes that the Doctor should be apart from such feelings.

Would he go on the new show as a guest? He muse out loud that he would like to pass by the current Doctor and have him get a good look at him and then the current Doctor do a double take after seeing him. There are no plans though as he stated: “I haven’t been asked.”

Tom did talk a bit about his drinking adventures. One was when he returned from abroad shooting for a television series or movie, and that his flat was being prepared for him. He was a bit tipsy when he returned to England, and was going about flats trying to find his own. As it was dusk, a six foot three man would draw the attention of ye local Bobbie. He was approached and not knowing the address of his new flat (which had not been given to him so the story goes), he explained he trying his key on all of them. Naturally, the Bobbie took him in and when another saw him and recognized him.

“Don’t you know who this is?” the newly arrived Bobbie said to the other, “This is Doctor Who!” It was then decided to get Tom accommodations at a hotel and they escorted him there, with one carrying his bad and taking it to the hotel.

“My Missus really loves you,” the Bobbie said to Tom, “and when we are in the bedroom, she tells me to act like you.” Tom replied, “And how does that work for you two?”

The Bobbie grinned and rose two thumbs up.

After the session was over, Val and I broke off and got into the autograph line. The line was excessively long and it would take about two hours to arrive at the doors of the auditorium. It was then (after Jean Marsh had already departed) that wewere informed that all of the extra autographs we acquired for Tom Baker would have to be refunded. Tom would only sign one autograph, because of the long line. I wondered if they had started that policy in the last fifteen minutes for us. They would let you in the auditorium for the other actors, but you had to wait for Tom.

I held my tongue until I had my one item to be signed by Yom. When I came up to Tom, he informed me that he really liked my question, I told him that I was born in Gettysburg and how I thought that the times he lived through were the most interesting that I was interested in.

It was over, I took my autograph tickets sand pictured and received refunds. Although I was frustrated and in a foul mood being in line for two hours with little to show for it. I was also very disappointed for Val not getting Jean Marsh’s autograph. The best thing I thought now was to return to my hotel.

Until the autograph fiasco, I rated this convention among the best I have attended. It went down from an eleven (out of ten) to an eight (still pretty exceptional) and I had a fun time and I enjoyed my visit in England.

Were I to do it over again, I would have gotten immediately in line for autographs, but hindsight is always better than foresight. Did I mention that Val and I were in the minority being from the USA?

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Sam Catalino The People's Commentator
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