Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

In 1983, to celebrate twenty years of non-stop Doctor Who, the BBC organised a two-day convention at Longleat, on Easter Sunday and Monday.

Today those of us who were there refer to it as Doctor Who's Woodstock. It was crowded. It was muddy. It was unforgettable.

Despite this last point, a bit like the 1960s, if you can't remember it, then it's still entirely possible that you were there that weekend. No, nothing to do with the Silence, more like the BBC underestimating the show's popularity again. It was advertised on the Ed Stewart Show and everything. "A transdimensional experience of which 3-D specs will be of no use to you whatsoever".

Is this all making little to no sense? All right, I'll rewind back to the beginning.

They expected 50,000 people to attend. Indeed, on day one, the first 35,000 of them duly arrived. Sadly, for I guess something like 10,000 of those, arriving turned out to be all they could do that day. Sheesh, were maybe 1,000 family days-out really ruined, and those just on day one?

I was 12. We came down by train for day two, quite innocently expecting to buy our tickets on the door. Although we hadn't pre-booked our entry-tickets, we had pre-booked seats on a minibus from the station. It was here that the minibus driver informed us that BBC radio had that morning advised that only people who had pre-booked should now attend.

Which was fine, for all his other passengers. (some of whom were bizarrely also called Goble)

The minibus driver told us not to worry. If we couldn't get in, then he'd actually have a word with the guy on the door, and… and… arrange for us to all go around the safari park instead.

Well, that was one long minibus journey. I spent it praying.

The queue for non-ticket-holders outside Longleat House was enormous, but we stood there, British to end, and just waited. At one point we all spotted the grinning face of Peter Davison in the distance, making his way through the excited public either into or out of Longleat House.

Then something pivotal happened, which for many people would change the entire day.

The queue moved.

But not in the direction you would normally expect. Not forwards. No, not even backwards. This queue moved sideways.

I guess it must have been in response to some announcement over the echoey tannoy (apparently by actor John Leeson), as the whole queue suddenly disassembled, swarmed down the grassy verge, and reformed itself in a new order leading into the tented ticket office.

I ran after it, so did my mum, and best friend Alex, and a thousand other folk.

Alex got there first out of our party, found a place in the new queue, and we all joined him. Presently we got inside the tent, bought our golden (well, green) tickets and entered the convention!

Barely five minutes later the announcement came over that ticket sales were now to be suspended for two hours. "This is to ease congestion in the exhibition area". Even more ominously, the tannoy continued that a barrier was being set up outside to distinguish those who might get in from those who might never get in. To this day I don't know whether or not Alex had pushed-in, and still don’t want to know.

No matter how many people were still queuing outside, there was surely a greater number already inside. We couldn't move, and were slowly forced along by the crowds through tent after tent that was already packed to capacity and unenterable.

The first tent contained a display of studio sets - some of them not to be seen on TV for more than six months yet. These included UNIT headquarters, Gallifrey, and of course the current TARDIS interior, which even featured the panel that Turlough had recently wrenched off to sabotage the space-time element behind in Terminus.

Consistent with the end of the last televised episode, Kamelion was set-up here. He was still able to stand at this point, and thanks to a cable trailing out of his foot was even making his usual slow robotic movements while soundbites from The King's Demons played out of a speaker.

"Surprising as it may seem, I do have a mind of my own."

If the crowds were sluggish enough, then you got to see more minutes of Kamelion here than in the series.

Later that morning we made it into the sound effects tent, and witnessed an entire presentation by Dick Mills of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. He let us in on how he'd recorded various sound-effects for the show, including using squelching baby-wipes for embryo Daleks, and then played these to us.

"This is the sound of something indescribable crawling up Sarah's much bigger leg."

I'm pretty sure that those were his exact words because, each time these clips were played, from my position to his right, I was subtly turning on the tape-recorder that I had hidden in my bag. I'd brought it with me hoping to record some of the old episodes that were showing in the cinema tent. As the day wore on though, I never had a chance of squeezing in there, but every 25 minutes the EEEYYYOOOWWWWWWW of another episode's cliffhanger screamed out across the masses.

Visual effects demonstration - heard the explosions in the afternoon, but that was all.

Polaroids of oneself with assembled monsters outside the TARDIS in a tennis court - I didn't have the money for that, but Alex did.

Autograph room - never even tried.

Celebrity panels - you must be joking.

Tom Baker flew past us in the crowds at one point.

At another moment, Jon Pertwee swooped down the path, attracting a flock of followers like iron filings to a magnet. For some reason I reckoned that he was about to turn left into the auction tent, so I cut the corner, got there ahead of all of them, and made eye-contact.

"Mr Pertwee, can I have your autograph?" I asked, holding out my Target book and pen. Well of course, if he'd stopped for me, then he would never have made it into the tent.

He said nothing, but simply gave me a bright silent grin instead.

Then he accidentally trod on the edge of my shoe, which tripped me up and left me sprawling on the ground, as he reached the safety of the packed tent that no-one else was allowed to follow him into.

I wasn't the least bit offended, fully understanding why he couldn't stop, but all the same, this encounter still made Pertwee my least favourite Doctor for many years. Today I look back on that moment with pride - Jon Pertwee smiled at me! That's priceless. I can't sell that on Ebay.

Having listened to an auction, seen Bessie, bought a badge and reacquainted ourselves with the much smaller permanent on-site Doctor Who exhibition, I realised mid-afternoon that I was Who'd out. I still recognise when I reach this limit today. We left the convention and went around the Longleat maze, before ultimately climbing into the same minibus to be carried back to the station again.

We excitedly swapped stories with the other fans on the bus, one of whom had spent four hours queueing for autographs, which he showed us. Mark Strickson's went everywhere.

However I suspect that none of us will ever forget the numbing sight, as we drove out of Longleat, of those thousands of people still queuing outside…

Less than two years later, the BBC axed Doctor Who, apparently believing that its funders should watch what it wanted to make, rather than the other way around. Outraged public opinion had that decision back-pedalled by the end of the day, but that turned out to be an even sadder story.

Tonight - over 27 years later - I finished watching Reel Time's documentary DVD about that incredible weekend in the life of this unique TV series. They'd interviewed a ton of the original organisers, guests, attendees and - yes - even one of the now grown-up kids who hadn't been allowed in.

"I was quite disappointed not to have actually got into the event. Especially having travelled all that way from London. It's... one of those things you never forget."

There's also tons of VHS camcorder footage from the event, including several Q and A sessions with castmembers in the extras. Wow, all those people who unknowingly put some of the magic in my life, and so many of whom are sadly no longer with us. Though the sound and vision on these panels is quite challenging, and very little of interest is said, the sheer atmosphere of being in that tent, and seeing those people, during that era of the show's popularity, is a special feeling indeed.

But for me, one particular interviewee in this doco stands out. Nick Briggs, a fan who now plays the voice of the Daleks in the series, tells how as a young viewer he attended a sound effects demonstration by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, secretly armed with a tape recorder hidden in his sleeve. He tells how he kept asking the man to replay several effects so that he could, um, listen to them again.

Thanks for being my decoy, Nick.

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