Beware the Mentiads!

My recent involvement with KKLAK! has prompted me to think back nostalgically to the first time that I found myself part of the team behind a fanzine. This was back in the very early 90s when I was part of DOCTOR WHO fandom in the West Midlands. The fanzine was called "Think Tank" and it was the publication of a local group that I helped run called SRS. As you may have spotted, we had decided to use the story Robot as our theme, even to the extent that a later news-sheet was called "Professor Kettlewell's Hair". This theme seemed a good idea at the time, but it ultimately proved quite wearing having to keep explaining to our local papers that the initials SRS didn’t actually stand for anything in the context of the name of our local group.

Looking back, this was a difficult time for fandom. We were all starting to get used to the idea that the show wouldn’t be returning any time soon and the unfortunate in-fighting and factioning that had started in the last few years of the show’s life were continuing. One area of particular dissatisfaction was the DWAS, to the extent that a rival fan network was born. This was the Whonatics, who had started life as a DWAS local group in Walsall but were now expanding into a national network with many tentacles in the form of "sector groups". The home ground of the SRS in Stourbridge was geographically close to the Whonatics base, so we felt affected by their growth quite strongly, given that we wanted to retain our independence. It is quite amusing to look back on that time now, but there was a lot of paranoia about our vulnerability in the face of the relentless march of the Whonatics in their drive to take over the world – I think we thought of ourselves as the Mentiads compared with the Walsall based Pirate Captain and his hordes, but without the fetching yellow robes.

Fortunately, we weren’t alone in our drive for independence. Shortly after the SRS was formed, another local group started in Wolverhampton, the wittily titled Wolves of Fenric. There was a very large overlap in the membership of SRS and the Wolves, so we were natural allies in the face of the imminently expected Whonatic invasion. However, there was a difference between the 2 groups in the form of ambition. We saw SRS as limited in its future and in impact due to the fact that those of us who ran it would soon be going to university – it was just a bit of fun. However, the Wolves of Fenric had bigger plans.

As part of this ambition, the Wolves were always keen to run various events and promotional activities. Perhaps the greatest of these was the Birmingham Doctor Who Festival. This was organised in 1993 in order to celebrate the 30th anniversary, and involved a number of events in conjunction with the City Council. There was a special exhibition of props and merchandise, for some reason in the Science Museum, and a special showing of the Cushing movies in a local cinema. However, the centre piece of the festival was a special event.

It is difficult to describe this event – it was more like an expanded local group meeting than a convention, especially since the word convention implies that there will be guests. Well, there was one guest, in the form of David Rodan, the co-writer of Dimensions in Time, which had not yet been broadcast. This managed to be even less impressive than it sounds due to the fact that Mr Rodan was actually a well known fan in the Midlands, being a member of the Whonatics. However, his talk was interesting and managed to get everyone very excited about how good the special was going to be…

"The Whonatics gave up on the business of global conquest, presumably to retire to a hollowed out volcano somewhere."

The only activity from the event that I recall is everyone sitting down to listen to a Radio 4 documentary about 30 years of DOCTOR WHO that was broadcast that day. It was a very exciting day, I’m sure you can tell.

I forget how it came about, but someone had an idea to liven things up, and somehow managed to persuade the organisers to go along with it. The basic idea sprang from the fact that although Andrew Cartmel had been such an important figure during the recent history of the programme, no one actually knew what he looked like. So, it was announced that the event had managed to secure a special surprise guest – one Andrew Cartmel – and there was then an interview session, with the role of Mr Cartmel being played by my friend Korvin. The audience was entranced as they believed they were hearing the thoughts and opinions of the creative force behind the McCoy era. It was at this time that there was much speculation concerning the precise content of the so-called Cartmel Masterplan, so this was one subject that the interview eventually turned to. Most of the earlier part of the panel has been played relatively straight, and initially "Mr Cartmel" refused to reveal his secrets. However, he finally succumbed to pressure from the interviewer and the audience, and outlined some astonishing revelations concerning the Doctor’s background. It was at this point that most of the audience finally realised that things were not as they seemed, although I’m sure there were probably some people who lapped up it all up and to this very day probably still believe the Andrew Cartmel had planned to reveal that the Doctor was the illegitimate off-spring of the Celestial Toymaker and Servalan from BLAKE’S 7. Those people who did realise that they had been fooled didn’t seem that amused afterwards. And it probably had them doubting the authenticity of the David Rodan interview, too. Especially when they finally saw Dimensions in Time and it failed to be quite the epic that had been discussed.

It is difficult to credit that that event was so long ago now. Some things have changed – SRS is long gone, and even the Whonatics gave up on the business of global conquest, presumably to retire to a hollowed out volcano somewhere. But, remarkably, the Wolves of Fenric is still going, although, in a wonderful irony, it now seems to consist of a collective of local groups, in a way not dissimilar to the dreaded Whonatics. And here I am, once again involved in the grind of producing a new issue of a fanzine every month. But at least I’m not the editor this time...

Originally published in Kklak! Issue 8 - November 2001.

This is an article by Matthew Newton. Visit his Homepage.
Copyright © MJ Newton 2001. All rights reserved.