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Subj: Nothing At The End of The Lane #4
Posted: Thu Mar 22, 2018 at 07:39:53 pm CDT (Viewed 779 times)
Seeing how it has been three years since Richard Bignell finalised and published issue #4 of his self published Nothing at the end of the Lane magazine it might seem rather too late to be doing any sort of appraisal of it at this point in time. But the clause to excusing this late look at issue #4 lies in the nature of its means of sale and the fact that it can be bought even now from Bignell's purpose built, and rather impressive, website for the project he dubs 'The Magazine For Doctor Who Research and Restoration':
A click on the Link Here will take you to the required page, and thereon you will see a selection of photos of the contents of the magazine and so save me the time and effort in supplying my own illustrative requirements. Describing the superior quality of this infrequently published venture wastes time, Suffice to say that Nothing At The End of The Lane embodies the very best of what professional fan-scholars and researchers of the last thirty years have given to fandom - a namecheck on the inside of this very issue lists contributors that any longtime fan will recognise and appreciate at a glance. Apart from the highly knowledgeable Richard Bignell himself yu will note Andrew Pixley, Mick Hall, Philip Newman, David J Howe, Jan Vincent-Rudski, Jeremy Bentham, Colin Brockhurst, Richard Molesworth, and artist Lee Sullivan as having contributed content for this issue, all are highly respected figures in Doctor Who fandom and all well regarded for their own work in the past on studying and opening up the behind-the-scenes details on the classic series years.
With a previous three issues having set a remarkably high standard in both writing and content the arrival of issue #4 has to match the set precedent and deliver an equally compelling blend of quality and content, and... well, the truth is it doesn't quite meet with that expectation. Reading Nothing At The End of The Lane #4 when you have experienced the three prior installments and their robust and considered content is a quietly irritating experience.
It's not that this latest issue is lacking in the interesting content that marked all three previous issues. Neither is it the case the layout and graphic content is at all lacking or a drop in standard, no, the problem, for me at least, lies in the sheer randomness of the choice in content and the fact that there comes a good deal of 'filler'. By that I mean to say this issues main content is notably being bookended by a good deal of throwaway brief articles that are so at odds with the quality of the main content that they are exposed as being what they are - pointless filler. Padding.
And Padding is simply not what Richard Bignell has set us to expect from his labour-of-love magazine. Nothing At The End of The Lane is, or was, something that aspired to far better standards. Padding is for lesser fan-efforts.
I am admittedly in danger of selling this latest issue far too short, in spite of the numerous irritations to be found in reading through it let me be clear that Bignell has, as usual, researched and assembled some very fine and worthy subjects for discussion. The magazine has always sold itself to its readership as being particularly interested in the earliest years of the series, which given that most of its contributors were born and raised in that era is to be expected, it is one of the magazine's strongest points and forms a large amount of its appeal. So while the official Doctor Who Magazine and fan press today understandably overlooks those days in favor of attracting a modern audience looking for modern focusing Doctor Who content Bignell and his assembled contributors are left with a niche in Doctor Who that is of great interest to older fans and caters for their specific interest, and so to the content of this latest issue, which will sate any classic series fans appetite as it draws back a dusty veil to expose hitherto unshone light on two of the series earliest contributors, both of who sadly passed away in 1980, and therefore left little or nothing of firsthand testimony to mark their contributions to Doctor Who...
But enough of that, what about the content itself?
• As mentioned this latest issue is uncommonly eclectic in its scope - For its output so far the sum of Nothing At The End of The Lane has been dedicated to the Doctor Who output of the 1960's and with a smattering of the 1970's, this issue however breaks from that set format as while the focus on the first twenty years of the series is maintained there is a black sheep having arrived, a jarring gatecrasher in the form of a piece on the effects/costume designer responsible for the creature seen in 2014's 'Mummy on the Orient Express'. And whatever its actual worth as a piece is, Jar it does. Along with other brief snippets and half though through pieces of material it feels and reads out of place here and has been thrown into the magazine to fill space...
Still, that out-of-place piece comes towards the end of the magazine. What opens it, and sets a reassuring tone to start with, is a lengthy discussion and into the design and production of the very first Doctor Who story - An Unearthly Child. Lovingly illustrated by specially built computer generated recreation of what the studio sets looked like, and how they were positioned in relation to each other on the Studio floor of Lime Grove Studio D, Philip Newman takes us through the pre-production phase of the serial and all of the drama of how it arrived in the studio to begin recording. With the initial Pilot deemed inadequate a second studio session was arranged to address the various problems, and all of this drama and rearrangement in the schedules and sets is carefully pored over by author Newman. This is as thorough a look at the events that led up to the first filming on Doctor Who as you will ever be likely to read, and accompanied by superb set recreations and design illustration!
• Suitably dovetailing from that in-depth study of the production of the first aborted pilot and its subsequent remount the magazine's impeccable standard is continued with Philip Newman embarking on 'A Narrative of the Life of Peter Brachacki'.
Pronounced as BRA-HATZ-KEY Newman's piece is everything that Nothing At The End of The Lane epitomises - the taking an obscure and long gone element or contribution to early Doctor Who and researching where no one previously has, to uncover a fresh well of previously unknown information and firsthand sources that bring back to life a figure or element that was thought forever a dead area. And in this welcome study and tribute to the long gone Peter Brachacki Newman produces one of the best features on Doctor Who I have read in recent years.
Illuminating the eventful life and legacy of Peter Brachacki, the man who created the entire ethic and look of the Tardis' interior, we are taken through time to learn something of where this enigmatic man came forth, in Poland, And that 'Peter Brachacki' is not actually his full and proper name! From Poland to a young adventure as a Partisan in the country's war effort, to capture and incarceration in the death camp Dauchau, to London, to Canada, back to London...
With the insight of Peter's surviving Son and Widow informing him Philip Newman sketches a surprisingly informative account of a man who's path in life came forth from some of the harshest experiences of life in europe, and Poland, during the second world war, to what choices in carreer led him eventually to a position in the BBC design department and in creating such a distinct and indispensable element of the Doctor Who format that his name should be rivalling that of Ray Cusick himself in terms of importance.... yet strangely, isn't.
It may be the fact that Brachacki died in 1980, apparently a rather shy man there exists only one interview with him, taken from a 1976 Appreciation Society newsletter. Yet so much of the importance of this largely forgotten man's design element for Doctor Who, the look of the Tardis interior, is responsible for the very success and appeal of the format over the decades, that one wishes that Newman's wonderful tribute here was appearing in the official Doctor Who Magazine, where a wide audience could learn firsthand about the man who designed the Tardis.
• Even in Doctor Who fan circles the name Jeremy Davies isn't one that will be readily recognised. Thus to see this obscure 1960s assistant designer given a prominent feature within this magazine, and all to gaze upon some preliminary 'rough sketch' ideas and half baked guesses on what it was that writer Terry Nation might be trying to create for 1963's The Dead Planet reads as rather desperate, a scraping of the barrell almost. We are given due disclosure on who Davies is, and what his role as Ray Cusick's assistant was, and yet despite the superb efforts of Richard Bignell to dress up this piece with generous visual recreations of how things might have been very different if Davies' doodling and brainstorming over the possible look of Terry Nation's new 'Dalek' creation, the piece never overcomes the reality that it wasn't Davies who had the final say, or indeed who DID come up with the winning design. Rather what this piece actually is is an excuse to employ some of fandom's best Computer imagers to try and bring to life what might have been. And to be fair the imagery they come up with is rather fun. But it all feels far too slight and unimportant when put into context with truly important figures like Peter Brachacki and Sydney Newman who grace this books pages...
• Of more interest is the finding of the original script for Kit Pedlar's The Tenth Planet, episode 4. And after decades of uncertainty and speculation we can see what the original ending for the story was, before the abrupt requirement that necessitated the changing of lead man William Hartnell!
• "My Dad... Mervyn Pinfield". It's a very similar accomplishment to the earlier Peter Brachacki piece, and another now largely unrecognised production figure, that we are presented with the warm and affectionate story of Mervyn Pinfield, via his son Mike's vivid memories of his father and what it was like to be under the same roof as such a creative and dedicated artist. Studio Manager, Associate Producer to Verity Lambert, Inventor, director, father, husband, Richard Bignell's contact with Mike Pinfield allows for a very fine example of what Doctor Who research should be all about - and Bignell is arguably the one man who is capable of such a feat as searching out new and precious insight into aa man who sadly passed away just two years after the arrival of Doctor Who. The circumstances that lead to that event are vivid in Mike Pinfield's memory even these near fifty years on; and the tragedy is that his Mother too sadly outlasted Mervyn by only weeks.
But as the piece successfully sets out to show it is Mervyn's life and legacy that is the joy, an experience that should be remembered, and while the precise impact of his contribution to early television, and Doctor Who, is something Bignell's piece curiously leaves unaddressed, what shines through strongly is a life. It's to son Mike Pinfield's credit that through him we are allowed a vivid reminder that while 'Mervyn Pinfield' might be seen to be nothing more than a name on an end-credit of some distant slab of fossilised 1960s television archeology his father was in fact a very real person, and with memories of his father so sharp even today by the last paragraph of this article we do come away with a sense that we do know Mervyn.
• And after such a worthy piece as that we arrive at Richard Molesworth's "Bob's Fantasy Factory". A leftover from his book Robert Holmes:A Life In Words, and strangely headed by a picture of Philip Hinchcliffe, Molesworth uses discovered scripts and notes from Robert Holmes' final, and largely completely rewritten, original climax to 1986's Trial of a Timelord.
That Molesworth actually only has a rough first part script doesn't discourage him from making a series of increasingly annoying wild guesses at what Holmes might have intended, or where the story would have gone thereafter. And it has to be said the subject of Holmes' original scripts and plot for the final two-parter of Trial of a Timelord is far from being the fresh revelation that is peddled forth here. Here is a piece that is largely uninteresting because of that, though as per the standard for this magazine there does come an accompanying fine array of visual distractions to ease your irritation over the blandness of the piece.
• But then that irritation might not have been so pronounced if it wasn't for the fact that Molesworth, a man who has written extensively for genre publishing and is responsible for at least two Doctor Who reference books, was not shortly followed on by the sheer professionalism and authority that is Andrew Pixley!
Pixley has never written a Doctor Who reference book. Quite why that is is surely one of the great questions he will one day leave behind, and for his contribution for this issue his look back on the development of Malcolm Hulke and David Ellis' unproduced Patrick Troughton entry The Big Store, and the way in which it evolved to instead become a tale of alien body snatches set at Gatwick Airport...
Surprisingly there are three surviving draft scripts of the first three episodes to The Big Store, and several pages of these are reproduced here in full. Quite what motivated the producer and script editor to have second thoughts and request the setting moved from a London department store to an airport is not divulged here and yet reading Hulke & Ellis' draft scripts it does become clear that while the department store setting is a suitable one for a television studio-bound show like Doctor Who the actual story of alien bodysnatchers using it as a cover for their scheme here isn't very convincing. There is also a possibility that in terms of this setting the similarities to the 1965 Avengers episode 'Death at Bargain Prices' and others was a contributing factor for the Production team to reconsider the entire premise and its direction.
Thus, as Pixley relates, a shift to an Airport location instead and documentation made of Malcolm Hulke's approach to flight staff in order to make the setting and characters involved as convincing as was possible.
For those who remember Andrew Pixley's fine work for the Doctor Who Magazine Archives throughout the 1990s this article will resonate. It contains the exact same blend of informative authority and confidence, combined with reader accessibility and a concise narrative. For a specialist magazine like Nothing At The End of The Lane Andrew Pixley is what one could legitimately call essential. Writers and researchers of the calibre of he and Richard Bignell are what this venture is all about, there would be little point in its existence without their contributions.
There is of course much more in this magazine, a look at surviving props across the span of the original series is a particular treat - Bignell gathers together a selection of items held in private hands, or otherwise known to be still out there somewhere, and catalogues them here in pictures. From a Voord submarine model as seen in 1965's The Keys of Marinus, to the battered Koquillion's mask from 1965's The Rescue. From a partial Auton hand seen in Spearhead from Space, to the remains of Alpha Centauri. As a feature it leaves you wanting to see more like this!
Nothing At The End of The Lane #4 is a magazine that comes a little more expensive that equivalent high street publications like SFX and Doctor Who Magazine. But printed to the same high standards, and with a page count to rival, it does offer solid value for money. Even this issue, as uneven as it is in content, and certainly in need of a tighter edit of the content and a last proofread before sending out to the printers, this is a publication that still has quite enough within it for me to soundly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the early history of the show.
It's all too easy to fret and worry about the state of television Doctor Who, and its increasingly toxic online fandom. But for the armchair enthusiast who loves learning more, the traditional diehard such as me, the smaller and untainted efforts such as Nothing At The End of The Lane is what holds the most interest and appeal these days.
It's a terrific example of the best of what professional fan researchers and writers have brought to fandom over the last three decades. Try it.
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