Odd Event Reviews... Dalek Invasion of Portsmouth 2013
Andy Simpkins reviews the Exterminating, Fancy-Dressing, Maritime Oddity that is the ''Dalek Invasion of Portsmouth'', Royal Marines Museum, Portsmouth, Saturday, 6th April 2013
It had been a long time but the time for another Staggering Stories Jolly-Boys outing was upon us. The weekend before, Fake Crumbly and myself had been driving into Portsmouth for some retail therapy at Gunwharf Quays when we saw an advert splashed all over the back of a bus in front of us. It was for an event called ''The Dalek Invasion of Portsmouth'' to be held at the National Marine Museum near Southsea Common. It was then that the seed of the next trip out took root and started to germinate. After what had to be one of the worst winters ever, April arrived and some decent weather at long last. It was the perfect day for sloughing off some of the many layers of winter clothing and shaking ourselves out of the collective torpor that envelops one and all during the winter months.
It was a bright, sunny morning and myself and Fake Crumbly found ourselves driving into the car park outside the museum. Whereas the rest of our party had to drive all the way down from Crawley, it was a simple matter of us taking a short 15 minute drive along the coast along the M27 from Southampton. An uneventful drive apart from having a near miss with an irate taxi driver in Portsmouth city centre, we had arranged to meet Adam, Dunn's Fake and Real, and the latest addition to the Staggering Stories clan; ASDA-MAN! Or as he is known to friends and family, Scott...
I must say that the museum is a rather imposing place, to say the least. I suppose at some time in the recent past, it must have been a barracks for troops and also a training ground for the elite of the British Army. Parking up, we saw El Presidente Adam striding purposefully towards us, Head of Pertwee in hand. I think The Head must have known he was going to meet some friends, and enemies, old and new, which explained the rather anticipatory grin on his latex face.
We knew we had arrived because the first things that we saw, apart from the very large marquee set up in the grounds, was a couple of animated scarecrows shuffling around waving their straw-filled arms at various people in the absence of The Doctors human persona that he was forced to assume to flee The Family of Blood..
Upon meeting up with the rest of the Staggerers, we made our way into the exceedingly spacious marquee, which at a rough guess, could hold a few hundred people seated with quite a few more standing around the periphery. Down the end of the marquee was a roped off area with a couple of large screens and partitions erected, presumably to conceal the daleks until they were called upon to make their appearance. A few minutes after taking our seats, the MC came on stage to announce that the 'guests' of honour would be coming on stage to make their introductions and to take place in a Q and A session.
All too soon, four Daleks rolled out into the roped off area to the Doctor Who theme music, looking very ominous as their eye-stalks moved to and fro, scanning the audience, looking for all the world like they were ready to enslave them. An illusion of utter contempt for the puny humans before them. An illusion which was soon to be shattered though...
What happened next partially convinced me that I had fallen through a freak wormhole and into a parallel reality as what happened next was surreal, to say the least. Holding a microphone up to the dome of each Dalek, the MC asked each Dalek what its name was. They answered: Spot, Bob, Phil and Dolly which pretty much set the tone for the session.
Spot was an acronym for something something Of Titanium, Bob because the driver of the Dalek was a big Bob Dylan fan, Phil was a Genesis Dalek because of the Genesis of the Daleks episodes and for anyone who was over the age of 40 in the audience, because Phil Collins took over from Peter Gabriel on vocals in the rock band Genesis, which was lost on the younger members of the audience...Dolly was so named for the sole reason that she was a rather fetching shade of red and she/it was a Peter Cushing Dalek Invasion of Earth model
Obviously you had the die-hard fans who asked them who would win in a stand up fight between them and foes like the Cybermen or Silurians but it was some of the other questions that had me doubting my sanity....
Audience: “How do you relax?”
Spot: “I go fishing...”
Audience: “Who created you?”
Phil: “My mummy and daddy...”
Audience: “What do you do in your spare time?
Holly: “I like to cook but I drop the frying pan...”
Audience: Where do you go on holiday?
The questions continued in this manner for about another ten minutes until it was time for the Daleks to trundle off stage so it could be prepared for the next event. This was to be a play in two parts featuring an actor with a close resemblance to David Tennant's Doctor and a very comely and pneumatic young lady who was portraying Jenny, the Doctors daughter. The first part of the play features lots of mugging to the audience and instructing the kids to shout out when Daleks appeared. It was very much in the tradition of the best pantomimes with lots of kids shouting: “He's behind you...” and “Oh no, he isn't...”
I couldn't help but point out that the actor who was playing The Doctor looked very similar to an actor who was in a recent episode called 'Cold War', portraying a Russian submariner, which featured a very cranked-off Ice warrior on board a Soviet submarine. However, I did recognise him from some pictures that the rest of the Staggerers took a few years ago at the very first Whooverville convention.
As is the wont with most Who conventions and get-togethers, there are a lot of fans who like to don fancy dress. I must confess that a lot of the costumes were finished off to a very high standard. Throughout the day, I could see a Peter Davidson-era Cyberman wandering around the grounds, happily posing for pictures with attendees. The only thing that let him down were the pair of trainers he was wearing that were sprayed silver to match the rest of his ensemble. As I mentioned previously, there were a couple of 'Family of Blood' scarecrows lurching about, generally amiably menacing people and dropping straw everywhere they went and also a very convincing 'Girl In The Fireplace'-episode clockwork automaton, resplendent in his frilly shirt, French nobility wig and malevolently smiling harlequin mask.
However, all credit must go to all the children who turned up in fancy dress. I remember a BBC video called 'More Than 30 Years In The TARDIS' that I have still tucked away in a dusty corner of my bookcases. One of the people who was interviewed was the singer Toyah Wilcox, who was fondly lisping on about a Dalek costume that she used to own when she was a little girl. She recalled that it was made of PVC and had all these interesting lumps and bumps on it that reminded her of fetish wear. Not a lot more can be said about that but there were a few kids there who were wearing Dalek suits that were in possession of rather flaccid-looking exterminating ray-guns....I do actually remember the scene with Toyah in the foreground fondly reminiscing while in the background, a small child wearing the aforementioned costume was wandering around rather blindly, bumping into furniture in what was supposed to be a mock-up of a 1960's sitting room. One costume that did cause me some confusion was one that a rather rotund lady was wearing. I wasn't too sure whether she was supposed to be a Dalek or a ladybird due to the spotted skirt that she was wearing or an Austin 7 with the pseudo- car indicator lenses that she was wearing on an Alice band on her hair.
Members of UNIT were wandering around in abundance and one welcome sight was that of John Levene aka Sergeant Benton from the original series. I must admit that he was looking rather well-preserved and I can only assume that he was still rather trim despite his advancing years if that was his original UNIT uniform that he was wearing. He was wandering around, happily posing for pictures or chatting with fans and their families and as I will come to later, appearing on judging panels for various events...
As you can tell from the title of this article, Dear Reader, Daleks in all their sinister glory, were rolling around, lording it up over everyone. All credit to those fans who built them during their spare time as they were very much labours of love. One that did raise a few eyebrows and the corners of mouths was one that was informally called Disco Dalek. Basically, it was a latter day Dalek with half its carapace blown away exposing the nasty little monocular glob inside. With LED's and lights dotted around inside it, it could move in all directions and the Kaled mutant inside could waggle its tentacles and move its eye from side to side. The LED's and lights inside it could flash randomly or in time to music, which it was doing for most of the afternoon. Unfortunately, the only song in its repertoire was 'Gangnam Style' by Korean pop star Psy. Nevertheless, it did not stop it from shuffling around in a rather jerky and staccato style, belching out clouds of dry ice and exhorting everyone within earshot, to do it Gangnam Style, in other words, pretending that you are riding an imaginary horse whilst twirling an imaginary lariat,.. In other words, looking like an idiot and making a complete t*t of yourself .
By that time, our collective stomachs were starting to rumble so we decided to take a break for lunch. Myself, Fake Crumbly and the Dunns; real and fake went into the restaurant while El Presidente and Asda Man availed themselves of a burger stand adjacent to where the Dalek races were to be held. From what shouting and cheering we could hear, the Dalek races were both fun and chaotic at the same time. Both Adam and Scott confirmed this when they came into the restaurant to meet up with us.
The Dalek Invasion of Portsmouth was very much a family affair and this was confirmed when we all decided to take a trip upstairs in the main building to have our picture taken with a Dalek, all set against a background of various landmarks in Portsmouth, including the Spinnaker Tower and the statue of a Royal Marine, all ablaze and in various states of ruin, thanks to the Daleks tender ministrations. All around us were scenes of parents either trying to keep their excitable and/or sugar-rushing children under control or them sitting at a table doing some colouring. Other attractions included face-painting and Fake Keith said in no uncertain terms that she wanted to return to Crawley with a rendition of everyone's favourite Doctor Who villain painted on one of her cheeks
Fed and watered and ready for more, we made our way back to the marquee where the metaphorical walls of my sanity were to finally come tumbling to the ground.
Humorously billed as The X-Terminate Factor, the reason for the large projection scree placed between the partitions at the end of the marquee became blindingly apparent.. After we took our seats and the crowd settled down, the judges came out and took their places at a bench set to one side of the stage. The panel consisted of the aforementioned John Levene, one of the masters (no pun intended as he was dressed in a black suit and sunglasses and was supposed to be John Simm's Master) but the guy looked more like a superannuated Blues Brother, and reasonable facsimilies of Tom Bakers and David Tennants Doctor. You could almost imagine Simon Cowell sitting there, with his Botox-enhanced, lizard-like face, staring at the contestant as though he was weighing up their soul and finding it wanting, before uttering; “I'm sorry but it's a No from me...”
The first contestant came out onto the stage but couldn't sing as it couldn't see the writing as it scrolled up the screen. The second fared better as it gave a partial rendition on the song it was supposed to be singing. However, the third contestant beat them all plungers-down with a hearty rendition of The Proclaimers hit song '500 Miles'. Its singing voice, if it could be called that, was relatively clear and it even managed to slip in a few improvised lines about walking, or rolling, 500 miles to exterminate the Doctor.
All too soon, it was time for the finale of the days proceedings with a massed trundle around the grounds of the museum. This occurred after the fancy dress contest had finished and it was time for every Dalek in attendance to roll out into the Spring sunshine and have its moment in the spotlight. It was announced that the Daleks would set off in single file to proceed around the grounds and then reassemble by the main steps into the museum for the final photo shoot of the day. So off they all went, with an ever-growing retinue of kids and adults trailing in their wake, like metallic Pied Pipers on an afternoons constitutional around the grounds.
It wasn't too long before they returned and lined up to take their accolades. Aand what a sight it was, with the several Daleks that were in attendance that day at the front and numerous cosplayers, Doctors and their assistants, scarecrows, French Dandy automatons, UNIT officers, Cybermen and a host of others lining up behind, ready for their pictures to be taken.
In summing up, I saw a news report of both Saturdays and Sundays events on the regional Meridian news and almost four thousand people attended over both days, which was very heartening as this was a relatively new event for the Royal Marines Museum to host. I can only see an event like this gaining in popularity, especially in the light of the 50th anniversary celebrations for Doctor Who this year. A very family-orientated event that I am sure we will be going back to next year...