I spent this afternoon at Faringdon Arts Festival, a thoroughly community-based event in Faringdon in south-west Oxfordshire (or north-west Berkshire if you abhor the 1974 boundary changes) with which renaissance man of writing Paul Cornell
is involved. With live music (all kinds, very very good) playing through from the Market Place, the Breakfast Room in the Old Crown played host not only to Mr Cornell but to his fellow contributor to the Cardiff fantasty factory, Phil Ford, chief writer for The Sarah Jane Adventures
. For two hours audiences were treated to live commentaries from their authors on first Phil's SJA
story The Last Sontaran
, and then Paul's The Family of Blood
has given a great account of what transpired already on her journal. My main impression was of the children - having been a fan through the long wilderness years when Doctor Who
and all concerned with it existed in a parallel universe inhabited by the definitely late teenage-plus, rainwear elbowing for space alongside battered leather jackets and perhaps too-crushed velvet. Now, the kids are most definitely in town, and asking the right questions for the most part, though one eight-year-old clearly already thought he should be running the show... Phil clearly enjoyed talking about his inspiration though most of his audience were too young to have seen Predator
, which inspired his image of the invisible Sontaran; he cheerfully admitted to the sleight-of-hand by which the episode forced the pace of chase sequences to avoid resolving the question why Kaagh didn't just blast the SJA
kids down. He gave a good answer to one child's question: "Apart from the news [Phil having admitted to finding inspiration in a news story about a satellite falling to earth], where do you get your ideas?" urging them to read and watch as much as they could. One boy was adamant that K9 was dead in Doctor Who
, having no memory of the replacement K9 left behind with Sarah at the end of School Reunion
, and thought that SJA
was guilty of a continuity error in still having K9 there, if I understood him correctly. When Phil explained that this was not so, the boy exclaimed "So he is in Cardiff!" which was not really what viewers are meant to think given the occasional references to Sarah living in Ealing.
Paul had to get through a much more layered episode than Phil, Doctor Who
's target audience being much broader than SJA
's and having to include material that different sections of the family audience could relate to. Nonetheless the children were rapt, and the raising of several hands during the episode, despite Paul's insistence that he would not answer questions until the end, was probably a tribute to Paul's not childlike, but child-familiar obsession with the subject. I was not surprised to learn that the reason 'He who would valiant be' became the signature hymn of Human Nature/The Family of Blood
was because it contained the line 'Follow the Master'; I'd forgotten that the episode ends on a medium close-up of the fobwatch, in the centre of the picture, in the elderly Tim's hand; and there was much amused speculation on how Professor Yana could have released the Master's essence from a cricket ball, if that had remained the vehicle for the Doctor's Time Lord nature while part of him was being John Smith.
All in all, a good idea - it was good to take this kind of retrospective out of venues like BAFTA and the BFI and place it among the folk culture where it really belongs.
Some pictures ( behind a cut )