Sonic Screwdriver #100
As part of the gigantic issue #100, a history of the Doctor Who Club of Victoria and its publications was contributed by eighteen committee members and editors. As I enthusiastically wrote 3500 words worth, my section was very heavily edited (the whole history article took 15 pages). But here, for the first time, is the whole lot. (I later co-edited issues 107 and 108 to help Daniel Payne get up to speed.)
Editing Sonic Screwdriver was quite possibly the craziest thing I ever did. Staying up overnight to make sure it gets to the printers in time, manipulating seven trillion and three pieces of garbled grammar into readable form, printing out dozens of copies of a single page just to get rid of some tiny error, and convincing small novels they really wanted to fit into three pages (including the picture with it!).
Thankfully, it was also a great challenge, introduced me to stacks of very talented and fun people, and provided some fabulous moments of accomplishment.
First, let me indulge in a little personal history. Like many fans, I was hooked onto Doctor Who early on in life. One of my early memories is staying up late to see the original screening of The Five Doctors, with my younger sister complaining bitterly when she wasn’t also allowed to (being a school night, you see. My sister, incidentally, fell into the group of people who bag Doctor Who all the time, and then watch every episode as it comes out). It was a pity mum also chose the time to vacuum the house…
I was quick to take advantage of my local library’s policy of allowing unlimited borrowings at any one time (images of a dump truck pulling up for some especially eager reader, or would-be book store starter, still plague me) by marching in and grabbing a dozen novelisations at a time. Then I’d be home, sit down with them piled to one side, and with remarkable speed a second pile of read books would appear. Then repeat the process.
And I wonder why my eyes are buggered…
Anyway, come 1985 and I was off to the USA for four years. This time saw my first incursion into fandom and fanzines. I organised a few showings of Season 25 stuff at Cornell University, ran some Who role-playing games, joined the (now infamous) Doctor Who Club of America, and made my first contributions to a fanzine. This came in the form of reviews of the then-screening Happiness Patrol and Greatest Show in the Galaxy (just for the sake of mindless detail, the former ended up with 41% and the latter 70%). Even at this point, I had ambitions of doing my own zine "someday".
Return to Melbourne (thank God!), go to my first convention (the original Whovention), join the DWCV, subscribe to a gob of zines, write stuff for quite a few of them, and soon it’s 1992. The club committee (Shane Cook and co) resign after quite a few years work, and come AGM I find myself in a General Committee position.
Amusingly (in retrospect), the very first Committee decision was whether to go with the new zine Sean-Paul Smith was offering the club — Black Light. To believe the rhetoric, it would be all on slick paper with lots of big names internationally contributing, and would rival DWB within the year — but for the club to take it on, Sonic Screwdriver would have to go. We voted for Sonic, and the rest is history: Sonic has grabbed three Double Gammas for best zine since then. Black Light hasn’t.
Anyway (yes, I will get on to my time as Editor soon!), new president Geoff Tilley grabbed his chance to edit Sonic, and while what he produced had some decent writing in it, it was not exactly brilliant on the presentation side. How he did it at all I have no idea — I remember visiting his place once to see scores of typewritten scraps of paper scattered across his bedroom floor. A few did end up out of order in the finished product…
So I stuck up my hand to do Sonic — as did other committee members Marco Cappiello and Matthew Proctor. In the end, Marco looked after the contributions side of things from issue 78 to 81, while Matthew and I actually presented the look of the magazine. So my first contribution as Editor of Sonic was with issue 78…
(There you go, only took me 650 words to get to the point!)
So I now pop over to the bookshelf and pull out my issues of Sonic Screwdriver — all 16 of them. Let’s take a tour through them…
Looking back at my first issue, you can tell that the new regime hadn’t produced all that many writers yet. The text is just so big! But we see the basic format that would remain for quite some time with the question marks flanking each page (actually, to let a secret out, they aren’t question marks — they’re really Peter Davison’s sideburns).
Some of the features that stand out are the story behind the Who pinball game, a couple stories by Robert Mammone, and a New Adventure review by Kate Orman before she got hers in! You can also see a stack of very cute cartoons by Polly Morgan, and already emerging is my tendency to ask for trouble with the Dalek From Hell on the front cover and a crucified Cyberman within.
And on the back cover is a brilliant pic by Aron Challinger of the cat and internal workings of the TARDIS from Cat’s Crucible — a picture good enough for my aunt to copy and mount in her living room.
Let’s go on to issue 80, and see some big changes. First off, the text is tiny as I struggle to fit so much stuff in! Celebrating the thirtieth anniversary, we see a gorgeous wrap-around painted cover by Jason Towers. We still have the quaint title of ‘The Land of Fiction’ for all the stories, though Cry Wolf, a sequel to The Curse of Fenric, is far from a quaint tale. This is probably the most article-packed issue of my reign, and I know many feel it may just be the best Sonic ever. Plus there’s interviews with John ‘Alydon’ Lee and Kate Ann Orman, marking the start of an era when interviews would move from near non-existent to quite common in Sonic.
At this stage both Marco and Matthew bailed out, and I became the editor. This is possibly why issue 82 remains my favourite. Titled ‘a nice violent issue’ on the cover, it certainly lives up to that name with two wickedly vicious covers by Daniel Heald, three rather painful stories and two articles on the portrayal of violence in Who. This issue also has a few firsts — the BookWyrm debuts (bring him back, Andrew!) and there’s also the first appearance of the f-word in Sonic. There was some debate over this at the time, but the fact remains that in the context of the story it appeared in it was right. And we had put a ‘WARNING: Prudes may be offended’ notice up the top, after all…
The only thing that I hate about issue 82 is how the first news article was butchered by Matthew Proctor, who had just retired from the club committee to become organiser (or is that too strong a word?) of the con (pun intended) Survival, but was still delivering Sonic to the printers. He took advantage of this to make a few unapproved and damn ugly changes before giving it to the printers. I was not impressed…
To issue 83. The Spielberg news broke, we showed you the original Goth Opera cover before they took all the blood off Nyssa’s blouse, and the ‘Inappropriate Jobs for Daleks’ cartoon series was started off by Jeremy Sear. Colin Thornby pushed my luck again with Adric waking up to sticky sheets (gawd, weren’t I a little rebel when I was young!), but the main features were the two articles on the meanings of names in Who — where you could learn, for example, that the Brigadier’s blazer in Mawdryn Undead had a logo which read ‘five into one’ in Latin.
After the previous packed issues, issue 84 is definitely a light one. My habit of putting really bad puns on the front cover is getting into full swing, and there’s plenty of fine artwork, but overall it’s a bit empty. I like Rod Scott’s warning that large video collections are a fire hazard. And the front cover, showing what will soon be a new member of the Cyber race, at least gave spring to a sensational Deep Thought letter later on. Oh yes, and that annoying merchandise report wormed its way into Sonic proper with this issue — but at least then you could fit the entire thing on the one page, not a dozen or so like now!
Issue 85 was supposed to be the comedy issue. But then David Hoskin and Matthew K. Sharp ended up writing rather serious (though very good) pieces instead, and left holding the fort was the first of the three-part farce that was Tears in Time. The number of in-jokes and insultings of Tegan in that very silly merger of the Who and Snow White universes (before you count all the Paul Cornell-inspired fan wank! Oops, can I say that work, Mister Editor?) is legendary… Also of note was the world-first printing of the tale that got Roz and Chris accepted as New Adventure companions. Oh yeah, did I mention how every issue we got a different story on how the Americans were working out how to take absolutely forever to make a single telemovie?
Following his little tale of Forrester and Cwej, Andy Lane was up for interviewing in issue 86. As often occurred around this time, a hefty chunk of the issue was devoted to a Robert Mammone story — this one, Conspiracy, saw the Brigadier convincing a new defence minister of UNIT’s value with, let us say, a rather unorthodox (and quite heart attack-inducing) method. Brilliant stuff, Robert! Up for their first of many contributions we also saw David Mark Sasche and Rohan Spong.
As we come to the half-way mark of my era as editor, let’s take a look at the actual process of getting Sonic to you during this time. To start with, each issue holds something like 20,000 words, and apart from my very first issue there was never quite enough space. My time with Sonic was, I believe, different to that faced by all previous editors in that filling each issue was not the problem — fitting it all in was! A very nice predicament…
Having said that, I did print end up printing the vast majority of things sent to me. Of course, some needed quite a bit of help to become comprehensible, but beneath just about every story there exists a real spark, and if I helped some people get the best out of the writing, great! Pictures tend to be harder, as far more of them are sent in, and you generally can’t just stick them in on their own.
More often that not, a number of pieces grabbed their spot immediately due to their superior quality. This will then probably leave you with a gap in some area — all the really good things this issue might be stories, for example. So I’ve got to bring in some articles or some comedy — anything to balance out the issue. This is also an issue when planning the layout of the issue — unless you’re trying to establish a theme for the issue, it helps to scatter the stuff around. This can be particularly important when you want to have a picture or other eye-catching bit on every set of facing pages. To use an actual example, an article on copyright in fandom can be paired with the first page of a comic strip. Getting this all to fit is harder than you’d think…
How long did I spend on each issue? I have no idea, but it was A LOT. One of my particular goals was to eliminate all errors, be they spelling, weird grammar or a picture not being perfectly aligned. I think I went pretty well on this — but when each issue is 20,000 words long, and you’ll be proofing everything at least three times, it takes a while. For this reason, the club committee would come along to my place on the weekend prior to Sonic going to the printers and help proof the zine. Rod Scott took the rank of best proofer for two reasons — one, he’s old enough that grammar means something to him and two, he’s selfless enough to actually read everything in detail! One of the other key features of these proofing days, especially later on, would be the betting on when Richard Nolan would turn up! We’d whack a sheet of paper up on my door, and everyone would put down their bids, and more often than not, the bid for the latest time would win. And while the proofing day would eke out hundreds of errors, I’d always find at least one hundred more afterwards. In the end, if you want it done right, you do it yourself. (On a side note, I found 196 errors in Andrew’s first issue of Sonic, possibly more than in all of my issues combined… I had to get an extra copy so I could mark it up in red pen!)
As you may have picked up in my editorials, as time went on and my university loading went up, Sonic came more and more to be a last-week job. Thankfully, my increased experience and the fact that I was using a (basically) set format meant I could do it in that smaller time. It did, however, result in quite a few sleepless nights as I struggled to get the issue to the printers in time — but apart from the vagaries of Australia Post, I never failed to get Sonic Screwdriver to you on time. Just.
Sonic in my time was brought to you, apart from my final issue, courtesy of my trusty old 1987 Macintosh II using the program Ready, Set, Go!, and printed on a Laserprinter IINTX. Bromiding (making photos dotty so they’ll copy well) was done by the folks at Monash University, and the actual printing was done all over the place, sometimes not all that well. There’s nothing more annoying that having your masterpiece ruined by crap printing. For my final issue I’d upgraded to a PowerMac, which, if nothing else, made screen updates and printing six trillion times faster. I’d also picked up lots of tricks by the end — for example, you could get really good printings of photos from my printer if you print at twice the size you want and photocopy it down.
And I haven’t mentioned the regular features — getting New and Missing Adventure reviews on short notice, working out a different way to refer to the Contents page in the list of contents, and writing the bloody news! I hate writing the news!
But back to our look through the issues, with #87. This issue saw our longest ever proofing day, with Richard Nolan hanging around till after 3 am Monday morning. Worse, just as we thought we were done, we found out that Survival had not sent Sophie Aldred her plane tickets to actually get out here. Argh! Out went the Ace cover replaced by a collage of Cyberman photos as I scrambled for something to put there (in the end, it looked great, and I regret not doing more photo covers). Out went a Sophie article we’d spent hours making half comprehensible, with a consequent major shuffling of pages. In went lots of barbs at the Survival organisers — indeed, you’ll see them all through the list of contents in the next three or so issues! For example, the back photographic cover of Sylv and cat-people gets referred to as "Survival, at the arse end, so to speak"…
Next issue saw the Ace cover get its chance, along with the very subtle message informing readers we’d won the Double Gamma for best zine for the third time running. Inside, highlights included a gorgeous picture and disturbing story by Daniel Heald — which he had written while being bored at Survival!
Issue 89 saw some real stunners — Daniel Payne made his debut with a great Fendahl story, even if it was 5600 words long. Just the start of him hogging the page count… Chris Bland showed convincingly how "the Doctor" is really three totally separate people, and Isabella von Lichtan sent in that bloody weird, but oh-so-jaw-dropping, painting of the first Dalek shopping trolley on the moon. This issue also saw the debut of The Black Box on the ad page, where you may have missed some absolute gems (or just really bad puns).
The next issue has a soft spot for me in that DWCV member, and future committee representative, Colin Russell choose to make an etching on marble of the front cover, which currently sits atop one of my book shelves. Cool! Inside you find a not-at-all naff interview with set designer Evan Hercules, and yet more speculation over the no-longer-Amblin film. But my favourite is the letter from Barry Shore, who picked up a housemate’s copy of Sonic, and was inspired to write some fiction for the first time in his life. Now that gives me a great feeling of accomplishment. His story was also hard to keep a straight face for until we re-phrased his first four words:
’Come forward.’ Ace swallowed.
Issue 91 saw the start of possibly one of the silliest things I did as editor — approve a long-form comic when it wasn’t yet done. Mistaken Identity, by Rohan Spong, went through the dramas of last-minute drawing, Australia Post losing registered mail and one really good-looking part being printed horribly. Argh! Following this, I was extremely surprised to see Andrew start with a similar form comic in his first issue… Otherwhere, we saw the regular brilliant combination of a Daniel Payne epic with a Daniel Heald nasty picture. We also saw the first of our Celebrity Fan Interviews with Jennifer Keyte (later came a hilarious one with Tony Martin of Martin Molley).
Issue 92 is one of my faves. It has silly stuff (The Fungi out of Time and a Birthright review along the bottom of all the pages), a world-Joseph-Furst interview, a shocking story from Robert Mammone, and controversy as Sarah J Groenewegen responds to an earlier article by David Mark Sasche. Oh yeah, according to the editorial, I finished this issue at 4:06 in the morning. And the Line Dropper finally returned to Deep Thought!
By contrast, scanning through issue 93 shows the best bit being the Silly Black Box, courtesy of Lance Parkin:
Ooh, while I’m here, here’s the Terrance Dicks’ guide to "All you need to know about the characterisation of the new TARDIS crew"
’Och, let’s go to Troxos 4,’ said the Doctor enigmatically.
’Sounds great,’ Benny replied sarcastically.
’Yeah, it does, doesn’t it?’ Chris said enthusiastically.
(This is the first of my new regular fiction features for DWM’s Very Brief Encounters.)
I could mention the latest collaboration of the Daniels (Payne and Heald), but that would be repetitive…
And before we know it, it’s time for the "new-look" Sonic. With the benefits of some extra time in the holidays, but not quite enough to get around to making sure that each of the superbly designed pages actually didn’t clash garishly with the others, the new layout was launched onto the unsuspecting readers. It featured the demise of Avant Garde as the main font, but to bait all those who had called for that, a somewhat similar one named Brassfield replaced it. Unfortunately, while it looked really good, half the readers couldn’t tell a ‘4’ from a ‘1’, or a full stop from a comma. Whoops. It may also be indicative that I don’t note any particular pieces to bring to your attention.
The end comes nigh. Doing issue 95 showed most clearly that I really didn’t have the time for Sonic anymore — though most people would have come to this conclusion far earlier! This was most disappointing it that I had set my target for issue 100, but with final-year projects and working two days a week intruding, I just couldn’t keep up. This issue saw the introduction of our new logo, still gracing the cover. We’ve got a bit of fiddling with the "new look", and the return of the Cyberbunny to compete with the Easter Dalek for the back page. I still reckon the new reviews pages look damn cool.
Having just seen the solid slab that was the New Adventure Handbook, I offered the editorship as a whole to Andrew Deans. He accepted, did << ED: Bleep! >> with it (just joking), and so the new reign began. With 196 errors in his first issue…
Here’s the list of the Doctor Who articles available here
→ A Bit of Adric in All of Us
→ Ace Timeline
→ Cursed References
→ Doctor Who Collectible Card Game FAQ
→ Doctor Who Collectible Card Game Tips
→ Doctor Who in America
→ History of the Daleks
→ History of Doctor Who
→ History of the fanzine Sonic Screwdriver
→ How I Killed a Fanzine (or, What’s an EFG?)
→ Survival the (Con)vention
→ The Doctor and I (First Memories)
→ The Doctor and I (1985 — Move to the USA)
→ The Doctor and I (Organised Fandom? Huh?)
→ The Doctor and I (Doctorin’ Ithaca)
→ The Doctor and I (Back to Melbourne)
→ The Doctor and I (Whovention)
→ The Doctor and I (David, Meet the DWCV)
→ The Doctor and I (Enlightenment)
→ The Doctor and I (The Blankety Blank Era)
→ The Doctor and I (Q Who)
→ The Doctor and I (DWCV Committee, Meet David)
→ The Doctor and I (Whovention II (Control))
→ The Doctor and I (Sonic Screwdriver, Meet David (and Marco and Matthew))
→ The Relative Confusion of The Curse of Fenric
→ What Makes a Warrior?
→ What’s in a Name?
→ Or just head back to the Doctor Who Index
This page last updated by David J Richardson on Sun, 27 Apr 2003.