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Room 101


A Sci Fi Worlds Interview with Richard Holland

This fortnight I've been fortunate enough to get Richard Holland (editor of Paranormal Magazine) back to do a special Sci-Fi Worlds interview. You can check out our earlier interview, discussing the world of poltergeists and other ghostly phenomena here

Richard Thomas: Growing up in the 1990s, I didn't really have my own Doctor (unless you count the Paul McGann TV movie in 1996) but if I had to pick a personal favourite I would have to pick Jon Pertwee's incarnation. Watching him Sunday mornings on UK Gold, I really believed he was a mega genius scientist from another world.

Who was your Doctor growing up and which one would you say is your all-time favourite?

Richard Holland: For those of us who were lucky enough to grow up with Who on the air, it seems common that the first Doctor you remember is the one who remains your favourite. For me, then, it's Patrick Troughton, despite only having the very vaguest memories of watching him (I'd have been only 4 when his tenure ended). Nevertheless, reading al the Target books in the 70s reaffirmed my love for his character (and the few surviving stories I've seen on video since confirming it). I like Pertwee a lot but he was a much more archetypal hero, a show-off even, but Troughton's Doctor was so self-effacing, often pottering about in the background making things happen.

Small, fragile, yet possessing this enormous courage and unswerving sense of justice. He's a totally British hero: I cannot imagine a hero like him originating in any other country. And he was very funny and likeable, too, of course. Having said all that, the Philip Hinchliffe era Tom Baker runs a very close second. Alas, he became a tosser from about ‘77 onwards.

Richard Thomas: Other than Genesis of the Daleks (everyone's favourite) do you have a particular favourite story?

Richard Holland: Well, that's an assumption. I admire Genesis but it's not my favourite. I prefer Seeds of Doom and Weng Chiang and Pyramids of Mars and Ark in Space (if we're talking about Tom Baker). Tomb of the Cybermen, The Web of Fear and Fury From The Deep would have to be included. Also, The Daemons, Terror of the Autons and Green Death. The opening episode of The Daleks remains one of the finest Who moments in TV history and The Daleks Invasion of Earth is classy as hell. And The Empty Child still has me gawping at its genius and effrontery. Sorry, I've lived and breathed Dr Who from birth: it's impossible to name an absolute favourite.

Richard Thomas: Robert Holmes' Terror of the Autons, The Ark in Space, Pyramids of Mars and The Caves of Androzani are just some of my favourites. Why do you think Holmes' stories are so popular with fans and do you think Steven Moffat (Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead) might be the writer to finally give Holmes a run for his money?

Richard Holland: I hadn't read this question when I answered the last one, but it's no surprise to find you've mentioned a couple of my own faves. There's no secret to Robert Holmes's and Steven Moffat's success and popularity: they're both bloody good writers, imaginative, able to tightly plot a story and capable of creating memorable, believable characters. They get the balance between horror/fear and humour just right. Moffat as the new Holmes? Yes, that seems fair.

Richard Thomas: As a Doctor Who fan and Paranormal researcher if you were ever asked to come up with an idea for a new Who story and/or monster what would it be?

Richard Holland: I do have a few ideas bubbling away in my subconscious, including one based on Welsh fairylore, but nothing mind-blowing. If I had the chance, I'd ask permission to write a new Yeti yarn. I like the idea of some dotty old lady clairvoyant, trying to get in touch with ‘the other side' and finding herself possessed by the Great Intelligence instead. The next thing you know, she's got glowing red eyes, the room has become full of a mysterious fog and all the Yetis stashed away at UNIT suddenly come to life…

Richard Thomas: My other favourite Doctor Who writer has to be Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks. How do you think he would have responded to the way the Daleks have been used in the new series?

I have one complaint myself and that's that the Daleks are now pretty much extinct. I miss the old series idea of a vast interstellar Dalek Empire that threatens all intelligent creation. You never used to know whether the TARDIS had materialised on one of the countless worlds the Daleks had conquered or not and that scared me a little when I was a younger viewer.

Richard Holland: Frankly, I don't think Terry Nation would care less what they did so long as he was getting the royalties. I do feel some of the new stories have pulled the Daleks' teeth somewhat, despite the reminders in the script about how invincible they supposedly are. That one in Manhattan was ludicrous but I loved the mad, religious maniac Emperor in the Ecclestone season and the big send-off last season had a feel of the old Dalek Empire about it.

Richard Thomas: I'm also a big fan of Terry Nation's Blake's 7. Living during the 21st century Terror Wars, the series (about a group of freedom fighters battling an evil totalitarian government) probably resonates more now than ever. My favourite episodes have to be the first episode The Way Back where Blake rediscovers he is really a political decedent and is sentenced to life imprisonment on Cygnus Alpha; Trial where Blake's nemesis Travis is finally put on trial for the massacres of political groups; and the final episode Blake, of course, where everyone is finally haunted down and eliminated by the Federation.

Do you have any favourite moments or episodes of the series?

Richard Holland: I have mixed feelings about Blake's 7. I was a fan of the first two series or so and even contributed to an old Who/Blake fanzine called Frontier Worlds back in the day but watching them again more recently I found them rather uninspiring, even episodes I remembered fondly like Orac. There were some great characters, though, with Servalan and the original Travis actor, and Avon and Vila, making two great double-acts.

Richard Thomas: Which vision of the future do you think Mankind is closer to someday realising, Nation's Orwellian interstellar police state in Blake's 7 or Gene Rodenberry's utopian United Federation of Planets in Star Trek?

Personally I think it's sadly Blake's 7. Though if the series was ever revived like Battlestar Galactica it might remind people that DNA databases, anti-depressant drugs, surveillance cameras and even torture are not supposed to be the products of a free and open society. Then maybe we could avoid the "third century of the second calendar" and the authoritarian Earth Federation.

Richard Holland: I would tend to agree that an approach of commonsense and even-handedness never seems to thrive. But that's because we've become too used to a technology-based, patriarchal social system. Earlier cultures were mellow and happy. I think if technology takes a different direction, opening up our minds to the truth about ourselves and about the universe around us, the technocrat bullies mind find themselves in for a big surprise. Suddenly the Many might not allow the bullying Few to rule.

Richard Thomas: I know you're a big Hammer Horror fan like me. My top ten Hammer films have to be:

The Quatermass trilogy,
The Abominable Snowman,
Horror of Dracula,
Brides of Dracula,
Dracula: Prince of Darkeness,
Curse of Frankenstein,
Revenge of Frankenstein,
The Devil Rides Out,
The Mummy,
Twins of Evil.

As you can tell by the list I'm a big Nigel Kneale fan too. Do you have a top ten you would like to share ?

Richard Holland: Isn't it cheating having a trilogy counting as one? I'd include The Quatermass Xperiment because the original series doesn't survive (and because Richard Wordsworth's performance as the monster is superb) but I wouldn't include the other two because the TV versions were so much better. Quatermass and the Pit was a decent attempt, with Kneale adapting it himself, but couldn't match the original. I'm amazed to see Twins of Evil in a top 10 but then a few of mine might have you raising your eyebrows. In chronological order:

The Quatermass Xperiment,
X the Unknown,
Curse of Frankenstein,
Horror of Dracula,
The Mummy,
Curse of the Werewolf,
Plague of the Zombies,
The Devil Rides Out,
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell,
Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter.

I'd like to include Horror Express as well – what a fantastic romp - but of course it's not a Hammer film.

Richard Thomas: Thanks mate, hope we can do something together again sometime. Twins of Evil might not be the best film ever but I love Peter Cushing's performance in it as fanatical Puritan witch hunter Gustav: "Seek out the Devil worshipers ... by burning them!"

Don't forget to remind people about where they can find Paranormal Magazine and your other projects.

Richard Holland: Cheers, Richard. Paranormal Magazine is available in UK newsagents and in Barnes & Noble in the States. You can buy copies direct from paranormalmagazine.co.uk (postage is free within the UK), or download digital copies from zinio.com. You might also like to check out my blog site, a bunch of articles I've written on British ghosts and folklore (with a few guest writers): www.uncannyuk.co.uk

Richard Thomas, BoA UK Correspondent and Columnist.