Archive for the ‘ZEUS PLUG’ Category

Zeus Plug flashback: issue one

Monday, November 18th, 2013

To mark November being Tennant month, here’s a return to Zeus Plug‘s debut, and a Tenth Doctor focus straight outta The Christmas Invasion. Oh, we were all so optimistic back then, weren’t we? Feel that youthful hope…

X the Unknown

Illustration: Alistair HughesIn the year 2000 BBC Books, saddled with a Doctor four years into his tenure and carrying a history about him like a tortoise does a shell, took a drastic measure. It made the Eighth Doctor forget who he was, not just for one story, but for a year. Eschewing his companions, temporal knowledge and TARDIS, and for nearly a hundred human years experienced the world and his environment fresh and unaided. This wasn’t the first time such a thing had been done of course – Virgin Books had done a similar thing with the Seventh Doctor in Paul Cornell’s Human Nature; but that story, like every story before it and the ‘Caught on Earth’ cycle, returned the Doctor to his present history-steeped, continuity sodden ‘familiar self’. Of course, what Richards needed, most likely wanted to do that no story before had been able to do, and what he could never hope to achieve, was not making the Doctor forget who he was, but his audience.

Five years later the idea would seem moot, because now most sensibly, Doctor Who is made for a new audience, not a curmudgeonly and shrinking fan base tied to the old series and its continuity. Played from the outset very smartly, with few instances of a ‘restart’ button having been pressed, and (thankfully) no strange desires to make the Doctor half-human, the Eccleston series has been a smash hit. The issue at the end of his supposed first season? The short televised life of the Ninth Doctor, gazumphed in a BBC plot (sort of).

With that in mind, and the how’s return neatly assured, the real gambit would surely be the first regeneration – hardly the surprise that it was in 1966, but still an effective show changer. The Tenth Doctor, therefore, is RTD’s newest gamble, and The Christmas Invasion saw him arrive in style. David Tennant – young actor, a board-treader recently tested with some RTD-produced top shelf BBC fare. But what of the new Doctor himself? The Christmas Invasion, whatever individual fans may review it as, is a master-stroke, and it’s all in the imagery. Blood, shades of the occult, lots of shouting and visceral reds courtesy of the Sycorax, tribal paraphernalia recalling some aspects of the Lord of the Rings movies, and then there’s the Doctor himself. It may well be that in this story the quintessential image of Tennant’s Doctor – of any Doctor for the new century, has been achieved.

And this may be a scary thought if we’ve peaked this early. Nevertheless, can there be a more Doctorish image than that of our hero wielding a sword high above London in his pyjamas? It’s both sublime and ridiculous, projecting bravado and peril as well as delivering a knowing nod to the British tele-fantasy heroes of old as well as those more recent – Arthur Dent’s dressing gown, Harry Potter’s sword. It’s also a neat reflection of Davison’s Doctor’s first moments in Castrovalva; incapacitated, rendered all but useless while some greater peril gathers strength about him. In all its vulnerability its also a symbol of confidence – the polar opposite of Tennant’s predecessor with his tough leather-clad and cropped hair exterior but soft, guilt-ridden centre.

Indeed, if rumour is to be believed, that this season’s theme is of the new Doctor’s over-extended confidence and perilous self-assuredness, then its initial story neatly galvanises both ideas – of the handing down of some very British hero archetypes with an internal motif being developed. What to make of the Satsuma? Is it the ‘Torchwood’ of the new series, appearing as it does in two stories to date (if you care to include Attack of the Graske)? Probably not.


Zeus Plug retrospective: The Disappearing Doctor

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

In anticipation of the next ‘Eras’ feature, we present a reprint of the feature article of ‘Zeus Plug’ issue 7, ‘The Disappearing Doctor’, first published mid-2006...

   In November this year the Eighth Doctor will embark on a new series of adventures. Two, in fact, as around this time it’s anticipated that BBC Books will resume their run of Past Doctor Adventures, the Eighth Doctor being one of these now, of course. What does this mean? What could the potential impact be to the series and fandom in general? The answer to both questions is most likely and very sadly, ‘very little’. Ten years on from his debut, it is becoming increasingly evident that the Eighth Doctor is somewhat less than the sum of his many parts.

There are a few reasons for this. The series itself and fandom with it are in rude health – which is by no means a bad thing – we not only have a new series but two new Doctors, new stories and, bless them, new and young fans enjoying the show and giving it lovely lovely ratings. We’ve never had it so good – well, not for quite while. This ought to be good news for the old show as well as old Doctors. A further reason is that in its wilderness years the series may have been idle but fandom wasn’t. Licensed novels, the comic strips of DWM and Big Finish’s audio adventure series ensured and contributed severally to an ongoing chronology for many (and in some cases all) of the Doctor’s previous incarnations that not only broadened but to some degree challenged the traditional canon of Doctor Who. The series no longer had to be defined by the TV series first because while TV was no longer an option for new stories the new media was, and to some fans they were much more than mere adequate ‘make-dos’ – they were superior, worth following in their own right.

Here’s where the problem really started, because behind each of these new endeavours lay the impetus for profit – to follow the story you had to pay for its instalments, unlike the TV series which was, to all intents and purposes, freely available. In this way the series in its alternative media both grew and, curiously, shrank despite all efforts to remain in the public consciousness. Gary Russell interviewed in TSV in 1993 predicted a future for the series that involved a small Prisoner-sized hardcore fan base, and little else. The Eighth Doctor’s extended life came at the behest of these fans and their world. Written for fans, produced by fans, and tailored to the fan market, nobody could fault the dedication of the Doctor’s champions to keep the legend alive – but any marketer could tell you that such ‘cult’ audiences are not sustainable. Is there anything fans loathe more than ‘fan creators’? Here are the peccadilloes of the ‘enthusiast’ made flesh: contemporary pastiche and vaguely-obscured tie-ins, pop culture references, multi-Doctor stories, story arcs, companion-angst, the so-called ‘crack baby’ syndrome of preachy watered-down social comment shoe-horned into an alien invasion story. The most excessive fan fiction works itself into niches within niches, and as it did so it became subject to the whims of fandom – a select audience who had their own relationship with the series and their own understanding of it – a sophisticated one, so that following anything new required the same understanding of canon and continuity. The result that spin-off media saw was that instead of reaching a new and wider audience, it merely served to alienate a lot of fans, and tighten the net around the faithful few.

Indeed, prior to the new series it is likely that fandom had shrunk. The fact that all three media presented the Eighth Doctor’s adventures as a detailed continuum meant that these new adventures were even less accessible to the casual buyer. They were all in their own way a pretty expensive way of following the Doctor’s adventures. In the front line of this new push for the fan dollar, the Eighth Doctor’s own continuity wasn’t consistent across the comic, the books and the audios – there was no need for there to be because there was no one body to regulate it. Even fandom warmed to the idea of divergent continuity, although it took them long enough. In all, these variant life spans for the Eighth Doctor would involve up to ten different companions, several ‘story arcs’ and a steady supply of fan dollars in order to be followed with any success outside of internet-based synopses – hardly a decent compromise but at least it was sort of free). The result is that the Eighth Doctor was kept alive but not whole. He is bound to several self-enclosed and separate continuities running parallel, and for the audios and books at least, these stories aren’t over yet.

Onscreen the Eighth Doctor is assuredly a growing irrelevance. In TV continuity he is isolated, marooned somewhere between Season 26 and the pre-Eccleston era ‘Time War’, of which we may or may not see anything. A good number of fans would believe that it is this event which remains the last hope of actually seeing the Eighth Doctor as portrayed in the TV movie in action on screen ever again. It could be a fitting and last hurrah for Paul McGann, and appears frequently on fan wish lists, but for the moment RTD has ruled out multi-Doctor stories, and there seems no need to realise the Time War in visual form for the moment if at all. With a mixed TV movie as his television legacy (ironically bound with best intentions to pre-existing continuity, half-humanness notwithstanding) this could be it for an incarnation that fandom largely took to heart and unwittingly ran into a series of cul de sacs. It’s a sad legacy, the one defined by and contained in merchandising. There’s every chance that Paul McGann’s return to radio (at least it’s free!) has been secured on the strength of it being of interest mainly to the series’ ‘old’ audience and therefore wouldn’t be the career-threatener its star was reluctant to attach himself to for a while. But the history of Doctor Who on radio is not a happy one, and it remains to be seen whether the efforts, expertise and talents of Big Finish (a star in descent itself, surely, against the new TV series) will help it on its way. Of all the TV Doctors I feel the Eighth got short-changed the most – even more so than the Sixth Doctor. Put simply, he was killed by best intentions. All promise, no closure for the daily press or documentary special. He remains something of a footnote to the non-fan; barely documented, briefly noted. Little wonder then that to many this incarnation has become in the words of the actor himself, the ‘George Lazenby’ of Doctor Who.


Something for the Dads

Monday, March 14th, 2011


There was a time in Doctor Who when companions came in two general ages: young to middle-aged adults and adolescents. The young adults were homogenous, defined by their jobs (teacher, scientist, astronaut), while the adolescents were variations on the motif of what might be called the ‘space orphan’. Adults were monogamous or celibate, the children pre-adolescent in emotional development and maturity. There was no hanky panky in the TARDIS, and when the opportunity threatened to appear, their landlord would ask for his key back.

Time passed, and things changed. The landlord acquired a new, younger body, no longer needing other grown men to carry out the work he couldn’t manage. His attitude towards his young companions was less grandfatherly and more along the lines of a mischievous uncle. The children grew up, but weren’t yet adults, because adults as they had been were quietly vanishing from the show. Instead these new older adolescents were caught in the twilight world of teen-to-‘tween late maturity. Just as youth culture in the outside world had emerged, blossomed and found expression in such movements as free love and pop music, and just as the new Doctor arrived sporting a culture-addressing mop top, so too the role of the companion evolved. The age of the Doctor Who beauty was born.

Early publicity photographs tell the story in themselves. The Doctor stands grim-faced, or pensive, mysterious, authoritarian. With his companions beside him, the group stare off into the distance, regarding some alien wonder or peril. Solo shots of companions are often static, less dramatic, and more self-conscious. Smiling, perhaps staring straight down the lens toward the reader, maybe (in the case of female companions) exposing an arm or leg. The exception to this is the ‘story teaser’ photograph, where a (usually female) solo companion is menaced by that week’s monster. Taking its cue from the first classic cliff-hanger to The Daleks are such variations as Vicki and Koquillion in The Rescue, Dodo and something unseen in The Savages, Victoria and an Ice Warrior in their debut, and Zoe and a Cyberman in The Wheel in Space. In each example the companion is young, female, alone and in danger. Iconic, arresting, perhaps titillating, the image is a slice of action permanently captured, voyeuristic with the helpless young woman on the brink of calamity. The last example of Wendy Padbury as Zoe is notable for not actually depicting a scene from her story. Instead it is deliberately contrived, indicating what would be in store for viewers in the immediate future: some familiar monsters, a new young companion in shapely form.

Zoe is a watershed companion, as unlikely as this may seem. While Polly’s ‘miniskirt and legs’ publicity shot is evocative of the times she is from and its icons (Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton), her on-screen costume is a fair summation of her career uniform and, like Tegan’s air stewardess outfit, is a reasonable approximation of real life attire as much as it fits a common male erotic fantasy (the secretary and the air hostess). She is a desirable modern woman, pure and simple. Zoe on the other hand comes from an imagined future – an unobtainable and sterile scientific one, with vitamin pills and electronic newspapers; it is itself a sort of fantasy fulfilment. Perhaps befitting a science fiction staple, her figure-hugging outfit is something of a wish fulfilment too – the costume designers would have had carte blanche in providing the much-vaunted ‘silhouette’ of her character. What they created was something that promised the future, but spoke very much visually of the present day. While her predecessor Victoria would have few changes of costume, and most of these of the sensible, practical kind – short skirts are seen rarely, Zoe’s outfits are invariably PVC skirts, a glittery full-body catsuit, a frilly miniskirt. Her petite frame, large eyes and (then fashionable) bob hairstyle provide visually an uneasy merging of the space orphan and the sexual woman. The companion matured into an object of desire. Returning to the initial costume, it reappears in another image, presumably from the same session – the actor shot from front on and above, looked down on but looking up smiling, coquettish, and dwarfed by the vinyl sofa she sits on. There are full length shots too, where Padbury’s character is shown closely grouped with her male co-stars; conventionally shorter than both of them, but again, never dressed so as to appear totally childlike – if not for the body suit and mini-skirts, the cut of some garments appear intended to show off the body in a very different way to Susan’s schoolgirl attire, or Vicki’s quasi-mediaeval garb. To some male fans the most memorable shot from The Mind Robber is not greatly plot related, but nevertheless finds itself replicated with some frequency in the series’ ‘clip shows’: the TARDIS fragmented, its console spinning in space, offering generous views of the new female companion’s curves as it slowly moves around.

In the series Zoe is paired with the ‘mischievous uncle’ of the Second Doctor, and also with the brave but unsophisticated Jamie – one is an intellectual match for her, the other about her age, but neither is appropriate in a romantic or sexual sense. Paired with Isobel Watkins in The Invasion, both girls enjoy an extended scene of ‘dress up’, taking photographs of each other (potentially another male fantasy, realised in the 1966 film Blow Up) before resuming the espionage action of the story. Times indeed were changing as the series responded to audience feedback and its audience itself was reaching young adulthood. Dalekmania had overturned Sydney Newman’s ‘no BEMs’ policy to deliver more monsters, more science fiction and fewer historical stories. A younger Doctor meant more action, more drama, more physical comedy, and more flash. Did more flash lead to more flesh? By the next Doctor’s era this seemed certainly the case, as even Liz Shaw’s hem lines rose within her tenure, and the crescendo was surely reached in Jo Grant, a virtual ‘Bond-babe’ by then in popular culture the required accessory dolly bid for the man of action. By the end of the Pertwee era, Women’s Lib apparently confounded things, and while it didn’t directly make its mark on the series, the choice of costume for Sarah Jane Smith, headstrong female reporter, did. Perhaps as a consequence of this bold new direction and reinvention, there are few publicity shots of Sarah Jane befitting the ‘TARDIS sexpot’ type.

In the world outside the TARDIS and the series, the female companions and their actor counterparts would eventually have to make their own mark as the latter sought to pursue roles distancing themselves from the double-edged sword that is being a Doctor Who girl. This world would be far different than anything imagined in the young years of the series – one instead where mature adult sexual relationships are the norm, if not the story of the day. It would be some time before aspects of this world would make their way into contemporary Doctor Who; for the mean-time then it remained by large a children’s series. With something extra for the Dads.

A History of Violence

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

To mark the triumphant return of the Season 22 classic Venegance on Varos as a special edition DVD (due some time in 2012), we present the feature article from Zeus Plug issue 3.

zp3webThe earliest association between the Doctor and acts of violence may well occur in An Unearthly Child where, notoriously, the first Doctor contemplates using a rock to euthanise a mortally-wounded caveman. Though he is ultimately interrupted, there is still something shocking to the scene; but not so much that the Doctor intends to kill a dying man, it’s that he sees it as an option. The Doctor Who universe has always been a dangerous place, and scarcely ten years after this scene the perils of his livelihood became a lot more visceral on-screen. ‘Body horror’ featured on a semi regular basis as a motif during the Philip Hinchcliffe-produced stories of the early Tom Baker years, as the tortuous effects of bodily transformation, mutation, and alien possession all formed part of the spectacle. Protests by Mary Whitehouse’s National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association led much of the outright violence in Doctor Who to be curtailed, but it crept back – why? And why in the era of a Doctor whom many fans might consider the least aggressive of all, Peter Davison’s fifth Doctor?

Preceding Davison was a fourth Doctor reborn large and self-confident after Hinchcliffe’s departure and the arrival of new producer Graham Williams. This Doctor strode the universe like a colossus overthrowing evil with little more than a laugh and a robot dog. It is arguable that the series’ then comic tone diminished many of the show’s menaces – Williams’ replacement John Nathan-Turner brought the Doctor down to earth (quite literally). In contrast, the fifth Doctor was once more a vulnerable individual in a hostile universe. His adventures were fraught – indeed some met with disaster, including the death of a companion; and his final run was in every sense breathless and very nearly futile. Davison’s Doctor was a desperate man living in increasingly desperate times, with serious and real limitations, because his enemies were suddenly prepared to employ brute intimidation and traumatic physical abuse to bring about his downfall. Season 21 is where this begins to feature most strikingly, and its chief architect upon whose shoulders responsibility is most often laid is Script Editor Eric Saward.

This is also where the show’s return to violence invited criticism in the Eighties, but not for the reasons identified ten years earlier, where the violent image and its suspension between episodes as a cliffhanger drew the most objection. There is no convincing evidence the Saward Era glorified violence nor depicted it as a means to an end – indeed, violence was still the mainstay of the coward, the inhuman, the professional killer. The Doctor’s participation in it however was up for question. When employed by the Doctor it was almost always as a last resort, when the odds were against him, and with little premeditation. More often than not it is ‘reactive’ rather than ‘proactive’, addressing a clear and present danger. This may not be the best response, nor the most satisfactory one, but it is worth bearing in mind that Saward also ensured his hero held a sense of self-belief that was itself somewhat shaky: “there should have been a better way”, “I misjudged Lytton”. Regret follows drastic decisions, and this contributed to the motif of the fallible and sometimes un-heroic Time Lord of the Eighties. Viewers see this concept extended further in the screen era of the Ninth Doctor, where his reluctance to act and shape events produced mixed and sometimes dangerous results. For the sixth Doctor, whose ‘character arc’ was in effect incomplete, it is this image which has stuck firmly, while his predecessor, having charted similar waters gradually over two years beforehand, is generally offered the benefit of the doubt, given some ‘gentler’ stories to buffer his reputation. Outside of fan circles it was business as usual, with few publicised protests at the level of violence in the series.

One might infer this was indicative of smaller audiences; that such behaviour was being overlooked or, indeed, that it was deemed more acceptable by viewers of the day. After all, the pop culture world outside of Doctor Who had plenty of examples of ‘men of action’ who were handy with their fists and quick with a punning dispatch line – witness The Terminator and The A Team. Popular heroes outside the series also alternatively became grittier and more physical, although interestingly, under another script editor, the era of the seventh Doctor became noted for its hero’s metamorphosis into a ‘cosmic chess player’, whose manipulation of time replaces the act of urgent resistance (and, one might argue, some of the necessary dramatic tension). One might argue that Sylvester McCoy and Andrew Cartmel’s version of the Doctor was a reaction against the prevailing Eighties obsessions, and yet not ten years later on the seventh Doctor’s swansong was itself censored in the UK for its scenes of handguns and shootings.

Today the pendulum has returned – the alien threats remain, but violence as depicted in the new series is bloodless: cybernisation is suggested, infection with ‘every disease’ occurs in a two-second special effect and swiftly passed by, Ood are dispatched offscreen. Perhaps a lesson has been re-learned, that family audiences require measured doses of fright rather than graphic horror. But while the camera script appears more merciful to the viewer, the question remains – is the Doctor similarly aligned toward his enemies now? What should we make of a Doctor who observes his own diminished ‘mercy’ in School Reunion – is it symptomatic of a forty-three year old series that we will no longer accept a hero who leaves the door open for his enemies to return and cause more suffering? Or was the gap between season 26 and Eccleston large enough that time had really moved on for the Time Lord?

The Doctor as confident trickster or violent man of action is alternately frustrated. The Saward experiment with a fallible and impulsive Doctor may have been at times ill-advised, but perhaps for that it was all the more courageous.

Our Raisins D’etre

Saturday, September 26th, 2009



We’re through the looking glass now, people, and into the first issue of Zeus Plug number one! First up, here’s Jono’s welcome to new readers with a bit of a restatement of our agenda, and the editorial, which I was pretty pleased with at the time. Updated thoughts follow…



This is not a fanzine! A fanzine needs to be A5, have at least 20 pages, and have at least one review. ZEUS PLUG isn’t any of those. It is in fact 16 A6 pages long, officially making it the smallest NZ fanzine ever!


In explaining what you’ll get from ZEUS PLUG, it’s perhaps easier to outline what you won’t see in its pages. There won’t be any reviews (bar the occasional new series story), any interviews, list articles, and no fiction. Also ZEUS PLUG is series-centric only, so you won’t see many mentions of books and audios and anyway, TSV already covers these nicely. What you will get is opinion – lots of it. fandom survives on opinion and very little of the above. The reason this zine is so small is because life’s too short to be stuck inside reading a hundred pages of miniscule type. For God’s sake, get some fresh air! Go to the pub – you can take this with you and use it as a beer mat.


Well done on getting your hands on Issue 1 – whilst ZEUS PLUG is meant to be a quick disposable read, we still recommend you put it in a safe place. That way, in 10 years time, you can milk the completists for all they’re worth.


We hope you enjoy this issue – it’s rather wonderful with some friends and a bottle of wine.






Two things I recently observed. The first was heart-warming and, I’ve been told, not unique. On the way out of Whitcoulls I passed a young father and his son –probably no more than four or five years old. “Okay”, the father said “what do you want to look for?” “Docter Oo” “Well there’s plenty of other stuff here first, mate”. Clearly a fanboy in training if another male had to talk him around. The second thing I observed last month wasn’t so good. A debate on a message board as to whether the Children in Need ‘Pudsey Cutaway’ is canon. ‘Canon?’ I had to check the calendar to see that it wasn’t still 1995.

Doctor Who fandom has been around a long time – in organised form probably since the early 1970s; in militant form, probably the mid 1980s. Fans ‘of an age’ have grown into and up with organised fandom and its various endeavours and squabbles over ‘proper’ chronologies and issues of ‘canon’. For the most part it’s been harmless fun – nobody’s lost an eye, and even off-air the series continued to live through fandom, ever growing and changing. Well, maybe changing – I suspect that as a whole we fans don’t like too much change, as several letters to DWM et cetera will attest. Now the series is back, and many of those old fans really are old fans.

We can be proud that Doctor Who nowadays is the product of fans grown up, and has been spearheaded by those who championed it even in its last days and when the original fires sputtered out. Fans kept it alive, but it’s time for fans to move on and viewers to reclaim the series and from them new fans to appear. This doesn’t mean we should stop watching or loving the series, but it does mean we have the freedom to enjoy it again as it was intended, without the self-inflicted burden of responsibility that we are somehow its appointed guardians and curators. We owe it to the next generation of fans to allow them the freedom to interpret this series in their own way and on their own terms; to revise, reinterpret, and hopefully turn fandom on its head. If we don’t, then fandom will have nothing to nothing to talk about, no new ground to cover, and may as well not exist. And then where would we be?


This is the first editorial from Zeus Plug and it’s mine. It was deliberately provocative, intended to get a conversation going, or at least a reaction from the reader. At the time Jono and I were looking toward the new series, listening and reading the advance chatter and anticipating some backlash from fans of the traditional show who were expecting – perhaps dreading, changes to the ‘essence’ of the series with its return.

Five years on and it’s especially interesting to look back on.

I’ve pitched in with my none-too-private opinions on this blog over the years of the RTD era and among the comments I’ve made you could say that a common thread is that there’s some stuff – stuff from the Tennant/Piper stories in particular, that I’ve taken issue with. This isn’t the place to resurrect those complaints or arguments, but it does rather suggest that I have become one of those fans I was warning about in the editorial below. In short, things have changed and at times I have demonstrated that I have not moved on myself. Does that make me a hypocrite? Maybe. Does it make me wrong? Absolutely not. Should I change my mind or indeed ‘move on’? Probaby for my sanity I could have done, but I didn’t and lookee – if I had I wouldn’t be given this gift of an opportunity to re-read past statements and reflect on my failing to live up to them! But I do believe in the statement still, as much as I believe there’ll be stuff we’ll see next year and maybe the year after that at least that won’t sit well with some old fans or some recent fans. New fans are as capable of being riled and of not accepting change as well, as reaction to Torchwood Children of Earth has shown. What does that tell us? Well, we’re fans, we each have our own vision of what the series is and how it should be, and we can at times be if not an unmoveable force then one slow to move. And yet, if collectively we hadn’t moved on and let some of the young fans in the show wouldn’t be in half as healthy a state as it was then, or indeed is now.

Over the weekend I visited friends who have a seven year old utterly and completely into Doctor Who. So much so in fact that despite having seen the Ninth Doctor turn into the Tenth Doctor, she’s so attached to Tennant’s Time Lord that the dreaded ‘R’ word is being avoided at home until the moment comes when it cannot be avoided. And after that, hopefully, things will progress as normal – besides, she still has a great set of DVDs to rewatch if she wants, and being a kid with greater tolerance for repeat viewing, she probably will. The lesson here is that change (you, me, everything) is inevitable in everything but parking machines. And if we don’t like it then we’ll always have the past to keep us company.


Zeus Plug 1

Monday, September 14th, 2009


Al Has It Covered

And so to the front cover of Zeus Plug one. Here’s Al:

It seemed Peter had been suggesting the idea of a zine composed of a single sheet of paper, folded in on itself with complexity rivalling a mobius cube, for quite some time.  Flirting with the dark side of origami was all well and good but the resulting inter-dimensional planes would eventually require actual content to be printed on them.

Typically, Peter was soon walking-the-walk and before I knew it I’d been catapulted from zine artist retirement to making my first attempt at David Tennant.

iss1aArmed with Radio Times reference and a doodle boasting more character than my finished illustration would, I was sent off to suck the ink clots out of my drawing pens and put a quiff on top of Tennant’s Casanova face. As well as a peerless artist and cartoonist, Peter is an imaginative Art Director, and suggested the stained glass window approach.  I forget why, but like Jack Sparrow’s walk or ‘V’s Betty Boop wig, this piece of inspired randomness somehow worked – particularly with the colour version which he published on-line.  Intoxicated with being involved in something new and potentially exciting, I was happy to tackle Tennant’s likeness (although these new-fangled young Doctors lack the inspiring facial crags and crevasses of their predecessors), and depict what is still my favourite Christmas special. 

Being forced to use an absolute minimum of line and tone which this approach demanded gave a result which I’m still happy with today, although I always made sure I supplied a mock-up suggesting how my illustration be used on the cover from this point on.  It was a good lesson learned – never expect someone else to compose a page using your illustration the way you imagine, unless you tell them.

zp1coverblogUpdate: Here’s the final cover, scanned as Jono requested. I didn’t want to include this in case the other details detracted from the topic at hand. But it’s probably the best place for it at the moment!


Getting Ready for the Limelight

Thursday, September 10th, 2009


A Design for Living

We put a fair amount of time into considering a roll-out of the new zine. Having come up with the name (I’d wanted to call a zine Zeus Plug for years and it was pretty much the name I kept bringing up any and every time Jono and I started talking about that sort of activity) we needed a logo. So I came up with one:

Kiwi Identity Number One

The font is a swipe from [I assume] Kevin O’Neill’s ABC Warriors logo, and it’s a style I’ve aped in the past for a band from my Uni days, and it even turned up in RTP! as a Karkus logo: Ahem. Al rendered it using Freehand, ably putting up with my criticisms (“the Z and S should mirror one another, but not be too curved” – I was even less bearable for the Zeus Blog logo adaptation), and a suitable mascot created – ‘Pluggy’

pluggy2We’ve never seen an actual zeus plug in the TV series of course, though they’ve been described. One story has them as huge things, but the assumption is something a little more portable, something you could carry around idly in your pocket. Like the zine. Pluggy combines the elements I thought the zine’s title needed – he is a plug (specifically a NZ three-point plug), and he has a lightning bolt inside his bulb, both to refer to the God of Lightning and to signify that the radiant bulb of inspiration was definitely ‘on’. There’s a deliberate retro look to Pluggy – he’s not a USB key for one, and his bulb is most definitely a radiant filament job. Around his mid-section are discs from a Dalek eyestalk, and he has a six-sided nut for a bum, recalling the hexagonal roundels of the [then] new TARDIS console interior. His first incarnation had wings for speed, and the current one on this blog gives him a ring of confidence with that lightning bolt returning. There’s another version of him with arms – a further nod to the other inspiration of his design, the Little Helper for Disney character Gyro Gearloose.

As for the roll-out we considered using photos demonstrating the non-fanzine functions of Zeus Plug. We wanted to be irreverent and self-deprecating, so I had images in mind with snappy captions: a Zeus Plug folded up into a paper plane  with the caption “Zeus Plug – pass it on”, an issue being used as a coaster – “Zeus Plug – have a drink on us”, an issue of ZP emerging from the back pocket of a pair of jeans with the caption “Zeus Plug – keep it in your pants” (hmm, maybe not that one). We didn’t use them because we didn’t have the time, but I’d still have loved to. In the end word of mouth and careful enquiries as to the likely turnout of local pub meets was all we needed.


Getting Ready for the Limelight

Friday, September 4th, 2009

limesPart Three: We Folded Before We Even Began

The problem with inviting a swag of people on board for a new fanzine is that unless you have some hard rules, at early stages things can sometimes stray into the ‘design by committee’ arena. We didn’t really have that apart from one aspect, which was how to fold the staple-free Zeus Plug. It wasn’t as simple as it sounded because everyone came to the party with different methods – something I’d not anticipated! We couldn’t come to a satisfactory outcome for days. Here’s Jono’s suggestion:



jplay2And Dave also pitched in. Dave wanted his to open intuitively like a map or schematic, which maybe spoke more of his engineering background. Nobody thought the regular folds and creases of the page needed to act as article borders, but it helped in places.



drlay21And last of all, mine, which won through some democratic action snuggled up with some good old-fashioned autocratic foot stomping. I wanted mine to open like a flower. My idea was to have a folded page that opened like a book, turned itself over and continued to read like a book, then opened out to be a larger piece of paper – one side of the A3 page with which you could do anything. It could be a poster, a flow diagram, a game board, wrapping paper… in other words, it could take a step to the side and be something other than a fanzine. I don’t know if I seriously took that idea to the table with Jono though, I think we just had too much to say, and filled the space available. BAZ is closer to that ideal.



Folding paper is a design process of course. The bound book is usually only read in one direction and reveals more of itself as each page is turned, the design of a book-style fanzine is largely immutable however; anything straying from the norm becomes an exercise that consumes time or staples, or more paper. By folding an A3 page in a particular way we would be giving Zeus Plug pages too, without recourse to binding. And of the three ways we came up with individually, no one way provided fewer or more pages, which was interesting but it didn’t help the decision-making process.  The issue of limited, finite space was embraced as well. I would have liked the subtitle for Zeus Plug to be ‘Adventures in Relatively limited Time and Space’, but the others thought it was a bit too cute, and they were right. It was a discipline though, fitting so much onto such small area; ideas had to be distilled, arguments strengthened rather than bolstered or driven home by repetition. Andy Diggle, former editor of 2000AD envisaged his tenure as reinventing the comic in the style of “a shotglass full of rocket fuel”, being punchy, daring ideas in short stories. Zeus Plug was supposed to be a bit like that – concentrated, fixed, focussed. Early emails between Jono and I would often take the form of dialogue about cutting articles down rather than fleshing them out or including illustrations to fill the gaps (surely fanzine editors don’t do that, do they…?)

Editing is exhilirating, but that’s perhaps easier for me to say – Jono was the one with the Publisher software, doing the hard yards!


The Oranges of Zeus Plug

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

orangesPart Two: The Pitch

In our continuing look back on the life of our yearling predecessor, here’s Jono’s emailed pitch (dated 20 February 2006) to fan creators outlining what form Zeus Plug would likely take. For the most part the contents stayed the same, although there were some added – Jumping the Quark being a notable one, and of course Fast Return was yet to be born. On the other hand ‘Scenes We Love’ became ‘Classic!’ and ‘For And Against’ didn’t eventuate (I think I just didn’t want to talk about Jackie Tyler then. Love her now though) In all we stuck to our guns, but of course once the Blog was born – well, watch those principals vanish! Oh, and the self-addressed envelope thing as I recall came from the lack of Rotorua chapter for Dave, but there may have been a Palmerston North fan interested as well. hey, we weren’t monsters, you know!


ZEUS PLUG, an NZ Doctor Who micro-zine, is due to be launched at the end of March. Pete and I have been developing this over the last six months, and would like to give you an idea of how this new ‘zine will have its own place in the NZ Who fanzine market.

Zeus Plug is not TSV, and it’s not RTP. To make a somewhat lame analogy, TSV is the solid meat and three veg, RTP is the crazy vegan platter, and Zeus Plug is the play lunch your Mum made you – fun, irreverent, clever, easily digestible and ultimately disposable. ZP is not meant to be a collector’s item – the last thing that we expect is that people will hold on to our issues for very long. In fact, the aim will be for them to be a solid 15 minute read. Nothing more.

I’m going to be editing this puppy overall, with Pete looking after the visual layout of each issue, and involved editorially.

Story files
Review sections (although we might do the odd new TV story)
New / Missing Adventures
Big Finish
Fan fiction
Articles that are actually lists
Interviews, including with NZ fans

Zeus Plug will be made up from a core group of regular contributors, rather than from unsolicited material. There are two fanzines already for people to have their work published, so there’s no need for another. There is no minimum commitment to contribute, but on various occasions there will opportunities for involvement in a number of regular features, which include:

1) I’VE NEVER SEEN… Picking a DW story you have never seen, giving your impressions before, during and after.

2) SCENES WE LOVE – That moment you adore from a Doctor Who story – anything from a line of dialogue, to an FX shot or an entire scene. What and why!

3) FOR AND AGAINST – A one sentence statement (eg: Jackie Tyler is essential to the new series) is the subject of a mini-debate – one person stating why they agreed, the other person opposite.

There will also be regular spaces for opinion pieces, but we must stress the importance of conciseness in all articles – there is limited space, so opinions should be well thought out, and to the point.

We suggest 500 words maximum. If you can’t contain your argument in that many words, you’re probably saying too much.

No 100 page epics – instead, Zeus Plus will be the equivalent 8 A5 pages long – hence the easily digestable tag. In a nutshell, it’s 2 A3 pages of content, folded into a handy pocket sized A6!

Zeus Plug will be published monthly on the last day of each month, with deadline being the 15th of that month. The first issue will be out on March 31 .

Zeus Plug will be available free of charge to anyone who sends a stamped self-addressed envelope to the ZP address. It will also be sent to any current NZ chapters for distribution at meetings.

Hope that gives you an insight into what we’re doing. If you want to know any more, or would like to put your hand up to be involved, please email me.




The Oranges of Zeus Plug

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009


Being a retrospective of Zeus Blog’s precursor, the 2006 pubzine Zeus Plug.

Part One: An Immaculate Conception

Zeus Plug was born the hotel bar at the City Life hotel, with the first proper ideas being thrown around at the Vulcan cafe on Vulcan lane on a Saturday morning in December 2005. Jono and I had discussed the possibility of working together on something zine-like since the days of Telos, and it happened that by then, perhaps a year after interviewing him about Telos for RTP!, and with the new series reviving interest in fan activities, we realised that the time was right. But we weren’t going to settle for the traditional route. Perhaps because we’re both rampant egotists, we declared that our creation would be unique, and unprecedented. It wouldn’t be a fanzine as others would know it, but a sort of social experiment, albeit one set within a very small community – the lesser-known New Zealand Doctor Who fan. Who drank in pubs.

I’d seen pubzines before – Concrete Elephant, a mainstay of the Fitzroy Tavern was one that came to mind, and I recalled the excitement when it  arrived at the gathering I’d attended – copies were small, free and low in number and they went very quickly. I’m no economist, but I could see the lesson of supply and demand working very well. And neither Jono and I were in it for the money. As it turned out, it was a good thing we weren’t, or ZP would never have existed.

Over a cooked breakfast and too many hot caffeinated beverages we drew up a manifesto that was scintillating in its simplicity: no  reviews, no lists, just opinion. We decided that having been fanzine readers for long enough the one thing we really wanted out of any fan publication was something worth reading, and that’s usually an opinion. Reviews can have opinions, but are sometimes tied down through wanting to please everyone, whether it’s the distributor of said merchandise who offers the zine free copies, or (in post-original series days) the creator – a fan themselves and therefore only a few degrees of separation from the reviewer. If we could deliver short, sharp bursts of opinion and argument packaged in a neat portable product that any unassuming fan could stuff in their pocket or read on the bus, then we’d be breaking the A5 mould that so many zines before us had shrugged themselves into.

We got bolder – make it a fan experience by refusing to send issues out to people, instead making ZP something you had to make the effort to go somewhere to collect and therefore meet other fans and (uh-oh!) interact with them. Tied to a neutral venue like, say, a pub, and you [should] avoid any suggestion that the zine was a ‘chapter’ thing. We wanted to be guerrilla. It didn’t always work – Christchurch doesn’t really do pub meetings, so it became associated with their chapter meetings (although RTP! is essentially a chapter zine anyway, so little lost there), and early on the ‘c’ word was linked to Auckland pub meets and ZP. We made an effort to stamp that fire out quickly. The last thing we wanted people to do was to take the issues home and place them in an airtight folder in between Zeta Minor and Zoë Herriot.  If there ever was a publication that wasn’t aimed at a completist, this was it. You should pick it up, read and then use it as a beer coaster for the rest of the evening. Never happened though… We were just too damned desirable!

Most of all we wanted to change zines. We thought they’d become stale and predictable, relying on the same names and tropes and formula. We actually used some of those same names, and a formula of sorts was noted by RTP! in its review of the early issues early on, but our response to that was swift. We, I believe, also didn’t hang around long enough to really get predictable and stale, quietly leaving the party just before the zine’s debut as a TSV supplement. There was the general sense between Jono and I that neither would be around for the long haul. And that was fine by us.