The Oranges of Zeus Plug


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.


8 Responses to “The Oranges of Zeus Plug”

  1. Paul Scoones Says:

    Zeus Plug was a welcome presence at the Auckland pub meets. As you rightly observe it was usually carefully collected by readers rather than being treated as something disposable. That said, one of my ZP issues has evidence of having once been dipped in beer and used as a coaster, true to the spirit of what you intended. Fans in my experience usually hold well-produced Doctor Who items in high regard, so it was probably asking too much to expect Zeus Plug to be treated as something disposable. I’ve witnessed your cited example of Concrete Elephant being coveted and carefully stowed away to take home by many presumably appreciative readers at the Fitzroy.

    Your reasons for not featuring reviews begs the question, when you were reviewing for TSV were you writing to please distributors and creators? Were you aware of others doing so? Most items of reviewed merchandise in TSV, including all Big Finish audios, BBC novels and DVDs, were not provided free by the distributors and had to be purchased.

    Your line about ‘quietly leaving the party just before the zine’s debut as a TSV supplement’ might be misconstrued as indicating that Zeus Plug was somehow absorbed or subsumed by TSV, so it’s therefore worth clarifying that the supplement was initiated and independently produced by yourself and Jono.

  2. Peter A Says:

    Hi Paul, thanks for the comments!

    3. The supplement was initiated and independently produced by myself and Jono. Especially Jono.

    1. Re: Pleasing the suppliers through positive reviews. It’s not something I was conscious of in TSV personally, outside of a certain interviewee connected with a product range who insisted as a condition of his interview that no reviews overly critical of his work should appear in that issue. On the other hand it was something discussed between Dave and I on a number of occasions that [my words] the distance one required for reviewing anything made by a fan-done-well shortened when you realised said fan was also a TSV subscriber. That wasn’t a house rule or anything, just a ‘cringe’ I felt from time to time.

    2. Re: Review copies. This is something you may recall we discussed with relation to Telos. In its short life (and a credit to the then very young Jono’s negotiation skills) Telos received copies of books and videos from Roadshow and Hodder Moa Beckett for the purpose of reviews and promotion. These were subsequently offered through the zine as competition prizes or [occasionally] offered to the reviewers for their efforts, both of which I was greatly supportive.

    Thanks again for the kind comments!

  3. Paul Scoones Says:

    Thanks for the explanation regarding reviews. TSV has had many fan-turned-pro Doctor Who writers on its subscriber list over the years – but I’ve taken the view that the reviewer’s honest, well-reasoned opinion of the product counts for more than the writers’ feelings. Only once did a pro writer (who shall remain nameless) cancel their subscription in response to a negative review of something of theirs in TSV.

  4. Peter A Says:

    I don’t want to give the impression that we decided against having reviews because of negative experiences elsewhere. For Jono and I the opportunity to do away with them offered more than it took away. We talked about it for quite a bit and agreed that neither of us are fans of reviews in particular, especially reviews for their own sake. They are a fait accompli – you can end up having to make space for them and time for staff to review them and it costs you those resources, potentially for something the reader can pick up any number of places elsewhere at their leisure.

    And they give the illusion of currency to print media, which is a weak illusion in an age of file sharing and online forums.

    When we ruled out interviews we suddenly had so much more space and writers who had other interesting strings to their bow.

  5. the_other_dave Says:

    I have to admit also having suffered the “cringe” Peter describes occasionally when I did a few of the BF audio reviews. Never while listening, but usually soon after putting pen to paper, particularly if the writers etc had been in the letters page.

    As for the departure after a bad review – I hope it wasn’t one of mine…

  6. Paul Scoones Says:

    Dave – no, it wasn’t one of yours (and it wasn’t one of Peter’s either).

    I too felt a twinge of awkwardness from time to time with reviewing items written by people who subscribed to TSV. I didn’t let it guide my views though.

    It wasn’t just the subscribers either; I discovered that TSV got passed around a bit in UK fandom so even some writers who weren’t on the mailing list knew what was being said in the zine about their work. One writer once brought up in conversation at the Fitzroy a negative review I’d written of one of his books. That was an awkward moment, until he told me that he appreciated getting an honest opinion and that he thought the NZ wrtiters made better reviewers because they were removed from the bias of the UK fandom social set.

  7. the_other_dave Says:

    No worries. My hope was driven more by the curiousity killing me if it was, rather than concern of actually causing offence.

    As for TSV being passed about UK fans, prehaps we should have a marketing campaign – “TSV, it’s even cheaper in pounds” ;)

  8. Foo Says:

    Hey – Jono posted out a couple of issues of ZB to me before I attended the Wellington pub meets. Was he being naughty? ;)

    Re: reviews and the writers of books/audios reading these reviews – I had Nick Griffiths, the writer of the book Dalek I Loved You subscribe (possibly just to a single issue) to TSV off the basis of it having a review of his book that I had written (really enjoyed his book too BTW).

    Adam decided not to include it, along with a number of other reviews I had done which was a little disappointing. I understand that editorial decisions of this nature need to be taken, but it would be nice to know, rather than TSV arriving and realising ‘Oh, they’re not here…’

    Oh well, Nick did say that he enjoyed TSV anyway, and that’s what is important! :-)

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