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Capital Gains: Queens of the cosmic timewarp

Nick Ryan
Wednesday 17 August 1994 23:02 BST

There is a room at the back of the King's Arms in Soho which frequently plays host to gay social groups from across the capital. To this confined space every fortnight, comes the Sisterhood of Karn.

It sounds like a lesbian organisation. It's not. For sitting quietly in a corner is a band of nondescript and pale-faced young men. Some of them display a black badge with a pink triangle, surmounted by an old fashioned police box.

Overheard conversation: 'The film starts with the regeneration scene, because the seventh actor has simply got too old and worn out.'

Pardon? The speaker is a thin, moustachioed fellow wearing a beige summer suit and smoking a cigar. He is Ian, the founder of the Sisterhood and an architect by profession. He continues his pseudo-scientific discourse: 'They've never explained how it works and I'm going to for the first time - using a fusion of recessive gene combination and accelerated tissue generation.'

Ian is a Dr Who fanatic. He set up the Sisterhood in January, calling it Strictly No Anoraks, a name which was swiftly changed. The Sisterhood, as one member puts it, 'is a bunch of telepathic women in a Dr Who adventure entitled The Brain of Morbius. The Sisterhood tries to mess up peoples' lives.' Most simply agree that the name has a certain pretentious resonance.

Ian explains the Sisterhood: 'I had met gay Dr Who fans over a number of years, and I often thought it strange that so many of the fans were gay. It occurred to me maybe there was room for a group.

'So I rang up Capital Gay, The Pink Paper and Boyz. I turned up alone, not really knowing what to expect.'

Fifteen others appeared, and now around 30 men and one woman meet every fortnight in the King's Arms to discuss the Doctor.

So what is the link between being gay and liking Dr Who? 'That's a very good question,' says Daniel Northover, whose father 'used to be tour manager of Led Zeppelin'. He pauses to consider. 'Not many people seem to be sure, except that most of the Dr Who fans that I know are actually gay.'

Phil Melaney, a printer, says: 'You can get very involved in Dr Who and start to talk about being different, alienation and society. And it's the perfect escapism when you're growing up gay - the Doctor can always get away from it all.'

Several people mention that the series has been highly camp, a truth reflected in the tacky sets. Someone says the series had 'quite a few nice men in it', and unlike other science fiction media, is not overtly heterosexual. In addition, the Doctor doesn't appear to judge anyone (not gay, at least).

Ian believes that 'gay people are more in touch with their childhood than straight people - they don't have to go through the processes of marriage, mortgages, kids. However old we are, we don't feel the need to cast off our childhood. We don't feel ashamed to have a Teddy bear. Except instead of a Teddy bear, we have a Dalek.'

Ian, whose first Dr Who memory is, aptly, of a Dalek 'coming out of the River Thames' also claims to be the eighth reincarnation of that most eminent of Time Lords. 'I thought it might be fun to muddy the waters a little, for no better reason than mischief,' he coyly admits.

However, this is no small task, for the video in which he appears as the Doctor (an amateur production currently being filmed by the Sisterhood in the Docklands and on Hampstead Heath) is a four-part epic entitled The Resurrection of the Cybermen.

It has taken three months to write the script and its budget 'is zero, or slightly less, so within those parameters, we've got to put something together'. An editing suite has been secured at Elstree Studios, along with three Cybermen suits. Two members are building a Tardis 'but they're having a little problem with the inter-dimensional engineering'.

The majority of the Sisterhood are involved in the project. They also pursue their interest to other varying degrees - collecting videos, buying old Dr Who magazines, acquiring costumes and sets at auctions (a Cyberman costume, converted from an RAF flying suit, costs £500), taking part in the Gay Pride march and publishing a fanzine, Cottage Under Siege. Ian even has 'a few Daleks around the place'. This strength of feeling can be measured in the nostalgia for the older series, and affection reserved for certain actors. There are excited whispers as a middle-aged man wanders in during the evening - he played Davros' chief henchman, Nyder, in Genesis of the Daleks.

There is a vicious side to this nostalgia as well - series producer John Nathan-Turner is vilified by many in the Sisterhood. 'I think he ruined the programme and turned it into a pastiche of itself,' says Ian, referring to the introduction of special guests, such as Ken Dodd, Hale and Pace and Nicholas Parsons in the later series. The last Doctor, Sylvester McCoy 'simply couldn't pack the range of emotions that the Doctor required'.

There is also trepidation about Steven Spielberg buying the rights to the character. 'Fen, the only woman in the group, worries about this. But she believes generally that science fiction 'can be a feminist Utopia'.

Adnan Andrews, an actor, sums up the general feeling: 'It's rare for a weekend to pass without watching Dr Who. It's a mainstay of my life.' Phil Melaney agrees: 'It really does give you a perspective on life, in a serious way.' And he means it.

Some names have been changed in this article

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