14 August 2018

The Legacy Of Karn

This month Panini have published a superb Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition that deals with the many-faceted phenomena of Doctor Who fandom - covering fanzines, conventions, websites, and numerous other shining little corners of this uniquely strange and delightful world that we inhabit. Oddly, however, they seem to have neglected to mention the fan group that I’ve been involved with for the past decade or so - outrageous! So, I’ll just have to tell you all about it here… Think of this column as an addendum - for you to print out and slip into the magazine proper, to paper over this glaring omission… 

 

The Sisterhood of Karn is a London-based society for LGBT Doctor Who fans. I’ve been helping to run the group for a few years now, but it will be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year. Founder member Ian D P recalls the origins of the Sisterhood:

 

“The Sisterhood of Karn was formed in February 1994, a particularly dark time for Doctor Who. The TV movie hadn't yet been announced and over four years had passed since the final episode of the original twenty-six year run of the series. 

 

The group was originally called 'Strictly no Anoraks’, but as this might have put off a significant proportion of the potential membership, the name 'Sisterhood of Karn' was chosen at the first meeting. In the 1976 episode ‘The Brain of Morbius', the mysterious coven known as the Sisterhood of Karn were entrusted to keep alive the flame of eternal youth. The new group also kept alive the flame of Doctor Who and, in a sense anyone who continues to follow Doctor Who into their adult life is keeping alive their own youthful sense of wonder and imagination.

  

The Sisterhood met in the upstairs bar at The Kings Arms, at the time home to many special interest groups including the self explanatory 'Beards meet Beards' and 'Blue Haze'  - a group for cigar and pipe smokers. I once made the mistake of entering the upstairs room whilst 'Blue Haze' were in full session and the smoke was so thick that you couldn't see the far corners of the room. If this group still exists today they must have difficulty in finding a suitable venue. (In contrast, Beards meet Beards would be inundated with members.)

 

The group moved from the Kings Arms in Poland Street to Central Station in Kings Cross when the Kings Arms decided to install a pool table in their upstairs room (one of us had to go) but returned to the Kings Arms just as soon as the pool table was removed. The group survived both the return of Doctor Who to the television screens and the formation of a short lived breakaway group. A great many firm friendships (and one or two lasting enmities) have been formed over the last twenty five years and The Sisterhood of Karn is still going strong and meeting once a month in that upstairs bar in Poland Street.”

 

I can’t remember how I initially became aware of the Sisterhood - presumably I had carried out an internet search for ‘Gay Doctor Who’… but from the moment I first ascended the narrow stairs up to the first floor room of the Kings Arms in Soho - London’s foremost ‘bear bar’ - I was immediately made to feel welcome.


Aside from a couple of Panopticon conventions as a young teen, this was my first proper interaction with other fans - and also one of my first social events with other gay men since moving to the capital. (While all are welcome, and we’re always striving to improve diversity, the vast majority of our membership is made up of cis gay men…) This double-barrelled kinship made for an exceptionally warm and light-hearted atmosphere, and before I knew it I had become a regular, quickly making firm friends - not to mention a few more ‘involved’ dalliances - and found myself volunteering to run the admin side of things - which is basically just listing the monthly meetings on Facebook, attending to the social media, and organising the occasional special event. People jest about me being the group’s ‘Maren’, but the truth of the matter is that a collective like ours has no need for something as appallingly hierarchical as a ‘leader’!

 

One of my first memories of Karn is being incredibly hungover during an outing to Chislehurst Caves - one of the locations used for the planet Solos in Jon Pertwee story ‘The Mutants’ - that I’d organised because an actor that I was appearing with in a play at the time had a day job giving guided tours there. And I mean *really* hungover - irresponsibly so, and on the verge of blacking out. Not an ideal condition for traipsing through miles of dark, oppressive, labyrinthine underground caverns infested with evil looking massive spiders… Fascinating as the history of the complex was, the urge to flee was overwhelming. And to cap it all - when we finally emerged into the sunlight at the adventure’s end, our guide realised that he’d completely forgotten to show us the portion of the caves where Doctor Who was filmed - so the delegation from Karn never actually made it to Solos after all…!

 

As well as the more unusual events - including intimate Q&A sessions with both Louise Jameson and Matthew Waterhouse - some of the most memorable moments of Karn, for me, have been at the regular monthly meet-ups. Whether we’ve been happily plastering the free gay bar-magazines with stickers of Toclafane, making Dalek figures pop-up on the security cameras, or just nattering over too much wine, that warm and joyful room above The King’s Arms in Soho has always been such a happy and hearty place. I recall a particularly lively evening that saw one one of our more gym-oriented members bench-pushing a popular Big Finish author… Never, in all my time involved with the group, have I seen a hint of the egos or rivalries that one hears stories of other fan gatherings being plagued by. Maybe we’ve just been lucky - maybe we’ve just been too silly! But I like to think that there’s something rather special about our little gathering of like-minded folk, who find kinship with each other, month after month, in a bustling bar, slap bang in the absolute centre of London’s tireless and trendy LGBT heartland - mainly to talk about Dodo. 

 

At the time of writing we’re gearing up for our latest special event - ‘An Evening with Lisa Bowerman’ - a special appearance from the actress who plays Bernice Summerfield for Big Finish, and who also appeared as Karra the Cheetah Person in the final Sylvester McCoy story, ‘Survival’. So if you’d like join us on the evening of August 17th, tickets are still available (see link below), or feel free to turn up at one of our regular monthly meetings - on the third Thursday of each month - for a drink and a chat. We’re very informal and newcomers are always welcome. Sacred fire, sacred flame. 

 

Tickets for ‘An Evening with Lisa Bowerman’ can be purchased here: www.eventbrite.com/e/an-evening-with-lisa-bowerman-tickets-47678420439

 

Follow the Sisterhood of Karn on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SisterhoodofKarn/

 

And on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sisterhood_karn

 

Richard Unwin

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