Why Weren’t You at the Doctor Who Convention?

As regular readers will know, last Saturday I attended the BBC’s first full, self-organized Doctor Who Convention at the jaw-droppingly awesome Millenium Centre in Cardiff.

Getting there was tricky: as father to nine-month-old twins, relying on your better half to perform all of the parenting for a full day is taking things too far. As a result I opted to travel via London, leaving Ceri and the children at my sisters. The original plan had been to drive to Cardiff on Saturday morning, but thankfully I avoided the horrific fog in the south west by booking a return train at the last minute.

What this meant was that I turned up a little later that intended, but thankfully all of the attractions were staggered throughout the day, leaving plenty of time to catch up.

Of course, if you weren’t there, you wouldn’t know any of this. So, what did you miss?

Well, there was the now-obligatory cosplayers for a start off, with Weeping Angels, countless Tenth and Eleventh Doctors and some ladies who made very imaginative use of some blue fabric to design their own police box dresses.

Meanwhile, the event itself was seeded with fascinating material. I sat through Steve Roberts and his Restoration Team colleague twice just to see the results of some cleaning up work on recent DVD releases, although the fact that they were banned by the BBC from discussing Shada and Ambassadors of Death was somewhat perplexing. Finding a home on the disused Millenium FX stage team every other hour, it remained a compelling talk on each occasion I witnessed it.

Neill Gorton’s team, meanwhile, made full use of the stage space, the audience, the AV facilities in the Millenium Centre and their own craft, creating casts out of the hands of audience members and casting several perfect moulds of the head of a team member. Discovering that their techniques are borrowed from other industries (such as dentistry) was quite an eye opener.

Also in this ground floor area of the venue was a side-room packed with PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita devices for attendees to sample the impressive gameplay of The Eternity Clock. The room was packed throughout the day, and Steven Moffat and his family also popped in for a play later on.

I’m not a big autograph hunter, I’m afraid, so didn’t join the queue to chat to people such as Nick Briggs or Simon Fisher-Becker. Mark Sheppard, meanwhile, must have some sort of gold medal for autograph endurance – I swear that guy was signing all day long!

The first session I attended was Danny Hargreaves very demonstrative display of special effects – all the bangs, X Factor smoke machines and gunshot FX that you see on TV – and it was absolutely great stuff. Hargreaves has a great presence on the stage and was clearly as thrilled to be there as he was to be doing what he obviously loves.

A vast costume display took quite a bit of time to get round – you can see the results in the gallery below – and was pored over by endless fans, with or without their cameras. Near to the entrance to this room was a case with genuine sonic screwdriver props and TARDIS keys, occasionally opened by the prop curator.

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As the day went on and I popped out for lunch, I got chatting to various people but nothing could prevent me from getting excited at the thought of being in the same room as Matt Smith and Karen Gillan – not to mention Steven “The Grand Moff” Moffat, a man whose writing has had me in literal stitches of laughter for over 20 years.

Fortunately, other than the fact that both questions I had planned were asked by other attendees before I got the chance to ask how they were enjoying the convention and whether Arthur Darvill hoped to make any other films following Pelican Blood (no, he plans to retire to a cheese making farm in Shropshire, duh) it was a very relaxed session, ending with Matt talking to a small boy accompanying one of the press Q&A attendees. He’s a genuinely nice guy, and it was a thrill to get a glimpse of that side of his job.

Interestingly, he’s also a little shorter than I expected! Having met Tom Baker and been certain that he’s not much different in height to me, I had expected Matt to have a “presence”. Paul McGann has one, as does Sylvester McCoy, although I suspect they can switch if on and off very easily. Matt seemed more like you and I, which is quite strange given how wonderful he is on TV.

While we were waiting for the delayed press Q&A, it turned out that almost everyone else in the building (around 50% of attendees) were enjoying a special screening of the teaser trailer! I suspect some people in the session were quite miffed, but there was little need to worry as we were directed to the huge main room in which the Uncut talk – hosted by the amiable, polished and Dalek-obsessed Barnaby Edwards – took place. With Caro Skinner, Steven Moffat, Andy Pryor and Michael Pickwoad among the panel, there was plenty to learn as Barnaby guided them through the process of bringing Doctor Who to TV. A screening of the trailer followed, then a big question and answer session, before another screening.

To be honest, I was all but Who’d out at this stage, but there was time to hook up with Connor and Georgia from zConnection to check the Ianto Jones/Torchwood memorial wall on Cardiff Bay. Not long after that my time was up – I headed back to London after having an awesome day of Doctor Who wonderment.

Now, don’t give me the fiscal excuse unless you’re absolutely certain that you wouldn’t have been able to afford it. Times are tough, and the BBC know this – which is surely why they put on such a great event.

I’ve been to a fair few Doctor Who conventions over the years of different sizes. Each has had a different focus and attracted different types of guest, and, by extension, audience. None of them have managed to attract such a perfect mix, however, an exceptional distillation of every sub group in fandom.

Such a great day out – I suspect that the BBC are already planning a repeat performance for 2013!


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