A couple of weekends ago, I was lucky enough to attend the Doctor Who Festival in London. It was an overwhelming experience, and came at just the right time.
Last year was difficult. Series 8 was striving so hard to be controversial at a time when all I wanted was my favourite show to prove itself to be exactly the same, despite a change of the lead man. I needed Doctor Who to be Doctor Who still, a reliable constant that didn’t harm the history of the show.
I’m very sad to say that I was losing faith in it. Slowly, slowly, and nothing to do with Peter Capaldi, a brilliant Doctor. Things were amiss. Clara had seemingly changed character over night. There was this slightly annoying bloke trying to win over her favours – while accusing the Doctor of being a blood-soaked general. Then the moon was an egg, and the Brigadier was a Cyberman, and the Master was a Missy.
Like I said: striving to be controversial.
There were highlights. Of course there were highlights. Mummy on the Orient Express was the big one, but with a healthy smattering of Listen, Time Heist, and Flatline. The Caretaker, too, at a push because the Skovox Blitzer was cool.
Ultimately, however, I realised that this wasn’t the same show and I wouldn’t love it quite the same way again.
Now, Doctor Who is a big thing for me. Click on my profile and see how big a deal it is. I’ve made career leaps thanks to Doctor Who. It informed my decisions. It was a considerable reason I decided I wanted to be a screenwriter. Losing faith in it was immensely sad.
“Times change and so must I.” Matt Smith’s final few words never felt so true.
And then, things changed again.
I wasn’t just lucky enough to be at the Doctor Who Festival; I was lucky enough to be manning a stall there. I’ve attended smaller conventions and events before, but only as a fan. Here I was, behind a table. That was supposed to sound grander. You get an entirely different perspective from behind a table. You don’t just get to see people dressed as the TARDIS, as the Doctors, as Oswin Oswald; you get to speak to them too.
You realise how incredible this little show is. 52 years and millions of fans. These few thousand were a sampler. The wealth of merchandise was all encompassing. Go out the back and you see boxes and boxes of more, just ready to restock the stalls as the items are guzzled up by ecstatic, hungry fans.
Here, a Fourth Doctor fan, finished off with the extra-long 18ft scarf; there, a youngster dressed as Davros; Seventh Doctor devotees; Osgoods; girls who’ve made their own TARDIS and Dalek dresses: they all made up a jigsaw of the show’s half-a-century. Further fans were cosplaying multiple Doctors, like a glimpse into either the future or a parallel dimension.
Actually, it was like taking Clara’s place in The Name of the Doctor, throwing myself into the Doctor’s time stream, and seeing all of him and all his adventures.
There were a few oddities, sure, but you know what? Fans are a lovely bunch. We are! I don’t care if you don’t want to buy something; come talk to me about The Pandorica Opens. And they did! Compliments about t-shirts and bow ties and cricket jumpers and suddenly it was 6:30pm and each day had come to an end.
We have an amazing community, and we’ll never lose that.
But this isn’t all about fans.
On my last day, I got off the stand for a few hours and headed over to some talks. The first was Steven Moffat, Toby Whithouse, and Jamie Mathieson, and it was enlightening and brilliant. A huge hangar was filling up throughout, strobe lighting intermittently passing over captivated faces. We laughed, we cried – well, we laughed at any rate.
And then it was time for Moffat to file in after Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Michelle Gomez, and Ingrid Oliver. Jenna was quizzed about leaving and all those around her reflected on how they felt after she’d gone. “Aww”, cooed the crowd. This was a week before she would apparently meet her end down a Trap Street.
Someone came up to me at the stand, and echoed my sentiments exactly. “Are you enjoying the Festival?” I asked. And she said: “Of course. It’s nice being around so many people who just get it.”
There it is. You don’t have to explain why you’ve donned a question-mark jumper and are rolling your r’s. We get it, and we love it.
Even in the Shopping Village, where you think everyone will be focused on selling, selling, selling, there’s a deeply-ingrained love for the series. I spoke to the great people at Robert Harrop, AbbeyShot, and Big Finish, and that enthusiasm spills into the event’s behind-the-scenes, just as much as it drives fans to fill London. They came from America, Fiji, and – erm – Scotland because they want to experience something unique.
But it’s easy to be downtrodden. Society doesn’t like people being overly enthusiastic about what they see as a mere television programme. You cried when Donna had her mind wiped, when Matt regenerated, when you learned that there are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea’s asleep and the rivers dream? Why? It’s only television.
Society likes to tell you that episode was rubbish, and the new guy’s not as good as the old guy, and when’s the Doctor going to be female? Ratings. That’s the new thing. In the great history of tabloid agendas, overnights meant something. They meant Doctor Who was going downhill.
It’s nonsense. At the Doctor Who Festival, I realised that none of that mattered. This isn’t just a show; it’s a culture. It’s important to so many people and however many fall in and out of love with it, it will always remain Doctor Who. Those who are entertained and educated by it know how comforting it can be to fall back into the warmth of the series and of the fans. That’s why you’re here: you’re part of this community.
It’s become a bit of a cliché to say this, but only because it’s true: Doctor Who‘s fanbase is bigger on the inside. And now I know that I’ll always be able to put my feet up and join the Doctor in the TARDIS on his adventures in time and space.