Back in the day Dr Who conventions were mainly organised by local fan groups and held in hotel conference rooms. Autographs and photos were free, dealers tables were relegated to a side room and female fans were as common as an Ogron on Mastermind. How times have changed. With the advent of New Who a slick new merchandising machine is now behind one of the biggest Dr Who conventions in the UK.
Two years ago I attended the 50th anniversary celebration at the Excel centre along with a few thousand others. While it was fantastic to see the various panels, especially the Doctor panel with Tom Baker, I found the event to be a rather souless experience with the main festival hall predominately designed for the benefit of the merch stalls with the props and costume displays and photo opportunity areas crammed into the corners. From chats with fellow fans I wasn’t alone in feeling the whole event was more like a cattle market than a convention. So it was that I was in two minds about splashing out on this year’s festival but eventually my inner fangirl won out.
Queing in the aircraft hanger style bay again to enter the festival didn’t raise my hopes. Parents were already attempting to bribe their over excited children into waiting patiently. Finally we were herded into the theatre for the first panel of the day, hosted by Mark Gatiss, with Millenium FX showing how the shows monsters go from script to screen. The show included appearences from a Mire and a Sandman. Next off to the main festival hall and while there was plenty of merch to spend your remaining money on I was glad to see that much more space had been given to some of the show features themselves. I’m sure there were hundreds of selfies taken in front of the full size TARDIS made from lego, Real SFX provided a mini TARDIS in a snow blizzard for photos, props and sets could be wandered around and for the hardcore fanboys and girls there was the Dr Who quiz to enter.
There were several photo sessions with cast and crew throughout the day for those who had been able to pre purchase tickets. Peter Capaldi was charming and was amazing with all the over awed and excited children. One of the highlights of the whole day for me was witnessing one young boy literally jumping up and down and squeeing with excitement and amazement at meeting The Doctor. That for me encapsulated the spirit of what events like this should be. The award for most entertaining photo session of the day undoubted went to the incomparible Michelle Gomez who was clearly determined to have as much fun out of the day as the rest of us. She had a limitless variety of hilarious poses and a witty quips for everyone. I wish I’d had half of her energy that day.
Of course what really makes these events are the fans. The plethera of mini eleventh Doctors, Osgoods (female and male) and Missys, walking TARDISes and Doctors both Classic and New Who was fantastic. I attended the festival on my own but never for a moment felt alone. In every queue a friendly conversation started with complete strangers. On of the stewards was amazed that the woman in front of me in a photo queue wasn’t an old friend of mine as she’d seen us chatting and laughing together like old pals. We both gave the same explanation, we were the kids bullied at school, we were uncool for watching Dr Who. We stuck together, we had that common bond, these were my people.
While the days of fan conventions organised for the sheer love of the show may be past fandom’s spirit lives as long as a Time Lord.