I got nervous as it grew closer, with visions of Community's Professor Spacetime con episode dancing in my head. But I was going with my friend Jen, also a long-time fan of the show. Jen wanted to see Tom Baker's Skype session and any Second Doctor stuff they had going on. (She's something of a fan of Mr. Troughton.) I wanted to pick up some posters, get some stuff signed and convince Sophie Aldred to marry me. We resolved to be on the road by 7 am sharp.
7:55: We're on the road!
8:10: We stop for gas to fill up for the trip. I had burned some audio plays to disc so we’d have something to listen to. (I told Jen that I was burning some Who CDs and she knew I wasn't talking Quadrophenia.) Her gas tank is on the passenger side of the car, and we were filling up in NJ, which has no self-service gas stations, so I gave the attendant the card. I had the CDs on my lap. They were labelled Doctor Who 1, 2 and 3. He asked "Which season?" I told him that they were audio CDs, and that we were on our way down to a Doctor Who con in Maryland. He tells us that he cosplays Doctor Who, but "only" the three most recent Doctors, because it's harder to get costumes for the Classic Doctors. We wish him farewell when we're done and take this as a good omen.
8:30: Jen comments that I'm not dressed up for the con. She wore a cool Peanuts/Doctor who shirt.
I was wearing the kind of thing I usually wear on weekends, a green polo shirt and jeans. I totally intended to dress up. (There are two appropriate ways to dress for a con. Dressing up as a character, or dressing up in t-shirt with the character on it.) We had even talked about it. (Jen: I'm wearing a Doctor Who shirt to the con. Me: Do you have anything else in your wardrobe?) It just slipped my mind.
For the record, my shirt was going to be Dr. Hooves.
9:00: We start listening to the CDs. Our first audio was 100 BC, where the Doctor's companion tries to prevent the conception of Julius Caesar. I really enjoy these goofy stories. Jen likes it, but expresses disappointment that it’s not a Patrick Throughton story.
9:30: We begin listening to the Kingmaker, by Nev Fountain, because I knew he would be at the con. I’m not a fan of either the Fifth Doctor or Peri, but I really love this story, and I’d go so far as to say it’s my favorite Fifth Doctor story. It’s extremely clever and very funny. Even Peri winds up being entertaining. Jen enjoyed it, but said she would have liked it more if it were a 2nd Doctor/Jamie/Zoe story.
11:45: We arrive. The trip took us longer than expected, because Google sent us on a route that was single lane for most of the way.
We have no problem at all picking up our badges and programs. We wander towards the panel room and see the line (or I suppose I should call it a queue at a Doctor Who con) forming up for Tom Baker’s Skype call, so we join it. We really couldn’t have done better if we had planned it.
We passed the time talking about pledge drives. We didn’t meet each other until we were both adults, but we both watched Doctor Who on the same public television station, and we reminisced about how they always had someone from the Prydonians of Princeton in Gallifreyian regalia answering the phones during Doctor Who pledge weeks. We also listened to the guy in front of us recounting Sophie Aldred’s performance at the Companion panel last night.
Maybe I'll cosplay someday. However, I’m a fat guy with a beard which limits my options. I did see someone dressed up as one of those High Council Gallifrey jerks. I could sit in front of short people with my big goofy hat.
Someone with the Con came by and offered people in the line some cold water, which was very thoughtful.
12:00: We take our seats and the session begins.
I had been disappointed by Tom Baker’s turn in the 50th anniversary special. He seemed addled and frail, and that informed my expectations here.
I could not have been more surprised. He was witty and charming and engaging, and very, very funny. I had heard some of these stories, but I could listen to him tell these stories all week.
Some of the things that struck me: Baker said that he was brought up to believe in miracles and forgiveness and being kind. He said this was the first role where he didn't have to reach for it. He saw the Doctor as a hero who was a nice fellow and a great source of benevolent silly things.
That's what the Doctor means to me, and why I'm not embarrassed to say I watch the show and that's why Tom Baker will always be my Doctor. I'm not always kind in my personal dealings. I fail more in that more often than I succeed. But I still think kindness and decency are values worth aspiring to.
There are a lot of smart but nasty protagonists, especially today, but who do we have who is smart but nice, aside from the Doctor? Columbo? Cynics are fond of pointing out that being good does not necessarily mean being nice, which is true, but I’ll add that being nice is not the same as being weak.
Baker fielded a number of prescreened questions, and said that he would have liked to have seen Johnny Depp as the Doctor, and James Gandolfini as the Master, which was cool to learn.
He was asked about the role of the 4th Doctor for Big Finish and if he thought he would receive any new companions. I felt that his answer, and particularly the way he articulated it was remarkably cogent. He recognized that nostalgia was a very big part of his appeal in the role, and that they would be sticking with the established companions reprising their roles.
I’ve only listened to a handful of his Big Finish stories, primarily the 4th Doctor Lost Stories, but they absolutely nail the era. I love Lalla Ward’s reading of Shada, but maybe we’ll get an audio version of that someday.
It was a great session. It’s something of a cliché, but on the way out, Jen and I agreed that this alone was absolutely worth the price of admission. She just complained that he didn’t talk about the Second Doctor enough.
2:00: We check out the vendor room. I buy my daughter some buttons and a poster from GeekBoy Press. He’s at a lot of local cons and I always try to see him.
Got the chance to meet Nev Fountain, and I embarrassed myself by being excessively enthusiastic. I told him how much I enjoyed the Kingmaker, and he said “Oh, I hated writing that one.” I later figured out that he must have meant that he hated the process of writing it, but was happy for having written it. Still, it was odd at the time. He was a very nice man, and he autographed the copy of the book. Here’s the cover.
It looks like Nicola Bryant was the cover model for the one picture. I almost said, “Man, I hate Peri!” but didn’t, because A.) She features prominently in a number of his stories and B.) Nicola Bryant was sitting right next to him, and that could have been really awkward. I’m sure she’s a lovely person, but she probably wasn’t interested in hearing all about how much I hate Peri.
It was really strange, but very cool, seeing all these people I had watched for so many years. Colin Baker had a beard, and it was weird seeing him like that. Sylvester McCoy looked exactly like he does on the TV. Sophie Aldred looked great. Her headshot for the program looked awful, but she looked fabulous in person. Previously, Jen had agreed to arrange a distraction so I could propose to Sophie, but she had painted a Patrick Troughton face on her hand and was busy making out with it, so she was no help. I actually got too nervous to ask her to sign something, but resolved to come back later.
2:30: We’re getting hungry, so we decide to look into getting something to eat. The café in the hotel is kind of pricey, but the program had a listing of nearby local restaurants, which was an extremely nice touch. We wound up at Chipotles. There was a line to use the bathroom. I suppose, in retrospect, that that this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
3:00: We get back in time with the Two Doctors panel, featuring McCoy and Colin Baker. The thing that struck me is how similar McCoy’s stage persona was to the way he plays the Doctor. We also got a ton of questions about the McGann movie. That came up a lot over the course of the day, actually. A showing of it was scheduled in one of the panel rooms opposite the Tom Baker session, and Jen was like “Wow, they’re not even trying.” But people apparently have opinions on it.
4:00: The Second Doctor Panel. Deborah Watling, who played Victoria and John Peel, who wrote a number of novelizations. I halfway assumed that Terrance Dicks just wrote all of them, but apparently not.
I slipped away briefly to see if I could get Ace’s autograph, but Sophie wasn’t at the table. Colin was, and already seated, and I’m not sure how he got there ahead of me. I assume he must have taken the TARDIS.
My original plan had been to head into the other panel to catch Nev Fountain’s piece on writing for Big Finish, but I decided to stick with Jen, and I’m glad I did. We were able to move closer to the stage for this one, and I noticed that they had an ASL interpreter on hand for guests with hearing impairments, and that was a really considerate touch.
I was kind of expecting Watling to be this old fuddy-duddy, but she was a firecracker! She had a bunch of great stories about her time of the show.
Also, there was apparently some kind of secret drinking game going on where everybody had to mention Tomb of the Cybermen as much as possible. It’s a good episode and all, but he had other stories too!
5:00: We stayed in our good seats for the next panel, the Doctor and Ace, and Andrew Cartmel, who wasn’t listed for this panel, but was a really welcome bonus. I would have pegged him as an American, based on his accent, and that was a surprise.
McCoy got a lot of the same questions he did in the previous panel, and he must be pretty tired by now of people informing him that he was holding the sonic screwdriver the wrong way in the McGann movie, or complaining that it made no sense to dangle off the cliff in Dragonfire. If I heard so many questions repeated after just two, I can’t imagine what it’s like for them, having been on the convention circuit for the better part of three decades now. It’s really cool that they keep doing this. If you’re reading this, Sophie, I really appreciate everything you do for the fans. PS – Marry me.
They didn’t discuss Big Finish all that much. I assumed that somebody would have asked, and I wish I’d thought to get up and ask a question myself. Probably something like “Who’s your favorite companion from the audios? It’s Hex, right?” Cartmell did mention that the BBC was ready to pull the license from Big Finish when the new series launched, but RTD intervened to keep them alive, which was really cool of him.
They expressed support for the new show, and McCoy blew a raspberry at fans who don’t like it. I suppose that raspberry was meant for me. I don’t hate the new show, but it feels to me that NuWho (I know, I know, ten years in now. Not all that new) exists as a subversion of Classic Who, whereas Big Finish is an extension and distillation of its better elements.
The panel ran long, but nobody minded. I learned something new. The TARDIS interior smells bad. Apparently the BBC skimps on port-a-loos when filming on locations, and technicians would occasionally relieve themselves within. Though, judging by the exterior, perhaps it was just an honest mistake.
Also, McCoy played the spoons.
6:30: We depart, and conclude the Kingmaker, and listen to Doctor Who and the Pirates, which is glorious.
There is not a single thing that I would have changed about this convention. It’s hard to believe that this was their first year. They have so many little touches that made it a wonderful experience, such as the sign language interpreters, the water in line, and the clearly stated and unambiguous harassment policy.
I have no complaints at all, not even the nit-picking kind of trivial complaint that nerds love to make. (Oh, okay, when we moved to the better seats between the Two Doctors and the Second Doctor panel, someone had left a banana peel on the ground, and it was gross. I picked it up and threw it in a garbage can.)
My only regret was not going for all three days. All the panels looked great. They had a kind of a LARP going on, and sessions of the tabletop RPG. The art for the con was beautiful, and now I have it on a shirt. (Jen no longer has the coolest Doctor Who shirt!)
And here are some Muppets!