Monday, 26 March 2012

Review - Official Doctor Who Convention and Tardis Tour

When the Convention and ticket pricing were first announced, you'd be forgiven for running a mile away from the BBC's Doctor Who Facebook page. The complaints about the pricing were extraordinary - £99 for one day was deemed "over the top" and "greedy" and £25 for a photo of yourself with Matt Smith once again drew complaints that the BBC were "conning money out of the fans". However, the BBC were quite open and upfront about the fact that, at this Official Convention, you would see and experience things that you simply would not get at any other Convention. That's why I paid over the money - and that's why I will happily say that I have no regrets and, in fact, the Convention and the quite simply breathtaking "Tardis Tour" (which was free) was simply a "once in a lifetime" experience.

The crowds were there early - and we were separated into either "Ood" or "Silurian" - depending on your ticket type. However, the queue was lively - lots of cosplayers were having fun and we were entertained by an Ood and Silurian who wandered along the queue posing for photos.

Once inside we were handed a nice "swag bag" containing a souvenir brochure and ticket, plus lanyard with ticket, schedule and location map attached together with a Season 5, volume 1 dvd. First up for those of us on the Silurian schedule was the SFX studio. Cue Danny Hargreaves who explained how the variety of SFX you see on the show are achieved. Of course, we had nice demos too, including an explosion of cork rocks, smoke effects, snow (!), a poor Cyberman having his arm and head shot off and one of Danny Hargreaves' assistants having to run across the stage whilst being shot at. Superb demonstation - and lots of time for questions and some great indepth answers.

(Not a great photo but we were contending with snow and smoke at the time!)

Then it was time for the first panel of the day: "Meet the Stars" - Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Steven Moffat and Caroline Skinner. They all got a fantastic reception - especially Matt who looked just chuffed to bits to be there. It was a fun panel - lots of laughter and joking. Obviously not a lot given away about Series 7 apart from the already reported snippets such as filming the Angels episode in New York. Matt also joked that the difference in him from season 5 to season 6 was that he's now showing the "ravages of age" and that the Moff had heard him say it so often that it's now in an upcoming script.

Questions from the audience were wide and varied including a few attempts to get 50th Anniversary information from the Moff - which failed miserably. A little boy asked Matt if he'd go to the cinema with him that evening - he was going to see "The Hunger Games". Matt had to decline as his parents were there and he was going out with them - but he did it wonderfully and said he was currently reading the book as well. Matt was also asked how to build a Sonic Screwdriver - and he answered the question in an extremely "Doctor-ish" way, coming up with a very reasonable "Doctor Who" explanation whilst gesticulating a lot with his hands. Huge applause for his explanation and even the Moff looked suitably impressed. The panel ended with Matt going down and handing out jammie dodgers to the front row.

The panel was a good hour in length but it seemed over all too soon. We stayed in our seats because next up was the "Creators and Directors" panel. This was all about "The Girl Who Waited" - so guests included Tom MacRae, Marcus Wilson and Neill Gorton. Again, another fascinating panel - with Tom MacRae indicating how the script constantly changed and adapted. The episode was originally supposed to be set in a prison - but that had to change due to "The God Complex" being a prison, then he set it in a hospital but that meant the Doctor would have left thousands to die (not a good option) so finally it became a quarantine facility. We were given an insight into the development of the Handbots - Tom wanted something that could be made into an action figure and his disappointment at the fact that it hasn't been was palpable.

Another hour long panel and our final panel wasn't until 4.15 so the Prosthetics demo was up next. Neill Gorton and pals showed us how they make the wonderful masks etc on the show. The different skills and techniques needed together with the different chemicals used depending on what exactly was needed in the show. They brought along a variety of celebrity "heads" including David Walliams, Matt Lucas and, quite wonderfully, Peter Cushing. The stage area was just like one big chemistry experiment - with different chemicals being mixed to show us the effect - including the expanding foam which soon went rock hard. One of Neill Gorton's assistants was given the facemask treatment and had to sit there whilst they plastered her face with a silicon based mix. They then wrapped plaster bandages around her face and, once that had set, carefully pulled the cast off. They then filled the ensuing "negative" mask with the hardening gel and once that had set you had a cast you could use to create the latex masks you see in the show. Where else are you going to see all this happen right in front of you?

Once that was done, we were off to the Costumes and Props display - this was open all day so you could wander in and out at will. If you've been to the "Doctor Who Experience" then it would probably be mostly familiar to you because the majority of props and costumes seem to come directly from the "Experience". That's not to say it was boring - it wasn't - as long as you didn't harm the exhibits you could stand close and get your photo taken with them. The great thing about this was the number of cosplayers who were wandering around this exhibit.

As you can see above, a cosplaying Weeping Angel with the two Angel exhibits. They were fun - and all the cosplayers were more than happy to pose for photos and chat about their costumes. I have to mention at this point that we kept bumping into one particular 11 and his River Song. I think his name was Peter but every panel we went to we seemed to bump into him (we also bumped into him on the Tardis tour - more of which later). He was fabulous - he was tall, skinny, talked with his hands and was very "11-ish" in mannerisms. Here he is with his River and Amy - really, these were my favourite cosplayers of the weekend:

There were other things constantly going on - such as the "supporting guests" being out in reception signing autographs. Simon Fisher-Becker, Raquel Cassidy and Mark Sheppard amongst those happily signing whatever was put in front of them. Having loved "Party Animals", I had to get Raquel Cassidy's autograph - and she was absolutely delighted when I mentioned "Party Animals". A brief discussion ensued about how wonderful if would have been if the show had kept going - and we could see Jo and Danny in "opposition" after they'd lost the election. One of our group had pre-paid for Karen Gillan's autograph so we joined her in the queue and managed to snap a pic or two of Matt Smith:

A brief stop for a glass of cola - no time for lunch - and it was off to the final panel of the day: "Doctor Who Uncut". This was terrific - and included Caroline Skinner, Steven Moffat, Julian Simpson and Andy Pryor. It was basically a sort of "script to screen" panel with everyone chipping in on their particular area of expertise. From first writing the script, to fitting it in the budget and timings, to casting, directing and locations. A sort of "everything you need to know about bringing a script to the screen" panel. Of course, this was somewhat overshadowed when they showed us the teaser trailer for Season 7 - and with Matt, Karen and Arthur sitting at the back and "heckling" the panel to show the trailer again - it was just great fun. The end of the day? Not quite - personally, I still had my photograph with Matt to be taken. They were trying to get people through this as quickly as possible (so you could pick up your photos before you left) but Matt was just happily hugging people and talking and posing so I'm not sure how quick they actually were.

What a day - we left exhausted and happy. But it wasn't quite over. Not for us, anyway. The following morning we had the Tardis tour. We were taken by coach out to Upper Boat Studios (and with "The Doctor's Wife" on the coach tv we were happily entertained on the journey). Once there, we were split into two groups. One group went to the Tardis set first...the other went to the now famous "Blue Box Cafe" for a cuppa. it was the Tardis first for us and, after being led along corridors and up a wooden ramp, there we were:

Now, our instructions? Wander where you like, take photos of everything and feel free to touch and play with anything. As we were told, "Matt has basically broken everything on the console before anyway". We were given free reign. So, here's a selection of pics from the Tour - unfortunately including me but fortunately including our wonderful 11 and River cosplayers. Actually, it was freezing cold whilst we waited for the coach and "River" was shivering. 11 very gallantly took off his expensive replica jacket and draped it around her shoulders. what a gentleman!

In conclusion, it was a fantastic weekend. With all that we saw and experienced, £99 ended up being rather cheap. Excellently organised - everything ran like clockwork. The staff were fantastic - helpful and very knowledgeable. The whole event, including the Tardis tour, seemed directed to ensuring that YOU, the fan, got the very most out of it that you could. As a consequence, everyone was happy - there was laughter everywhere and you ended up happily chatting away to complete strangers. I have one criticism. Just one. Merchandising - or rather the lack of. They had the Limited Edition Convention tshirt - plus some tshirts etc from the Experience. Apart from that, plus a Forbidden Planet stall, there was nothing else there. There were fans there with money to spend - and not much to spend it on. I realise this wasn't the point of the event but possibly next time they need to look into an organisation like "The Who Shop" - who have been to these kinds of events for years - to provide merchandising.

So, there you have it. A 10 out of 10 event which really did give you a kind of "once in a lifetime" experience. A huge thank you from me to the organisers, staff, crew and everyone else who gave their time to make this event an awesome success. If it happens again? Go to it.

Please note that the photographs used in this article are mine - so feel free to take them and use them elsewhere if you wish. If you'd like the original sized versions then just drop me an email - - and I can send them to you.