The long, long Day of the Doctor….

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So I was lucky enough to grab myself a ticket to the Official Doctor Who Celebration at the ExCel Centre, and even more so that it was on the actual Day of the Doctor itself – 23rd November. 50 years ago to the day at 5.16pm, the first ever episode of Doctor Who was broadcast on the BBC. Sadly, no bugger watched it because JFK had just been shot.

Luckily, quite a few more people watched Who the following week. If they hadn’t, this weekend’s celebrations might never have happened at all. Having spent the big day surrounded by Doctor Who fans, young and old, familiar and unfamiliar, I really wouldn’t have wanted to commemorate the occasion any other way.

It almost didn’t happen though…..

The night before the Celebration I packed a bag and prepared all the bumf that I’d need to ensure my day was as easy as possible. Having picked out an outfit and readied all my toiletries I jumped into bed early and set an alarm for 3:30am. And 3:40am. And 3:45am. And 4:00am. And 4:15am. Now, either none of these went off at all, or I simply didn’t hear them. The first time I woke up that morning was at 4:30am when the taxi driver I’d booked to take me to Manchester Piccadilly called my phone to tell me he was outside.

I suddenly woke up, a lot.

Panicked, I explained to the driver that I’d overslept and that I still needed to shower before I left. He very kindly offered to come back in 20 minutes, which he duly did after I spent that time running around the flat (and shower) screaming obscenities to myself a la Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral. My train was due to depart the station at 5:25am. Amazingly I got dressed in time, having made myself look beautiful, and leapt into the cab, poster tubes under my arms.

I spent the majority of the 15 minute taxi ride excitedly telling the driver where I was going at such an ungodly hour. “I’m going to London!” I said. “I’m going to the big Doctor Who Celebration at the Excel Centre!” I said. He didn’t know (or care) what Doctor Who was. He just concentrated on getting me to the station on time, which to his credit he damned well did.

We pulled up at Piccadilly just after 5:00am – which is miraculous, given the circumstances – and I handed the driver a tenner plus a well-earned 50% tip for his troubles. I grabbed my bags and headed into the station, found my train and got on. Soon, we departed, and I got myself comfortable ahead of the journey. This was the moment I was expecting to look through my bags and found I’d forgotten something important, but amazingly everything I needed was still there. I relaxed, and shoved a pair of earphones in.

Although I was meeting Jenny, Laura and Andrew at the Excel Centre, I’d arranged to meet Richard, a mutual friend of theirs, on the train. I’m not so great at making conversation on trains though. I get terribly self-conscious of my voice in quiet public places, so we agreed that we would meet up on the platform at Euston. This we duly did. After introducing ourselves we made our way out of the station and, after a thoroughly enjoyable cigarette we went to find a cab. Typically the Northern Line on the tube was down that weekend, and we had no other way of getting to Bank to join the DLR to the Excel. Eventually we flagged down a a cab and headed straight for London Docklands.

It was on arrival that my excitement started to materialise. Huge banners greeted us, as did a phenomenally massive queue once we’d entered the ‘waiting hall’ just near the main convention rooms. Richard and I picked up our lanyards and joined the back of the queue, where we were surrounded almost instantly by hundreds of Daleks, Weeping Angels and Doctors, the majority waving sonic screwdrivers in the air, excitedly waiting to be ushered forward. We got chatting to a lad in the queue, and our conversation (about whether the BBC could have devoted each month of the year to the corresponding Doctor) appeared to be a popular opinion all round.

We were led past a table with day planners and maps, and through an enormous 1960s television set into what transpired to be a beautifully realised version of the Totters Lane junkyard – home of the First Doctor in the first ever episode, of course – resplendent with classic TARDIS and a few of the old BBC studio signs. It was a lovely touch, and showed me that this wasn’t just going to be a drag-them-in-and-take-their-money kind of convention. Well, not all of it, anyway.

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I’d already made a day planner for myself, as I had a lot to do and I had no idea how easy it was going to be to get through it all. First on the list was both a photo on the Eleventh Doctor’s TARDIS, and an autograph opportunity with Sophie Aldred. Richard headed off to join the autograph queue and I made my way to the far end of the hall to get my TARDIS picture. Thankfully the queue wasn’t too long, maybe around 10 minutes or so, and soon I stepped through the doors of the TARDIS and got my first real-life glimpse of the console. Sadly I didn’t get too long to stare longingly at it before I had to pose for my picture, but in what little time I had I was able to take in all the little details. As a special bonus, the organisers had even constructed the glass floor underneath. Again, just a little touch – which probably wasn’t necessary – but it was that attention to detail which impressed me. I left the area and picked up my photo straight away, and while I’m never keen on how I look in pictures, the console itself looks good. It’s just a lovely souvenir of the day.

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So, after collecting my image and storing it away safely in my geeky little see-through folder, I wandered over to the autograph queue. I was very pleased to see that despite the Celebration tickets selling out within a few days, the overcrowding I’d worried about simply wasn’t there. The teams on the ground were organised and efficient, and made sure any queues were carefully placed so as to not cause too much disruption for other attendees walking by. It didn’t take long before I’d made my way to the front of the queue, where I was invited to join the smaller queue of fans waiting to meet Sophie. She was happily chatting to the fans about anything and everything, and there was no fear of just being hurried through.

Eventually I reached the front and said hi to Sophie. I should point out at this stage that Sophie Aldred was the first girl I ever fell in love with. She was Ace, and I was 7, and I was going to marry her. Although that never happened (still time, Sophie….!) I have met her once previously, at London Film and Comic Con, and all I remember about that was turning bright red, stumbling over my words and looking like a bit of a pillock. Sophie is so friendly, approachable and warm that she would put anyone at ease. We chatted about my earlier ‘fun’ racing to the station that morning and it transpired that she knew Manchester well, having attended university there. In fact, she lived not too far away from where I live now. I handed her a lovely print of the TARDIS I’d had made some time ago and after she’d signed it I said my goodbyes. Before I left the area however I decided that I now really wanted to meet Carole Ann Ford and William Russell. Thankfully there were still tickets left to meet them so I handed over the cash and joined Carole Ann’s queue.

Carole Ann was very pleasant indeed, greeting me with a big smile as I walked to her station. It was a relatively brief encounter, as there was only five minutes to go until their autograph sessions were over, but she signed my TARDIS image, including the date, which I thought was a lovely touch, and after a few words I went over to William Russell who was sat next to her. Again, this was a brief meeting but William was very welcoming and again signed and dated my TARDIS image.

I carefully rolled up the image, taking care that the ink was dry on all the signatures. As I did so, the tannoy blared out an announcement that I (and all the other attendees in the Weeping Angel group) were to make their way over to stage one, where the Regenerations panel was about to start. I decided to give that a miss. Although the panel featured Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, and therefore was a whole world of awesome, I’d noticed that the main hall was relatively quiet at this stage, and I wanted to take in the sights for a while.

The first stop on my magical mystery tour was the props and costumes area. I hadn’t known what to expect from this, as I’ve already been to the Doctor Who Experience at least three times, so surely I’d seen everything, hadn’t I? No, not really. Aside from the various costumes I had indeed seen before there were a number of fantastic exhibits I was seeing for the first time. The organisers had done a great job of procuring a mixture of Doctor Who, Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood displays, some of which came from private collections. I was impressed with Mr Smith, the computer from SJA, which also made an appearance in Doctor Who in series four, and next to that was Sarah Jane’s famous car, with her outfit displayed next to it. Quite poignant, following the death of Elisabeth Sladen.

The collection included the costumes from the cast of Torchwood, the speeder bike thingamajig (from the cheesy scene in Rings of Akhaten), Jon Pertwee’s old Bessie car, and of course all the Doctor’s costumes dating back to William Hartnell’s days. You could get a little closer to the exhibits than you could at the Experience, so I spent quite a while checking out the little details in each of the outfits. Matt Smith’s series five shirt is incredibly detailed close up. Also made me realise that buying one (as I tried to do) and wearing it would make me look a bit of a twat at work.

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I didn’t spend too long hanging around any of the other stands at this point. I hadn’t met up with the others yet and I wanted to explore the rest of the show with them. At this point they were in the Regenerations talk, and I was intending to head into the hall once the next talk started. The tannoy soon rang out again telling us to head over to stage one for the major talk of the day, The Eleventh Hour. I wasn’t meeting Matt Smith on the day (I’ve already met him) so I pootled over to the hall to see what was what. I sat on the back row. It wasn’t full, but there were a good 3000 or so people comfortably seated, while the impressive big screen flung special Doctor Who trailers at them for their delectation.

Jo Whiley was introduced onto the stage, followed soon after by producer Marcus Wilson, writer and showrunner Steven Moffat, Jenna Coleman and Matt Smith, for some reason wearing a Victor Meldrew-esque raincoat, unbuttoned except from the top button. I’m no fashionista, and this isn’t an article for Vogue, but – really? If I’m blathering on about fashion though I may as well give Jenna Coleman’s outfit a mention. She was sporting a fetching blue dress, which bore more than a passing resemblance to the TARDIS itself. Anyway, enough about clothes.

I didn’t make notes during the talk, and I was too busy listening to it to actually pay attention, so I can’t remember much of what was discussed. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of videos on YouTube though, such as this one:-

I do recall that we didn’t learn too much that we didn’t already know. They couldn’t talk about the Day of the Doctor obviously, given that it wasn’t on until later that evening, so the conversation was kept to general chat about Matt Smith’s tenure as the Doctor, and that his departure is quite sad for his colleagues. The Q+A session didn’t exactly blow us away either, with such incisive questions as “what was your favourite episode?”, “why did you want to play the Doctor?” (he didn’t actually seek it out – he was invited to audition) and “what’s your favourite colour I like the colour red it is nice do you like red too please say you like red I love you”.

Following the talk I made my way back over into the main hall. I joined the queue for Daphne Ashbrook and waited my turn. As seems to be the case whenever I meet anyone for an autograph, I get stuck behind the guy who wants to spend the next three hours talking to Daphne about ‘stuff’, while I wait. And wait. And wait a little more. It turns out he’d met Daphne before, at a convention in America somewhere, and wanted her to guess which one. Instead of telling her the correct answer after she failed to remember the first time, he let her carry on guessing. Good work. Eventually she worked it out and the guy left, happy enough. So then it was my turn. It transpired that Daphne had only arrived in the country at 11pm the night before, and as such was a little bit ‘frazzled’ (her word). She proved this by forgetting her name halfway through signing it. She got there in the end though, bless her.

I remember feeling a little sorry for Yee Jee Tso, Daphne’s co-star from the 1996 movie (he played Chang Lee) who was sitting in the next booth. He had nobody waiting for him in his queue, and I think I only saw him sign for one or two attendees. Still, he looked like he was having a good enough time, and he clearly got on well with Daphne, so I didn’t concern myself too much. Plus he was probably being paid a fair amount just to be there. Not bad work if you can get it.

After leaving the autograph area I found myself joining the queue again, as it was almost time for my final ‘guest encounter’ of the day, Jenna Coleman. I’ve met Jenna before, and I’m not normally one for collecting loads of autographs from the same people, but I wanted her to sign the TARDIS piece along with the others. That way, the piece would be a truly 50th anniversary memory – having being signed by the first two companions, my favourite companion (Sophie Aldred….), the companion from the 1996 movie, and the current companion. A nice range.

So I queued for Jenna, surrounded by excited fans. The organisers wanted to make sure that as many attendees as possible would be able to meet with Jenna so there was very little time for any real conversation. I managed to say hello, and ask how she was before handing her the piece and showing her where I’d like her to sign it. This she duly did and as I turned to leave she added that she thought it was a really nice picture. I knew this, of course, but it was lovely to hear it from her……

The finished piece looks like this. I won’t be adding any more names on it, as I like having something started and finished on the 50th anniversary.

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The hall was starting to get a little busier now. The earlier talks had finished and the attendees who had left the halls to get lunch were all starting to make their way back in, slightly fatter. I decided, in my infinite wisdom, to head for the market stalls (possibly the busiest area in the hall) where it was possible to buy absolutely anything you could ever think of with a Doctor Who logo on it. Seriously, if money was no object, I wouldn’t have been able to get it all in the cab home. As it turns out I didn’t go as crazy as I’d anticipated. I bought an Ace action figure, before I happened upon the Big Finish stand. Big Finish, for the uninitiated, are a cracking little production company given licence from the BBC to make audio dramas based upon the classic series. These dramas are extra special as they use the actors from the classic series to perform their respective roles.

I was (and remain) a huge fan of Paul McGann’s Doctor. I loved the way he played the part in the movie and I feel it was a tragedy that we were never given a full series with him. This is where Big Finish come in. They’ve made a full series of adventures starring Paul McGann, giving us the next best thing to an actual series. I heard one of these some time ago, but after being delighted by the amazing Night of the Doctor last week I wanted to know more about the 8th Doctor’s story. So, I spoke to the guys at the stand who cleverly sold me four stories on CD (including a Peter Davison story I didn’t even want) and I went away happy.

Finally I met up with the others. Jenny and Laura were at one of the market stalls filling their bags with badges, and Andrew was close behind. Pretty much immediately Andrew was due to join the autograph queue as there were three Doctors he wanted to meet – Peter Davison, Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy – who were all signing at the same time. By this point I noticed my phone was dangerously low on juice (it’s an iPhone, of course it was) so I disappeared again to go and recharge. The lovely folk near the classic screening rooms upstairs happily allowed me to use the plug sockets, so I sat up there for half an hour with a cookie (£2.20!) and waited for the others to get in touch after they’d done their business with the Doctors. The time came soon enough when Jenny and Richard came upstairs to join me. Jenny needed a bit of a recharge, and was coming to pick up her photo with Matt Smith taken earlier in the day.

Once we found the desk with the many photos on, it was clear that a great many of them had come out pretty badly. I’ve found with Showmasters events (the signing events I attend) that all the photographs are well lit, well set up and essentially uniform. These ones though, a little bit crap, truth be told. It seemed to be a little bit of a lottery as to whether you got one without too much flash/too little flash/a yellow hue etc, although it has to be said, Jenny and Laura’s photo with Matt is fantastic. I won’t put it on here as it’s not mine, obviously, but the pose is brilliant. Think a classic ‘Doctor in the middle, brandishing the sonic screwdriver, with the companions reaching out towards the camera on either side’ kinda thing.

We buggered off back downstairs, passing Sophie Aldred on the way, at which point Jenny decided to exclaim “Hey, there’s your girlfriend” right behind me. She was right, of course, but Sophie and I are clearly on a break. Temporarily.

Downstairs we came across Laura and Andrew. After a bit of a chat interspersed with excited fangirling over their picture with Matt, we headed into the queue ahead of the SFX theatre show. We worked our way through a packet of caramel chocolate Digestives and then found our seats in the auditorium. We found a decent seat in the middle of the hall, and waited for the host to arrive. Dallas Campbell (formerly of Bang Goes The Theory) was introduced onto the stage. He then in turn introduced us to Danny Hargreaves.

Danny Hargreaves is the lead special effects guy on Doctor Who, and has been for almost ten years. He’s responsible for all the physical, non-CGI effects. The show started with a highlights package of the SFX team’s finer moments shown on the big screen above the stage. After about ten minutes of this I was starting to wonder whether they were intending to show EVERY EXPLOSION EVER in Doctor Who….! Following this, we were shown an exploding Dalek, and attacked by a Cyberman, before a young lad dressed as Eleven was invited onto the stage and handed a prop gun bigger than him in order to save the day – which he then duly did.

The SFX team then sprayed the front row with the same ‘snow’ they use on the show, before turning on a massive fan and blasting air at them for a while. After this the floor was opened for questions to Danny. Sadly the questions again weren’t exactly mind-blowing. We were treated to such brilliance as “what’s your favourite effect?” followed by “what was the best effect you did?” followed by “what effect do you think you enjoyed the most?”. For those interested, it was the effect in Closing Time when the Doctor jumps through the glass in the patio doors. We also learned that Danny once set fire to David Tennant’s hair, and that the fireball in the Christmas Carol episode when Matt Smith comes down the chimney wasn’t exactly……planned.

One relatively entertaining show later we left and headed back again into the main hall. I had met all the people I’d wanted to meet, and bought all the things I’d wanted to buy, so we could spend the next hour or two just exploring. We went back over to the costume display and did a bit of posing with the gear – Jenny and Laura posed on the space-moped-thing from Rings of Akhaten – and I spent the whole time trying to decide whether I wanted to splash out on the full size Tom Baker scarf from one of the stalls. This one particular stall was selling that with an 8×10 signed by Tom Baker, all for £50. Sounds a lot, but the scarf alone is £50 in most shops, so I was really, really tempted.

As it happens, by the time we got back there they’d sold out of either scarves or 8x10s (or both) so that was my decision made. I will eventually get myself a Tom Baker scarf. I’m not sure whether I’d ever wear it if I wasn’t at a convention, although it’s a cracking Who fan locating device. You can spot them a mile away.

We arrived at the tail-end of the day, feeling the burn on the soles of our feet and ready to watch the BIG ONE. We got ourselves a cab back to the hotel, stopping for provisions (Hula Hoops, Pepsi Max, chicken butty) on the way. On arrival at the hotel, we checked into our respective rooms nice and easy. The others all headed up to Laura and Jenny’s room to prepare for the episode, and I headed back to my room to store my new ‘stuff’, shower and change.

Given the length of this post already I have no intention of including a review of the Day of the Doctor in here as well. That would be ridiculous. I can’t imagine for a second that anyone would have made it THIS far, in all honesty. What I will say is that regardless of the episode itself (which I loved very much for many, many reasons) I couldn’t have chosen a better bunch of geeks to share the viewing experience with.

Right, that was 4000 words. That’s more than enough. Thanks very much for reading this far, you did well.

Latersville.

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary, and all that.

Greetings reader, and thank you for coming back to my blog after all this time. I’ve been away from blogging for a couple of months due to having far too much time to do it. If I’m in a rush I can churn out an entry (oo-err) no problem at all. If I have too much time on my hands I think too much, change my mind, change it back, and then think ‘sod it’ before flicking on the PS3 and shooting people in the face.

We’re now two weeks away from the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary, and it’s all starting to take off a little. The last few weeks have been awash with rumours of trailers and sex scenes and all sorts, but we’re now officially due a trailer on Saturday night (9 November, for those counting) and although I am looking forward to it, the fact that this has dragged on so long has less whetted my appetite than it has just got on my tits.

Although ‘trailergate’ at the SDCC did annoy me at the time, I do appreciate that what was shown there was a pre post-production snippet of footage from the episode. I’m sure this looked nothing like the finished product, and to be honest, I’m a relatively patient man. What’s bothered me more is the lack of screen time afforded to the show in general on the BBC. I’m a huge fan of the Beeb – most of my favourite TV programmes over the last 30-odd years have been made by them – but I’m disappointed that they haven’t set aside a few hours a month to show a few of the older episodes for the fans who might never have seen them. Maybe one story for each Doctor perhaps.

I generally despair at the amount of reality (and sub-reality) shows made nowadays. I do understand that the Beeb has a duty to the licence fee payer to produce a wide ranging programming schedule to cater for all audiences, and that reality TV is part of that. One man’s gold is another man’s garbage, I get it. But even though it seems that Joe Public generally tends to be a little bit dim, and spends half his life watching other people watching other people watching other people piss about trying to sing on stage, I don’t appreciate the gulf in the amount of screen time afforded to all that guff.

Doctor Who is presently given around 13 episodes a year, give or take, with a Christmas special. That’s OK – I’d like a little more, but as long as the standard remains high and the budget is respectable then leave it as it is. Fine. What I don’t understand is why something like Doctor Who Confidential (a low-budget companion BBC Three show) is axed when the Beeb insist on giving us alternative low budget companion shows like Strictly Confidential, or whatever it’s called. They’re dancing. What is there to talk about? Why not use that budget for something else? I’m not saying it has to be DWC but at least that’s a show about something creative. Again, though, each to their own. If I’d spent my life working toward becoming the BBC Director General then I could have had a say.

Anyway, I am of course looking forward to the episode itself, mainly because it’s a new episode of my favourite show, but in all honesty I’m looking forward to the 50th Celebration convention even more. I bought my ticket for the event months ago, and I’ve been waiting…….and waiting…….and waiting for some events, goings-on and guests to be announced for the weekend itself. Now they’ve started releasing a bit of info about it all I think I can safely say I’m going to have a good time. Sophie Aldred will be there for a start. She was the first girl I ever had a crush on (I was 7) and she was lovely last time I met her.

I hope that the Celebration itself really pulls out all the stops in a couple of weeks. What I don’t want is a huge room of desks to get autographs at, and some half-arsed talks. There needs to be something spectacular for the fans to really get stuck into, especially at £50 a ticket. We’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, I will most certainly #SaveTheDay.

TARDiff

So, this week has been eventful. Actually, no it hasn’t. I’ve done pretty much sod all for most of it, but that would be because I’d been waiting for Thursday and my trip to Cardiff.

The long day started at 6am. I’d do a detailed description of what I did until I got the train, but you didn’t come here to read about my morning ablutions, so I’ll spare you that. The travel tickets had been bought in advance, and worked out at £22 each way from Manchester to Cardiff, which is pretty good considering that on the day they would have cost us a cool £67 each way.

I’d arranged to meet up with Jenny and Laura at Manchester Piccadilly for 8am, which is exactly the time we arrived, because we’re geeks, and geeks are always on time. Following a quick jaunt into WHSmiths for provisions (and a pack of Doctor Who Top Trumps) we jumped on the waiting train nice and early and found ourselves a table seat. As the journey to Cardiff is over three hours, it’s a good job we all brought along something to entertain us on the way. Doctor Who Top Trumps didn’t last very long, despite our amusement at there being an Adolf Hitler card – so we moved on to travel Connect Four, and then travel Battleships (or at least a slightly cheaper, but no less fun, version of the game called Sea Battle). I lost. Enough about that.

Upon arrival at Cardiff Central we met up with Andrew and made our way over to the bayside area, some twenty minutes walk. On the way we passed the road where a handcuffed Sherlock and John Watson cobbed themselves in front of a bus, and then merely yards away we happened upon the Millennium Centre, complete with Torchwood hub outside. My hope to visit Roald Dahl Plass (for that is the location’s name) and to wander properly through the square was scuppered for the second time this year, as the area was taken over by a travelling funfair. Curses.

Onwards to the Doctor Who Experience, to be found a short walk along the bay. The building is very easy to spot – it’s a huge hangar-style building with DOCTOR WHO EXPERIENCE emblazoned in 12ft letters over the doors. Observe: –

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As you can see, it’s not exactly the most inconspicuous building in the world. Being the summer holidays it was pretty busy inside, a lovely mixture of Doctor Who fans of all ages, some dressed up as Who characters, some (like me) in their Sunday finest. This is a place where you’d really need to be a fan to work there. If not, the constant looping of tracks from the Who soundtrack would probably end up really getting on your tits. I mean, I’m a fan, and I wasn’t there long, but even I was tiring of I Am The Doctor after a few minutes.

We’d arrived some thirty minutes or so early, so we took a seat in the canteen and waited for 1pm, the time of our tour. A quick bottle of water later and we wandered over to the large Lego Dalek in the far corner of the lobby. There we were met by Andy, our guide, who handed out BBC Visitor passes and beckoned us (and around 10 or 12 others) to follow him over the road to Roath Lock Studios.

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One brief, excited walk up the road and along the outside of the studios later, we arrived at a turnstile at the far end. Andy buzzed us all in individually and we lined up facing a huge heavy metal door, flanked by security. We were told that the long, narrow avenue on the other side of the door was known as the Yellow Brick Road, so named due to the designers of the studios painting that particular section yellow on the architect’s drafts. It isn’t a strictly accurate name. Grey Tarmac Avenue would be a closer description. We were escorted through the gates and along the avenue, past intriguing-looking doors on either side with signs such as “Costume Store” (what I would have given to have had a look in there!) before we eventually reached Studio 4.

With no further ado we were led straight into the studio; a huge area with an impossibly high ceiling, black soundproof walls keeping the sound (and heat) inside. To our left was what we were here to see.

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The first thing we saw as we passed that structure was the famous blue TARDIS doors halfway up. It isn’t an enormous structure by any means, but it is an impressive bloody thing, and that’s just the view of the wooden panels on the outside. Ahead of us as we walked past the structure were a multitude of random chairs and stools, and another mean looking security guy stood menacingly in the corner. We were asked to take a seat and advised that we would be entering the TARDIS in groups of six. We were the largest group there, so we (and a young lad with his mum) headed up the stairs to the Police Box doors first. Outside, the guide proceeded to inform us that the platform upon which we were stood was the location for the filming of the sequence in The Snowmen where the camera followed the Doctor into the TARDIS from the outside. A genuinely fascinating fact, I must admit, but one which, as Doctor Who fans, we all knew already – and this was eating into our time on the set.

After a quick photo outside the famous blue doors, the guide proceeded to open them, and we were bathed in bright green light emanating from the TARDIS console in the centre of the room. A number of gasps could be heard as we were ushered forward into the Console Room set, and once the doors were closed behind us we found ourselves in another world. The set is a 360-degree build. There is a full ceiling above, and the walls surround you. Once you’re inside, you are INSIDE. This is a fully encapsulated set, which makes it all the more impressive.

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The console itself is immediately familiar. Although this set has only been in use less than a year it feels like something you’ve known all your life – the fact that the console design owes slightly more to the original William Hartnell console than the previous Nu-Who designs is probably the reason for this. It’s a magnificent device – all levers, lights and buttons as you’d expect from the TARDIS console, but other segments had beautiful coloured screens inset into them:

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We learned that these monitors have their displays beamed to them externally, and that each of the twenty panels making up the “outside” wall of the TARDIS can be removed, meaning that the cameras can film anywhere around the set without taking up too much space. Unfortunately, this was all information we could have read anywhere – and we wanted to spend our limited time on the set exploring and taking photographs. The guide moved ahead of us to the lower level, and while he spent time giving information to the young lad and his mum about the Heart of the TARDIS below the console, we spent the time we had taking pictures – one of which soon becoming my favourite picture taken of me EVER…..

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Our tour was soon over, and we were led outside really rather sooner than we expected. We were inside the TARDIS around five minutes, certainly nowhere near the ten minutes we were hoping for. If I was going to criticise anything, it would be that we should have been left a little to our own devices once inside. While I wouldn’t expect to be given free reign of the set, I think the majority of tour-goers would simply want to use the time to gaze around and take pictures. We felt we were hurried a little through it.

Annus Who-rribilis (sorry)

Non-Whovians read on at your peril. You’ve had enough of the holiday for a while. I’ve decided to have a bit of a quick break from blogging about my honeymoon in a kind of “What I Did This Summer” style to return to writing about the subject this blog was created for: Doctor Bloody Who.

Some people may have noticed that this is the 50th Anniversary year of Doctor Who. For the pedants, these ’50 years’ do include a pretty large 16-year hiatus, but in reality I couldn’t give a toss. The show first aired in 1963, so 2013 for the anniversary it is. As a result of this milestone we Whovians are getting a shedload of little (and big) treats to enjoy as the year passes, and I’m trying to enjoy as many of them as I can, money allowing.

We’ve had the daft little collectors’ things thus far, such as the stamps – which are lovely – and everything from gold-plated TARDISes to playsets and mugs and such like. These are nice little reminders that the show is getting a little bit of publicity, albeit at times it’s a little grating to see the Doctor’s face on a packet of biscuits for no reason whatsoever. I’m not going to complain about all that too much though; at least it’s not absolutely everywhere (yet), and even if it was, it’s something that I kinda have a bit of an interest in, so sod it.

Obviously we’ve already had the seventh series of the ‘new’ Doctor Who, and, while I felt parts of it were a little weak in places, it was equally strong in others – and while I could probably say for sure there are maybe one or two episodes this year I won’t be rushing to watch again, there are at least eight or nine I could happily watch over and over. Later in the year we’ll be treated to the multi-Doctor Anniversary special, and then the Matt Smith era comes to a conclusion with the Christmas special, in which we’ll be treated to a regeneration. Also to come is Mark Gatiss’ An Adventure in Space and Time, a feature length drama about the making of the original series, which looks really intriguing.

While I’m waiting for my television to explode with Doctor Who-related goodness, I’m having to find other Who things to do to pass the time. And find these things I have. As previous readers of my blog will already know, I’ve met Billie Piper and Jenna-Louise Coleman (who I understand has now changed her name to just Jenna Coleman – probably to save time when signing hundreds of autographs at a time). That was a fun weekend, but the year needs something else. Something a bit more substantial.

First up, something that only transpired in the last few days, and something for which I absolutely cannot wait. I’d noticed over the last few days that my Twitter (@djdarrenjones) timeline had gradually been filling up with photographs and tweets about people I’m following visiting the set of the TARDIS at Roath Lock Studios – a revelation which both shocked and appalled me, in equal measure. How were people getting onto the TARDIS? How, if I’d signed up for every single Who-related mailing list in the ruddy universe over the last few years, was I not hearing about this? A quick call to the Doctor Who Experience later, and I was advised that this was a special deal being offered by the Experience over summer – to visit the current set (located next door to the Experience in Cardiff) for the princely sum of ten pounds (on top of the usual £13 entrance fee to the Experience itself). Naturally I begged, stole and borrowed (from myself) and due to some superb help from a certain gentleman at the DWE – who I won’t name, just in case he went far above and beyond the call of duty – I’m now heading to the bloody TARDIS set in a couple of weeks. The current TARDIS. So current, that it’s possible it may even be closed on the day we turn up due to filming. Flaming well hope not though.

And then on to November 23rd, the day of the Anniversary itself. I’m heading down to London to attend the Doctor Who Official 50th Celebration – a huge official BBC convention being held at the enormous ExCel Centre. All we know so far is that there will be guests (Matt Smith, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Tom Baker have been announced at the time of writing), panels, an SFX Show and “other” stuff, details of which are yet to be released. It’s been suggested that there will be some sort of event in the evening directly related to the transmission that night of the Anniversary Special, which could be anything from a large cinema showing with a ‘Q and A’ with the stars, to a small TV placed in the corner of the room which only Steven Moffat and his SDCC chums are allowed to watch. Ahem.

Either way, this convention is being billed as something a little bit special, and I do hope it lives up to the hype. The tickets sold out in a matter of an hour or so, and every single attendee will be hoping for something memorable. I’m sure as the event draws near and more guests are announced, this will be a knockout weekend for those of us lucky enough to have tickets.

So, that’s it thus far. I think a trip to the TARDIS and a chance to meet virtually every companion and Doctor in one day could really make my year this year.

Vacanze Romane (Quarta Parte)

Delicious lunch scoffed, and the first beer of the holiday quaffed, we asked for and paid ‘il conto’ (the bill) before heading back out to continue our day. As we weren’t far at all from the banks of the Tiber, that’s where we went, for a gentle stroll along the river.

Day Two: Part Two: Roman Holiday II

The Tiber, not dissimilar to the Thames, or the Seine, cuts the city pretty much evenly in half. It passes close to the Vatican, before heading south-east. The north side of the river holds pretty much all of the well known sights of Rome, while the south side has the feel of a slightly less touristy town. More about the south side in another blog entry though, as we didn’t head over one of the many bridges across the river on this particular day.

We stopped for a quick rest after some fifteen minutes slog through the afternoon sun, and checked our various maps. As soon as I rested my arm on the wall of the bank I was bitten by a sodding ant, who scarpered as soon as I spotted him. I shook my fist angrily at him as he turned around, flipped me the finger, and disappeared into his nest. We found as we turned around we were just across the road from the Bocce della Verita (the Mouth of Truth) which onlookers will recognise from Roman Holiday. It’s essentially a stone face of a “God” – thought by Romans to represent the God of the Tiber – attached to a wall in an old church. Visitors are tempted to put their hand in the mouth of the God, and liars will find their hand will be bitten off. Back in the days of Audrey and Greg, passers-by could just wander in, walk straight up to the Mouth and have a go. Nowadays, sadly, it’s guarded by a man charging five Euros to stand next to it and have your photograph taken. I was very tempted to have a go, but I could just take a photograph from the side of the queue, and to be honest, just seeing the sight with my own eyes was enough for me.

It is worth reiterating just how hot it was in Rome at this point, as the next stop on our journey involved a walk of what seemed like hours, in blistering heat, to reach the Roman Forum. On the map, it didn’t look that far, but in reality, when it became apparent that the only way into the site was through an entrance on the far side, it was a real slog. Countless bottles of water and lemon Fanta later, we finally made it to the ticket office.

The Roman Forum was one of the highlights of the holiday for me. Despite the fact that the site is most certainly a ruin, you really get a sense of how it used to look some 2000 years earlier, in the days of the Caesars, when it was almost entirely filled with marble, and was the meeting place for the high-ranked members of the Roman Senate. Some of the buildings are now almost unrecognisable – broken pieces of ancient foundations, and stand-alone columns, the weight they used to bear now long gone – and other buildings have stood the test of time much better, and stand almost as they did two millennia ago.

The Forum’s main impressive sights are all found at the bottom of Palatine Hill, easily climbed via a cobbled path under some gratefully received shade due to the rows of large trees on either side. Halfway up the path we came across a public tap, free for anyone to use to refill their bottles of water. The heat was such that after around five minutes your refrigerated acqua minerale was actually warmer than your mouth was – not the cool, refreshing drink you’re hoping for after an hour-long trek around the ruins. Atop Palatine Hill stands the Arch of Septimus Severus, which sounds like a Harry Potter plot device, but is in fact dedicated to the former Roman Emperor of the same name to commemorate military victories back in the third century AD.

A few photos and swigs of lukewarm water later we felt we had seen enough, and decided to work our way out of the Forum and take the short walk down the road to head into the Colosseum, which of course was included in the ticket price for the Forum, so we simply walked straight past the enormous queue stood outside the ticket office and headed straight in. It’s an enormous structure – outside the building you don’t get the impression that it’s that big, but once you’re inside the Colosseum really lives up to the name. All around you the stands of the stadium tower over you, and in the centre, where the central arena space used to be, the narrow pathways of the former cells and tunnels for the ‘competitors’. Thankfully, despite the throngs of tourists outside, there never seemed to be that many inside, so walking around freely was pretty simple.

We’d had enough by this stage, so after a brief examination of the tat on offer in the utterly out of place gift shop in the Colosseum, we took off back to the hotel. The day had really knocked the stuffing out of us, so there we stayed from the remainder of the evening, enjoying the air-conditioning while nursing our blistered feet, ready for the next day of sightseeing.

Vacanze Romane (Terza Parte)

First day over and done with, we slept very well indeed back at our hotel, the Daysleeper B&B – so named as the owners are clear REM fans. That’s the band, not the type of sleep, although either way it would still work. On the second day, the holiday actually started. Here, for your delectation, is an account of what we got up to on that not-so-fateful sunny day.

Day Two: Part One: Roman Holiday

The previous night we both fell asleep very easily indeed at around 7:30pm. As a result, we woke bright and early, showered, shovelled a few rounds of toast in our hungry mouths and, after pre-checking a few of the local maps and Metro routes, we exited our hotel and headed out in the dry morning heat straight to the nearest Metro stop – Manzoni. Actually, the nearest one would probably have been Roma Termini, but Francesco (our host) had warned us that due to the crowds and ruffians it might be best to head to the other one. We bought tickets to Ottaviano, some eight or nine stops along the tracks. Ottaviano is one of the nearest Metro stations to the Vatican, which was the first destination of our day. To reach St Peter’s Square, the location of the famous Vatican City, we slalomed for around ten minutes through non-stop street sellers, trying to push guided tours, fake branded handbags, sunglasses and all manner of other tat on us. We then found ourselves slap-bang in the middle of the square.

St Peter’s Square is a huge area, with a long street leading up to it from the river. Two sides of the square are towered over by huge rows of ancient white stone columns, and between the two rows stands probably the most well known of the buildings, the dome-topped St Peter’s Basilica. In the centre of the square the towering obelisk has stood since the 15th Century. It was at first a pretty surreal experience, standing in a location I’ve seen on television for years. When you see the Pope delivering his address, chances are he’ll be standing on a balcony in the centre of the façade of the Basilica, overlooking the thousands of people congregating in the centre of the square. To a Mancunian, it is clear that the architects of the Trafford Centre took the majority of their inspiration from this square – certainly the dome, the rows of columns and the many statues lining the top of each one. One of the reasons we’d headed to the Vatican that morning was with a view to taking a look at the Sistine Chapel, and its extraordinarily famous ceiling, painted by Michaelangelo. Having seen the frankly ridiculous queues to enter the Vatican museum (which you need to walk through before entering the Chapel) we decided against it. Zo had already seen the interior of the Chapel, and I honestly don’t have any real interest in religious history or art. Call me a philistine, but there are other sights of Rome I had more desire to experience. Such as the bar, for example.

Photos duly taken, we meandered along Via della Conciliazione, a wide avenue lined on each side by churches, basilicas, shoe shops (!) and general religious souvenir stalls. If you’re desperate for a t-shirt emblazoned with enormous letters proclaiming that you “HEART PAPA FRANCESCO”, then this is the place to go. At the end of the Via you reach the Castel Sant’Angelo, which stands upon the River Tiber (Tavere in Italian). This is a fascinating building. Originally built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian in AD 139, the structure you see now is drastically different. Around 150 years after it was built the walls were fortified in a deep reddish-brown brick and the huge circular Castel almost looks like a moored brick boat atop the walls. For the perfect postcard picture view of the Castel you walk across the bridge in front of it and look back. Statues of angels and saints adorn the bridge on either side, and the view from the other side of the river is memorable, and iconic. The location is deeply ingrained in my memory as this is where Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck head to for an evening dance (and a scrap with the locals) in the film Roman Holiday.

A short walk along the Tiber and a quick right turn later we soon found ourselves in Piazza Navona, a long sausage-shaped area with a grand fountain – the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi – as its centrepiece. The fountain, designed by Bernini, represents four major rivers in the world: the Nile, the River Plate, the Ganges and the Danube. It’s an incredible piece of sculpture. Even the local young seagulls were happily taking a swim in the very refreshing looking waters, something I wouldn’t have minded doing, with the unforgiving heat from the sun pounding on us all morning. The Piazza was busy with local painters selling their wares, some very talented, some not so, yet business seemed a little slow.

Our next stop brought us to the Pantheon, one of the highlights of the trip, and a building I had wanted to visit for many years. Designed by the Emperor Hadrian almost 2000 years ago, the temple’s name refers to “all the gods” for whom it was originally intended. It became a church in the middle ages, and the exterior of the structure has that ancient, columned appearance you go to Rome to see. It stands in the Piazza della Rotunda (‘Rotunda’ referring to the domed interior of the Pantheon itself), a busy square occupied by tourists day and night. The magic of the Pantheon is inside, though. Free to enter, the only light is provided by a large circular opening in the ceiling of the dome directly above you, designed to allow one powerful shaft of sunlight to enter. It’s a spectacular sight, which changes depending on the time of your visit and the location of the sun in the blue Roman sky. The interior is lined with many columns, and the multi-coloured marble floor, while not the original stone, is a sight enough on its own. The artist Raphael is entombed here, and his final resting place is visible through a glass covering.

The Pantheon can get a little crowded inside, partly due to the fascinating interior, and partly due to the fact that getting in costs nothing. As such, we decided to move on. Just a couple of minutes’ walk from the Piazza we happened across another famous sight of Rome, the magnificent Trevi Fountain. I’m not sure I can do justice to the spectacle of the Trevi, unless you’ve seen it in person. There is a reason why this place is so famous and so popular with tourists and locals alike. As you would expect, there are a constant stream of photo-opportunists here although it’s not that difficult to make your way to the front of the crowds for an unrestricted view of the fountain. We were happy standing near the back however – the views are just as grand back there. The fountain represents the two contrasting moods of the sea – Neptune is accompanied by Tritons on either side, one of which is struggling to control a wild horse (of the sea, but not a seahorse) and the other is finding it much easier to master another, more calm horse.

Now we were hungry. We wandered to another Piazza, the Campo dei Fiori. This is a market square, the centre of which is filled with stalls peddling spices, pasta of all shapes and colours, clothing and kitchenware. Around the outside is a selection of trattorias and pizzerias, into which all the waiters attempt to drag you if you go within 100 yards of the front terrace. We were duly coerced into a lovely little trattoria with red and white checkered tablecloths, and we sat in the sun on the terrace. Zo ordered a tuna salad, I had a diavola (‘devil’) pizza – so named due to the spicy salami topping – and we both had our first beer of the trip. The food was perfect. Inexpensive and tasty, it was an ideal lunch to replenish our energy after a tiring morning. It was at this trattoria where we first encountered the sadly very common sight of unwanted musicians playing unwanted music at the most unwelcome time, while you’re trying to enjoy lunch and a chat in a peaceful terrace. They play their songs and then enter the terrace with paper cups, requesting donations. Although I have to say it’s a much nicer way of begging for money than just asking for it, it’s really pretty rude, and he barely earned a Euro from us or our fellow diners.

As the rest of the day still gave us plenty to do, I shall leave this post there, and carry on with the next entry shortly.

Vacanze Romane (Seconda Parte)

So, we’d arrived in the Eternal City, found and explored our digs for the next few days, and had smartened ourselves up after a morning of stressful travelling (for me, anyway). Donning our walkin’ shoes we left the Daysleeper, picked up a few bottles of ice cold water from a nearby Supermercado and headed out into the afternoon sun to begin our Roman Holiday.

Day One: Part Two: Arrival

Given that we were a little bit knackered after our travels, and that our hotel was only a relatively brief walk away, we decided to start off with a look at one of the most famous, iconic buildings in Rome, if not the world. The Colosseum is quite simply a magnificent structure, despite the fact that half of it has fallen off, and another huge section of it looks like it was built a few weeks ago. For those readers who have never seen it, it’s a perfectly cube-shaped structure, with a retractable roof and a McDonalds in the middle. No, not really. Everyone has seen the Colosseum – it’s just one of those ridiculously famous places on Earth, like the Eiffel Tower, or the Leaning Tower of Pisa. To reach it, we simply had to walk along one long, curved road which led straight from the hotel right to it. I had a feeling as we walked that it would be one of those sights which you don’t see for ages until you get really close, and then it just jumps out at you. I was quite right. Nothing for around twenty minutes, and then suddenly, there it was.

I think we were probably expecting to see thousands of tourists, given that it was the middle of the afternoon when we reached the place, but it wasn’t actually that busy. That said, it wasn’t busy on the outside – but we’d done our research well enough to know that if you turn up on a midsummer afternoon and expect to walk straight into the Colosseum without queuing for hours, you’re kidding yourself. We had already decided to leave all the tours for subsequent days, as we wanted to simply wander around, take in the atmosphere and get a general idea of our bearings. We also knew, thanks to a very handy tip from my old friend Michael, that the ticket for entry to the Colosseum also grants you entry to the Forum (the very large and impressive area of ancient ruins just down the road) and vice-versa. While the queues for the former are normally enormous, and a good hour or two long, the queues for the Forum are tiny, and more often than not non-existent. The trick, therefore, is to head to the Forum first, buy your ticket and then do both without having to queue at all.

We left the Colosseum area and headed down the more tourist-packed pavement alongside a busy road which led to the Forum. Again, we weren’t planning to go in on that particular day, but passing the Forum in that direction meant that we would also pass a tourist information centre and we would be heading towards the city centre. The heat from the sun at this point was getting to baking point, and we soon found that sticking to the shaded areas was getting more and more tricky. After taking a few photographs over the Forum ruins, from a handy vantage point overlooking the site, we continued along the road, lined on each side by statues of Caesar – and tourist-trap Roman soldiers, who were more than willing to pose with unsuspecting photo-op hunters, only to charge them for the privilege once the pictures were taken. We eventually reached a busy piazza, where we happened across the absolutely massive semi-circled Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, an enormous, columned, white marble monument to the first king of unified Italy. We learned later during the trip that this monument, as jaw-dropping as it is the first time you clap eyes on it, is much maligned by the locals – partly due to its bright white colouring, which contrasts starkly with the brown colouring of the other buildings in the square, and partly due to its size and utter pomposity. Tourists refer to it as the “wedding cake” while the locals tend to name it the “typewriter”. As the building faces out towards the Via del Corso (Rome’s equivalent of Oxford Street in London, say) we also found during our stay that it seems wherever you are in Rome, you always seem to end up back outside it.

Heading away from the monument we passed through Piazza Venezia and headed onto the Via del Corso. A typical long, straight Roman road, Corso is lined on each side by boutiques, high street stores, banks and shopping malls, as well as a few small trattorias (small, family-owned restaurants and pizzerias). As we found ourselves craving our first pizza of the holiday we decided to sit in the outside terrace of one of these trattorias and order ourselves a pizza. Although our food was certainly not inedible, it was clear to both of us that these were simply heated up frozen pizzas, and that we had stumbled across a typical tourist-trap type restaurant, catering cheap food for the non-locals who hadn’t quite learned where the ‘proper’ eateries were to be found. We finished our food and paid up, leaving the standard 10% tip, before deciding that we were both totally shattered. We headed to the nearest taxi rank back in Piazza Venezia and had our first experience of the rollercoaster ride that is a cab journey through central Rome. We’d had quite enough for one day, so called it a night for day one…..