LFCC – A Beginner’s Guide

We’re now not too far away from London Film and Comic Con 2015. I’ve been doing these events a few years now, and thought I’d share what I know about the weekend to help newcomers enjoy themselves with a little less stress. If I miss anything out (or get anything wrong…) please feel free to comment below…politely.

LFCC 2015 is run by Showmasters, and will be taking place over the weekend of Friday 17th July to Sunday 19th July 2015. It’s being held at London Olympia this year as the usual venue (Earls Court) has been shut down. The space inside the new venue is huge, and there’s plenty of natural light coming through the glass roof. I always found Earls Court a little stuffy, with zero natural light, so we’re heading to a much better venue overall. There’s a whole lot to do at LFCC. It’s not just about getting autographs, although that is a big part of it for most attendees. If you’re a geek of any kind (or even if you’re not) there’s something for everyone. It’s about managing your time right to try to fit in as much as you can.

PLANNING IN ADVANCE

If you want to get the most out of LFCC you must absolutely plan your trip in advance. There’s no point arriving on the day ticketless and hoping to get everything you want. It just won’t happen. First, make a note of this link: – http://tinyurl.com/nt82w35 – this is the Showmasters LFCC 2015 forum. All announcements on guests, date changes, events, features and opportunities will appear here first. I find myself checking it at least once a day normally. Most of the info you need will available there. If it isn’t, just post on the forum. Don’t worry about asking about anything you’re not sure on. There are plenty of fellow attendees and forum moderators who will be happy to help. If you’re on Twitter, follow the @showmasters account, which will update you on all announcements. The official website for the event is http://www.londonfilmandcomiccon.com. The forum will keep you updated as to which guests will be in attendance, which days they’ll be attending, and how much it’ll cost to get an autograph/photograph. At the time of writing, Showmasters are not pre-selling autograph tickets, but I’ll come to this later. Photoshoots on the other hand should always where possible be bought in advance. There may be limited photoshoot tickets available on the day, but this is never guaranteed, and you’d have to join a big queue at the ticket desk inside when you arrived at the venue. Stress. Stress which is easily avoided by buying in advance. You can buy your photoshoot tickets at any time from the Showmasters store. This is now found on the Eventbrite website and a link to the correct page is here – http://tinyurl.com/l948t69. Just be extra careful when you’re making your purchases – tickets for all Showmasters events across the country are sold in this store. Make sure you’re buying the right ticket, for the right day, for the right event. You don’t want to turn up to LFCC with a photoshoot ticket for the wrong event, as that would be rubbish. A change from the older store means that with Eventbrite you will be able to print off your own tickets. Convenient for most, and it also means that you should be able to buy tickets just before the day of the event. The Eventbrite site is relatively easy to use. Just add the tickets you want to your basket, and click ‘Order Now’. You’ll then have 8 minutes to complete your order. Just fill in all the details, and ensure that you agree to BOTH waivers and click on the £2.50 validation fee box in the ‘additional items’ section. If you don’t click on this your order won’t be valid. Do also ensure you buy an entry ticket for the day(s) you wish to attend as well as your photoshoot ticket. The photoshoot ticket does not include entry. If you turn up on the day without an entry ticket, you ain’t coming in – and it’s highly unlikely you’d be refunded.

This year Showmasters are debuting the ‘Diamond Pass’. This is a ticket solely catering for fans of a particular guest. Each guest’s Diamond Pass includes a selection of activities with that guest. As an example, Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) has a pass which includes:

1 photo shoot with Robert in full Freddy Krueger make up (unique to Diamond pass holders)

1 in-person autograph with Robert Englund

1 seat in a talk with Robert Englund and make up artist Robert Kurtzman

1 exclusive print

1 exclusive T-shirt

All this together is £135.00. Something worth considering if you’re a Freddy Krueger fan. A few days before the event a photoshoot timetable will be put on the forum. Download this, copy it, print it out, anything. This is your friend. There will be copies around the venue over the weekend but it’s well worth having your own. Or, be a bit of a nerd like me last year, and make your own:

IMG_1777

So that’s who I was meeting, when, which location – and the last number is my photoshoot number. I’ll go into more detail on photoshoots later. There are normally at least five or six separate photoshoot areas, so it’s worth getting an idea as to where you’re going and when.

VIRTUAL QUEUE TICKETS

These have their own section because it’s important to be aware of the nature of Virtual Queue tickets. Chances are that if you’re attending LFCC you’re probably after at least one or two autographs. Chances are that if the guests you want to meet are particularly well known, a great many others will be wanting to meet them too. To stop the possibility of a thousand people standing next to a guest’s table, we have the virtual queue system. Think of it like a deli. Near each guest’s table there will be a Showmasters volunteer holding a stack of tickets. These are free. Every individual who wants an autograph from the particular guest needs to take one. These will have numbers on them, which is your ‘virtual’ place in the queue. Throughout the day, there will be a whiteboard up near the guest with the VQ numbers allowed to join the queue. So, if your number is 78, and the board says 1-100, then you can go up. If your number is 124, then you need to wait until the board says 1-200. You can’t miss your time – VQ number 1 for example can go up later in the day if they want. It’s always 1-100, 1-200, 1-300 and so on. This all means that you don’t have to wait around for your time if you have a high VQ number. It means you can wander off, do what you like, and you can come back sporadically to see where they’re up to. Some guests do take longer than others, so be aware of that.

CANCELLATIONS

Before we get too excited about who you’re going to meet at LFCC you should be aware that guests do occasionally cancel prior to the event. Some guests cancel pretty much every time (I’m looking at you, Ray Park and Temuera Morrison). This is something that you should prepare yourself for.  As exciting as it is when a guest you really want to meet is announced, it’s equally disappointing when that same guest has to cancel. This can happen for all sorts of reasons, mainly due to work conflicts. Remember, many of the guests who appear at conventions are actively working, and such is the nature of TV or film work that huge amendments can take place to their shooting schedules. It’s not going to happen that often (unless you’re really unlucky) but it can happen with any guest at any time. I remember attending a convention a few years ago where Alex Kingston – Doctor Who’s River Song – had to cancel the day before the event started. Another involved Danny John-Jules – Cat from Red Dwarf – cancelling on the actual day of the event. It’s disappointing, but it can’t be helped.

With that in mind it’s wise to head in to LFCC with a backup plan. If you’re travelling a long way in the hope of meeting one particular guest then you may end up wasting a lot of money if they have to cancel.

But, if you’re lucky enough to have plenty of guests to meet, you’ll need to come equipped.

WHAT TO BRING

A wallet. A big wallet. Stuffed full of cash. Seriously. LFCC is an expensive business, and you don’t want to be caught short. There are cash machines on site, but the queues are large all the time, and there’s always the danger that they’ll be bled dry by mid-afternoon. I’ve seen it happen. Try to bring as many £5 notes as you can, they’re very useful.

A bag. I always carry around a secure over-the-shoulder manbag. Aside from being the height of fashion, you’ll need something to carry all your stuff in. Don’t wander around with a suitcase though, there’s not enough space.

A watch. As I’ll cover later, you need to be able to keep a eye on the time. There can be a lot to do at once and you don’t want to lose track.

Comfortable footwear. You’ll be on your feet a lot over the weekend. There aren’t very many places you can sit down with much comfort, so you’ll find yourself walking, and walking, and standing, and walking some more. Rubbish shoes will knacker your back in.

Water. Do not arrive without some water. Walking around LFCC is thirsty work. It can get very hot (especially if the hall is full to capacity) and you don’t want to be spending half your budget buying bottles of water for £3 a pop at the venue. Just take your own.

Something for the guests to sign. This is optional. Showmasters (or the guests) provide plenty of images for each guest for them to sign, and these are included in the cost of the autograph. There’s a large selection for each, so you’ll more often than not find something you like. There’s always a risk though, so have a backup – bring your own print or a poster or a DVD. At least you’ll have something for the guest to sign. There are also plenty of stalls selling good quality prints for most of the guests in attendance.

Plastic autograph wallets. These have been my saviour for years. You don’t want to collect an autograph from one of your heroes and then get home to find it smudged, bent, or ripped. These plastic ‘toploaders’ are available from many of the stalls, but they’ll cost you around £1 each (or more, depending on the size). I bought a stack of them online a couple of years ago, and they’ve served me well. They’re also useful to carry your photoshoot pictures in – you don’t get a cover with the photo. Try not to keep the autographs in toploaders for too long though, you don’t want to damage the ink.

A poster tube. Not essential, but I’ve found them hard to come by at the stalls at past events, and if you’re buying a print/poster you want to be able to keep it safe. These are really cheap from B&Q or Staples, or places like that.

A mobile phone. Fairly obvious this, but very useful for many reasons. If you’re separated from your group (say, following a photoshoot) you might need to find them. Based on the crowds last year, think ‘needle’ and ‘haystack’. On that note, always have a meeting place sorted out with your friends to meet up if anyone goes missing.

Most importantly, have a budget. I cannot emphasise this enough. It’s very easy to get over-excited at LFCC. You will be faced with non-stop geek product temptation for three days – make yourself a budget before you go, and stick to it. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve spent far too much on things I didn’t really need simply because the money was burning a hole in my pocket. Enjoy yourself, but don’t bankrupt yourself while doing it.

TRAVEL

Travel to Olympia is really pretty simple. If you’re arriving into London Euston take the Southbound Victoria line down to Victoria station, then change to the Westbound District line which will take you straight there. To be honest, by the time you get to any of these stations you will more than likely have a trail of cosplayers to follow all the way there. They’re not hard to spot. Remember the scene in Thor 2 where Thor rode the underground? That happens for real on LFCC weekend. If the District line isn’t going to Olympia, get off at Earls Court and walk from there. It’s a 20 minute walk, and again, you won’t struggle finding your way there. Just in case, here’s a map.

map

If you’re taking other means of transport (bus, train, taxi etc) there are plenty of ways to find your route online. I always use the underground, and – touch wood – I’ve never had a problem.

ARRIVAL

Things have changed a little this time round. Usually there are three queues. One for the Gold Pass holders, one for Early Bird entry ticket holders and a third for people paying on the day. This year however Showmasters are not selling Early Bird entry tickets, and they are not allowing people to pay on the day, certainly not on the Saturday at least. As a result of the changes, everybody who has a ticket will be allowed in at the same time (9am). The Gold Pass holders will be given priority and will enter first. Everyone else will follow. For reasons which will become clear, if there is a guest you absolutely have to meet, or you are limited with time on the day, you should make sure you arrive at the venue very early. I’ve arrived at 8am in the past and had to join a queue which has already snaked its way right to the back of Earls Court. That’s a long queue. Turn up at 9am on the dot and you’ll be at the back of a huge queue. If you’re not that fussed about meeting any particular guest, try arriving at say 10:30-11am. By then everyone else will be inside and you’ll more than likely be able to walk straight in. Do remember though that the set up this year is new, so this may not be entirely accurate. If you’re having trouble on arrival just look for the signs or just ask. There will be a lot of people happy to help. The queue is a good place to take a look at some amazing cosplayers. Seriously, some of them could have just walked straight off the cinema screen. By all means talk to people. I always find that folk near me are just as excited as I am, and it’s great to get to know new people. One little thing though, if you’re a smoker, have some consideration for others if you want to light up. Just leave the queue and stand a distance away so nobody else is affected by it. I smoke myself, and I don’t like forcing it on non-smokers and children nearby.

ENTRY

At 9am the doors will open. At this point the people who are prepared will have a plan of action for the first half hour of the day. Here’s how I do it, and I’ve never had a problem yet.

Step 1: Calmly enter the building. Don’t go running – this is poor form, and not only will everyone think you’re a buffoon, you’ll also be told off by the crew. You could injure yourself, or others, and there’s absolutely no need for it.

Step 2: Virtual Queue tickets. Collect these straight away. Find the tables for the guests you’ll be wanting to meet (these will be clearly signed) and politely ask the volunteers holding their VQs for one. If there’s a chance a guest will be very popular an early numbered VQ could be key.

Step 3: Get your bearings. It’s unlikely that the majority of the guests will be at their desks at opening time, so unless you’ve got a photoshoot straight away you may as well take the opportunity to work out where the toilets are, where each of the guests you want to meet will be stationed, and where your photoshoot areas will be.

Step 4: If you see a guest you want to meet at their station, and there’s nobody in the queue (and no VQ), go and meet them. Sometimes opportunities come up where you won’t have to queue for something you want, certainly early on. Take that opportunity. It could save you loads of time later on.

Step 5: Finally, make sure you keep an eye on the time. You don’t want to miss a photoshoot because you weren’t paying attention. I remember at my first LFCC (2011) I was about to leave the venue to head to the pub for a pint when I remembered my Sophie Aldred photoshoot was about to start. It’s surprisingly easy to do, certainly if you’re a bit of an idiot like me.

AUTOGRAPHS/MEETING THE GUESTS

The fun bit. Or the terrifying bit, depending on your point of view. Meeting the guests is very simple indeed. When it’s your time to join the queue, go to the back of it and start getting your items/images ready. Also get your money ready – you don’t want the person ahead of you to move on and have the guest sitting there watching you fiddle about with your wallet. Pay the assistant your money and choose an image. Now, I’ve been doing this a few years, and I still get a little nervous when I meet the guests, but I’ve developed a bit of confidence since I started out. I had no idea what to say for my first few cons. There’s nothing wrong with just saying hello, asking how they are, and asking them to sign your piece. For the less busy guests you might have a good opportunity to talk to them for a bit, but do be aware of the people around you. If there’s a huge queue it’s unfair to stand there talking to them for 45 minutes, keeping everyone else waiting. The majority of guest encounters I’ve had have been relatively brief. The very busy guests will often have no time except to say a quick hello. Don’t be disappointed if this is the case – they have a lot of people to get through and they just don’t have time for much interaction. Do bear in mind also that the guests are human beings – they can have ‘down’ days like the rest of us. Some can be a little grumpy, and some can be incredibly talkative. Most guests will personalise autographs for you if you want them to. Some guests will insist on it, and others will simply have no time to personalise at all. In these cases they will have a sign up at their station clearly stating ‘no personalisations’. If this is the case, please don’t ask. There could be many reasons why this has been decided, often due to the guest themselves requesting it. You try signing your own name AND someone else’s name 750 times in a few hours without your hand going numb. A lot of guests will allow you to have a free photograph with them at the table. This is very unlikely with the more popular guests, but does happen a lot with others. Again, if there’s a sign up saying ‘no posed photos’, don’t ask. There is normally a good reason for it.

PHOTOSHOOTS

Check the map and timetable to work out where you’re supposed to be at what time. Head over to the correct area and listen to the crew members. They will call everyone in for your shoots in stages, ordered thusly:

1: Old store tickets by number.

2: Non Batched e-Tickets

3: e-Tickets by batch

4: Tickets sold on the day by number.

I’ve lifted the above order from Showmasters’ own FAQ section on their forum. Each ‘batch’ is 100 tickets. It should state the batch number on your ticket. If it does not, then you will be called with the non-batched e-Ticket group. In the meantime, if you are not due to enter the photoshoot area for a while, you do not need to wait around just yet. One of my main bugbears of photoshoots is the number of people who gather in a throng around the photo area despite not being due to be called for a good half an hour. Just bugger off and have a wander – the space around these areas can be crowded enough without 500 people all trying to join the same queue. Once your number is up and you’re called in, you’ll be directed to the back of the queue by a crew member. Again, listen to their instructions and do what they ask – they’re trying to make it easier for everybody. As you get near to the front of the queue you’ll enter the photo area (still in a queue) and you’ll see the guest standing there in front of a backdrop. You can drop your bags and coat here with the volunteers at tables. One by one the people in the queue will be motioned forward and will have their photo taken with the guest. You will be stood next to the guests for about five to ten seconds, maximum. As soon as the photographer gives you the OK, move on and wait to collect your photograph which will be printed off immediately. If there’s anything wrong with the photo and you’re not happy with it (eyes closed, blurred image) refer to a crew member and they may ask you to rejoin the queue for a re-shoot. I find my main issue with photoshoots is the reflection of light in my glasses. I’m constantly going back for re-shoots due to that. Some guests are happy to hug you for your photo. Some are happy to pose how you want (within reason) with props. Please do respect their personal space though. There are large bodyguards often stood mere feet from you who will immediately get involved if you try anything unpleasant…you don’t want to get your head kicked in, so behave (you won’t have your head kicked in, I assure you). Once you’ve collected your photo, move on out of the area as quickly as you can.

TALKS

Many of the guests in attendance will be taking part in talks through the weekend. Many of the talks are free, however some are paid. Check the forum for details regarding this – paid talks are only accessible to ticket holders. The talks are normally entertaining enough, although they do tend to be more Q+A type affairs, which of course is absolutely fine if you have a question to ask your heroes. Entry to the talks is on a first-come first-served basis. Gold pass holders will be at the front.

SHOPPING

Where do I start? The majority of the floor space at LFCC is taken up with stalls selling absolutely everything you could imagine. There’s…(deep breath) posters, action figures, t-shirts, American sweets, pre-signed autographs, DVDs, books, comics, vintage consoles, teddy bears, lightsabers, mugs, shoes, anime, craftwork, paintings, jewellery…oh I could go on and on. You will not be short of things to spend your money on, folks. I don’t really need to tell you how to shop, though, do I.

COSPLAYING

One of the best things about LFCC (and most events like this) is the folk who dress for the occasion. Prepare to be astounded by the level of skill and effort these people put in to making outfits for conventions. You’ll see Spider-men, Jedi/Sith, anime characters, every Doctor (and most of the companions), Thor, Captain Jack Sparrow, and countless Deadpools, amongst others. The cosplay community is well catered for at the event, and if you’re considering doing it but are maybe a little nervous, worry not. I only wear civilian clothing for the event and I’M the one who feels a little out of place. Cosplayers in the main will be more than happy to pose for photographs, either of just them, or with you. Please, please please however – ASK THEM FIRST. It is considered incredibly rude to just take pictures of cosplayers without their permission, and given that you’re much more likely to get a great photo if you ask them to pose for you, you should either ask, or put your camera away. I have also heard horror stories from cosplayers regarding the things they are asked (“have you got underwear on under there” for example…) or ways they have been manhandled. Yes, some of their outfits can be ‘revealing’ – this does not imply consent to touch anyone up. Don’t treat anyone differently or invade personal space simply because they’re cosplaying. Many cosplayers are in attendance at these events on charity business, raising money for various causes. Perhaps donate some of the wodge of cash you’re carrying, help them out. They’ve made real effort to be there, doing what they’re doing.

SOCIALISING

There is a strong sense of community at LFCC. Normally the sun is shining, fun things are happening and everyone is in a good mood. If you’re reading this some time before the event you have plenty of time to get to know new people. I’ve met loads of new people through attending these events, but mainly through Twitter. Start off by following @Showmasters, and as we get closer to the event, check the #LFCC hashtag – you’ll meet some great people. If you’re happy to settle for average people, follow me on @djdarrenjones. I’m forever going on about LFCC on there. I also enjoy meeting new folk. Introduce yourself.

FURTHER READING

If you’ve read this far then you’ll hopefully have a good idea as to what to expect from the event. As I’ve said, I’ve been doing these events for a few years, and I’ve picked it up pretty quickly, but there are plenty of other, more experienced attendees who have plenty of information to help you. Just do a bit of a Google search and see what’s around.

Try @Bunny_Summers blog, Unconventional (http://unconventionalblog.co.uk/category/guides/). Her guides aren’t solely limited to signing events such as LFCC. She’s a con-goer with huge experience and knows her way around these things. You’ll hopefully find answers to anything I’ve forgotten about plus everything else on her site.

Well, I hope this all helps. Generally speaking LFCC is a lot of fun and very simple as long as you’re prepared. So prepare!

Latersville.

The long, long Day of the Doctor….

1471387_623852814344463_104607893_n

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.

1422474_10151985802905379_1866233331_n

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.

1476651_10151989216205379_1225640090_n

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.

1450067_10151985805385379_603732796_n

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.

564519_10151987545885379_1522575948_n

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.

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: –

1150168_10151768732940379_886355537_n

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.

IMG_0312

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.

IMG_0353

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.

IMG_0327

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:

999606_10151768739090379_1128937237_n

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…..

IMG_0344

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.

The Fall of the Eleventh

The easiest part of writing this entry was the title. Let’s face it, there are already probably hundreds of blog entries, YouTube videos, articles and such with the same name. It’s a line written for us by Steven Moffat back in Series 6, and I’m sure it’ll be repeated again before the year is out.

Matt Smith has made his decision to leave the role of the Doctor, and the BBC have confirmed this in an official announcement which was dropped on us last night (June 1st). It’s sad news, of course. Smith’s tenure as the 11th incarnation of the Doctor has been a pleasure to watch since his first episode, and through a combination of excellent performances and clever marketing, the programme itself has massively grown in stature across the world with Smith as the incumbent.

The beauty of Doctor Who is that it is possibly the only television show in the world where the lead actor can decide to leave, and another actor can take his place, and this can be explained away with only one word – ‘regeneration‘. To some, a regeneration can be an exciting event, a chance for the show to get a breath of fresh air, a lick of paint and a few new ideas to take the whole thing forward. To others it can be heartbreaking, as they come to the realisation that ‘their’ Doctor, the incarnation they have always loved, will soon be gone and replaced by something totally new. The idea of regeneration is something utterly brilliant – it is the reason why Doctor Who continued for so long since 1963, and it is the reason why we are still able to enjoy brand new episodes of the series almost forty years after the death of the first actor to play the Doctor, William Hartnell. It is fitting, therefore, that we get to enjoy the excitement/heartbreak/tedium* of a regeneration in the 50th Anniversary year of the show.

(*delete as appropriate)

I am not devastated by Smith’s decision. I believe three series is long enough to leave a lasting legacy, and while I would have been delighted for the Eleventh Doctor to carry on for a few more years I will never be averse to a regeneration and a new take on the eponymous hero. What bugs me slightly is the way that we’re told the news more than 6 months prior to the actual event itself. I appreciate that Doctor Who is now one of the biggest and most popular non-soaps on television at the moment and as such keeping things like this secret would take an effort of such enormous magnitude that it would be laughable, but I just don’t feel like anyone actually tried. This happened with Eccleston’s Doctor and then subsequently Tennant’s, where we knew months in advance that the regeneration was coming and who was going to take over the role. I would, just for once, love to be taken totally by surprise by a regeneration in the show. During David Tennant’s era, he was shot by a Dalek at the end of The Stolen Earth and his subsequent ‘regeneration’ was left as a cliffhanger. We then had a crazy seven days where the press went mental with speculation as to who was taking over. The second part of that episode, Journey’s End, was hugely anticipated. Obviously in the end it all turned out to be a bit of a red herring, but the point was that the surprise element of a possible regeneration out of nowhere was amazing to be part of.

But, we know now, so let’s get on with it. Sadly, the official announcement means we are now going to be subjected to months and months of speculation as to who will be taking over the role, and then the inevitable mass disappointment when we find out the truth. In the last 24 hours I have already seen some frankly ridiculous suggestions, not least that David Tennant should return. No, he really shouldn’t.

We have also, again, returned to the old argument that the Doctor should be played by a woman, and I’ve even heard some mutterings that it’s unfair that the role has thus far been monopolised by male actors. The Doctor is a male character. Sherlock Holmes has also been played exclusively by male actors. If Benedict Cumberbatch decided to quit his role as Sherlock, would it be realistic to expect female actors to be given the chance to take over? Of course not – so why should we expect the same with the Doctor? Granted, we have already heard in The Doctor’s Wife that the Corsair, a fellow Time Lord, used to regenerate into a female form – but the Corsair doesn’t have his/her own show.

I will admit to being one of the show’s fans who wasn’t happy with the casting of Matt Smith as the Doctor initially. I felt he was too young, that he had only been chosen in an effort to win over the female fans and younger audiences, and that the show might suffer for it. I was terribly wrong. Matt Smith proved himself time and again with some phenomenal performances, some of which saved otherwise lacklustre episodes of the show. As such, no matter who gets announced this time around, I am sure I will be initially critical before being blown away when they take over. The BBC have an excellent track record of picking the right actor for the role, and I have no doubt they will do it again.

Latersville.

Collectormania MK

I am in pain. A ridiculous amount of pain, all over my body. My shoulders, calves, hamstrings and arms all feel like I imagine it would feel if the muscles had been replaced with ball bearings and shards of broken glass. But as I sit here typing this, I am using the few working muscles I have left to maintain a contented smile on my face, following this weekend’s trip to Milton Keynes for Collectormania 19.

cmkbanner

I awoke at silly o’clock on Saturday morning, utilising the iPhone’s “silly o’clock” alarm setting, but still found myself 30 minutes behind schedule. It was 6am, and my train from Manchester Piccadilly was at 7.15. Jumping out of bed, swearing relentlessly a la Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral, I sorted myself out, showered, dressed, collected my bags, poster tubes and 8x10s and swiftly buggered off to the station. I was there with time to spare in the end, and took my seat on the train. One relatively uneventful trip along the tracks later, and I found myself at Milton Keynes Central just after 8.45.

There was no time to visit my hotel prior to heading to the MK Dons stadium, as the show opened at 9am and I needed to grab myself a virtual queue ticket for Jenna-Louise Coleman. I pegged it over to the bus stop and, for the second year running, found myself as the last passenger to fit onto the free bus which was seconds from setting off. Fifteen minutes or so later I was at the venue, which was worryingly queueless, and I was clueless as to where I needed to head to pick up my Jenna VQ. Two swift wrong turns later I finally entered the stadium and was promptly handed VQ ticket number 473,319 (alright, 636). I wasn’t overly concerned as I knew I’d be able to stay until the very end of the day if need be as I was staying overnight.

It wasn’t very long before I bumped into Emily, who I’d spoken to for ages through Twitter, but aside from the occasional distant wave across the hall at previous events, I’d not been able to chat to properly before. She’d made a TARDIS skirt for herself (it looked fantastic, Emily!) and she’d got in a little earlier so managed to get her VQ in the 400s. Luckily for me, she had spares, and was lovely enough to hand me one. So, my stress alleviated slightly, I spent the next few minutes generally walking around getting my bearings. Although the event was set in the circular concourse overlooking the pitch it’s actually quite tricky to work out exactly where you are. You get used to it after a while, but at first you’re just meandering, taking it all in. I had a couple of hours to spare, as my photoshoot with Jenna wasn’t until 11am, so meander I did.

After a couple of circuits around the stadium I came across Jenny, who again I’ve been chatting to for a while on Twitter, having realised I share a freakishly similar opinion on Doctor Who to her through her YouTube review channel (Lippmannette – check it out). We’d arranged earlier for me to join her crew, which included Laura, Andrew, Carolyn, Paul and Terry – all lovely, welcoming and friendly. As it was early in the day though I thought it would be best for me to wander around myself and get a few things done, as I am an utter irritant when it comes to things like this – I go one way, then turn around and go back on myself, then go back on myself again, pick things up, put them down etc – so I didn’t want to start putting new friends through that……

On my way around I bumped into Leanne who I’d spoken to a few times through Twitter, and who was sitting around waiting for her friend Matt (a tenth Doctor cosplayer, and a very good one at that) as he went for a photoshoot. Again, I’d never met Leanne in person before so it was great to put a voice to the name and face. We had a nice chat for a few minutes – she was carrying some amazing portraits her friend had done of the stars such as Jenna. They were incredible.

In what seemed hardly any time at all it was time for the photo with Jenna. As I entered the photoshoot room, I got my first glimpse of her, and good lord, she’s even smaller and prettier in real life than you’d think from the telly. I’d say more, but I don’t want this blog to get all pervy, so I’ll leave it there, and just show you this: –

img007

There’s always a little bit of worry after you’ve had your shoot (at least, there is for me) as you wait for your picture to be instantly printed out – just in case you’ve moved your eyes at the wrong time or you’ve got a huge green stringy snot hanging out of your nose – but I was pretty chuffed with that image. Jenna looks happier to see me than I do for her, but then again, I’m not surprised. I mean, check me out, seriously. Not a bit of snot anywhere.

The next hour or two is a little bit of a blur, if I’m honest. I didn’t have too much to do as the guests I was intendng to meet were spread over the two days, so it gave me the chance to have a look around the stalls. I wasn’t really planning on spending much on merchandise and memorabilia, as I had a stretched budget as it was, and this event came up just before payday, so I was being intentionally frugal. Still, it didn’t stop me heading back for repeated views of the Doctor Who figures on sale, and following trips to the bar for cheeky pints my wallet was getting slightly easier to open. I did resist though. For a while…..

After a not particularly pleasant cheeseburger, sold to me by a lad who bore more than a passing resemblance to Professor Brian Cox, I headed over to Jenna’s booth to get in line for my autograph. This didn’t take long at all, as she was flying through her queue, and while I barely got a chance to say more than “Hi Jenna” and “Cheers Jenna” I wasn’t bothered – like I’ve said before I never have much to say to the guests when I meet them, so the rapid in-out style of guest encounter is actually more comfortable for me. I did notice Jenna’s mum sat next to her however, who seemed to have a massive smile on her face, and from what I understand from Robert Llewellyn’s Twitter page (he was sat next to her) she was incredibly proud of her daughter. And fair play to her, her daughter’s not done half bad for herself. Here’s the lovely scribble Jenna shoved on my 8×10: –

img009

So the main auto and photo were obtained for the day, leaving me to decide whether to meet anyone else. I decided to limit myself to one extra autograph, and went to meet John Leeson, who was the voice of K9 throughout the history of Doctor Who, AND, as I learned later from Andrew, also played Bungle in the first series of Rainbow. And that’s enough of a dosage of legend I need to meet the fella. He was a very nice bloke, and signed my metallic TARDIS poster to go along with the Matt Smith and Frazer Hines autographs already on it. I’m building it with Doctors signing in silver, classic companions in black, and Nu-Who companions in gold. As I counted K9 as a ‘modern’ companion, having featured in some Tennant episodes, John signed in gold. It’s too big to scan in though, and I don’t like photos of posters, so I’ll leave it to your imagination.

After this, I rejoined Jenny, Laura et al and we nipped over to McDonalds for a drink. After a hard day’s autograph collecting, there’s nothing quite like a strawberry milkshake and a chat in the sun to sort you right back out again. Was one of my favourite parts of the day, this. Was great to be so easily welcomed into a group of people who essentially didn’t know me at all. But I guess this is the nature of conventions. Like-minded people from all walks of life getting together and sharing a common interest, often something you can’t really talk about with your mates at home. I intended to socialise at this convention, and I’m over the moon that I did.

By this time, a lot of the attendees had started to clear out, so we took the opportunity to bob back inside for a better look at the stalls. Again, I was good, and didn’t give in to temptation, despite my money starting to burn a hole in my pocket. All the things…..all the shiny things…….

So, as we’d come to the end of the day, we decided to head our separate ways. Andrew, Carolyn, Paul and Terry headed for the car (I think!) while Jenny, Laura and I got the free bus back to MK Central station, where they caught the…….

…..I’m sorry, I’m watching Ted as I write this, and I’m being distracted by the scene where Flash Gordon fights with Ming while Ted spars with a boxing duck.

…train, and I made my way over to the hotel. If you can call it that. Take a bow, Travelodge Milton Keynes Central. It reminded me of Richie and Eddie’s apartment in Bottom, except for the fact that they would have made better housemates than the clutch of utter buffoons who were seemingly surrounding me there. Bathroom light knackered, people running around in the room above, some twat outside revving his motorbike engine for half an hour, at midnight – basically the place was a dump. But then, I paid £25 for the night. What did I expect? Anyway, you don’t care about this.

So Sunday morning I’d set the silly o’clock alarm for silly o’clock again, and again I woke up at silly o’clock. Got all my shizzle together, showered in the dark and legged it down to the train station to get on the first free bus of the day at 7.30am. Amazingly I made it down there to find a very small group of like-minded folk waiting for the bus driver. Not so amazingly, it transpired that the first bus wasn’t leaving until 8.30, which miffed me slightly. Most of the folk on the bus, myself included, were intending to get to the stadium stupidly early to get into the queue for Billie Piper’s VQ ticket, and we were starting to worry a little. After a loooooong old wait we set off, and got to the stadium just before 9. The Billie queue was longer than my face was when I first saw it. With a sigh I joined the queue anyway and slowly followed it down toward the entrance. When I got there I was extremely surprised to be handed VQ number 306, as there looked to be a hell of a lot more people than that in front of me. Better still, within a matter of minutes they were calling for VQ numbers up to 350, so I got in line, met Billie and got my autograph by 9.50am. Amazeballs. Here it is:-

img008

I had no company at all on the Sunday, so I had nothing to do really except for wander round the same stalls as yesterday, watch a bit of football, occasionally charge my ridiculously short-living iPhone battery at one of the handy plug sockets located around the concourse, and do a bit of people watching. The cosplayers at these conventions amaze me every time – the effort they put into what they do is astonishing. The kids of course love it, but so do the adults. I saw numerous cosplayers who were more popular than some of the actors on show.

The time then came for me to queue up for my photoshoot with Billie Piper. I was right near the front of the queue, so I didn’t have to wait long. Just as I was approaching my turn, a fella I sort of recognised jumped in right in front of me. He introduced himself as Jason Joiner, the head honcho of Showmasters, and as such I thought sod it, he can do what he wants. I shook his hand and introduced myself, seemed like a nice bloke. After he’d been through I stood next to Billie, who was all smiles (again, no stringy snot anywhere) and they took this: –

img006

As I was walking away, the photographer did say that if there was too much flash in the lenses of my glasses I could bob back through for a reshoot – but on reflection (no pun intended) I wasn’t that fussed. It looked alright to me, and Billie looks great in the shot, so I was happy with it as it was. That’s the problem with having specs – I can never find the right way to pose in these things without getting a bit of flash in the lens. Still, nothing a bit of Photoshop can’t fix. And besides, like I said, I like it as it is.

After the Billie shoot, that was it. I had nothing else to do and nobody else to meet, so I just found myself wandering around all day. I had picked up a VQ for Bernard Cribbins, but it wasn’t the end of the world if I didn’t meet him before I had to leave. Good job too, as he was a little slow in signing, which is understandable, and I don’t think he’d reached my number before I had to leave at 3pm.

All in all then, the weekend was great. Really enjoyed meeting everyone for the first time, and I hope very much that it won’t be the last. I’m sure it won’t. I’m keeping a close eye on announcements for the second Collectormania of the year in October as if it’s anywhere near as good as this one then I’ll definitely be coming back. Sadly, though, Travelodge, you won’t be seeing me again. I’ll go for the Hilton Doubletree next time.

If you made it this far, well done – you win nothing but my thanks.

Latersville.

Who’s left me feeling Cold….

This post contains spoilers for the recent Doctor Who episode “Cold War”. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, don’t read on.

I may be jumping the gun slightly here, as last week’s episode of Doctor Who took a repeat watch before I realised just how much I enjoyed it, despite the niggling little issues I had with it. Tonight’s episode, Cold War, was one I was looking forward to, due to the high regard in which it’s been held by previewers, however I must admit I wasn’t as satisfied with the finished product as I’d been hoping.

Firstly though, I’ll concentrate on the positives. This episode was the first one in a while which genuinely felt like a ‘classic’ episode of Doctor Who. Aside from the return of an old enemy, the Ice Warriors, the close-quarters nature of the submarine in which the action was set meant that we could enjoy a largely CGI-free 45 minutes. Such is the epic and grand scale of much of current Doctor Who that CGI is used frequently (albeit to wonderful effect). Cold War, conversely, gave us scale models and real sets, showing that hi-tech wizardry isn’t always required to provide the audience with a visual feast. The direction of the episode was outstanding, giving us a real tangible feeling of suspense, especially once the Ice Warrior himself discarded his protective suit and started to hunt the crew, in a style similar to James Cameron’s Alien.

It seems we have seen the Doctor’s first sonic screwdriver with a ‘red’ setting, first hinted at when we saw River Song’s screwdriver in Silence in the Library a few years ago. It seems therefore that we’re heading toward the moment the Doctor gives River that screwdriver, which I’m willing to bet happens in the final episode of this series, or perhaps the 50th Anniversary special. More importantly though, I was chuffed to see Mark Gatiss writing in a situation where the Doctor was separated from his sonic as well as the TARDIS, something I’d been hoping for in a previous blog entry. On this subject, I note that the TARDIS now has a restored Hostile Action Displacement System (H.A.D.S.), which in the classic series was created to remove the TARDIS from dangerous or violent situations. I will return to this shortly.

I enjoyed some of the performances in Cold War, not least David Warner as Professor Grisenko, the resident scientist on the submarine, and Tobias Menzies as Lieutenant Stepashin harked back to the classic days of Who – the turncoat who tries to partner up with the key antagonist of the episode a la Tekker in Timelash. And of course the return of the Ice Warriors provided the costuming department with the unenviable task of creating a new, credible look for the Martians which had the feel of the classic monster without looking hackneyed or out of date. Grand Marshall Skaldak (for that is his name) was realised very well indeed, and casting a 6’7″ actor in Spencer Wilding was an excellent move.

In general however, Cold War didn’t quite hit me like some previous episodes have. It didn’t feel like an episode which was part of a “series” – in that it could have been put in anywhere and didn’t link to anything we’d seen earlier – and the Doctor and Clara being there in the first place just didn’t seem to make any sense. According to the Doctor, they were heading for Las Vegas and clearly totally got the time and destination absolutely wrong, despite the previous episode suggesting that the Doctor had just got the hang of his aim and skill at piloting the TARDIS. What happened to the days of the Doctor checking where they were after he landed before opening the police box doors? I appreciate that Neil Gaiman established in The Doctor’s Wife that the TARDIS regularly goes where the Doctor NEEDS to go rather than where he WANTS to go, but I still feel that their presence on a Russian submarine in 1983 was a little contrived.

The opening sequence too puzzled me. The Ice Warrior was sealed in thick ice from the outset. We hear from one of the crew guarding the creature that Professor Grisenko wanted to wait to return to his laboratory before releasing the beast from its icy prison, however that same crew member decides (for no apparent reason except for mere curiosity) to blatantly disobey orders and takes a blowtorch to the frozen block, allowing Skaldak his escape.

Shortly after the Doctor and Clara arrive, and are captured by the Russians (and for some reason not immediately shot) the H.A.D.S. kicks in and removes the TARDIS from trouble. I very much hope that the Doctor disables this device as soon as he returns to his craft, as this is a far too simple way for future writers to remove the TARDIS from the Doctor’s reach. We have seen a good example of how this can be done effectively in The Almost People/The Rebel Flesh, where we see the ship sucked into the ground early in the first episode, only to be rediscovered at the end of the second. Simple, but effective, and an excellent way to make things more difficult for the Doctor and his companions.

Something about Clara bugged me throughout Cold War. Assuming this episode is set after The Rings of Akhaten, we know that Clara has already been uploaded into a Wi-fi cloud and directly battled a sun-sized parasitic creature in space. I would have thought then that she would now be on the way to fully-fledged ‘companion’, especially given that they were supposed to be on their way to a jolly in Las Vegas. I sensed much more doubt in her this week, which surprised me, as she certainly didn’t seem full of self-doubt last week as she flung herself across space on a moped to save the universe from a planet-scoffing alien sun, armed with just a leaf.

I found the majority of this episode mostly forgettable, sadly. I never really believed that we were on a Russian submarine – surely an accent of some sort from the cast might have helped there – but for me Cold War was a little….dare I say it….dull. The middle 30 minutes tended to just trudge along, with a few stops for conversation, in which we learned precious little about the characters, culminating in the final showdown in which the Doctor threatens to destroy the sub rather than allow Skaldak to fire the nuclear missiles on board. The trouble with this scene was that I just didn’t believe that the Doctor would have carried out his threat, and as such it seemed far too obvious that in the end, Skaldak wouldn’t press the button. For the second week in a row, Clara stepped in to defeat the enemy where the Doctor failed, with a callback to an earlier throwaway conversation with the Martian about his daughter. It was during this scene we were shown Skaldak’s face without his helmet, which, compared to some of the special effects we’ve seen in recent years, was terribly unconvincing.

I felt that we’d seen the basic premise of this episode before. The lonely monster, the last of its kind, captured on Earth – all factors explored in the Eccleston episode “Dalek”. It’s a clever way to reintroduce a species we haven’t seen in the Whoniverse for around 40 years, granted, but it was all a little bit of a rehash. It worked in “Dalek”, as there was an obvious comparison between said Dalek and that incarnation of the Doctor, who was also the last of his kind due to his recent actions in the unseen Time War. It didn’t have the same impact here.

The ending of the episode was all a little ‘E.T. Phone Home’, featuring the inevitable return of the rest of Skaldak’s species who came to pick him up in their pretty cheaply rendered CGI spaceship. At this point we learn that the TARDIS has relocated itself at the South Pole, and not the North Pole, where the episode is set. Most amusing indeed, but it all felt a little sitcom-y. I can only guess that the Doctor has an override system built into his sonic screwdriver, because I’m not sure that he or Clara would get very far travelling on foot, given that Clara is only wearing a wet evening dress and the Doctor’s jacket doesn’t look like it will keep much of the cold out.

I have a feeling that Cold War will be one of those episodes which will be popular with a great many people, as the things it does well, it does very well. And I’m sure we’ll see Skaldak and the rest of the Ice Warriors in the future, and I must state that I’m not against this generally. It is refreshing to encounter a Doctor Who monster who actually can be reasoned with, unlike the Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels et al. But the episode itself, I feel is somewhat of a let down after the building up of the return of the Ice Warriors.