Sherlock – Caitlin Moran: BFI Q+A (SPOILER FREE)

I was one of the very lucky few to attend the BFI screening of the Sherlock series three opener ‘The Empty Hearse’ this weekend. This blog is not about the episode, and will contain absolutely no information, clues, spoilers or anything else relating to it.

It started for me on the train home to Manchester from London. I checked my phone, refreshed Twitter, and searched for posts relating to ‘bfi sherlock’. I wanted to get an idea of other attendees’ views on the episode and their experience of the day. What I found was surprising. Or maybe it wasn’t.

If I had not attended the screening that afternoon I might have come to the conclusion that two very highly regarded Hollywood actors had been coerced – nay, forced – into ridiculing a shocked and distraught audience with a reading of hardcore pornography. These terrible events had been orchestrated by the host, who had set out to humiliate the actors and belittle the author of said work, before picking off random members of the outraged audience with a handgun, in a final, bloody, coup de grace.

As it happens, I did attend the screening, and I did attend the Q+A – and I would like to share with you what actually happened, in front of my eyes.

Following the screening, the cast and crew of Sherlock were introduced onto the BFI stage alongside our host for the afternoon, journalist Caitlin Moran. Both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were there, with co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, producer Sue Vertue and director Jeremy Lovering. Caitlin began proceedings with an invitation to the gathered masses to get one enormous admiring scream out of the way right off the bat, and the audience duly obliged.

The questioning began with a long conversation about the episode we had just watched. Again, no spoilers here. Everyone on stage was having a good time, with plenty of good natured banter between them. All involved had a chance to speak for a while, and plenty of topics were covered, none of which I can describe, simply because it was entirely spoilerific for a good half an hour.

Eventually, the conversation (note: conversation, not simply questions and answers) turned to the subject of Sherlock fan-fiction. To great amusement from the audience, specifically the throngs of fangirls, Caitlin briefly suggested future plot ideas to the crew taken from three ‘fanfics’ she had found online. As the title of each fanfic was read out, the fangirls around me gasped excitedly and leaned forward in their seats, suggesting to me that the majority of them knew these stories very well, and very clearly wanted their heroes to know about them too.

Finally, Caitlin revealed the title of the story that has caused so much fuss in SherlockFandomLand over the last 24 hours. It was entitled “Tea”, which was, as it turns out, a sequel to “Coffee”. Yes, this got a laugh. Not just from Caitlin, as many would have you believe, but from the entire audience (including all the fangirls sat in my line of sight), cast, and crew. It got a laugh, because it’s a fact that Tea (a sequel to Coffee) is a cute, funny title in any universe. Not mockingly funny, just funny. Caitlin did state that the story “doesn’t contain anything bad”. I have read the story. It does contain a lot of bad. But not the section we were about to hear. Unless you think a gay kiss is ‘bad’, and I certainly don’t.

Then the moment of truth. Did Caitlin Moran really FORCE Benedict and Martin to read an extract from this fanfic? Were Benedict and Martin MADE to perform like monkeys in front of a baying crowd?

No. No she didn’t, and no they weren’t.

Printouts of the fanfic were passed to the pair. That’s ‘passed’. Handed over. Let’s just make it perfectly clear that nothing was thrust into either actor’s face. At this point I would recommend you watch the three-minute video which has circulated online. It’s happily spoiler-free, so everyone can see what transpires. Obviously I was there, so I saw it all happen in context with the rest of the show, but this is the next best thing. My own observations are highlighted in bold.

It begins with Caitlin asking the actors to play their roles in the fanfic while also reading their respective narratives. She then light-heartedly (watch the video) jokes that Jeremy Lovering is directing, to which Martin responds, with great comedy timing, “Get them in”, gesturing to the audience. This is a reference to something joked about earlier in the session, wherein it was acknowledged how difficult it was to film an episode without onlookers getting into shot. Again, the audience are all laughing. It was a funny moment.

Martin begins to read his part. As he reads, I am watching the audience. Being sat towards the rear of the not-very-large theatre, I can see everything. What you cannot see on the leaked video is all the fans/fangirls leaning forward, huge smiles on their face, giggling away. They are not laughing at the fanfic. They are laughing excitedly at their heroes reading an actual fanfic in front of their eyes.

Benedict then responds with his first line, which is “Sherlock licked his bottom lip”, to which Steven Moffat responds with “Whose bottom lip?” This of course gets a laugh from the audience. This is not mocking laughter, aimed at the piece or the author. This is laughter at a quick-witted response from Moffat. All on stage know what’s coming, clearly, because they are all very aware of Sherlock fan-fiction. The subsequent laughter comes from anticipation. “How far are they going to go?”

As a result of Moffat’s interruption, Benedict points out a slight narrative error in the script, nothing serious at all, which is swiftly brushed over as it is unimportant. Again, at this stage the audience are hooked to this. It is fascinating. Is Benedict Cumberbatch really going to read aloud from a fan’s work? It certainly seems so. Even better, Benedict’s next line is read in his Sherlock voice. For me personally, being in the same room as the actor who plays Sherlock actually playing Sherlock is phenomenal.

Martin responds with what I actually consider a very well written line of narrative – “John turned to the left, his body at attention” – before tilting his head in a knowing way towards the audience. The double entendre here causes plenty of merriment. Soon after this, another line read by Martin, “John swallowed” gives us the biggest laugh, and curiously, a round of applause. A ROUND OF APPLAUSE.

This is not awkward. This is not an unpleasant atmosphere. This is joyful – these two A-list actors are on stage sharing in something fanmade, to an adoring audience, who are loving every second. And I feel I should reiterate, the majority of the attendees are most certainly fangirls (and fanboys, if you include me).

After Martin read a further line, Benedict paused briefly. This was the main incident, which needs to be clarified. Benedict did pause. Martin turned to him, expecting him to continue with the story, but Benedict had turned to Caitlin to suggest ‘let’s stop it here’. Caitlin immediately obliged and announced “yes, shall we stop it here – this sounded a lot better in my head”. NOTE – VERY IMPORTANT– both Benedict and Martin laughed at that statement, asking “did you write it?”. They did not feel put upon, they were not forced into a corner, they were obviously having a good time. So much so, that Benedict actually asked Caitlin whether they were ruining anything by stopping early.

Caitlin, as can be seen on the video, was almost over-apologetic, thinking that the previous minute or two hadn’t been entertaining, but it had. There was nothing unpleasant, nothing derisive towards the author, except for one statement – that the last line was “clumsily written” – but we’re not exactly talking about a damning critique on the author’s work. It’s all there to see on the video.

Benedict then made a statement. And it is this statement which I feel has caused all the uproar against Caitlin Moran. If Benedict hadn’t said this, the backlash towards Caitlin would not have happened, I am sure.

Benedict’s statement was this: “It’s just a point, I mean the fans can do what they like, but there’s a point, we do what we do with it, and that’s the fun we have with our fiction of it, is to point out that that [a kiss between John and Sherlock] is ludicrous in our universe of this storytelling. So, sorry to be all ‘mmmmm’ about it…*adopts cockney accent* His nibs ain’t doing that”.

Caitlin at this point apologised, explained that she was very sorry, and throws it open to the audience. All is rosy again. This was lighthearted.

Benedict’s statement caused the problem. The issue we have is that Benedict Cumberbatch, the star of the show and the hero to the fangirls, has just stated openly and publicly that he doesn’t like fan-fiction. This causes a problem, because the fans are not going to turn on him, are they? No chance. They’re not going to turn on the rest of the cast and crew either. No, they’re going to turn on the one easy target – Caitlin Moran.

And so, this is what happened. Even though everyone in that room thoroughly enjoyed the whole event, through countless generations of Chinese whispers and misheard/misunderstood comments, the whole Sherlock fandom formed an army against Caitlin Moran, bombarding her Twitter with all sorts of unpleasantness. She’s been accused of going into that Q+A with an agenda from the outset, to use Benedict and Martin as pawns in her carefully planned attack on the fandom. And then there’s the other angle, that the whole thing was a direct attack on fanfics and through that, a direct attack on feminism. To paraphrase Benedict, THAT’S ludicrous. It’s nonsense. Utter, utter nonsense.

I will state at this point that I am aware of the other issues people have raised in relation to the event, such as ‘was it morally/legally right for this author’s work to be performed without permission?’ or ‘what about the breaking of the fourth wall (mixing up fan-fiction with the actual original canon actors)?’ but these are questions for other people to discuss and debate. I just want to put the actual unbiased facts out there, as it’s obvious that a great deal of misinformation has been fed to people through blogs and Twitter.

At worst, the introduction of the fanfic to proceedings was an error of judgement on Caitlin’s part. Simply that, a mistake. And I do have sympathy for the writer of said fanfic, who has stated that she never wanted the cast to read her work. But it certainly wasn’t torn apart like it’s being suggested it was.

For those who launched their tirades against Caitlin for ‘breaking the fourth wall’ and sharing fan-created material with the stars of the show, I’m reminded of a talk some time ago, where Martin Freeman was asked by a young fangirl whether he would wear ‘red pants’ for the show, to which the whole room full of fangirls shrieked with excitement, while Martin called them ‘dirty minded f**kers’. This was a direct reference to fan-made material involving artwork featuring John Watson in red underwear, and a direct request for the actor to wear said underwear in the show. Interesting then how this fourth wall opinion has now changed, simply because Caitlin Moran is someone in the public eye.

I am not defending Caitlin Moran because of any political, or feministic, or any other reason. I don’t read The Times and I have not yet read her books. I’m defending her because I’m sick of seeing the pack mentality on Twitter, especially when it comes to fandoms, ganging up on someone for reasons they have only heard second, third or fourth-hand. Or from watching a three-minute video of an event which lasted three hours.

Thank you for reading this, if you did. If you share my opinion, great. If not, then equally great, it’s up to you. I’m just stating the facts.

Latersville.

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.

Con Season

Over the last few years I have discovered the wonder of being able to spend my hard-earned cash on travelling across the country attending conventions. It’s something I was only introduced to in 2011, and I have been hooked on them ever since. It feels like an eternity since the last event I attended, which was the Entertainment Media Show at London Olympia on a glorious October weekend in 2012.

I should clarify that although I tend to refer to these events as ‘conventions’, purists would tend to argue that what I have attended thus far are actually ‘signing events’, which is probably a more accurate name – however I sway toward referring to them as cons myself. The signing events I have attended have thus far been limited to those organised by Showmasters, however I am now beginning to spread my wings further afield. Strictly speaking, a ‘convention’ normally refers to a weekend event devoted to one (or maybe two or three) specific fandoms, such as Starfury events in Birmingham.

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Con season is nearly upon me again, starting with the Mercury Promotions show ‘Wales Comic Con’ at Glyndŵr University, Wrexham, which is next Sunday (28 April 2013). I’ve never attended this particular event before, so I’m going into it blind, but generally speaking there is a certain format to these events which I’m sure will apply to WCC. Usually the build up to a con starts months in advance, with regular visits to the event’s forum online. Here, the organisers announce new guests on a drip-feed basis, tantalising us occasionally with “BIG GUEST ANNOUNCEMENT NEXT WEEK” posts, which both excite and frustrate in equal measures. Sometimes these guests will disappoint, when it’s a star you have either never heard of, or have little to no interest in, but it’s the times when a big guest is annnounced that really gets the excitement going months ahead of the event itself.

When buying tickets in advance (which is highly recommended, regardless of the event) you get a choice of either a standard entry ticket or an ‘early bird’. I typically go for the latter, simply due to the fact that you get to enter the venue generally about an hour before the standard entry crowds. This is worth the slightly higher price for said entry tickets, certainly if you want to ensure you meet one of the more popular guests. It’s rare that you wouldn’t get a chance to meet your guest, but the later you enter the venue, the longer you would have to wait.

I am attending Wales Comic Con for a few reasons. The entire Red Dwarf cast will be there – Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Hattie Hayridge and Norman Lovett – and although I’ve previously had a photo taken with Chris, Craig and Robert, I feel that a photo with all six of the main cast will be something I will be able to treasure for years to come. Also in attendance will be Warwick Davis, who I want to meet not only for his recent comedic exploits in Life’s Too Short, but also to be the first signature on my ongoing, long-lasting project, a poster for the original Star Wars trilogy (in which he played Wicket the Ewok). I understand that Paul Blake, who played Greedo (Han shot first!) will also be there.

In addition to the actors I want to meet, WCC boasts guests from various fandoms, including Game of Thrones – a show I have thus far managed to totally miss but is extremely popular with con attendees at the moment – and Primeval, from which the lovely Hannah Spearitt is attending. I would probably be minded to say however that the headline guest of the show is Billy Boyd, who of course played Peregrin “Pippin” Took in the Lord of the Rings films. Apparently there’s an aftershow party being held where his band, Beecake, will be performing.

These signing events work by charging attendees a sum for each autograph from a guest. This sum normally ranges from around £10 as a minimum, and depending on the event and the guest can rise up to anywhere from £50 and beyond. The higher prices are normally reserved for the big-name guests, such as Matt Smith (the current Doctor, at the time of writing) or Gillian Anderson from the X-Files, who I understand was until recently loathe to sign anything X-Files related.

The system of charging for autographs tends to divide opinion with a lot of people I’ve spoken to about conventions. Many non-con-goers consider the idea of paying an actor for an autograph is wrong, however I see it differently. The actor has been paid a fee by the organisers to attend the event – and that organiser then has to either simply make their money back through autograph or photoshoot sales, or indeed make a profit so they can book bigger and better guests at future events. I have no issue with paying for autographs, as anything is better than waiting outside theatre stage doors, something I have done myself once or twice.

Generally speaking, the actual act of meeting the guests, be it for an autograph or during the photoshoot, lasts a matter of seconds. Often (certainly with the more popular guests) you barely get an opportunity to interact with them at all, sometimes just handing a photo to their assistant, and telling them your name before it is passed to the guest for their signature in an assembly line style. This is understandable though. Although I’ve seen many complainants on social media whinge about having very little time with the guest, they have to realise that often said guest has to get through over a thousand guests in one day. I heard somewhere that Karen Gillan (Doctor Who’s Amy Pond) and Patrick Stewart did around 1500 autographs in one day at a particular event. Imagine having to sign your own name that many times in a day AND having to chat to each fan. I’m not too concerned with having a long chat to the guests. I very rarely know what to say to them, apart from the usual gushing praise, and I’m not really one for exclaiming “I loved you in Doctor Who” to Paul McGann or Derek Jacobi for example, who both have long and hugely varied careers away from Who to be proud of.

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At the end of May I am travelling to Milton Keynes for Collectormania, a show run by Showmasters, who apart from the Entertainment Media Show (mentioned earlier) also organise the London Film and Comic Con, which was my first event back in 2011. I have always enjoyed Showmasters shows. The standard of guests is always consistently high and more often than not the range of fandoms catered for is so varied, there is generally something for everyone. Through Showmasters I have been lucky enough to meet Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future), Karen Gillan, a number of previous incarnations of the Doctor, John Barrowman, Alex Kingston, and indeed, Matt Smith himself:

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The forthcoming event in Milton Keynes is going to be a busy one for me. It’s the first time I’ve been alone to an event where I’ve decided to stay overnight and attend both the Saturday and Sunday, mainly because there are enough guests over both days who I want to meet, but also because I want to enjoy the social side of these cons too. I’ve spoken on Twitter and Facebook to many brilliant people who share an interest in the same shows as me, and also attend these events. Some are cosplayers (they come in full outfits based on costumes from shows, books, films etc and they’re fantastic) and some are just fans who go for autographs. Everyone I’ve chatted to so far has been really friendly and I’m hoping to meet up with some of them while I’m there.

The main guest for me at Collectormania is Jenna-Louise Coleman, who of course is the current companion to the Doctor (at the time of writing). I’m very much hoping she doesn’t have to cancel (cancellations are thankfully rare, but incredibly frustrating if it’s one of the main guests you’re intending to meet). Even if she isn’t able to attend I still have a long list of guests I want to meet over the weekend, including Bernard Cribbins, who is a living legend.

Besides, at £35 an autograph for Jenna, it’ll certainly free up a few quid for other expenses!