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.

Advertisements

Taking in a Deep Breath (SPOILER FREE)

Thursday 7th August was a massive day for me and my ‘companions’, as we travelled to Cardiff to join the 1600 or so lucky souls who’d acquired a ticket for Peter Capaldi’s hugely anticipated debut as The Doctor. I’m writing this a mere two days prior to the BBC transmission of the first episode of Deep Breath, so why not share my experience now, eh.

After another very early start (why do I keep doing this to myself?) we were on our way to Cardiff on schedule. We arrived just before 10am and scampered through the streets of the city toward St David’s Hall. Thanks to a number of contacts keeping in touch through Twitter we heard that there was still plenty of barrier space for the red carpet event, and this proved correct when we got there. We found a nice open spot pretty close to the TARDIS as we had a feeling that the stars would be hanging around this area the most, for interviews and photo opportunities.

view

So we took our spot against the barrier, and waited. We knew that the event wasn’t due to start for another hour or so, and thankfully we had the lovely Cardiff sunshine to enjoy. As the crowds started to grow ever larger, we were entertained by Daleks and Cybermen wandering around, interacting with the young – and not so young – fans. I remember one little lad letting out the most terrified scream when one Cyberman came a teensy bit too close, proving that even today Doctor Who has the power to frighten children at lunchtime in the middle of a busy city centre. Not long after that a Metro photographer snapped a picture of the back of my head (I’m in blue – screaming boy on Dad’s shoulders on my right).

IMG_9204

We were told that the red carpet event was due to start at 11am, with the actual premiere at 12:15pm. From what we could see there didn’t seem to enough time for the stars to meet everyone on their way up to St David’s Hall, so we didn’t hold out too much hope to get all the autographs we would have liked, but knew we’d get a bloody good view of everything where we were. As time moved on though, and the clocks moved on to quarter past 11, and half past 11, we were getting a little concerned as to how much time we would have before we had to vamoose into the theatre. The instructions we’d been sent told us we had to be in the auditorium by 12:15 or we wouldn’t be allowed in, so my anxious worried mode kicked in as we neared our deadline.

Steven Moffat reached us first. I had a feeling he would head straight past us, but brilliantly he wandered over from the opposite barrier and headed straight to me. I had a large print of the movie-style poster of The Day of The Doctor which he duly signed before posing for an ultimate selfie with everyone else. I tried to get into the shot myself, but couldn’t quite fit my huge head in. Here’s us as he signed:

memeetingmoff

And here’s the ultimate selfie, stolen from Jenny. From L-R: Andrew, Laura, Jenny, Adam, Moff.

IMG_9203

After SteeMo went on his way, I rolled my print back up and returned it to my trusty tube, before eagerly waiting the arrival of Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi. From our vantage point we could just make out our new heroes slowly making their way along the crowds, signing autographs and posing for photos with the fans. As we expected, given where we were standing, they were dragged away by interviewers and photographers as they neared us, so we didn’t get to meet them. Jenna I’ve met before, and I’m sure I’ll get a chance to meet Capaldi sooner or later, so I wasn’t particularly concerned. I was more interested in watching the premiere of the episode. We managed to briefly speak to Samuel Anderson, who will be playing Danny Pink in the new series, so that topped off our red carpet experience, before working our way through the massed crowds to St David’s Hall.

We knew already that we had great tickets. I always struggle to fight for tickets for these things but somehow I managed to get us seats in Row F in the stalls, so GO ME. Our view was thus:

deepbreathview

After a brief introduction from Jason Mohammed to the cast and some crew, the lights finally went down and we were treated to the feature-length majesty that was Deep Breath. As you’ll have spotted from the title of this post, you’ll be getting no spoilers from me. All I will say is that Capaldi nailed it, Jenna was as good as I’ve seen her in the role, and I love the new opening titles. There are moments in this episode that fans will remember for a long time. That’s all you’re getting. Wait until Saturday.

The episode came to a conclusion to a huge round of applause. I can only imagine how nerve-wracking it must be for Steven Moffat, sitting in the front row, with all those fans’ expectations on his shoulders. I think the reaction at the time will have helped him to relax a little.

Jason Mohammed returned to the stage and introduced Peter, Jenna and Moff to the audience again ahead of the Q&A. I’ve been to a number of Q&As in the last few years, and in all honesty, they range from boring to cringeworthy and back again at lightning speed. The actual interview, chaired by Jason, was very interesting. Capaldi came across as being extremely genial and gave some great answers to some decent questions. I found, as usually seems to be the case, that Jenna Coleman was overlooked somewhat. The majority of questions were directed at Capaldi and Moffat, and I got the impression that Jason tended to include Jenna just to make her feel like she wasn’t a spare part. I can partly understand this – she’s been in the show some time, and Capaldi is new to the world of Who (and obviously plays the lead role) so people want to hear from the new guy.

As usual far too many of the audience questions smacked a little of ‘wanting to speak to the actors without having a cogent and interesting question to mind’. One chap even asked half the previous person’s question before giving up and handing the microphone back. One particular highlight was the moment Capaldi was asked to wish a questioner’s friend a happy birthday, which he and Jenna did, before leading the whole audience in a rendition of the song (Happy Birthday, Sarah!), This I think endeared him to the fans even more. Anybody worried about Capaldi not being appealing to the younger fans clearly don’t know anything about younger fans. They don’t give a monkeys how old he is. And anyway, to a little kid, even Tennant and Smith were ‘old’.

With the exception of A) the family behind us inexplicably talking through the whole episode (one member of said family, mum perhaps, texting the whole time!) and B) a terrible sound system in the Hall, rendering a good half of the dialogue extremely hard to follow, I had a fantastic day out in Cardiff. I can’t wait for the evening of Saturday 23rd so I can start discussing the episode with everyone else. I think our new Doctor is going to be very popular indeed. There’s a new direction for this show. It’s still Doctor Who, just with a different face.

iwasthere

Photo courtesy of Laura Robinson

The Age of The Doctor

Peter Capaldi

It seems an age since the BBC announced that Matt Smith was taking over from David Tennant as the Doctor, but the debate that raged back then is still fresh in my mind. He’s too young, some said. He’s an unknown, others argued. I had similar reservations. I wanted a Doctor who looked like he’d been there, done that; a Doctor who had hundreds of years of knowledge, loss and pain in his eyes. I wasn’t aware of Smith’s earlier work but I will admit I feared the worst.

Smith’s Doctor turned out to be one of the most beautifully crafted, exciting and watchable incarnations of the character since the show began. I don’t think anyone can deny that Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor helped to sell the show across the world, and take it from cult sci-fi status to the stratospheric hit it is today. He leaves having given Doctor Who a truly worldwide audience.

Peter Capaldi has now been handed the keys to the TARDIS and, although his appointment has been met with almost universal approval, there are murmurs this time that he’s too old to play the part, that he’s not attractive enough for the role. I was delighted at Capaldi’s appointment, and not just because of his undoubted pedigree as an actor. I think we needed an older Doctor.

We seem to live in a time where an individual’s appearance is often considered their most important feature. A time where the youth of today aspire to be like Joey Essex or some other dimwit whose only observable redeeming feature is that they scrub up nice. Clearly this is not an accusation anyone could level at Matt Smith, who carried the majority of the last two series on his own with some excellent performances, but one does wonder whether quite as many official Doctor Who lunchboxes, chocolate bars and bath sets would have been sold with a less aesthetically pleasing face emblazoned on the packaging.

In a time where the majority of our ‘mature’ actors seem to be poked with a walking stick toward the retirement home that is Downton Abbey and the like, it’s a breath of fresh air to see Capaldi being cast in one of the most important roles this country has ever produced. A whole generation of young viewers will have an older hero for the foreseeable future, which can only be a good thing.

I think age can be deceptive. Although Capaldi is pretty much as old as Hartnell was when he took the role, he’s not portraying Twelve as an aged, white-haired man with a walking stick. Although he’s evidently not a sprightly young man like Smith, I don’t think it’ll be too much to ask for the new Doctor to engage in his fair share of action sequences.

It is important for the show and its progress that each Doctor is absolutely different to his predecessor. Indeed, we are already hearing on the grapevine that the Twelfth Doctor will be more ‘dangerous’ than his previous incarnations. Although I tend to take rumours with a pinch of salt, I don’t doubt that Twelve will be portrayed as a little darker, and in this respect I think Peter Capaldi is perfectly cast. Capaldi is a fine actor, who has a proven track record in comedy and drama and has already shown through his work on The Thick of It that he is more than capable of leading man status.

Perhaps he may not sell quite as many lunchboxes, but you can be sure that Peter Capaldi will give us a brilliant Doctor.

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.

Wales Comic Con

As I recently blogged, con season is upon me at last, and my long wait was finally ended with a trip to Wrexham’s Glyndwr University to attend the annual Wales Comic Con on Sunday 28th April. This is a long post, but then, so was the day….

This event is notable as being the first proper convention I’ve managed to drag my long suffering wife along to, mainly because a) it wasn’t very far away and b) I think she wanted to get an idea for herself as to what exactly I manage to spend hundreds of pounds on every year. As an added bonus two friends of ours, Tony and Viccy, came along for the ride, as our shared love of Red Dwarf, paired with their interest in Game of Thrones, meant that there was something there for us to really get our teeth into.

In the lead up to the event I’d made a list of the guests I’d wanted to meet. On this occasion my list comprised of the following: –

Warwick Davis (he of Star Wars, Willow, Life’s Too Short and An Idiot Abroad fame, amongst others)
Frazer Hines (Jamie from classic Doctor Who)
Paul Blake (Greedo from Star Wars)
Chris Barrie (Red Dwarf)
Craig Charles (Red Dwarf)
Robert Llewellyn (Red Dwarf)
Hattie Hayridge (Red Dwarf)
Norman Lovett (Red Dwarf), and finally –
Danny John-Jules (Red Dwarf).

On arrival at the venue, around half an hour before opening time, there was still plenty of parking, so my initial fears that we’d be running around trying desperately to find a space were alleviated immediately. We parked up and made the small walk over to the already sizeable queues gathering outside the main hall. After joining the early entry queue we were able to chat for a while and have a gander at the myriad outfits and cosplays on show from the attendees. As usual the queues were packed with Doctors, Stormtroopers, Avengers, and er……Gamers of Thrones (?), and the effort which had gone into each one again blew my mind. Cosplaying is something I’ve always toyed with in my mind but never ended up getting round to it – partly due to laziness and partly due to the fact that I don’t want to be dressed as a character when having a photoshoot with a guest, something I generally end up doing, say 99% of the time.

After a bit of a wait the doors were opened and the four of us entered the main hall. Central to the hall were the stalls, selling the usual canvas prints, jewellery, t-shirts, mugs, action figures etc. As Wales Comic Con is still a relatively young event, there were not a huge amount of stalls to browse through, and after around half an hour or so I think I’d seen pretty much everything at the stalls I’d wanted to see. I’m sure that will improve over the next few years and the vendors will increase in number and variety.

Around the walls of the main hall were the guests, and a great many of them there were – immediately to our right as we entered we spotted Warwick Davis, who already had an impressive queue five minutes in. I wanted to chat to him early doors as I had a feeling he would only get busier as the day went on. He was being assisted at his desk by his lovely family, and it was an honour to (briefly) chat to them as he signed my recently obtained gold ingot Star Wars Saga poster, which will be a long-ongoing project of mine. After signing, and having a brief chat about Life’s Too Short (I’m a fan……!) Warwick happily posed for a photograph with me at his desk, which I’m willing to bet he was doing a great many times throughout the day. Warwick has always been a highly regarded actor through his career but his recent projects certainly seem to have seen his stock rise.

Moving onto my next guest, I went over with Zo to meet Paul Blake, who played Greedo in the original Star Wars. I’ve met Paul once before, briefly, at another event – but as I was relatively new to ‘graphing’ back then, I tended to just approach the guest, quietly ask them to sign something and then thank them before walking away. Nowadays my confidence has grown exponentially and I feel much more comfortable chatting to guests. I don’t tend to talk about their roles or past work, I always end up talking about myself, or my posters etc, but I suppose these guys are so used to being asked the same questions about past roles (“Did Han shoot first or not?”) that they probably enjoy talking about something else. With Paul, we discussed the vast array of poster tubes now strewn around my flat, full of posters which will probably never be framed and on display as I’ll always be looking for new signatures on them. If you’re a Star Wars fan, and you’ve never met Paul, I highly recommend you head over for a quick chinwag. He’s a lovely fella and he clearly enjoys meeting people to talk about these things (or whether Han shot first – which he DID, by the way).

After our chat with Paul, we had a bit of a scoot around the rest of the hall to see where all the other attendees had headed over to. We soon realised that an entire wall (and corner) of the hall was devoted to the Game of Thrones cast and arguably the ‘headline’ guest of the day Billy Boyd (Pippin from Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit), who are extremely popular currently. That end of the hall was essentially a no-go area for me, as although I wasn’t intending to meet those guests, virtually everyone else was……! The queues for Billy Boyd were consistently long, for good reason, and I’m willing to bet that his writing hand was aching by the end of the day. Because of signatures, I mean. Tsk.

I finished up my guest encounters in the main hall by meeting Frazer Hines, who I wanted to sign my other ongoing project, a Doctor Who TARDIS poster – this poster is being reserved for signatures from either actors who have played the Doctor, or ‘legends’ from the history of the show. Frazer played Jamie McCrimmon, a companion to the second Doctor, and this meant his inclusion on the poster was more than warranted. Sadly, I forgot to ask Frazer to sign the poster in silver, which I’d wanted everyone to do, and he ended up signing it in black – a mistake I only noticed when it was too late to stop him. Not the end of the world, though, it’ll look great when it’s finished (if ever) either way. Previously I’d only had Matt Smith sign it, but this will be vastly improved upon at the end of May, when I’m meeting numerous legends and Doctors from the show at another event.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet three of the main cast of Red Dwarf before, in London – sadly Danny John-Jules had been unable to attend that day so my photoshoot with the cast (Lister, Rimmer and Kryten) was only improved due to the presence of a scale model of the eponymous craft joining us in the shot. This time, all six of the main cast were there, and it was a delight to meet each and every one of them. I’d headed over from the main hall over to a separate signing area in the Catrin Finch centre. The six Dwarfers were all situated in there – separating them from the main hall being a great idea due to their obvious popularity. Entering their signing area it was clear that Danny John-Jules (Cat) had the longest queue. This could be down to his rarity at recent events in comparison to his colleagues, but also possibly down to his tendency to wander off for a chat with the rest of the cast while his queue grew……..! It was all taken in good humour though, Robert Llewellyn (Kryten) reminding him to get back to his duties getting him back on track.

I met Robert first. I found him a very affable chap, but I didn’t expect anything less – Aside from Red Dwarf, I have followed much of his work throughout the years, not least his online interview/driving hybrid show ‘Carpool’, in which he collects interesting passengers (celebs and non-celebs) from a chosen location and gives them a lift in his car, into which he has fitted cameras and microphones. During the trip they chat, not exactly in an ‘interview’ format, but through general conversation. The wit exchanged during these conversations, and Robert’s infectious enthusiasm for his guests’ stories help to make the show very watchable indeed. I discussed the show with Robert as he signed my Red Dwarf piece, and he explained that this was something he set up entirely on his own, including the cameras/microphones, and he finds himself making phone call after phone call to arrange each guest. It’s a lot of work, but clearly something he really enjoys doing. He was proud to say that he had over 27 million views of the show on his website, and online was where he was intending to keep it in the future, despite Dave TV picking up the show some time ago. Robert seems to be one of those chaps who tends to have a smile on his face all the time, and it was an absolute pleasure meeting the guy.

I moved on from Robert over to Chris Barrie (Rimmer), a comedian/actor who’s been making me laugh since I was a nipper. I was always a huge fan of Spitting Image as a child, regardless of my total ignorance of the world of politics at the time, and it transpires that Chris was a regular voice on the show. I had also seen him doing some stand up early in his career, on what I believe was a Saturday night comedy show hosted by Ben Elton, the name of which I can’t recall. He’s also very well known for his turn as Gordon Brittas in The Brittas Empire, which, despite being a sitcom almost entirely populated by people I would ordinarily dislike, was hilariously written and acted throughout, certainly for the time. Red Dwarf of course is what Chris is most known for, and I would have to say that Rimmer is one of my favourite television characters of all time. So meeting him was quite a big thing for me, and although it was relatively brief, it was a delight to finally shake his hand. He asked about the image I was having the cast sign – a lovely hi-res image of the Red Dwarf logo on a black 12×16 background which a fellow grapher, Mark, had sourced for me a few weeks earlier. After signing the piece, Chris nicked one of my lovely brand spanking new silver pens (accidentally of course…..) but I can forgive that. Chris comes across as one of the more introvert of the crew of the Dwarf, very humble, and indeed I understand from the aforementioned Mark who spoke to him the day before, that Chris had admitted to him that “the longer this goes on, the more we realise how lucky we are”.

Sitting next to Chris, and surprisingly waiting without a queue at the time, was the lovely Hattie Hayridge (Holly MkII), who barely looks any different to how she did back in the early nineties, with the exception of a touch of cherry red lipstick (and of course, not being a disembodied floating head). Hattie was approachable, smiley and chatty – again, we didn’t head towards the subject of her career, and instead focused more on the subject of the parking at the venue…….as you do….but we had a chuckle for a couple of minutes and this time I remembered to retrieve my pen, which was a bonus.

I spotted Craig Charles (Lister) about to head out for smoke, so I thought I’d quickly leg it across the room to catch him before he disappeared. Luckily I caught him just in time, before almost showering him and his selection of images laid out on the desk with silver ink, as my pen broke in my hand. Craig took the image and signed it quickly, probably to avoid being inked, before zooming off for his fag out the back. I didn’t get a chance to really chat to Craig, which is a shame as I’d liked to have spoken to him about his work on the Funk and Soul Club he runs regularly at Band on the Wall in my hometown of Manchester. Still, Craig isn’t a rarity at these events, so it’s always possible I’ll get another chance in the future to have a proper chat.

Norman Lovett (Holly MkI) has always been one of my favourite cast members – I’ve always been a huge fan of his deadpan delivery of some of the best lines in the show’s history, and again, meeting him was quite an honour for me. I wasn’t able to chat to him for a long time, as it was one of the more brief meetings, in which he signed my image and while he did so I picked out one of his stand up DVDs, to watch upon my return home. Still, Norman is a lovely guy. Unassuming and still incredibly deadpan in real life, you’d think he barely needed to act at all to become Holly.

Finally I joined the still very long queue to meet Danny John-Jules. This was the moment he’d chosen to wander off for a natter before Robert ushered him back to his desk. I have to admit, after his cancellation of a number of previous con appearances, I was concerned that he would be one of the less enthustiastic guests at a signing show. How wrong I was – he was very funny, all smiles, up on his feet the whole time (he explained he didn’t want to sit down to sign as he felt like he was doing a thousand squats a day…..) and more than happy to share a joke and a photo with each of his happy punters. He was another guest to be interested in where I’d sourced the image he was signing. From their reactions I got the impression that they were mainly signing their own photos or copies of DVDs through the day, so being presented with something a little different made the whole thing a little more interesting…..!

After I’d met the whole cast, and in doing so completing a fully autographed piece approximately twenty minutes after starting it, I hurried back to the car to carefully store the finished product. I didn’t fancy carrying round a relatively flimsy piece which I’d just spent close to £100 getting signed. I’m delighted to report I got it home intact, and I’m now on the lookout for a decent frame for it. Ikea, here we come!

Post-lunch came the time for my photoshoot with the Red Dwarf folk – it was still unclear at this time as to whether the whole cast would be joining in for the shoot, but I was not to be disappointed. I had a photo taken with Chris, Robert and Craig last year, and although I’m very proud of it, it was always certainly lacking without Danny. This time all six took part, which was fantastic – and at £25, extremely good value for money! The one gripe I had throughout the day was the fact that something went wrong early doors with the photoshoots, so they ended up delayed by around an hour. This had a knock-on effect on the talks, as it turned out, as the plan was for the guests to head straight over for the Q&A immediately after finishing the shoot. Regardless, the Dwarfers were having a great old time during their shoot, and I enjoyed very much being amongst them.

After the shoot we headed over to the Q&A hall for the Red Dwarf talk. This was a beautiful, comfortable modern theatre, and the almost capacity 1200-strong crowd greeted the cast onstage in a manner very reminiscent of the much bigger San Diego Comic Con crowds I’ve seen (on YouTube only, sadly!). The talk itself, as generally seems to be the norm, was less a ‘talk’ than a series of questions from the audience – although the cast tended to allow the initial answer to develop into a more “In Conversation With….” type of discourse, which was consistently hilarious throughout. My only criticism was that Hattie tended to get drowned out by the rest of the cast, and as such we never really got to hear much from her. Chris was a little quiet at the outset but eventually found himself on an equal footing with the others, which was no mean feat, given Robert, Craig and Danny’s outspoken nature.

Once the talk was over there was little left to do except pick up the photoshoot images from the collection table. Luckily mine came out pretty much immediately and as such I collected it with little trouble – although my long-term gripe with these events is the frankly ridiculous people who surround the photo collection table before they are even put out to collect. They just make the whole thing a million times more difficult and awkward, and they don’t speed anything up for themselves or anyone else. I can only put it down to being new to cons, although even when I was new to these things I had a little more consideration for other people. I guess you just can’t force people to see sense.

That little gripe doesn’t even slightly put a dark mark onto Wales Comic Con 2013 – for a young event it was very well run and an enjoyable experience. As the event progresses in the future all the little issues will be ironed out, the guests will get bigger and better and it’ll be a welcome addition to my regular convention calendar.

And finally, it’s all got me into con season mode at last, and I’m looking forward to the next one in about four weeks’ time. Smashing.

20130430-011512.jpg