Official Doctor Who Convention: The Verdict

Official Doctor Who Convention

25-26 March, Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Russell Lewin reports back from the official BBC convention in Wales

This weekend’s Doctor Who convention was the first official convention since the series returned in 2005 – so it had a lot to live up to. Tickets completely sold out shortly before the event began – at £99 a pop that’s pretty impressive going. But then this is one of the nation’s best-loved television programmes we’re talking about.

Open from 9am to 6pm on the Saturday and Sunday, the two days’ timetables were the same, although there were some differences in guests. SFX attended on the Sunday, when attendees included Mark Sheppard (Canton Delaware), Ian McNeice (Churchill) and Nicholas Briggs (voice of Daleks etc). The main attraction was, of course, the three stars, Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, with the good-looking trio all doing signing sessions and taking part in on-stage discussions. Popping up on stage and around the venue was a certain Steven Moffat, often accompanied by new executive producer Caroline Skinner, who sported a rather splendid knitted TARDIS beanie hat that had actually been given to Karen Gillan as a fan gift!

The venue was an inspired choice: known to the fine folk of Cardiff as an arts centre and opera house, it was of course also featured in “New Earth” and “The Girl Who Waited”, and provided a sleek and airy environment for the day’s activities. So what were they? Well, starting at the bottom of the building, in the foyer there were prosthetic demonstrations by Millennium FX director Neil Gorton and pals. In between applying Rebel Flesh make-up to a willing model, he revealed that the monster he’d like to bring back most would be the Zygons – “the original designs were so good you’d hardly have to change them”. Neil also put the Ice Warriors high on his wants list, although he’s hardly alone there. Fun was had when members of the public were dressed up as Scarecrows and encouraged to adopt the gait of the “Human Nature” monsters.

This small stage was also host to demonstrations on how damaged old episodes were made to look pristine for 21 st century DVD release. Small parts of the recently rediscovered “The Underwater Menace” episode were shown, but sadly not the complete instalment, to the disappointment of a few fans (“Galaxy 4” didn’t make it to the convention either). It was pretty remarkable to see previously indecipherable end credits on “The Space Pirates” magically become as clear as day once more.

On Level One lurked a costumes and props room not dissimilar to that which appeared at the Doctor Who Experience which recently closed in London (and is to reopen in Cardiff in the summer), only a little smaller. Highlights included the Wooden King and Queen from the Christmas special, lightly dusted with snow, a Smiler in a glass case, a selection of big guns from the show and not one but two TARDISes.

Next door FX supervisor Danny Hargreaves took audiences through his job of doing the physical effects on Doctor Who , usually either enshrouded by thick smoke or avoiding debris being shot out of cannon-like machinery (looked like rock, was actually cork). One revelation new to some of us was that the glass in the “Closing Time” scene where the Doctor jumps through a window was actually real glass – the door was too big to be fitted with sugar glass. Danny had to flick a switch to smash it a split second before a stuntmen dived through it.

There was also a small room where patrons could have a go on the new Who game The Eternity Clock (click to see our preview) and of course monsters like the Judoon, an Ood and a Silurian randomly wandered around to provide many photo opportunities.

Two panels in the main theatre were key components of the day. The first was the one everybody had been waiting for, featuring Matt Smith, Arthur Darvill, Karen Gillan, Steven Moffat and Caroline Skinner. The three young actors did spectacular ballet leaps onto the stage, with the audience voting Matt’s as the best – or was it Arthur’s? It was a close run thing. Over 25 minutes the panel answered both predictable and unpredictable questions and provided a few small nuggets of information. In response to an applauded question bemoaning the axing of Confidential , Caroline Skinner revealed that the cast and crew are still being followed by cameras and plenty of behind the scenes footage will be posted on BBC websites when the programme is being transmitted.

Most potentially uncomfortable question of the day was one child’s to Karen and Arthur: “Did you want to leave Doctor Who ?” Tactfully, Karen said it was a mutual decision. There was a fascinating response when Steven Moffat asked the crowd for a show of hands to indicate who would be in favour of a female Doctor – and very few hands went up. He then asked for another to find out if anyone would stop watching the show if there was a female Doctor – and a fair few hands shot up, surprisingly.

With it being Sport Relief weekend, Matt Smith brilliantly demonstrated his prowess with a football. As this video demonstrates…

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With some ease, the floppy-haired wonder kid from Northampton completed his targeted 50 keepy ups. Nice one, my son!

More vids, pics and review on the next page…

There was also a tantalising use of the phrase “you ain’t seen nothing yet” from Steven Moffat…

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Matt Smith also got a big laugh here when he didn’t quite intend to…

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A little later folk from behind the cameras took to the stage, including director of photography Stephan Pehrsson, casting director Andy Pryor and “Rebel Flesh” director Julian Simpson. Dalek operator and awfully nice chap Barnaby Edwards hosted the interesting 25-minute session.

At the end of the day, SFX ran into the unmistakable form of über mag reader the Llama God and sought his opinion on the convention. “Loved it. Had a really good couple of days. Only slight disappointment was going out for a few beers last night and hardly finding any fellow Who fans. Pity there isn’t a dedicated Who pub – guess that’s something the Weekender has over it.” The tousle-bearded one had also taken the chance to go on a “TARDIS tour”, in which fans were bussed over to BBC studios where they were allowed to poke around the TARDIS set – “Funnily enough it seemed smaller on the inside than I thought it would be…” pondered Mr God. SFX had decided not to make the trip as it takes at least good couple of hours out of your time on site. If you happen to go for two days it’s definitely worth a trip.

So was it a great convention? In SFX ’s eyes, YES, it was a palpable hit. The amount of visitors and the size of the venue were well matched, meaning it didn’t feel overcrowded, and there was a relaxed and airy vibe (it was the hottest day of the year so far, and thankfully the air con wasn’t taken by surprise). All the participants were professional, friendly and well informed, including of course Matt Smith, who in the flesh is a tall, slim, smooth, angular beauty of a man, pulsating with kooky positivity, brilliant with fans and press alike. It was incredibly sweet to see he’d brought along his mum and dad and grandad, who are all lovely. His mum told SFX that her and her husband gather round the television with a glass of wine on Saturday nights to watch the show – and are still dealing with the huge sacks of fan mail that have arrived at their house!

A day out here wasn’t cheap, but when you look at the cost of, say, the new Harry Potter exhibition – which can be got round in a lot less time and doesn’t give you personal appearances by the cast and crew – it’s actually not that bad. We suspect the official Who convention will be back – and we’ll be first in the queue.

Seven things we learned at the Convention

Karen says she and Arthur would love to go out with a song.

Matt Smith says he’s broken the TARDIS “hundreds of times”. And got through “plenty” of sonic screwdrivers.

Moffat says it “would be fantastic to do a movie”, but “it cannot negatively impact on the TV show”. He also reckons it would be “unthinkable” for a movie not to feature the TV Doctor.

Matt Smith didn’t realise Worzel Gummidge was played by Jon Pertwee!

Matt reckons the fifth episode read-through was “one of the most exciting I've ever done”.

Matt claims that the Doctor he’d most like to team up with would be the Second. Or the Ninth or Tenth – “or all of them”.

Everyone – Arthur, Karen, Matt and Moffat – says the favourite Doctor Who story they’ve worked on is “The Eleventh Hour”.

Be on the lookout for our Mark Sheppard interview with a difference going up on this here website in the next 24 hours!