Deal J Theatre

Theatre, Musicals & Concerts – Views & Reviews

Doctor Who Celebration – ExCel Centre, 23 November 2013

Doctor Who Celebration - ExCel LondonWhen booking opened for this Doctor Who convention back in July we were amongst the thousands worldwide desperately trying to get hold of tickets. After several hours of page refreshing, frantic tweets and gnashing teeth we finally managed to get hold of a pair, and despite there being little information as to what the event would include at this stage, we were still extremely excited.

The event was being held across three days to celebrate an astonishing 50 years of Doctor Who, the longest running science-fiction television show in the world. We chose to attend on the anniversary itself which was to end with a live screening of the highly anticipated 50th anniversary episode The Day Of The Doctor.

Setting off for Custom House at 6:50am we were rather bleary-eyed and looking not unlike a pair of The Doctor’s foes. Tiredness subsided on seeing the first Fez of the day sported by a young lad on the platform of Canning Town station. We arrived at Custom House to find all manner of Smith quiffs, Tennant coats, Baker scarves, Dalek skirts, Troughton trews and even Jamie kilts despite the cold morning. We had decided not to go in costume, yet as we approached the ExCel centre we experienced an early indicator of how peculiarly magical the day was going to be, as officials shouted over “Are you Ice Warriors?” in order to direct us – ticket holders had been organized into two separate streams, Ice Warriors and Weeping Angels, each with their own suggested timetables.

The first event for us in the main theatre was an SFX Demonstration Panel introduced by Dallas Campbell (Bang Goes The Theory) as Physical Effects Supervisor Danny Hargreaves demonstrated some of the special effects his company Real SFX brings to the show, including on-stage explosions, fire, smoke and snow. A Dalek was blown up on stage, and a young boy shot a Cyberman with Rose’s gun – despite the weapon being almost as tall as he was! It was an interesting and amusing panel, achieving the difficult task of keeping everyone’s attention when many of the audience were keen to get into the convention area or meet one of the actors.

Time was of the essence, so we pressed on and queued with an Ood for our next event, a more intimate panel in the Classic Lounge which took us right back to the beginning with key figures from the very first episode An Unearthly Child – Carole Ann Ford who played The Doctor’s granddaughter Susan; William Russell who as Ian Chesterton became one of the first companions; and Richard Martin, Director of the show’s iconic second serial The Daleks. The panel was introduced by writer/actor/comedian Toby Hadoke, an enthusiastic interviewer given his own history with the show as DVD commentary moderator and his popular one-man show Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf. Much of the conversation focused on Mark Gatiss’s recently broadcast drama An Adventure in Space & Time which told the story of the early days of the show – essentially their story – how they had been portrayed in it and the memories it had brought back to them. Carol believed that William Hartnell might have dropped in a few of his infamous fluffed lines deliberately, just to keep them all on their toes. The whole panel was informative and pleasantly emotional, even for us as we suddenly realised we were sat on the 50th anniversary with people who had been there at the very beginning fifty years ago to the day.

At this point we got our first glance of the main convention area as we walked through the junkyard doors of 76 Totter’s Lane into a vast space filled with stunt shows; make-up and prosthetics from Millennium FX; various displays of costumes, props and models; and several shops selling a wide variety of merchandise and costume replicas. This was also where cast signings took place, and although we hadn’t paid to get any autographs we did manage to get a glimpse of Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy as we headed over through the doors of the TARDIS to have our photograph taken inside Matt Smith’s penultimate TARDIS set, last seen in The Angels Take Manhattan.

The atmosphere in the next queue for the main stage was electric, not just because people were more awake this time but because everyone seemed so thrilled with the celebration so far, and were hugely excited for the next two panels. The first was the Regenerations Panel, as voice of the Dalek’s Nick Briggs interviewed past Doctors 4 through 7 – Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. Seeing so many of our childhood heroes share the same stage was breathtaking as they animatedly described their history with the show.

When discussing the show’s nine year hiatus, Colin Baker remarked on how his children were part of a generation that didn’t know Doctor Who, and how despite encouragement they would never watch him in it – but six months after Chris Eccleston took over the role when the show returned in 2005, they finally realised this was the same show that their father had been in and their respect for his part in it suddenly escalated!

Peter Davison reflected on how producer John Nathan-Turner was not a fan of sci-fi and consequently made some bad choices, but that he was a great promoter of the show and would have loved seeing the enthusiasm and excitement here today. Tom Baker agreed that Nathan-Turner had “lamentable taste” and that he was not getting much work these days as “most of the directors I’ve worked with have died shortly afterwards… some in absolute agony.”! He then went off on one of his tangential anecdotes about an old lady in a hospice who was such a big fan that when she met him she believed she’d died and that he’d come to greet her!

During the Q&A session, the past Doctors were asked for their favourite monsters of their era. Sylvester opted for the bat-like Tetraps; Colin lamented having never met the Slitheen, but enjoyed working with Sil; Peter was particularly pleased that the Cybermen had their first major redesign during his era as their earlier cloth-faced form with light bulbs on their heads and high pitched robotic voices didn’t impress him as a young boy as they sounded too polite to be menacing. Tom chose the Daleks, particularly for giving him his much-loved scene in Genesis of the Daleks where he is given the opportunity to wipe them out but philosophically questions “Do I have the right?” – Colin intervened that it would never of happened, as Terry Nation had the rights!

They were also asked which of the other Doctors they would like to be, to which Colin answered Peter Capaldi so he could be next again. Sylvester imagined how fantastic it would be to be First Doctor William Hartnell at the point that the actor realised this was suddenly a role of huge importance. Peter Davison hesitated to choose Tenth Doctor David Tennant, as he knows how happy David was in the role and wouldn’t want to deprive him of being in the show, especially given it was how he met his future wife, Peter’s daughter Georgia Moffett.

The legendary classic Doctors left the stage to huge applause and respect. We kept our seats for the next major event, The Eleventh Hour Panel in which Jo Wiley interviewed the Eleventh and current Doctor Matt Smith, actress Jenna Coleman who plays his current companion Clara, and showrunner Steven Moffat. Matt had the same bizarrely cool animated characteristics as his Doctor, constantly fidgeting in his seat with arms flapping as he spoke of how genuinely upset he was about having already filmed his final episode. Steven Moffat warned that in the future when he is invited back for anniversary episodes, he must accept as it would be incredibly rude and upsetting for everyone if he declined – a not particularly thinly veiled dig at ninth Doctor Christopher Ecclestone who had been rumoured to have been approached to appear in the anniversary episode that was to air this evening. He went on to remind him that there was a world of Big Finish audio adventures awaiting him, as Matt described how amazed he was that this television role had opened up opportunities like today that make him feel more like a rock star than an actor.

With wide-eyed admiration they spoke of how incredible it was that John Hurt had agreed to be in the anniversary episode; Matt described how he and David Tennant would be climbing about and running everywhere, but John only had to move an eyebrow and the camera would go straight over to him! Steven Moffat was as astounded as we were on his casting – the team knew they needed someone huge to play the War Doctor, and couldn’t believe they were sending a Doctor Who script to him. When he accepted, John described how he loved that he could be in just one episode and still get to be called The Doctor properly.

A few days earlier the mini epsode The Night of The Doctor had premiered online, with one of the greatest and most jaw-dropping surprises of the year as Eighth Doctor Paul McGann returned to the role. Steven Moffat asked us “You see now why we lie, and we keep secrets? Isn’t it better?!” as he passionately got on his soapbox and bemoaned the bloggers and tweeters who ruin things because they want to prove they’re first to know. “It’s not news, it’s spoiling surprises!” he protested, and indeed people had been tweeting seconds after the minisode’s release ruining the surprise for those who were yet to watch. (For the record, this blog entry was written in March 2014 and backdated, so I think it’s safe to say I’m not spoiling anything at this stage!)

As fascinating and entertaining the panel members were, they were upstaged by a young boy from the audience who was brought onstage and asked Matt: “Why do you like fezzes so much? What’s that all about?”!

After the panel in the main hallway I was lucky enough to see Matt close up as he passed by, high-fiving a girl who then ran to her friends screaming “I touched Matt! I touched Matt!”, her eyes ablaze with a fire almost as heated as the jealousy from her friends.

Moving back through the main area we passed Katy Manning (classic era companion Jo Grant) and a stage talk with the 8th Doctor’s companions Daphne Ashbrook (Grace Holloway) and Yee Jee Tso (Chang Lee). We returned to the TARDIS to collect our photo as there had been technical problems with the printer earlier; on being told that they hadn’t been able to find it our initial disappointment was soon as they allowed us to queue-jump and have it re-taken. Not many people get to enter the TARDIS through the back door! With a few minutes spare we managed to take in some more of the impressive costume and model displays, and spoke to the designer of the Impossible Astronaut‘s helmet who also showed as a Gallifrey Soldier’s helmet – something that was to be featured in the new episode this evening.

Our final panel was back in the Classic Lounge as Toby Hadoke returned to interview the Second Doctor’s companions Jamie McCrimmon and Victoria Waterfield, the actors Frazer Hines (in a Troughton T-Shirt) and Deborah Watling. Both told many touching memories of their Doctor, Patrick Troughton, and there was a great deal of excited discussion about the newly found episodes The Web of Fear and The Enemy of the World which until recently had been presumed lost forever. In the latter serial, Patrick Troughton plays both hero and villain with the additional role of Salamander, and although Frazer and Deborah would usually have lots of fun sending up Patrick on set, this didn’t dare when he was in character as the more fearful Salamander. We got to hear Frazer’s impressive impersonation of Patrick Troughton, a skill he has used to play the Second Doctor for Big Finish audio adventures. Frazer spoke of how proud he was when Patrick’s son Michael (who he was performing alongside) remarked that there were a few phrases where he believed it was his father speaking in the next sound booth.

The Web of Fear held additional sentiment for Deborah Watling, as her father Jack also appeared in the serial as Professor Travers. During clips we got to see Deborah’s reaction as she saw them for the first time and new memories of her father returned.

The pair were asked which of the remaining missing episodes they’d most like to see unearthed next – Frazer is hoping for his first serial The Highlanders, whereas Deborah is keen to see her exit in Fury From The Deep. They were asked which other Doctor they’d like to have been a companion to – Deborah went with the audience suggestion of Peter Capaldi so she could film some new episodes, and Frazer said he’d love to have been alongside his good friend Sylvester McCoy but that (demonstrating another uncanny impression in Sylvester’s voice) “we’d never get anything done as there’d be too much mucking about in the TARDIS!”.

As Toby wrapped up the panel, he checked his watch and thoughtfully suggested that since it was the final panel of the day we could overrun slightly and countdown to 5:16pm – the broadcast time of the very first episode – to mark the anniversary exactly and sing Happy Birthday to Doctor Who together. A lovely thought, and to be sharing the moment with two classic companions left very few dry eyes in the lounge.

This marked the formal end of the Celebration, and although we’d managed to pack so much in there was a great deal going on that we had to choose to miss. Nevertheless it had been a day to remember for so many reasons, with a wonderful atmosphere – lots of people keen to share their enthusiasm and chat to strangers to exchange experiences and memories, giving a genuine sense of community. From a cafe balcony we spotted writer (and personal Who-hero) Terrance Dicks on the floor below – we waved to him with such great appreciation and fondness that as he waved back we could see his companion mouth “Do you know them?” to which he gleefully answered “No!”.

As Saturday guests we were treated to an additional event – a Live Screening of the new episode. The anticipation was reaching extreme levels, even amongst the pre-screening panel guests Danny Hargreaves, Matt Smith’s stunt double Gordon Seed, stunt co-ordinator Crispin Layfield, Dalek actors Barnaby Edwards and Nick Pegg, and visual effects specialist Mike Tucker. Barnaby & Nick were celebrating an anniversary of their own this evening – although they officially began operating Daleks in 2005, they had both gained prior experience shortly after leaving drama school in the 1993 anniversary documentary Thirty Years in the TARDIS, so as well as marking 50 years of Doctor Who tonight marked 20 years of them playing Daleks.

After a short filmed lesson in cinema etiquette from Sontaran Commander Strax, the moment had finally arrived. Despite a screening room crowded with thousands of fans of all ages, all was quiet except during key moments and surprises that were met with gasps, cheers, laughter and applause. The episode itself was a triumph, and as we left there were stunned faces, some (ahem) wiping away tears of joy, and waves of excited chatter. The following day we would learn that the live simulcast to 94 countries across six continents set a Guiness World Record for the largest ever simulcast of a TV drama.

This spectacular day had drawn to a close, and on the journey home as fans started to go their separate ways the number of costumes and fezzes rapidly depleted as we re-entered the real world which seemed somehow more grey and less exciting. The only possible cure was to go home and watch the episode again… and to visit the cinema the next day for a 3D showing!

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This entry was posted on 23/11/2013 by in Events and tagged , , , .

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