Here’s the thing to remember about Gallifrey One: at its heart, it’s essentially a convention run for fans, by fans, with a certain “hey kids, let’s put on a show!” vibe that still hasn’t gone away—despite the fact that the show now completely takes over the LAX Marriott for the duration. It’s not usually the kind of convention where the show-changing, life-altering announcements are made; even with 3200 attendees, it’s still a big, cozy fan party.
That said, we got a pretty big party favor this evening: at the completion of the opening ceremonies, we got a first look at “Airlock”—part three of the First Doctor serial “Galaxy 4”. This serial was thought entirely lost until 2011, and it’s since been recovered and restored for inclusion on an upcoming special release of “The Aztecs”. The premiere of a lost piece of Doctor Who history is an event, and it was definitely a great way to kick off the first night of the twenty-fourth Gallifrey One, in the year of Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary.
Of course, by the time the opening ceremonies started, we’d already had a full day of conventioneering to occupy us, starting for most attendees with the live podcast from Radio Free Skaro. (At that time, I was attending a “Kaffeeklatsch,” or small group discussion, with Gary Russell and Scott Handcock, where the conversation ranged from the imminent retirement of Benedict XVI and why Russell should replace him, to what it’s like to work on Big Finish audio dramas, to the lamented loss of Doctor Who Confidential.) As always, the day is something of an embarrassment of riches, and there’s a lot of picking and choosing to do.
Today, for instance, you could spend time with Nick Briggs and Nick Pegg, who talked about what it’s like to voice Daleks (Briggs) and move them around (Pegg). Both admitted to some disappointment with Season 7’s opener, “Asylum of the Daleks”, mostly on the grounds that it didn’t quite deliver on the promise of every Dalek ever seen on the series; there were “loads of old ones” in the chamber where Rory wakes them up, but they can’t quite all be seen in the final cut. Briggs and Pegg also reflected on the Daleks’ enduring appeal, despite their admitted ridiculousness. The British, Briggs pointed out, like their villains to have a touch of the ludicrous, and a Dalek is certainly that: “radiator parts, boiler parts, and kitchen utensils—but they want to kill you.” Pegg offered a theory about why children in particular respond to the Daleks—specifically that in their lack of negotiation and reasoning, it’s not unlike an infant sibling “screaming and chucking toys out of the crib.”
Pegg later led a discussion with Ed Stradling, Steve Roberts, and Dan Hall, all active on the classic series DVD documentary and restoration teams; more than anything, this panel was a display of just how serious and passionate the team is about delivering quality DVDs of the classic series. Hall talked about the balancing act of ensuring a solid overall DVD experience, which, for example, has sometimes meant placing a very strong documentary on a disc with a less-strong serial. They also discussed the art of getting a good audio commentary, and the role of improving technology in the decision to revisit and re-issue earlier DVD releases. And there was actually a proper news announcement! Well, sort of. In the panel they announced that they were in production on another animated story, but the actual identity of the story would be revealed on doctorwhotv.co.uk, on Saturday in UK time. (As of this writing at 11:00 PM PST, the page still hasn’t been updated yet. Stay tuned.)
There are a lot of panels about fan culture as well, and today’s schedule featured a discussion panel about the methods fans use to acquire and consume Doctor Who: cable, iTunes, or (so to speak) off the back of a virtual lorry. The discussion ranged over larger issues of intellectual property distribution rights, the economic models of cable TV and network TV, and the ethics of piracy. In general, the mood of the panel was largely optimistic, if frustrated; the main sense is that content providers are far behind the times and have a lot of catching-up to do in the online, highly democratized new media environment of today—but that they will, and indeed must. These discussions are interesting, although they probably aren’t that new to people who have been keeping abreast of the issues for a while, and there’s a certain echo-chamber effect with a convention audience composed of British TV fans who often find the airtime lag of even a few hours intolerable.
The last interview before the opening ceremonies was with Mark Strickson, who played Fifth Doctor companion Turlough in the early 1980s. Since his days on Doctor Who, Strickson has since gone on to get a degree in zoology and has become the maker of what Gary Russell referred to as “lethal documentaries”—one of which, “The Ten Deadliest Snakes in the World”, was one of Steve Irwin’s first appearances on British TV. (Strickson recalled watching the tape they were sent by Irwin’s wife Terri and thinking, “This guy’s either going to be a star or a complete and utter disaster.”) He’s been nearly killed by crocodiles, shot at, bitten by a pig, and contracted malaria twice. He is, however, still very fond of Doctor Who, and continues to work with Big Finish on their audio adventures, and is still friends with Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton, and Janet Fielding.
So after all that, and the introduction of the convention guests in the opening ceremony, how was the lost Doctor Who episode? It’s always a little odd to see episodes from the classic serials out of context, but it’s worth noting that even out of context, you could quickly grasp the central conflict between the Drahvins and the Rills, and how the Doctor and his companions Vicki and Steven were being used as catspaws by the Drahvins. True, the robots that Vicki dubbed “Chumblies” were pretty silly-looking and there’s a lot of unintentional humor in the uneven script (“Doctor, they’re not deaf!” and “You stay here!” “I’m coming with you!” “Oh, all right then, come on!”). But the direction and pacing are strong, and there’s a particularly nice bit where Vicki and the Doctor outwit a Drahvin soldier with the help of a pair of Chumblies—and the groan the audience let out at the cliffhanger, with Steven trapped in an airlock on the verge of suffocation, didn’t sound entirely ironic at all.
Tomorrow: Philip Hinchcliffe, Dick Mills, and more…