Convention Report: Gallifrey One 2013, Day Three

The last day of the convention always serves up a cocktail of sadness at the need to return to the real world and slight relief at being able to emerge, blinking, into the bright light and fresh air of the outdoors. Or maybe that’s just conventions at the LAX Marriott, where just about everything is in the basement. The effect seems to be especially jarring at single-fandom conventions like Gallifrey One—for three days straight, you’ve been wallowing in Doctor Who, and when you finally venture out, it feels strange to not see an extra-long knitted scarf around every third neck, and you assume that anyone wearing a certain shade of blue must be a fan.

Sunday morning at Gallifrey One always seems to come on slowly; everyone has been up late at the Masquerade the night before. This year, Sunday started off with Freema Agyeman’s second panel of the weekend; her first had been standing-room only, and this one, while very full, was slightly more subdued. Sunday morning is a good time to spend in one of the live director commentaries—Saturday’s schedule included Douglas MacKinnon, talking about “The Power of Three,” and Sunday had Saul Metzstein discussing “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.”

This feature of the Gallifrey One program is always entertaining for anyone with an interest in behind-the-scenes background, and MacKinnon and Metzstein were excellent. Both are full of admiration for their actors, and had a lot to say about the peculiar nature of working with CGI—MacKinnon talked about how no one really knew what the elevator effects in “The Power of Three” were going to look until the film was finished; Metzstein seemed to enjoy pointing out which dinosaurs were effects and which were practical: when Rory, Brian, and the Doctor are being chased by pterodactyls, he called out exactly what we were looking at, “pretend…pretend…pretend…PUPPET!” The beach scene in “Dinosaurs” was also filmed on a bitterly cold day, bookended by beautiful weather on either side—filming in cold and wet and in the small hours of the night was a recurring theme, both in the commentaries and in the actor interviews.

They also discussed certain problematic episodes of their respective episodes. MacKinnon admitted, somewhat sadly, that the people remaining on the alien spaceship at the end of “The Power of Three” probably didn’t survive—the Doctor can’t save everyone, he said. Metzstein said that there were a lot of discussions about the fact that the Doctor essentially kills the bounty hunter Solomon at the end of “Dinosaurs,” in which Steven Moffat outlined his ideas about the Doctor going through a bad time and making bad decisions—and then laid out a list of previous episodes where the Doctor does in fact kill the bad guy. And, Metzstein added, Solomon does almost entirely terrible things, both in the backstory and in the episode itself. The decision may have been controversial, but the creators clearly stand by it.

The day’s schedule also included a panel on producing Doctor Who in the 1970s and another general wide-ranging discussion among a variety of the classic-series actors in attendance. If there’s one thing you come away with from these panels, it’s that the frequent motif of night shoots in the cold is not new. As long as the show’s been around, essentially everything shot outdoors seems to have been shot in some extreme weather condition (usually in a sand pit), budgets were always painfully tight, and the entire production appears to have been flying by the seat of its collective pants.

Peter Purves talked about the 1960s-era constraints that only allowed for three edits per episode, and Mark Strickson and Sylvester McCoy added that things were little better by the 1980s—they almost never had a second take of anything unless something technical went awry. And sometimes not even then—Strickson recalled a scene where an explosion was supposed to happen, but although he, Peter Davison, and Janet Fielding reacted on cue, nothing actually happened. When Davison pointed this out, he was informed that they’d fix it in post.

Before the closing ceremonies, Mark Sheppard—who a friend of mine calls “the center square in the sci-fi TV bingo card”—took the main stage to answer audience questions, which he did with plenty of humor and wit. He clearly loves what he does, talking excitedly about being given a tour of the TARDIS set by Matt Smith (who was constantly breaking things as they went) and the pleasure he gets from the real-life fan interaction at conventions. (He also gracefully handled a few questions that sounded like fan fiction research, being clearly well aware and fond of fan culture.) He also confirmed what I’ve always believed is one of the easiest and best things to say if you find yourself tongue-tied in front of a favorite actor or creator: “Just say, ‘I really like your work,’ and if you really mean it, it is the most wonderful thing you can say.”

Before the final goodbyes, there was a round-up of Doctor Who features on British television, mostly morning chat shows, including the long-running children’s show Blue Peter (on which guest Peter Purves was part for a long time). Highlights included the winners of a Blue Peter contest to write a short Doctor Who episode (three adorable little girls, who wrote a story about an Olympic runner menaced by a Weeping Angel) and crowd reactions to Nicholas Briggs making announcements at a train station and a department store in his Dalek voice. 

There was also a short interview with Steven Moffat, conducted by documentary director Ed Stradling. Moffat spoke about the plans for the year, including the eight episodes this spring, Mark Gatiss’s film about the beginnings of Who, the anniversary special, and the Christmas special—“Of course there’s going to be a Christmas special; Santa will visit your house, yes.” We’ll also see the return of the Ice Warriors (pitched by Gatiss over the phone in what was supposed to be a Sherlock conversation), and an episode called “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS,” which will deliver exactly on what the title says. He also admitted that of his scripts, “‘The Beast Below’ is a bit of a mess,” and that the title of “The Big Bang” was a filthy joke that only he knew about. When pressed as to what the joke was, he said, “Well, when you work out when River Song was conceived…”

After that there was little more but for Tony Lee to read off a piece of utterly bizarre collaborative fiction spun together by convention attendees, Twitter, and Tumblr—which he summarized as, “You are all terrifying and wrong!”—and for the guests to say their goodbyes. The unofficial LobbyCon gathering continued long into the night, and now we’re all in the process of parachuting back into the real world. I am, in fact, writing this on my flight home.

During his Q&A, Mark Sheppard noted several times that nerdy interests have gone mainstream now, and anyone reading this knows that a lot of ink and pixels have been spilled over how previously disreputable and underground interests—comics, science fiction and fantasy—are now the dominant genres in popular culture. Philip Hinchcliffe, in his closing remarks, said that he’d once told the BBC that the show had the potential to be huge in America, but ultimately discussions on that went nowhere. He’s certainly been vindicated: Doctor Who has come a long way from being available in the US only on PBS (and ten years late), and certainly Gallifrey One’s record sold-out attendance of 3,200 this year is a reflection of that. 

But even as big as the convention has gotten, and as popular as the show has become, it still takes a very particular kind of person to show up at one of these things. The intensity and the focus of something like Gallifrey One doesn’t happen casually; it reflects a depth of emotional investment that—let’s face it—will probably never look completely healthy to an outsider, no matter how high the show’s ratings may get. There’s a certain trainspotting nature in the desire to spend a weekend engaged not just with the actors, but with the costume designers, directors, creators of special sound. But as was pointed out many times over the course of the weekend, television shows don’t endure for fifty years without this kind of engagement and devotion. Our secret show may be out in the open now, but the pleasure at this depth of fan experience is no less.

Karin Kross lives and writes in Austin, TX. She can be found elsewhere on Tumblr andTwitter.


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