The Mark of the Convention
“There’s a Dalek in reception. Is there a Doctor Who thing on?”
This was overheard from the lady diner sitting at the table next to me one night in a restaurant. The Dalek in question was a 2005 model painted in the blue and silver look of the 1960s in order to promote a new fan film, The Power of the Daleks Re-imagined. Both the Dalek and myself were taking up room at the Hilton Metropole hotel in Birmingham for The 11th Hour convention on 15th-17th June and a good time was had by all. The Dalek could not be reached for comment, but I’m sure the presence of a Dalek princess in a nice red dress did much to raise its spirits. If indeed such things do and let’s face it the fans aren’t that keen for even the Doctor to have a love life.
First of all a bit of background, The 11th Hour was run by Starfury Conventions, which, as you may be able to tell from the name, started off by arranging Babylon 5 gatherings. Many other shows followed such as Xena, Chuck and Battlestar Galactica as well as non-genre TV like Leverage, Glee and The L Word. I first started going in 2004 and have attended a number of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly conventions. They have never done a Doctor Who one before and I always assumed that this was because the show had plenty to begin with so there wasn’t the market for it. That is until organiser Sean Harry managed to score Matt Smith as a guest, so if you’re wondering why the BBC suddenly decided to host their first official Doctor Who convention since the series' return in 2005, this is it. If the incumbent Doctor was going to appear at a convention then they wanted him first.
The convention was based around the Eleventh Doctor’s era with the additional guests being mainly pulled from A Good Man Goes To War and The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon. They included Mark Sheppard (Canton Everett Delaware III) W Morgan Sheppard (Older Canton), Stuart Milligan (President Nixon), Neve McIntosh (various Silurians) Catrin Stewart (Jenny, maid to Madame Vastra), Christina Chong (Lorna Bucket), Dan Starkey (various Sontarans), Frances Barber (Madame Kovarian) and Simon Fisher-Becker (Dorium Maldovar). Also in attendance were author James Swallows and comics scribe Tony Lee who has recently been responsible for the Doctor Who and Star Trek: The Next Generation crossover.
For the most part, the convention was divided between the guest talks and queuing for various autographs or photographs. Since I had a regular ticket (number R-252 which made me sound like a diminutive Star Wars droid) mine were restricted until Sunday so I settled into the main hall for a series of very entertaining guest talks. So what did we find out? Well, Christina Chong owns a Chinese restaurant in Harpenden and does not know who K9 is; Tony Lee and James Swallows look like Tony Stark and Thor respectively; Dan Starkey’s suggestions for various administrative roles in the Sontaran army and that the hatch Madame Kovarian peered through was operated by a very enthusiastic work experience girl who almost took Frances Barber’s nose off. One man persisted in asking various guests whether they would rather fight a horse-sized duck or 5 duck-sized horses. The highlight for many that day was the talk given by father and son team W Morgan and Mark Sheppard. Mark, clearly a con veteran, prowled the hall chastising those with banal questions and annoying the cameramen trying to follow him. I have to say it unnerved me a little, recalling the pantomimes I attended as a kid; I always got scared when the performers came into the audience to take children on stage. Never mind that Mark played two characters that scared the hell out of me: Cecil L'Ively in The X-Files episode Fire and Dr Charles Walker in Medium. Whatever else he may be though, he comes across as a man of great passion and love for his work.
Saturday night brought the costume contest with so many good outfits on display, including all eleven Doctors, and a man dressed in a giant duck costume. Personally, I spent the night dressed as Amy Pond from The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone. Compliments were given, photographs were taken and Tony Lee said I was “wonderful but terrifying”. Purely by chance I also met up with David Scott who had previously written two great Why I Love… articles for GeekPlanetOnline on classic Doctor Who and time travel itself that are well worth a read.
To all gathered, Sunday was Matt Smith Day! The Eleventh Doctor himself would be blessing us with his floppy haired presence. First of all I did my round of the other guests and it was quite surprising to find that W Morgan Sheppard had the longest queue. Even after numerous conventions, it’s still a little startling to see the stars walk straight by you, chat in the bar or eat in the same rooms. While waiting in line to meet Matt, the man himself walked straight past me on his way to a much needed toilet break. My meeting with him was as brief as you would expect but still a thrill. The organisers made sure that no-one left without an autograph that day. Matt's talk filled the hall and needless to say he was witty, enthusiastic for the show and all round brilliant, especially when he dared to tip the audience some knowing winks while keeping schtum about what's to come. Moffat would be proud.
The closing ceremony, barely two days after the opening one left me feeling a little melancholy, especially as people were already preparing to depart. Still there was the disco - when someone remembered to reopen the hall. A rather lacklustre end to proceedings. All in all, the weekend was fun and I expect I will attend many more. The next one was already being promoted: Midnight, in December, boasts David Tennant and Billie Piper among the guests.
A great deal has been said about how you can make a lot of friends at these events and that can be true. It can feel lonely when you see big groups welcoming each other but even a social misfit like me can find someone to converse with at some point, although this time at least I knew a couple of people. Now, I could tell convention tales of how a group of girls dressed as sexy policewomen rounded up a bunch of loners like me for a game of spin the bottle on the first night or how I ended up moping around under a table with a man from Latvia, who earlier in the day I had failed to explain the concept of Doctor Who to, while the girl I fancied was being chatted up by a man dressed as the Terminator but those are other times and places...