As you arrive at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott, site of the Gallifrey One convention celebrating Doctor Who, you immediately imagine that the décor of the hotel goes back to when the BBC series debuted in 1963. On the convention level below the lobby, fans marking every era all come within feet of one another. There are teenagers sporting the multicolored scarfs and cricket outfits of the classic era, as well as veteran fans donning Converse shoes and bow ties from the program’s reboot. Regardless of your Doctor, everyone has come to party. Yet, it’s the intimacy that makes the difference.
For many US fans, gaining access to the varied actors, writers and directors who have made this legendary show such an icon means braving sweltering hordes of 75- to 100-thousand people. Instead of feet, fans come within inches of each other. Attendees are practically herded from room to room not just for glimpses of their favorite artists, but sometimes just to hear commentary from their fellow geeks on each episode. Gallifrey One has been, and intends to stay, unique. Founded in 1989 on the heels of the original run’s cancellation, it helped provide a community for fandom suddenly without a franchise. With a total attendance of only a few thousand, “Whovians” get an experience here like no other. Attendees can actually talk to the stars providing their autograph. Even better, they aren’t left darting and dashing for the few remaining seats inside a convention room. Gallifrey One’s organizers want to ensure their gathering can be enjoyed and not just survived. That desired atmosphere came through for me in three particular venues on Day 1.
The first example was in the autograph sessions. Even for the latest standouts in the series’ lore, everyone had an opportunity to gain a signature and say hello. Michelle Gomez, who plays the latest incarnation of the Doctor’s childhood friend turned madcap rival known as The Master, laughed with fans and gave cheeky impromptu photos. In a nearby corner of the room sat Sir John Hurt, whose portrayal of the Doctor lost to the no-longer-so-secret history of the Time War thrilled fans in the 50th Anniversary special. Just as diligently, he provided autographs for all who sought them. Now, of course, these luxuries came with their customary fee, but it’s the casual interaction that comes with these moments that make Gallifrey such a rare experience.
The Panel discussions of Day 1 also granted an opportunity to see these performers in a remarkably relaxed setting for a public interview under stage lights. A great deal of credit goes to the interviewers conducting these 1-on-1’s in freewheeling ways that allow the celebrity guests to seem so loose with the audience. Michelle Gomez, in particular, was mischievously funny…from her impersonation of Margaret Thatcher, to the review of all her psychotic acting roles, to her somewhat blue description of why she might not fit the traditional definition of The Master. Speaking of classic villains, it was equally a treat to listen to Julian Glover in his Friday night chat. The man who gave us Count Scarlioni (in arguably the greatest Classic Who story, “City of Death”), Aristotle Kristatos of 007’s For Your Eyes Only, and Grand Maester Pycelle of Game of Thrones, summed up his streak of memorable antagonists by stating:
“Villains are just a much better part.”
In a well-deserved show of appreciation, Glover and his moderator even received a glass of white wine and a beer, respectively, from the audience as he reminisced about his own career and the contemporaries he performed with.
The last experience, which made Day 1 such a fantastic scene, was the Screening and Live Commentary of Doctor Who episodes by the artists who helped produce them. I had the chance to sit in on a screening of the Series 8 favorite, “Flatline,” as writer Jamie Mathieson gave the audience exclusive insights into the realization of his first Doctor Who script. In the initial stages of creating the narrative, Mathieson was shocked to discover that a two-dimensional monster had never been tried and immediately set about writing the tale once he confirmed its novelty. He credited the excitement of the TARDIS-trapped-on-the-traintracks sequence with earning him the right to develop “Mummy on the Orient Express,” also a beloved story from Peter Capaldi’s first season. He found out later that the closing moment of the scene, in which the Doctor famously names the “Boneless,” caused showrunner Steven Moffat to punch the air in affirmation. He believed that this Doctor-Lite saga is a validation for the role of the Doctor being played by a woman, as Clara steps up to save both humanity and the Doctor from mortal peril. From this episode, Mathieson argued, Clara begins an arc which culminates in her almost becoming a Doctor herself – running from the Time Lords in her own TARDIS at Season 9’s end.
In all, Day 1 was an exciting first step into this very uncommon con. Each year, tickets are sold out in less than 2 hours and it doesn’t take long to understand why. It’s also worth an honorable mention that many other segments of the Whovian community are able to contribute to Gallifrey One. The opening event I attended was a panel discussion from enthusiasts, podcasters and technical producers on how to introduce followers of Modern Who into the Classic version. There are even educational forums that take place within the convention, including updates and recaps of our own space exploration through NASA. On Day 2, Season 8’s Samuel Anderson will join the festivities and the official cosplay “masquerade” will get underway. Afterward, I’ll be back in this time and space to post my reactions.
Written by Joseph Money