A Few Months Earlier
My alarm blasted me out of sleep. I opened my eyes and was met with complete darkness. I blinked a few times in order to adjust to the darkened surroundings of my bedroom. It was 2:45 am and I was home in New Jersey. I quickly rolled over and grabbed my computer which was on my nightstand. It was already opened to the correct web page: the Doctor Who 50thAnniversary Celebration. Tickets would go on sale in fifteen minutes and I was determined to snatch one.
Fifteen minutes felt like fifteen years as I waited in the dark and repeatedly refreshed the page. The moments ticked by. Ten minutes. Five minutes. Three minutes. One minute. Thirty seconds. Go! Finally the page was opened and I hurriedly began clicking and typing in all the vital information. Saturday 23 November, Weeping Angel entry group, name, address, credit card number, click. It was done. I had secured my place at the historic celebration in London. I had no idea how was going to get down there from Durham. I had no idea where I would stay while I was there. It didn’t matter. Those were details I could figure out later. For now I was beyond elated.
I rolled back over and tried to sleep, but I was too excited. All I could think about was meeting my hero, Tom Baker. I desperately wanted to thank him for being my Doctor. I would make sure I got an autograph session with him. It wasn’t the signature I cared about. I would be happy just with a simple thank you. The website had mentioned that autographs would be purchased on the day of the event. I would make sure I got there early. I yawned and eventually I closed my eyes and drifted back to sleep.
I had been in Durham for a little under a month and I knew I needed to figure out transport to and from London for the weekend I would be attending the convention. I had texted a friend who lived just outside of the city but that weekend was busy for them and I wouldn’t be able to stay. I’ve always been a huge fan of Priceline.com. I’ll rephrase. I’ve always been a huge fan of William Shatner and so my proxy, Priceline.com.
I wanted to stay near the ExCel Centre where the convention was being held so I wouldn’t have to worry about travel to and from the hotel. I typed in the address and up popped several hotels. I scrolled through until I stopped at one, the Grainstore Apartments. It was genuinely right next door to the convention and I couldn’t believe the price. For two nights it would come to roughly $300.00. That was much better than the other hotels which had been quoting me prices of £300.00 a night! I quickly snatched up a room for Friday and Saturday night.
I turned my attention to the train journey. I had yet to apply for my student rail card so I knew I would take a financial hit over the trip. The good news came when I received my course timetable and found I had no lectures on Friday. I would be able to head down Friday morning. I punched in the dates and received a pretty solid deal. Round trip to London and back to Durham was going to be £93.00. That was a lot less expensive than I thought.
It would be a three hour journey to Kings Cross. I pulled up a map of the London Underground. This looked simple enough. I’d take the Northern Line to the DLR and that to the ExCel Centre. Well, I could figure that out later. For now I had secured a place to stay and a train trip to get me there and back. I shuddered with excitement. This was going to be the event of a lifetime.
It had been a long week and I hadn’t had a proper chance to check my email. I had just finished turning in my first assignment for graduate school and the amount of energy it had taken had wiped me out. I opened my email and found one that had been sent three days ago from the company running the Doctor Who convention. As I read, my heart began to sink. They had opened up the chance to purchase autographs on the website. I was three days late, there would be no way there would be any left. I quickly went to the site, punched in the code, and to my utter dismay and disappointment, Tom Baker was completely sold out. Not only that, but Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy were also sold out.
I desperately tried to find any way to buy an autograph session but to no avail. I couldn’t believe I had missed the opportunity. Meeting Tom Baker had been my motivation for attending. I had to find a new one now. I sadly posted the bad news on my Facebook. A few minutes later Jasmine, a friend from my course replied. She and her boyfriend David were also attending the event on Saturday though they were in the Ice Warrior entry group. She assured me that there would be autographs to be had on the day. Maybe I could sign up then.
I cheered up a bit, but the wind had gone from my sails.
22 November 2013
I had packed my suitcase the evening before. I made sure I had enough clothes for the weekend and my Tom Baker scarf. Ever since I had discovered I missed out on meeting him, I had found it difficult to feel any kind of excitement about my trip. I was angry at myself. This was still the event of a lifetime and yet I was acting like a petulant child who hadn’t gotten its way.
I checked my room one last time for anything I may have forgotten. I wheeled my case out and locked the door behind me. It was a fifty minute walk to the train station but I was glad to have some time alone to think and process what I was doing. I had grown exceptionally nervous about the trip. What if I missed the train? What if I got lost on the tube? What if I couldn’t find my hotel? What if they had lost my reservation? What if I really couldn’t get an autograph session with Tom Baker?
I forced myself to take deep breaths and focus on one thing at a time. First thing, get to the station and print out your tickets. After that you can worry about other things. The air was cool and crisp and I welcomed the feeling of winter. I was ready for Christmas and for Christmas break especially. It had been a busy term and I still had assignments due not to mention I needed to find a work placement for my Easter vacation. I needed to get away from Durham for a while. The bubble I was living in was beginning to feel a bit stifling. I needed to breathe city air and have a totally different experience.
I made it to the station forty minutes before my train was due to arrive in. I sat and waited and watched the other trains come and go. It felt like it had been a lifetime since a huge group of my friends and I had boarded a train into Newcastle to celebrate my birthday. It had actually only been two weeks. Time was flying by and I was gripped by the realisation I had been in England for almost two months now. Two months down, ten to go, I thought. Ten months and so much I had to do and wanted to do. I wondered if I’d be able to cram it all in.
My train would be there in two minutes. I went through the gates and looked down at my reservation. I was in coach E seat 31. I began to walk toward the end of the platform. When the train finally pulled up, I boarded and found my seat. With some help from the man in the seat next to me, I lifted my bag up onto the rack and then took my place for the next three hours.
|A chilly morning at Durham station|
I was busy reading for my next essay the entire trip down. I glanced out of the window a few times as we passed Darlington and York. Between York and Doncaster we were delayed on the tracks for thirty minutes while the crew performed safety check son the brakes of one of the coaches. I didn’t mind. It gave me more time to get through the dense policy documents I had to read. In the end though, I only got through two of four.
Kings Cross was the final stop and everyone poured off the train and into the cavernous building. I tried my best not to walk around with my mouth gaping and my eyes wide. I had lived in New York City for a year and the city was where I felt at home. I was surprised how much I was reminded of New York; the pulsating energy and the wonderful anonymity of being crammed up with millions of strangers in one city. I loved it.
I followed the signs for the underground and queued up to purchase an Oyster card. I had decided to take the Hammersmith and City Line to West Ham and then the DLR to Custom House and the ExCel Centre. It was the route with the fewest transfers. I continued following signs for my line, checking the app I had downloaded to make sure there were no delays or closures.
|Kings Cross, London|
Within an hour I was arriving at the ExCel Centre. I strolled across the outdoor gangway and began to feel a creeping excitement grow within me. This was going to be quite amazing. I would make sure I had an amazing time. At the moment though, I was lost. I could not find the Grainstore Apartments despite Google Map’s best efforts. I finally made the phone call and discovered I was in the right place. The man on the other end of the line told me to turn around. In the distance, down the street three or four doors, I saw him waving.
After I checked in, I rode the elevator down two floors and found my flat, flat 6. I unlocked the door and instantly felt one hundred times better. I was exhausted from my trip but the sight that welcomed me made me forget that. The flat reminded me so much of the apartment I had to give up after I lost my job. It was modern and comfortable. A king sized bed rather than the single I had grown used to in my study bedroom back in Durham, a soaking tub instead of a space pod shower, and a real living room with a TV and a kitchen all to myself (not that I would be doing any cooking). I felt like I was at home. I ran myself a bath, watched some TV, and then made preparations for tomorrow’s adventure. Finally I snuggled into bed and drifted off to sleep.
|Yeah, I think I could live here quite happily.|
23 November 2013
It was 3:00 am when I woke up. I groaned. I had been suffering with acute insomnia for the past two weeks and it seemed as though I would never be rid of it. I tossed and turned for an hour, thinking and worrying. My thoughts turned to previous conventions I had been to and I worried this one would end up feeling like those. I had left the others feeling rather empty and depressed. I am not generally a convention goer, you see and to be honest, they are not my favourite events to attend. It’s always a high anxiety atmosphere with everyone feeling that they must do, see, hear, and buy all the things. You can meet some very aggressive people who will elbow you out of the way for two seconds with a celebrity. Then there is the endless queuing. Queues for food, autographs, panels, shopping, shows, the toilets. Queues everywhere. When you aren’t standing in a queue you are invariably looking for the end of one. I sighed and rolled over trying to get back to sleep. This was going to be different, I told myself. You will have a good time tomorrow, queues and all.
A few hours later my alarm went off and like a zombie and shuffled into the bathroom and turned on the hot water. After my shower I felt more awake. I got dressed in the comfiest clothes I could, pulled on my coat and my Tom Baker scarf. I had never worn it in public and I debated whether or not I should. Just go ahead and do it, I said to myself. I wrapped it around me a few times and the first vivid memory of the day struck me.
I was in fifth grade and when I say I was a geek, I was a total and complete geek. I didn’t have many friends and I had gotten used to daily bullying on the playground. One morning before school my big brother, Jimmy pulled me over to the coat closet and took out the giant Tom Baker scarf I had gotten for Christmas the year before. Why don’t you wear this today? He asked. I hesitated. Come on, it’s crazy scarf day, he smiled. I smiled. He wrapped it around me several times and I image that I must have looked like Randy from A Christmas Story. He walked me to the bus stop and I rode off to school. I stood by the classroom door, outside in the cold air. One of my classmates looked at me with a mix of disdain and amusement. Why are you wearing THAT? She asked. I’m wearing it because it’s crazy scarf day. I replied with more confidence and gusto than I normally did. She raised her eyebrows, turned, and to my surprise she left me alone.
All of a sudden I wished more than anything that my big brother were there. He had introduced me to Doctor Who and it didn’t feel right that he wasn’t there. Jimmy had returned from a semester in college and introduced the whole family to Doctor Who. We would gather around the TV every Saturday evening and watch replays on NJN. I was only five or six when I first saw the show, but it left an indelible impression on me. In recent years, I have found drawings I did as a child featuring a wonky blue box, a metal dog, and a tall figure in a long scarf. I remember wanting desperately to be Leela, Nyssa, and Ace. I used to pretend that my father’s tyre pressure gauge was a sonic screw driver and I’d often steal it to go and save the universe. I still have the key to the TARDIS on my key ring and I still hope that my Doctor will show up one day and whisk me away for adventures. I felt a pang of something, nostalgia was it? I brushed it off as best I could, grabbed my bag, and headed off to the convention.
|I made sure to dress appropriately.|
It was surprisingly quiet with no crowds when I arrived. I thought that it would be mobbed at 8:00 with queues stretching from the convention centre to the London Eye.
|Where were the masses of people?|
As I had time, I bought a hot chocolate and a gingerbread muffin from Costa and began walking deeper into the centre. I finally found the Weeping Angel queue and it still wasn’t as long as I thought it would be. I texted Jasmine wondering if she and her boyfriend had arrived yet. We had decided to try to spend some time together at the convention in between our scheduled shows. It turned out she was in the queue running parallel to mine and she came running up to me smiling.
“Hello, how are you?” she asked a little out of breath.
“I’m good, how are you and David?”
“Good, we had a lot of trouble with the trains. They’ve shut some of them down cause they’re working on the lines. We wanted to get here earlier,” she replied.
“Why would they shut down lines this weekend when they know so many people will be trying to get here?” I asked.
“No idea,” she said, “So are you excited?”
“I am,” I didn’t sound convincing, “I’m hoping we can hang out a bit this afternoon.”
“Yeah me, too. We’re going in a different entrance, but I’ll text you and we can meet up before our first show at 10:00,” she smiled.
“Sounds like a plan,” I said and smiled in return. She headed back to her line and I turned my attention back to the queue.
|The first of many queues|
|Cybermen don’t have to wait in queues.|
It began moving winding its way into a large empty warehouse. I was handed a lanyard with a picture of a Weeping Angel and a timetable on the back. Then we queued up again to get into the main exhibition hall. At 9:30 everyone spilled through a London set and into the hall. I began wandering aimlessly and a bit lost through the booths, the stages, and vendors. I was overwhelmed and I felt very alone all of a sudden. I texted Jasmine but she was being shepherded right into her first show. We wouldn’t be able to meet up until after, but then I realised I would be queuing up for my shows then. It was a clever crowd control device. The Weeping Angels and the Ice Warrior groups would never intersect. I realised I would be on my own for the day.
|Entering into the TV World of Doctor Who|
I took a deep breath and tried to focus. I decided to head over to the costume gallery in order to gather my thoughts and calm down a bit. I weaved my way among the props and mannequins stopping every once and a while to remember an episode where I had seen that monster or that costume. I snapped pictures of each Doctors’ costumes and of Old Bessie.
I was feeling much calmer and more able to make clear headed decisions. It’s always overwhelming when you first arrive at a convention. You have to get your bearings and you have to figure out what your goals for the day are. Goals. I decided to wander over to the autograph area to see if by some remarkable chance that I would be able to meet Tom Baker. I found a woman with a clipboard. Clipboards always denote some sort of authority. I asked about the possibility. She smiled and flipped over a few pages.
“Oh no I’m sorry. There aren’t any left with Tom Baker,” she said. My face fell. I glanced down at the page and saw that indeed, all of the Doctors were sold out, just as they had been online. I thanked her and wandered away trying to figure out what to do now.
I found myself amongst the vendors’ stalls and began looking at all of the different items for purchase. I decided I would mark out in my head the things I wanted to buy for myself and for presents. I felt my phone vibrating in my pocket. I had set alarms to remind me when to queue for my shows. It was time. There were two panel shows back to back that I would be seeing first, Regenerations and The Eleventh Hour. After waiting for thirty minutes, they began letting people into the theatre fifty or so at a time.
I got a fairly good seat towards front and in the centre. As we waited for the auditorium to fill up, scenes from the past fifty years of Doctor Who flashed up on the huge screen in front of us. William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, and Matt Smith. There were cheers for favourite Doctors but only David Tennant and Matt Smith got any recognition. I felt for the first time that day a regeneration gap. I was upset that no one was cheering for any of the other Doctors, my Doctors. I had grown up with replays of Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy. My Who was marked by wobbly sets, cardboard monsters held together by cello tape, and CGI done on the equivalent of a Commodore 64. My Who will had the feel of a group of friends getting together to film something purely for fun. That’s my Who. That will always be my Who.
Regenerations began and I was relieved when they began introducing a panel of my Doctors. I instantly felt more at home. Tom Baker, cane in hand, slowly hobbled over to one of the red sofas and sat on the arm. There he was. My Doctor. My Doctor. I smiled and the second vivid memory of the day welled up inside me.
My grandmother had come to visit for week. I was maybe eight or nine and I was home sick from school. She had made me some chicken noodle soup which I was weakly spooning into my mouth.
“Is there anything you’d like to watch?” she asked.
“Can I watch Doctor Who?” We had been taping them as they aired so we could enjoy them anytime we wanted.
My grandmother smiled.
“Doctor Who, eh?” she said, “Which one do you want?”
“Any of the Tom Baker ones,” I instantly replied.
She pulled of the first tape and put it in the VCR. Together we watched Jon Pertwee regenerate into Tom Baker. We watched him outsmart the giant Robot and the think tank that threatened the world with a nuclear holocaust. Then the next episode. Sarah, Harry, and the Doctor fought of the Wirrin invasion of earth. Then the Sontaran Experiment. We watched Doctor Who all day. It was the best medicine for a flu.
Peter Davison entered next, followed by Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. They spoke about their eras as the Doctor. Scenes from their respective regenerations played over the large screen and they talked about handing the role onward. I have watched many interviews with actors that have played the role of Doctor Who. They speak about the last day of filming when it was time to hand over to the next Doctor. They always speak with such sadness. It is masked sometimes by gentle jibes aimed at their successor or by reassurances that they were going on to other things, but there is always a great sadness that comes through. Something struck me hard and out of the blue. I am one of those past Doctors, watching the next generation of fans claim the show and make it their own. And it is with great sadness that I watch from the side lines of the now massive fan culture the absolute joy a glimpse of Matt Smith or David Tennant can bring. I understand that excitement and I am so glad that a whole new generation of fans has discovered the show that I grew up watching. Yet, I cannot feel a full participant. It is not spite, it is not envy, it’s nostalgia. That’s what I kept feeling, nostalgia. It’s quite a complex emotion really. People often speak fondly of nostalgia, recounting with such pleasantness the quaintness of the past. Nostalgia has a second face though, one that reminds us that we are linear beings. As much as we may wish to turn back the clock, to relive the past, we are forced into an onward march through time. The Doctor really is lucky to be able to travel to the past and relive it. I wish I were so lucky. I wish I could go back to my childhood and relive the days of Classic Who when the fans screamed for Tom Baker or Jon Pertwee.
|My Doctors. ALL my Doctors.|
I was sad when the panel was over and I watched the Doctors leave. I had remembered something while I watched and listened to them. I have always thought of Tom Baker as my one and only Doctor, but the truth is, all four of them were my Doctors. Memories of watching each of them flooded my mind and despite the disdain so many fans have for Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, as a kid I really loved watching them, too. Then there is Peter Davison. If I hadn’t first seen Tom Baker, I think for sure Peter Davison would be my absolute favourite. I probably watched more of his episodes as a kid than anyone else’s. The way he speaks of the show past and present is so positive as well. I now felt even more regret that I wouldn’t be able to meet any of them. My Doctors. I would thank them a million times over for the joy they brought me as a child.
The Eleventh Hour was the next panel this time with Matt Smith, Jenna Coleman, and Stephen Moffatt. It was clear that the crowd was really excited for this show and they screamed as each entered in succession. I enjoyed the discussion and, as a fan of Stephen Moffatt in general, I was especially interested in glimpses into his creative process. Most of the questions were aimed at Matt Smith, and really it’s understandable. He’s the Doctor now, after all. As he spoke he constantly adjusted his socks. Then he said something that struck me.
“I think those of us in our thirties really got robbed of Doctor Who. It was cancelled just as we were coming of age.”
This was so true. I was lucky in that NJN showed replays and we had taped many of the episodes, but for the majority of my childhood, there were no new episodes being made. I had eventually grown out of watching the series, especially after Jimmy moved out and took all of the tapes with him to his new apartment. I wondered what it would have been like if I had had Doctor Who all through growing up. How marvelous would that have been?
After the panels I headed immediately over to have my photo taken at the TARDIS console. I had an hour before I was due to be at my next panel so I knew I was cutting it very close but the queue wasn’t very long. As I waited I was hit for a second time with a huge sadness that my big brother wasn’t there with me. I wanted desperately to make him appear so I could share everything with him. I began to tear up, completely unexpectedly. I took out my phone and messaged him trying to maintain tight emotional control. We texted back and forth as I waited in line and it made it seem like he was there at least in spirit. I waited for about forty-five minutes. Near to the entrance to the set an attendant was chatting happily to the people queuing.
“Have you been having a good day?” she asked smiling.
“I have,” I replied. It was true. I loved the panel shows and I was beginning to feel much more at ease with everything.
“Are you from America?” she asked, recognising my accent.
I nodded and smiled.
“You came all the way for this event?”
“I’m studying up in Durham, it was just really well timed,” I explained.
“Still Durham is what six hours on the train?”
“Only three really, plus an hour on the tube.” The queue began to move forward again.
“Well I hope you have a really great day,” she smiled again. I thanked her.
It was finally my turn. After a single snap of the camera, I was ushered off the set and handed a print. I had ten minutes to make it to the next panel.
As I rode the escalator up to Level 3 towards the Classic Lounge, I glanced over at those coming down. I caught sight of Sylvester McCoy and realised slightly too late that I had just passed him and Colin Baker as they went down to the lower level. I smiled and laughed at my blindness. That would have been the perfect chance to smile, say hi, and thank you.
Remarkably I made it with time to spare. It was a panel with some of my favourite companions, Louise Jameson, Katy Manning, and Sophie Aldred. I took an aisle seat and waited for it to begin. I was glad to be able to hear them speak about their time on the show and watch clips of some of their pivotal scenes They discussed the nuances of their characters and where their careers had gone after Who. As Sophie Aldred spoke about smashing up a Dalek with a baseball bat, I remembered watching Silver Nemesis as a kid and wishing I were Ace. She was one of the youngest companions and one I identified a lot with.
|Katy Manning, Sophie Aldred, and Louise Jameson|
As I wandered back downstairs and into the main hall, I began to feel that there was something missing. There were people who weren’t there that should have been, Lis Sladen, Mary Tamm, Nicholas Courtney, Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, William Hartnell. Though clips with them were shown, it seemed that there wasn’t much talk of their vital contributions to Who over the years. Gosh, what would Doctor Who be without Sarah Jane and Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart? There was a tiny curtained in memoriam area where a looped tape with names of images played of all those who we had lost over the past 50 years. I really wished they could have been there to see the fiftieth. I wondered what they would say about it. It was a gap that could not be filled; a palpable absence in the fabric of that day.
I went over to the vendors and picked up a few things for myself and some Christmas presents as well. I spent over £50 at the Big Finish booth which qualified me to receive a postcard with Tom Baker’s signature. I may not have met him, but I did at least get his autograph. Mine was the second to last one as well, so it was all well timed. I finally managed to grab some lunch and then began queuing for the final show. The SFX show dealt with all of the physical special effects from the new series. They blew up a Dalek, shot a Cyberman, made it snow, and lit the stage on fire. I’ve always loved special effects, especially these kinds of special effects. CGI is awesome, but there is something about actual live effects that really makes a show special.
|It’ll do. It most certainly will do.|
I texted Jasmine as I exited the theatre. I finally met up with her and David but only for a brief moment. They had tickets to watch the fiftieth anniversary show in a theatre and had to make the next train. I walked them to the DLR and then decided to head back to my room. It had been a day filled with emotions, some expected but more of them completely unexpected. Memories I had not accessed for years had flooded my mind and I was emotionally and physically drained. I took one last look back before I left the ExCel Centre. The event I had been preparing for the past five or so months was now over and I began to feel that emptiness that has always accompanied conventions I have attended. I didn’t want the day to end, but it was time. It was time to go back to the flat, have a hot bath and watch the 50thAnniversary episode.
Thinking back, now that it has been a few days and I have had time to process, I am genuinely glad to have been able to attend the convention. It is true I did not get a chance to meet my hero, Tom Baker, but being there reminded me that I had other heroes as well. I’m not sure why I ignored my other Doctors for so long but without Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy my childhood would not have been the same. Since I was unable to tell them in person, I would like to put it out there into the either of the interwebs now:
To my Doctors (#4, 5, 6, and 7),
I cannot express adequately in words what your performances in Doctor Who have meant to me. Watching the show as a child left a huge impression on me and I firmly believe I owe a great deal of my imagination and adventurous spirit to those happy hours I spent watching and rewatching your episodes. Each of you left a positive mark on my childhood and I am so glad to have rediscovered it while I was in London this past weekend.
I also must mention and thank you a thousand times over for the mini episode The Five(ish) Doctors. That was myfiftieth anniversary episode. It brought back the same feelings I get watching your episodes today. That spontaneity and the palpable enjoyment which comes through in your performances is what Doctor Who is all about. When I watch your episodes, I can tell how much fun you were all having and that is why I love those years so much.
Thank you all for the amazing adventures.