Doctor Who: Official 50th Celebration

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The Doctor Who Celebration was the official BBC fiftieth anniversary convention held at Excel in London, 22nd – 24th November 2013. I got a ticket for the Saturday, partly because it was the day of the anniversary itself, and partly because it was the only day that Tom Baker would be attendance. The vast number of people attending the event required that attendees were split into two entry groups: Ice Warriors and Weeping Angels. I was of the proud, noble Ice Warrior group.

The first stage show for us Martians was the SFX show, hosted by Dallas Campbell from Bang Goes The Theory (nope, me neither). He said that on the Friday a few people had thought he was Peter Capaldi, which you can kind of see. The set for the stage shows had a huge image of all eleven Doctors, and around that doorways and ladders like the set from Tomb of the Cybermen. At one point the whole audience jumped when a Cyberman blasted his way through one of the door. Danny Hargreaves, special effects guru since Doctor Who returned in 2005, was on hand to talk about his work. They blew up a Dalek on stage, and revealed that its one they repeatedly destroy and re-build in the series

Danny Hargreaves shared a couple of anecdotes, like setting David Tennant’s hair alight (although not which episode this happened on), and the reason that Matt Smith flinches a bit in The Eleventh Hour when the sonic screwdriver blows up in his hand as he makes the lamp posts pop is that it burned his hand. The highlight was when they got a volunteer from the audience to kill a Cyberman; it was a boy of about five years-old wearing Eleventh Doctor tweed jacket. He was handed him Rose’s gun from The Stolen Earth, which stood taller than he did. “Have you used one of these before?” asked Hargreaves.

After the show we made our way along Totters Lane and  entered the main hall through the gates of I.M Foreman’s scrap merchants, complete with a police telephone box parked incongruously among the junk.

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There were many props, costumes and vehicles on display, including Bessie, Sarah-Jane’s cars from both K9 & Company and The Sarah-Jane Adventures and the space-bike from The Rings of Akhaten (which you could sit on for photos).

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An informative talk from Millenium FX described the creation of the new-look Cybermen designed for Nightmare in Silver. There was even a guy in costume moving around to demonstrate what they were talking about. It was a great performance, he preened and strutted about and chased members of the audience who got up to leave early. When the presenter described how the masks have to be removed after twenty minutes of filming action sequences, because they fill up with carbon dioxide, he checked an imaginary watch and started making choking movements with his hands.

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Many thanks to my new friend Alesha for snapping the Cyberman and I.M. Foreman gate photos.

There was a cool selection of models on display, including the Russian submarine from Cold War, the gate from Warrior’s Gate and Ace’s ghetto blaster. I was reassured to see so many models from Warriors of the Deep, should they ever lose that story and need to remake it.

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Back into the main stage for what was the day’s highlight for me: The Regenerations Panel. Nick Briggs compered proceedings, starting things off by introducing Tom Baker to the stage. I was unprepared for the giddy thrill of seeing the great man himself, and was immediately on my feet, clapping like it was going out of fashion. I clapped like the clappers. I clapped until my hands went numb and it felt like I was bashing together the muscled arms of a complete stranger. He took centre stage, clearly basking in the adoration of thousands of fans. When he began talking and gesticulating, but there was no sound. This went on for maybe twenty seconds, until he broke into the famous mad grin and said, “And what do you think about that?” his incredible voice ringing out loud and clear.

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Briggs then introduced Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. Tom was leaning against the sofa on the far right, and sat down after receiving reassurances from Peter that his fellow Doctors would help him back up, having claimed that he has sat on the sofa at home for days when there was no-one there to help.

McCoy remained standing at the other end, declining to sit so he could look at his fellow Doctors as they all look so interesting. He asked (the cameramen) if he was ruining their shot, at which point Colin quipped that no-one was trying to shoot him.

Colin talked about his wife keeping him grounded. He arrived home after recording his first scene in Doctor Who, declaring to his wife, “I AM THE DOCTOR.” She replied, “That’s nice. Can you put the rubbish out?”

Tom Baker talked about the recent reception at Buckingham Palace. He’d been told to bring ID, but the security guard had just waved him in, saying he’d seen Baker in Waitrose the week before. To be honest Tom totally upstaged the others. Not in a deliberate or malicious way, it’s not like he can help being unfathomably awesome.

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We remained in our seats for the fifteen minutes before The Eleventh Hour panel with Matt Smith, Jenna Coleman, Steven Moffat and Marcus Wilson. This was hosted by BBC Radio’s Jo Wiley. Moffat talked about how annoying it is when websites and bloggers want to spoil things, like Night of the Doctor. This had caused the release of this mini-episode to be brought forward. Smith said he wanted to leave Doctor Who while he was on top, after the fiftieth anniversary and said that John Hurt was a ‘rockin dude.’ Coleman also said that between takes they would huddle round the veteran actor, listening to his anecdotes. When asked which other Doctor’s costume he would have liked, Smith said Troughton, or Pertwee’s purple jacket.

Asked by a young girl about writing for the show, Moffat advised writing your own stories first, becoming successful, then trying to do Doctor Who, saying it’s not for beginners.

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I got an autograph from Katy Manning, the only one I had managed to book through the abysmal ticket booking system. I’d never met her before, so it was a great treat. She’s a lovely, warm and genuine person, and was happy to have her photo taken with autograph-hunters. I caught a bit of a late panel where Barnaby Edwards was interviewing Daphne Ashbrook, Yee Jee Tso and Geoffrey Sax. Interestingly Sax said he’d been approached to return to Doctor Who as director in the RTD-era and again spoken to Matt Smith about it after working with him on Christopher and His Kind.

I didn’t get a ticket for The Day of the Doctor screening at Excel, and I’m sorry that I missed watching it in what must have been an incredible atmosphere. The day was a fantastic event though, a privilege to be surrounded by Doctor Who fans on the fiftieth anniversary and see so many of the people who helped make it, and I made a new friend. In hindsight I would have booked for more than one day, despite what the organisers advised, just to see everything.

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