Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Maturing of Dr. Who Fandom, or, 3 Reasons GallifreyOne is a Must-See for Who Fans

When I was wee, I threw myself headlong into Doctor Who. I collected the books, watched the shows when my local stations could afford them (largely accomplished via zealous and frequent fan-run fund drives). But I ached for something more serious than the average fan ‘zine, something that could explain to my young mind why Doctor Who had lasted so long, why it was unlike any other show I’d seen, pourquoi la difference.When I started Who, it was already about fifteen years old. Next year, in 2013, Who turns fifty. Yes, the big 5-0. The longest-running science-fiction show in the world.
I remember in around 1983 finding John Tulloch’s newly published Doctor Who, The Unfolding Text, at the time the most in-depth study of Who I could find. I don’t know if it was my youth, or the turgidity of the writing (which is my vague memory of the book), but it bored me silly. Lacking anything better, my sense of Who developed entirely by self-direction, fueled by the fund drives and local PBS stations, and informed by sparse reporting in the American press.

 After Who vanished from Nebraska TV in the early 80′s at the end of the Davison era, one caught streaky, grainy VHS copies of Baker and McCoy in the local public libraries with the small local crowd of fans. There was no Twitter, no Internet communities in the modern sense of social media. Except for the lucky fans that attended the conventions (which were quite well attended even in the 80′s), in the US through the final episode of the Seventh Doctor, Survival, in 1989, Doctor Who fandom was primarily a solo activity.

After some work-induced blogging hiatus, pointed out by my bud Mithradates, a recent turn of events compels me to overcome all obstacles, throw on the blinders and earplugs, and write with a single-minded purpose: to tell the world that Doctor Who fandom is “all grown up” and waiting for you at the annual Gallifrey One conventions in LA. On a whim and by the good luck of finding that a college friend of mine had newfound passion for Who, I decided last fall halfheartedly to attend the February 17-19 convention. When I say “halfheartedly,” I mean to say that as an adult–a gamer and Who fan, but a “grownup”–I had recurring concerns that I was too old and serious to be attending a sci-fi convention.

Boy–was I wrong. After a thrilling ride this past weekend, after volunteering for and thoroughly enjoying speaking on a panel alongside some true Who luminaries, and after enjoying watching other panels and meeting lots of fellow Who fans, I’ve culled the experience down into three reasons why you, too, have to attend Gally, as Gallifrey One is colloquially known, if you want to make any sense of your passion for Who. You must attend. (You will obey me…)

Here’s the three reasons:

(1) Who is the granddaddy, the Gilbert and Sullivan of science-fiction, and Gally is THE place to fete that history. That is, for those of you unfamiliar with the topsy-turvy and quintessentially British theater duo from the Victorian era, still much loved by millions today, Who itself has similarly matured into a behemoth of a British cultural export. (Indeed, it’s said the sun never sets on Who.)

It’s evident in so many ways. Who‘s theme music has remained virtually unchanged for nearly fifty years, and is the topic of panels of music experts at Gally. Lasting from 1963 to date, Who represents a virtual history of British television–including the development of filming techniques, equipment advances, storytelling, format, and office and gender politics–Who has generally been out front, leading the field. And all this comes out in spades in the panels at Gally, from the first Director Waris Hussein sharing how persistence and savvy maneuvering overcame racism and sexism in the industry in ’63, to discussions of how the effervescent director of Let’s Kill Hitler, Richard Senior, in 2011 rose almost overnight from a lowly position to directing the crown jewel of British television. Who’s history as a much-loved work of art, but also as a cultural institution, intersect in many ways at Gally. Just about every star, director, and guest has deeply considered his or her place in both, and shares those thoughts eagerly.

(2) This maturity is present in overwhelming, voluptuous abundance in both the guests and the fans. The actors, writers, propmasters, and directors, and the attendees are steeped in Who lore in a different way than Americans are used to thinking of “fandom.” That is, the fans aren’t fanatics–they aren’t all fringe, counterculture, “instant converts” to Who. Instead, most people I met at Gally are probably better called “conneusseurs” or “lovers” of Who.

That’s not to say there aren’t hundreds, if not thousands, of young and new fans present: there are.  But the overall vibe at Gally isn’t that of, say, young fans of videogames, Game of Thrones, or Buffy, who’ve hooked up with the latest, hippest trends, and share the trait of being both the founders, and the most passionate evangelists of their own fandom. Even the new and young Who fans at Gally don’t have that vibe: they’re true believers, they’re in it for the long run and can rattle off companions’ names and lines from Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, and Delgado’s Master.

Moreover, a good portion of the Who fans at Gally (and very possibly the majority of Who fans) have literally grown up watching and absorbing the Who phenomenon for up to five decades. As with lovers of any art, a good number of the actors, directors, and fans (I’ll just use “fans” for simplicity) are already well into passing a love of Who to their children or grandchildren. I chatted with numerous fellow fans demonstrating just that: from the three lovely and diminutive fez-wearing sisters who first loved Who in the ’70s when their father was working in England, to the young brother and his physician sister, who inherited their love of Who from their elderly mother. I too was introduced to Who by my brother, and watched for years thereafter with my dad. And predominantly not repeats, as with Star Trek, or my fave The Avengers: with Who, we watched hundreds of episodes, over decades, of developing story and plotline.

The maturity is there in the panelists. There were too many thoughtful, energetic thinkers to mention, including all of the stars and directors, whose love and knowledge of the show’s history was in plain sight. Waris Hussein, Richard Franklin (Captain Mike Yates in the Pertwee years), and Richard Senior (Let’s Kill Hitler) were stellar: their insights were worth price of admission alone.  So too with the other guests.  Simon Guerrier, prolific (and very, very good) writer of Who novels including the excellent Pirate Loop (among other books), and my co-panelist in a panel on “Introducing New Fans to the Classic Series,” discussed why there’s no distinction between “nuWho” and “classic Who“: he explained, and I agree completely, that the current stars and directors are such passionate fans (much as with Peter Jackson and Tolkien, I might add), and the intentional continuities, mannerisms, nods and references to the old series are so common, that old and new fans are occupying the exact same space. (And the camaraderie and conversations between generations at Gally seems to indicate this is absolutely true.) And in the “More Magic of Doctor Who Music” panel (link to the audio HERE), bright Ph.D. student Michaela Schubert and doctoral candidate in music theory Emily Kausalik, who talks with infectious passion about Who, and co-panelists, took listeners on another riveting foray into what makes Who music work. One can’t leave deep, thought-provoking panels like that but feeling good about Who, and appreciating the love that goes into making Who on the front end.

And, the maturity is there in the conversations that happen, spur of the moment, in the Lobbycon, the “mini convention” that happens in the hotel lobby after hours. There, you’ll run into some of the most eloquent and thoughtful people who’ve spent time thinking about how Who works, why it works, and why it’s worth introducing others to Who. By sheer luck, I ran into io9‘s Charlie Jane Anders, who is responsible for some of the most prolific, and well-written, writing on Who that regularly catches the public’s eye. For an example, see this brilliant piece giving the public the fundamentals of Who history, published the day after this year’s Gally. That sort of writing and Who history for the masses, when I was wee, was available only in special-order books after a jaunt to the bookstore; now, it’s there, beautifully written, and just begging the public to engage in talking about Who. I also ran into Professor Derek Kompare, Associate Professor of Film and Media Arts in the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University, during Lobbycon, and had a great give and take about how academia views the study of topics like Who, whether Who is worth studying (it is), and what to do about it.

That sort of thinking, from smart, sensible people, is all over the place at Gally.

(3) Gallifrey One is a true labor of love. The numerous panels, the Masquerade (of Mandragora, natch), the live commentary over Who episodes (the great Richard Senior, who I’ll praise again, was excitedly leaping off the couch to explain each new scene as it rolled around), the hilariously  bawdy MST3K-style late-night showing of Creature From the Pit (Tom Baker, notoriously bawdy, would be proud!), the photographs and autographs with the stars, directors, and other guests–it all flowed from event to event with pure effortlessness, as if the dozens of volunteers were true pros.  All of that in one package, plus the omnipresent cosplay, the fantastic hotel (save for the regrettably spotty wifi), and Gally’s affable and quite evidently Who-loving Program Director, Shaun Lyon, make Gally, in my book, the Disney of conventions (rid your mind of any negative connotations that might conjure): everything is so smooth, friendly, and wonderful, you need only sit back and enjoy yourself.

And, for any Who fan when so much is on offer to enjoy: that’s the best thing in the world.

Hope to see you there next year for Who’s fiftieth!

Lime

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