This past weekend, November 8th through 10th, 2013, saw the first dedicated Doctor Who convention on Long Island in over 20 years, with 1100 guests descending upon the Clarion Hotel by MacArthur Airport. Long Island is the place where I grew up, where I first started watching Who on TV back in 1984. I hadn’t been to a convention in nearly 6 years, but there was no way I was going to miss this one.
L.I. Who was a thoroughly great time, and featured fans of the old and new series alike. One of the most impressive things for me was the sheer volume of teenagers and younger children who showed up, many of them in costume. While not a cosplayer myself, I was impressed to see the range of characters on display. Although the First and Sixth Doctors were somewhat underrepresented, I saw people dressed up as all eleven “official” ones (leaving Peter Capaldi and John Hurt out of the mix), plus an array of companions, old series and new. In the wake of the recent rediscovery of two long-lost Patrick Troughton stories, there were a heart-warming number of Second Doctors in attendance.
With the cosplayers and a packed gaming room — and with the hotel venue threatening to burst at the seams with attendees at times — there was rarely a dull moment to be had at L.I. Who. The primary attractions for me were the guests and the fan panels. I spent more time with the panels but did, however, check in on Sylvester McCoy (the 7th Doctor), Fraser Hines (Jamie), and Ian McNeice (who has played Winston Churchill during Matt Smith’s run as the 11th Doctor). I’d seen McCoy and Hines at other conventions, but I’m always impressed with McCoy’s ability to work a room. On the Sunday morning here, he prowled a packed room with a microphone and took questions from a couple dozen audience members of all ages — it’s utterly charming to see kids raised on the New Series, and familiar with McCoy’s tenure only through their parents’ DVD collections, asking such intelligent questions! Hines did live commentary over Episode 1 of Tomb of the Cybermen and Episode 2 of The Evil of the Daleks on different days, mixing on-set anecdotes with wry observations over the unfolding action.
A number of Doctor Who writers were present as guests as well, and this is where I spent a pretty good chunk of my time. John Peel sat on several panels and was a very engaging presence, discussing everything from the New Adventures to the Daleks and Terry Nation to Episode 3 of Marco Polo (for which he hosted a screening of the Loose Cannon reconstruction, after originally scheduled guest Waris Hussein proved unable to attend). Back in the late 1990s, Peel became something of a punching bag on rec.arts.drwho due to his authorship of War of the Daleks — at the time, viewed as a very poorly written book whose sole purpose for being was to ret-con the superior Remembrance of the Daleks out of the canon. At the time, I was on the very fringes of the Internet battle between these two stories. It all sounds pointless, now, but when Doctor Who was off the air and survived only in book form, and canon was thought to matter, it seemed like a worthwhile debate at the time. Peel’s presence at L.I. Who was an eye-opener for me, and I’m sorry now to have been involved in that contretemps in 1997. If you’ve heard Terrance Dicks’ DVD commentaries over classic Who DVD releases, that’s pretty much John Peel’s speaking style — non-stop humor and insight — and I think I wound up attending four or five of his panels over the weekend.
I also spent quite a bit of time sitting in on panels hosted by Who’s 50 authors Graeme Burk and Robert Smith?. I had a chance to ask them during one panel how the recent rediscovery of the two Season 5 Patrick Troughton stories might have affected their list of the 50 Doctor Who stories to watch before you die, and both of them agreed that The Enemy of the World would probably have made the list. I was even fortunate enough to sit on a panel with each of them, as I was on Burk’s 4th Doctor hour (the very last panel of the convention) and, with nine other writers, on Smith?’s Outside In team (as the book includes my review of The Time Warrior). Smith? and Burk speak very eloquently about both classic and new Who, while their occasional disagreements make for an entertaining Robert Holmes-style double-act.
I found the time to co-host two other panels. Friday night saw a Classic Doctor Who Q&A, with a gratifying large audience of literally all ages; I shared the stage with Brian Terranova and Dave Rudin, who brought diverse opinions on the classic series and, between the three of us, we hopefully opened up some interesting doors for Classic Series newcomers to peek behind. The same night, I also sat in on the 5th Doctor panel, along with Jan Fennick and Quiana Howard. To quote David Tennant from Time Crash, Peter Davison is my Doctor, but my co-panelists shared my enthusiasm for both Davison and his three seasons’ worth of episodes as the Doctor. We even started a lively discussion about the relative merits of Adric as a companion.
One of the running themes of the weekend was that the convention organizers planned one panel celebrating each of the, at the time, eleven Doctors.
Unfortunately, with so many terrific panels crammed into three days of programming, and with only one of me present at any given time, I had to miss out on a lot of fun. Certainly, had the convention been held one week later, the 8th Doctor panel would have been the absolute show-stopper. As it was, I only made it to two others. The 1st Doctor panel, on Friday night, focused on all four actors to play the role — including film Doctor Peter Cushing; Richard Hurndall of The Five Doctors; and David Bradley of the forthcoming (and, on this blog, feverishly awaited) An Adventure in Space and Time.
Unfortunately, there were too many terrific-sounding panels that I had to miss, with an impressive diversity of expert fans on stage covering all sorts of Who-related topics. This means that I can’t bring you much information about “The History of History Itself” (a look at historical adventures in both series), “New Who References to Classic Who” (which, was there ever a panel more suited to my own tastes?),”Fan Entitlement and the 50th Anniversary”, and “Authors Are Sexy”. I did at least catch the raucous “Missing Episodes” panel (including Fraser Hines, John Peel and David J. Howe) which unfortunately had no new secrets to reveal but which had some fascinating speculation.
But of all those, the single most fun hour was 11 PM on Saturday night, the Jon Pertwee panel. The whole point of this panel was to shout out, with all the fervor of a Revivalist meeting, every great moment from the Third Doctor’s era (obviously one hour was inadequate for the task). Pertwee gave up the cloak and the keys to Bessie nearly 40 years ago, and most of us in the room were barely alive when that happened (I was, in fact, born the day that Episode One of Invasion of the Dinosaurs was videotaped, which was also the off-day between Games 2 and 3 of the 1973 World Series), but the love for Jon Pertwee remains strong in us. There’s only one Doctor who ever dispatched a villain with a one-handed Venusian karate chop while sipping a glass of red wine. And that’s not John Hurt.
L.I. Who 2 is already in the works for next year. The volume and enthusiasm of this year’s crowd would be, you’d figure, hard to match, but the organizers will almost certainly find a way. Put it this way… the panel discussing the 50th Anniversary special ended just minutes before the first of the two official trailers leaked on-line, so all we had to discuss were 16 seconds of footage from the BBC website… but the room couldn’t get enough of those 16 seconds, and we probably demanded to watch the clip about seven times. I’m not turning 50 for another 10 years, but I only hope my own 50th birthday celebrations can capture even a fragment of the energy at L.I. Who.