Doctor Who Convention, Day 1 — ‘Meet the Stars’ Panel

Moffat, Smith, Gillan & Darvill

A really good way to comprehend the scope of Doctor Who and its effect on popular culture, is to take a survey in the middle of a packed hall in Wales and ask just how many people are from outside of the country. When you get at least 30 Americans, a few Australians, and several others that only came across the Channel from France, and that hall only seats a few hundred people, it says a lot. That is why it’s amazing to think that this is the first official convention in the production’s 49 years (honorable mention goes to California’s Gallifrey One, held yearly for 23 years now). Although it’s probably due to the fact that the BBC isn’t really in the business of putting on conventions, after the events this weekend, I really wish they were! But that’s another write-up that’ll come in the next couple of days.

Of course, if you’re going to organize a big convention here in the show’s hometown, it’s only right that you have all the most important people in the production of the show present. The audience was not to be let down, as the ‘Meet the Stars’ panel, emceed by Jason Mohammed (BBC Wales Sports and News Presenter), included Caroline Skinner (Executive Producer), Steven Moffat (Lead Writer and Executive Producer), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), and The Eleventh Doctor himself, Matt Smith. It seems that no convention can go by without discussion of the mother of all conventions, the San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), being brought up, and so it was the case here as the panelists discussed their previous con experiences. Smith and Gillan both attended SDCC in the summer of 2011, and previously, Moffat was there along with Julie Gardner, and Naoko Mori in 2008. Though it was a bit early in the game, Moffat proudly proclaimed that “Wales does it better”. Now that the weekend is through, I’d have to agree with him, though the news later in the day that all five panelists were planning to attend SDCC again this year still put a smile on my face. I go every year, what can I say?

From there we moved onto each panelist’s first memories of Doctor Who. While the younger stars recounted vague details of scarves and Daleks following characters down corridors, Moffat regaled us with a tale of an argument between a small boy and his father over whether or not the man on the TV who was slightly younger with dark hair was really The Doctor. Obviously he eventually got over this disbelief to become the “man who destroyed his Hollywood career to do the show”, and who to this day still gets excited when he sees a story about Doctor Who in the paper, wondering what’s going to happen next . . . only to remember he already knows.

Moffat and SmithBut what is it that makes Doctor Who so special? When other amazing Science Fiction can get canceled after a mere ten episodes (see Firefly), how has Doctor Who survived in people’s hearts, and on people’s screens (we’ll forget that ahem, 15 year, nearly uninterrupted break for now) for so long? Smith thinks it’s the lack of boundaries; that they’re not trapped by the parameters of one place and one time, by one genre, or even logic (“Sorry about that,” Moffat says). That it’s the limitlessness of the story that makes it work. Yet those things would be nothing without the wonderful creative minds that dream all of it up, or the cast who delivers such amazing performances.

You know you’ve found something special in an actor, when a man who proclaims definitely to the press that his Doctor will be in his 40s–because absolutely no one younger could bring the age and experience to the role that is necessary–turns around and casts a 27-year-old who was the third to walk through their door on the first day of casting. Considering Moffat is not known for his humility, it’s quite something to see him admit that he was completely wrong on this score. Apparently Andy Prior (Casting Director on Doctor Who) said it best when he told Moffat it wasn’t age that they needed to find, but depth. That that was something some actors in their 60s didn’t possess, and some actors in their 20s clearly do.

Smith, Gillan & Darvill having a laughThis was the point in the panel when clips of each of the actors’ performances were shown and they discussed things like how the show has changed their lives, how hard it is bringing so much emotion to the roles, etc. I have to say the best part was actually just watching them all react to the clips and share little inside jokes amongst themselves. Sure, the audience isn’t privy to what they’re saying, but I’ve always asserted that nothing destroys a show more for me than finding out that the actors hate each other. In the same vein, nothing delights me more than to see a cast who genuinely enjoy each others company. From the poking and prodding, the whispering and giggling that went on during the clips, this cast love each other. Too bad it’s all about to come to an end.

Obviously, they weren’t going to give us much about the 7th Series, which they’ve only been filming for a few weeks now. Moffat proclaimed that he hardly ever lets anything slip about scripts to his colleagues while he’s writing them, or developing a story over a series. So I guess we can’t really expect him to share anything with the audience now, can we? Still, there were a few hints dropped here and there that give fans something to speculate about. For instance, for some reason both Gillan and Darvill were hanging upside down for a large portion of Friday’s final taping at the Upper Boat Studios, the Doctor Who production team now moves to the new BBC home in Cardiff Bay. We weren’t told why they were hanging upside down, but apparently Gillan had blood vessels burst and leave very unsightly blemishes under the makeup she was wearing to the Convention. They’d also just had the read-through of the scripts for episodes 7×01 and 7×05, the latter of which will be Amy & Rory’s farewell to the series, and is due to be filmed in New York sometime soon. It was revealed the script will feature the Weeping Angels in their scariest tale yet (something not planned when Moffat resurrected the creatures in Series 5), and left all three cast in tears, and Smith and Gillan so exhausted that they both needed to take naps after the reading. We would, of course, not expect anything less than a very dramatic and emotional farewell to the Pond’s, but coupled with Moffat’s recent announcement that there would most definitely be deaths in the episode (and he means it this time!), I’d have to say I’m a little worried for these two characters I’ve come to know and love.

Entire PanelFinally it was time for my least favorite part of a Convention panel, the audience questions. Even though Smith handled the question with grace and amusement, there was some cringing going on when a teenage girl asked if he’d accompany her to the movies that evening (sadly, Smith had plans with his parents who were in town). This is the one area SDCC does fairly well, that I’ve seen no other convention do–and that is screen its questions so things like this don’t get through. Still, it’s not practical in most situations, and people are people. I have to give credit though, there were some good questions which lead to really fun answers and we at least found out that Smith is apparently reading The Hunger Games at the moment, so not a total loss!

Amongst the other good questions, were why Moffat chose to marry off The Doctor to River (it was an aborted timeline, and he basically wanted to throw her a bone), or if he’ll ever have a serious relationship because Ten was rather flirty and Eleven seems kind of weirded out by love (Moffat thinks Ten pretended to be flirty, but fell apart whenever a girl kissed him, and Smith thinks he just wonders why anyone would want to put their lips on his, it’s weird). But those who tried to pry even a smidgen of information out of the panel about what might be in store for the 50th Anniversary celebrations were in for a let-down (we are assuming there will be an episode on the actual anniversary date, as conveniently enough, November 23rd, 2013 is a Saturday). Hands down the best question of the day was one little boy asking Smith how to make a Sonic Screwdriver:


It’s basically, essentially an amalgamation of TARDIS energy and The Doctor’s wizardry of mind. And so what he does is he finds a load of different parts and feeds them all into the TARDIS which atomizes them . . . very cleverly. Mass atomizes them and spits it out through a tube which comes out right at the top of the TARDIS and bops out right back down. Goes through a little paint job program which goes bzzzz and comes out the TARDIS and there you have the Sonic Screwdriver.

And then, so we’d know the panel was at an end, a Judoon walked out behind the panelists and Karen Gillan screamed. Seemed fitting, really.