Excel Centre, 13 November 2015
The trouble with ‘fatalistic nostalgia’, a phrase that I’ve pinched off Mark Gatiss, is that everything in the past seemed so much better. And that’s very true of the Doctor Who Festival in London’s Docklands, where a lot of the festival goers today were lamenting ‘It’s ok, but not as good as the 50th’. And they’d be right, if you’re going to make a direct comparison to the 2013 event in the same venue. But this isn’t a landmark celebration, it’s just a celebration of the Capaldi Doctor Who years, and being that little bit smaller actually makes it easier to navigate than the golden anniversary bash.
Boasting the same format as its predecessor, the programme is split into two streams (Daleks and Cybermen) who are either watching one of the three ‘event’ shows in the main theatre or milling around the festival area which has three smaller stages and retail stands. Throw in some principal costumes from Season 9, a walk-through immersive set of Davros’ Skaro Sick Room and practical stands from Real SFX and Millennium FX and you’ve got a rich programme of events.
As with most festivals you can’t see everything and the best strategy is to do a bit of forward planning. The three main shows – Millennium FX with Mark Gatiss, Writers’ panel (hosted by Dr Matthew Sweet and featuring Gatiss again, Catherine Tregenna and Steven Moffat) and Actors panel (Peter Capaldi, Michelle Gomez and Ingrid Oliver – hosted by a typically excellent Toby Hadoke) – form the backbone of the day. Elsewhere you choose whether you want to focus on the Production Village, Drama School or FX/Game stage. Or maybe pop in and watch some old episodes courtesy of the Horror Channel? No, me neither.
The usual suspects are there – the always-excellent Big Finish, Panini, Titan, BBC Shop – selling a startling range of merchandise. Sonic Screwdriver BBQ tongs anyone? Subscribe to a magazine or order a full-size Dalek, your choices are only limited by your ambitions or budget. My only quibble was the ‘Iconic set photo’ which transpired to be Clara’s living room. Maybe I have a different understanding of the word ‘iconic’? While nicely put together, the set photo looks like you’ve been snapped in your Nan’s living room, circa 1978.
For this old convention veteran there was a sense of deja vu with the main talks – there’s only so much you can say about these fairly saturated topics, but for many novices the thrill of seeing ‘The Doctor’ in the flesh was a real highlight. The lucky ones also snapped up one of the limited opportunities to be photographed with Capaldi, Gomez or Oliver (Jenna wasn’t here on Friday). The pricing structure was flat – £30 for everyone – though Capaldi understandably sold out very quickly.
For me, being able to chat to costume designer Ray Holman, monster performer Jon Davey, production designer Michael Pickwoad and director Douglas Mackinnon were my highlights. And that’s the thing about the best festivals – you can settle down at the smaller, more intimate stages and speak to some of the forgotten heroes. And let’s not forget the full-size TARDIS fashioned entirely out of blue and white Lego bricks, proudly materialised in the centre of the ‘Shopping Village’.
While it will never be all things to all people, the 2015 Doctor Who Festival takes a good stab at offering a range of activities. I didn’t take part in the Fan Challenge quiz or parade in cosplay, but the good thing is that plenty of people did. Doctor Who fandom is a broad church – let’s be grateful that the diversity is recognised and celebrated at high profile events like this.
Watch out for our video reports from the convention, courtesy of Siobhan Gallichan, Kevin and Liam Davies coming soon!