Report from Gallifrey
I have a terrible confession to make: I no longer enjoy Comic-Con. As a teen, I volunteered in the film room at the San Diego Civic Center, running the projectors along with Tim and other friends. No, not digital projectors. Ones with actual film in them. We screened pictures like Island of Lost Souls (with Charles Laughton as Doctor Moreau) and The Fearless Vampire Hunters. I saw my first Jackie Chan film, Drunken Master Two, from the projection stand. One year, my machine chewed the entire leader off a print of Heavy Metal, then set Macbeth on fire.
During my college years, Con moved into the brand new Convention Center, and things began to change. The film schedule shrank. The crowds got bigger. Post-it notes covered the naughty bits on artwork like modernist fig leaves. But Con was still Con, more or less.
Then Hollywood arrived. The film room vanished, replaced by sneak peeks and trailers for movies that weren’t even finished yet, let alone cult classics. The booths got bigger, but the comics and the people who created them got shoved aside, relegated to a small corner of what had become the biggest circus in town. People who had never read a comic in their lives choked the aisles, hoping for glimpse of Hugh Jackman or Kate Beckinsale. I hated it. I stopped going. Aside from an ill-fated return in 2005 to promote my novel, I never went back. Not even to accompany my boys.
So it was with mixed feelings that I headed up to Long Beach last Friday for Gallifrey One, the Southland’s biggest Doctor Who convention.
Now, let me just say a couple of things right off.
I confess that I am a recent Doctor Who convert. I’d heard of the show, but never seen it before it was revived by BBC Wales. My wife is a fan, having watched Tom Baker and Peter Davison on PBS in her younger years. But our sons are the real fanatics. Ask my eldest boy anything about any Doctor, Companion, principle actor, or monster and he will demonstrate an encyclopedic knowledge that borders on the terrifying. He compulsively acquires and reads Doctor Who guides and handbooks. Whenever I offer to rent him a movie, his inevitable choice is some obscure episode of Classic Who, chosen with a deliberation usually reserved for fine wines.
And when I say that Gallifrey One is a large Doctor Who convention, I mean that about a thousand people pre-registered this year. That’s 125,000 less people than went to Comic-Con.
I really enjoyed that smallness. The dealer’s room contained no more than a dozen vendors. We saw the whole thing in ten minutes. My boys bought plastic Cybermen and such. I, of course, bought books. When we walked the halls in costume, we could stop and pose for photos without fear of getting trodden on or causing congestion. This happened a lot, as my youngest was the only Cybershade at the convention. I even got a hall award complete with one of those ribbons to attach to my badge, my first one ever, for encouraging the somewhat shy Cybershade to menace various Doctors.
There was no panel so packed, no event so popular, that we couldn’t get seats. I watched the “Something Borrowed” episode of Torchwood with live commentary from writer Phil Ford (whose wife talks to my wife over the internet about crochet) and actor Kai Owen. I learned about NASA’s upcoming mission to map the interior of the moon, courtesy of JPL’s Bob Gounley, who explained how minute changes in the moon’s gravitation field will be used to infer the composition of the interior. My wife and I watched the North American premier of Toby Hadoke’s one-man play, Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf. We did all of this without waiting in big lines or “camping” through previous events.
More than once, we wound up sharing an elevator with Phil Collinson, Doctor Who’s erstwhile producer, who seemed to have a room near our floor. Sometimes he seemed tipsy.
In short, I had a fine time, despite my earlier misgivings.
Unavoidably, we missed things. (Two words. Dalek Karaoke.) Unavoidably, little things went wrong. The volunteer in charge of the film room had to quit unexpectedly, which meant that other volunteers with other jobs had to run over and change the discs every so often. They weren’t always prompt. Tired of waiting for “Partners in Crime” to start, my eldest boy found his mom and got her to show him how to run the digital projector. After that, he ran it himself. Nothing got chewed up. Nothing caught fire.
I felt proud anyway.