So this weekend I travelled up to jolly old Birmingham in a rainstorm to attend my first Doctor Who event in approximately three years. Amusingly it was the exact same hotel with many of the same faces from my last time, but it was a totally different experience. For a start, it was the Starfury Events 11th Hour convention, the first ‘non BBC sanctioned’ convention appearance of Matt Smith.
As a regular of the US Doctor Who convention scene, I’ve pretty much become desensitised to the levels of awesomeness that a Doctor Who convention can bring, and the UK ones have always seemed a little more quaint and nostalgic than the shock and awe attitude of their cousins. I think this was why I was completely caught unaware by the experience I was to have.
Friday afternoon I arrived, checked into my room and wandered down to the bar to catch up with a couple of friends – having spent a decade in Birmingham (the location of the convention), friends popping by became the staple of the weekend. On Friday it was old friend Richard, who joined me and fellow friend Dan McGrath for a drink while we sorted out arrangements for last minute guest Gary Russell. Mark Sheppard came by to say hi – we last saw each other at Chicago TARDIS last year and apart from Jim Swallow he was the only guest (bar an interview at SDCC with Matt) I’d met before this – and before we knew it we were off to the stage for the opening ceremonies. En route I met Simon Fisher Becker , otherwise known as Dorium Maldavar (the blue guy), Neve McIntosh (Madam Vastra), Christina Chong, Dan Starkey (Pretty much almost every Sontaran Commander) and the amazing Frances Barber, known for her brilliant Kovarian role, but currently on TV in Silk. All were excited about the weekend, but the highlight had to be meeting W. Morgan Sheppard, Mark’s dad and also an incredible actor in his own right. Before we went on stage we even managed a conversation on screenwriting which actually sorted a dilemma I had with an act 2 issue I was writing.
I’d brought a small amount of comics to be sold and was informed while walking to the ceremony that I’d sold out bar one copy of Star Trek: TNG / Doctor Who #1, and Jim and I decided to do something for Children in Need – I’d sign the comic and get Matt to sign it, and auction it over the weekend. The winner, in addition to this would get their name in Jim’s next Doctor Who Big Finish audio. We thought we’d make a hundred quid. We did so much better…
And so, with additional people like Elisar from Talking Who and Cameron from Blogtor Who we waved to people on stage who waved and cheered back and then went into the other ballroom where table by table, we made our way around the room, speaking at each one for a few minutes before moving on. It wasn’t a great time to get into deep conversations, but I did get some gifts, biscuits and play a game of jenga, so I’m not complaining. Obviously many of the attendees were there for Matt or (as Matt wasn’t there until Sunday and this was Friday) Mark Sheppard, so having ‘comic guy’ talking to them was sometimes a delight, sometimes a ‘go away, we’re waiting for the star‘, which I totally understand. That said, the ones who were more the latter kept rubbing their legs when they thought of Mark, and probably wanted to wear his face as a hat.
After all, who doesn’t.
By 11.30pm we were allowed to leave and we escaped to the bar, where I found a more relaxed opportunity to speak to old friends and make new ones, some of which had traveled from as far as Australia to be here. I like what people now call ‘Lobby Con’ as there are no levels of importance. Although as one attendee pointed out, indicating a Hilton sign, this was Foyer Con, and obviously better than the US ones. I sat with a few friends old and new and discussed Prometheus and Dominos Pizza, who I think made their weeks budget this weekend thanks to attendees who suddenly realised the Solihull branch delivered, and went to bed, happy and enthused around 2am.
Saturday was an early start and I found myself with Neve and Christina in the ‘alternate breakfast hall’ as, due to the size of the convention there were too many breakfasting people for the restaurant. After that however it was to work, as Jim and I (with Cameron) were the 10.30am panel on writing. This is often the graveyard panel. The one where nobody comes to watch. I couldn’t have been more wrong however and we easily had three hundred people there. I was asked about the Star Trek: TNG / Doctor Who comic’s ending and replied I didn’t know, as I was leaving the book from #5 to work on a new project for IDW in 2013. (This later became a drama itself when Bleeding Cool announced ‘Tony Lee walks off comic‘.) We discussed the audios, the fan fictions and had quite possibly the strangest question I’ve ever had – ‘What would you rather fight – a horse sized duck, or five duck sized horses’, apparently the ‘con question’ that all the guests were getting. I explained that I would instead befriend the horse sized duck, tether and ride it and become King of the horse sized ducks. I don’t think they expected that.
Then there was lunch while discussing Hancock’s Half Hour with Mark, also a massive fan of 50′s UK sitcoms, watching Elisar try to explain to Neve how to ‘Twitter’ – her account is @McIntoshNeve, by the way – and find and bring in Gary Russell, having just arrived and with no room as yet. Jim and I went to sign in the autograph room, expecting to be there no longer than an hour… from 4pm until 7.30pm was not what we expected, with everyone coming to see us. We were quite touched. I was incredibly touched when the Herods (Mick, Tracey and Caitlin) gave me a balloon and presents congratulating me on the Eagle Award win for Silent (K)night. I started to demand presents from everyone else after that. I signed comics, audio covers, programmes, posters and paintings, but I’d never signed a Kindle until this day. Neither had Jim.
Leaving the autograph room, I caught up with Mark Corden (a Birmingham chum and Director on Doctors) and Phil Ford (writer and producer extraordinaire of Doctor Who, Torchwood, Sarah Jane Adventures etc) who’d come by to see Gary and me. Bryan Cooney of MCM was also there and, on meeting Mark utterly geeked out as the secret that Bryan was a massive Doctors fan became visibly obvious. Phil and Gary grabbed some dinner and Mark, making friends with Mark Sheppard ended up being dragged onto the stage with us to judge the Cosplay.
Now, US events? Take note. The five hour cosplay masquerades that I’ve seen? The Starfury one took an hour. In fact, we judged, congratulated, left. got a drink, chatted and then found Phil and Gary – and they hadn’t even finished. All Cosplay masquerades should be like this. Unless the skits are really funny, of course.
One thing though – the man who asked the duck question? Turned up as a duck in boxing gear. The joke was finally explained!
After that it was back in the bar – Mark found that one of the people we’d been talking to, old friends of Gary happened to be his girlfriends sister – and there was much rejoicing. I found myself joining the ‘Jedi Chefs’ on Mark Sheppard’s urging – and there was much rejoicing. Neve was the belle of the ball, holding court way past the time I went to bed and in general, everyone seemed to be happy, sated (bar a couple of steward issues and organisation gripes) and ready for Sunday and Matt.
And Sunday stared with a bang. Matt Smith arrived bright and early and immediately started the photoshoots. I caught him in the green room – we hadn’t seen each other since San Diego and my croaky interview for MTV, but he remembered me and has apparently read a couple of the comics since then. And, as he didn’t punch me, might like them. By now Mark, Jim and I were discussing The Tick, which was a favourite thing for all involved, Mark also mocking me for missing Gallifrey One 2012 to ‘finish a screenplay deadline’, followed by explaining in great detail to Neve (who had never heard of Gallifrey One at this point) exactly what exciting things I therefore missed. He can cut so cruel sometimes. I also met Sunday guest Catrin Stewart, Madam Vastra’s companion Jenny, who was shocked by the size of the crowd.
At 12pm Jim and I went to the signing room again, expecting a short queue (as we’d signed so much the day before) but no! We had even more things passed to us to sign including the boxing gloves of the duck, and at 2pm actually had to leave early to get on stage for our panel. This time the sleep deprivation hit us slightly and the talk involved fan fiction and various characters wearing maids outfits. We also announced the final tally – the comic made £2,013 for Children In Need, won by Steve Owen. Which was incredible.
And then we signed some more. And the people kept coming. I’d never seen such an enthusiastic group of people outside of a US con, and even then these guys gave those a run for their money. I saw Matt again in the green room and, for a man who must have signed over a thousand items, he looked strangely relaxed. We all hated him.
Simon told us about his work on the Les Miserables movie. We were jealous. Mark talked of upcoming show filming, and we were jealous. Morgan offered to act in one of my screenplays one day. I pointed out that there were witnesses and we all laughed. Well, all but me. There were witnesses.
And then it was over, we went on stage after Matt’s panel, said our goodbyes and then as one walked back on for a final wave. Back at the green room I gathered my things, said goodbye and made my way back to Birmingham.
The fans were marvelous. The guests were absolute troopers, Mark Sheppard as ever is one of the coolest, nicest and most evil men I have the pleasure to know, and Matt was one of the hardest workers I’ve guested with, never once complaining or losing that smile the entire time he was there.
I’ll be back again. Utterly brilliant.