Yesterday was something of a fever dream to me. In fact, I’m convinced that I’ll wake up at some point and discover that the following events were entirely fictional – merely a product of my desires as both a writer and a Doctor Who fan…
Yesterday, I was in London, standing in a very long queue outside the Forbidden Planet megastore, where an all-star book signing event was taking place to mark the store’s one hundredth Doctor Who signing and celebrate the release of a series of novelisations for various episodes (City of Death, Rose, The Christmas Invasion, The Day of the Doctor, and Twice Upon A Time).
Yesterday, I met some truly marvellous writers and artists. People who can only be described as heroes of mine… among them, Steven Moffat and Russell T. Davies.I haven’t written a ‘personal’ article in a very long time, but I felt compelled to do so due to this being something of a seminal moment for me. As such, since I still have the ear-to-ear grin on my face, I fear that this will not be particularly coherent or articulate.
No, this will be the sentimental ramblings of a fan’s first experience meeting his heroes.
See, I have never actually attended a fan convention or event like this before…
Years have passed by with some of my favourite franchises and I’ve never once attended things like Comic-Con, Gallifrey One, E3, PAX, Star Wars Celebration, and so on. Perhaps my greatest regret of late is that I managed to completely miss going to the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff before it was closed down during the summer last year.
Whether it’s been a time or money issue, I have lost out on being more involved in the fandom for a show I have loved since childhood.
That was, of course, until yesterday.
The purpose of this article is simply to chronicle this first experience, as it is only through words that this ceases to be a story in my head – the fever dream of a fan – and becomes truly real to me.
Naturally, it began with waiting in a queue (in the cold!) that rivalled the length of time the Doctor spent in his Confession Dial…What got things off to quite a surreal start was being recognised while waiting in the line…
For those of you who don’t know me, this blog has largely been dedicated over the last half-a-decade to doing analytical writing on the Halo series (standing with Doctor Who and Star Wars as my holy trinity of favourite franchises), which has earned me some degree of presence in that community.
During the two hours that my friend and I were waiting in the queue, somebody approached me and asked “Excuse me, but are you Haruspis?”
Why, yes. Yes I am!
I had been in line to meet writers of whom I esteem, and found that I was feeling like something of a celebrity myself!
The people immediately in front and behind me glanced at each other with confusion as this person (a fellow member of the Halo Archive, who was attending the event because he’d seen me mention it online and hoped to find me there) took a selfie with me.
My day had been made and I hadn’t even entered the building yet.Skipping forward to 7:20pm, I was standing right outside the door – waiting to be admitted, and struggling to keep my nerves under control.
The thought did occur to me that maybe I should just run off, just leg it! Despite what I had mentally prepared to say, I was sure that the moment I walked in there I’d forget it all and just say or do something embarrassing.
I’d say something silly. I’d… fall over, or something. That’s how I’d be remembered.
Thankfully, that was far from what happened.
Instead, the moment I walked in, Russell T. Davies flirted with me!
“Hello,” he grinned, with the energy of somebody who was greeting the first person in line, instead of the hundredth. I introduced myself and he asked “Have we met before?”
No, sadly, we had not.
“Ah,” he said, punctuating with a wink, “I must’ve seen you in one of my dreams!”
And just like that, I knew this was going to be fine. I handed my phone over to the staff member who was on-hand to take photos while the books were signed, asking him to just hammer the capture button in the hope that at least one of the photos would be good (he ended up taking about twenty pictures and many of them were).
From there, Russell and I discussed our entry into Doctor Who – of which, mine is a rather strange story.
I must’ve been about five or six years old when I caught Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. on the television, one of the films featuring Peter Cushing as Dr. Who (as well as Bernard Cribbins, who would later appear as Wilfred Mott during Russell’s era).
I should note that it was this film which made me one of approximately four people in the universe who loved the ‘Paradigm Daleks’ introduced in Mark Gatiss’ Series 5 episode Victory of the Daleks…
From there, my next brush with Doctor Who was the 1996 film with Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann. I wish I could say that this was a very strange transition to me, owing to the fact that Dr. Who was wearing a very similar costume but was no longer an old man with a moustache. No, instead he was a tiny Scotsman, who was shot a few minutes into the film and he magically turned into a much younger man with lots of hair.
This all made sense to me.
Oh, and he wasn’t fighting Daleks, but a snake who jumped into Eric Roberts’ body through his mouth while he slept (this was a very scary change in tone for Younger Me) and called himself The Master.
No, really, this definitely all made sense to me.
As I explained this progression to Russell, before arriving at his first series in 2005, I thought it would be a great idea to do my best and most camp impression of the Roberts Master’s line “I always dress for the occasion.”
Now, I love all of Doctor Who. I really, really do. But, from my perspective, they haven’t invented words yet that can articulate exactly what the Moffat era has meant to me over the last eight years and what it has helped me deal with.
That was, of course, a very helpful thing to be hindered by when it came to trying to tell that to the man himself.
As I shuffled over to him, I exhaled deeply and said “It’s not every day you get to meet your literary hero!”
Steven emphatically gestured to Russell, “And you’ve just met him!”
No, you! I mean, yes, absolutely him too! But you! YOU!
There was one thing that I knew I wanted to say to Steven because of an old interview where he said that The Beast Below – the second episode of Series 5 – was “quite a mess…it was all over the place.”
When I broached this subject to Steven, he upgraded his answer to (and I quote this word-for-word): “It was shit!”
From there, I had to insist to him that I loved that episode!
Not only did it so beautifully lay the foundations for his entire era, not only was it a brilliant thematic precursor to The Day of the Doctor, it was a deeply layered, political, and emotional episode that I hold as one of his finest works.
Endlessly rewatchable, with some incredible performances from Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, and Sophie Okonedo; you can trace the message of “Just be kind,” that was so consciously at the heart of the Twelfth Doctor’s era right back to this story.
I’m not sure that I managed to convince Steven, but it won a huge grin from him as he said “Well, it’s what you think that really matters!”We briefly discussed plans for the future, both my own (going through teacher training) and his. It is known that he and Mark Gatiss are doing an adaptation of Dracula, but he also told me that more Target novelisations of Doctor Who episodes are on the way.
He didn’t reveal which stories would be getting the adaptation treatment, but I very subtly suggested (a term which here means “You’ve got to do this!”) Heaven Sent and Hell Bent – the thought only occurred to me later that there simply isn’t any way one could possibly improve on those already perfect episodes…
Perhaps, at my behest, and to improve on a story he hates, he’ll do The Beast Below!
Given the limited amount of time we had (which, even then, was quite a while – I got about 3-4 minutes each with Russell and Steven), it was time to wrap up and move on, so I attempted to tell Steven just how much his Doctor Who stories have meant to me.
“Thank you, Steven. In so many ways, you were ‘my Doctor’.”
To my credit, I think that was quite a valiant on-the-spot effort to very concisely sum up how his era has helped me cope with anxiety and a lot of other nonsense.
Somehow, it was always there exactly when I needed it – the next series would roll around at just the right time to make it feel like making it to the next weekend was worth it, with my favourite Doctors and companions and monsters in some of my favourite stories that I know I will carry with me through my own work, to the grave (and beyond, when my mind ends up in the Nethersphere).
On the next table sat Paul Cornell and Jenny Colgan, who penned the adaptations for Twice Upon A Time and The Christmas Invasion.
I had previously read Colgan’s story in The Day She Saved The Doctor, an anthology book featuring Sarah Jane, Rose, Clara, and Bill on various adventures with the Fourth, Ninth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctors.
Colgan penned Rose and the Snow Window, in which she did a truly wonderful job of writing Rose’s character – capturing her incredibly driven compassion that would define her relationship with the Doctor, following the Time War, where – as he says – she made him a better person. In many ways, it was through her, as it is with all of his companions, that this old Time Lord who ran away learns how to live up to the promise of The Doctor.
Embarrassingly, I asked Paul Cornell whether he was the co-writer for Into The Dalek (another favourite story of mine), but that was actually Phil Ford. He clarified that he wrote Human Nature and The Family of Blood (as well as Father’s Day), all of which were absolutely brilliant and I wanted to make sure he knew it!
I unfortunately missed James Goss, either because he had popped away for a moment or because I was just managing to keep myself from malfunctioning. But I did manage to acquire a signed poster from Anthony Dry, the artist behind the stunning covers for each of the books, and he wished me all the best.That was my first proper fan experience and it couldn’t have been better. I spent the rest of the evening in a state of uncontrollable glee, feeling closer to this show – this universe that collides with our own on certain Saturday evenings throughout the year – that I love than I ever had before.
Having done this at the end of an era, of my favourite era at that, and a new one about to start with Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall, I’ve told myself that I’m going to do better by myself in attending these events.
It’s not only rewarding in the sense that I have now acquired almost half a dozen signed books and a poster from some truly marvellous artists and writers, but, somewhere between the man who brought Doctor Who back flirting with me within ten seconds of meeting and getting to insist to my favourite storyteller of all time that his least favourite work is actually amazing, I think I found out a little bit more about what it is to be part of fan culture.
I said this was going to be largely incoherent babbling, so I don’t have a way of tidying this up for a neat conclusion. All I can really say is…
Yesterday was awesome and I’ll never forget it!
UPDATE (23/12/18): Earlier in the year, I was asked by Rik Moran (of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society) to write an article for them about this experience.
It is featured in Cosmic Masque VII, which can be downloaded here.