If there is a TV series out there who needs its own festival, that is definitely Doctor Who. It’s not only about the length of time the show has been running, it’s about the universe that it has created around itself; the generations of fans willing to pass their knowledge to younger viewers who have just started watching; a world in itself, basically.
The Doctor Who Festival in London took place this weekend at the Excel Centre, and I just want to say in advance that it was tremendously well organised. I’m not only talking about the distribution of the stands, cafés, and different showcases and panels. I’m also pointing out something that could only be appreciated by someone like me, who went there with a press pass. The BBC Communications department outdid itself, and complimented everyone in the press not only with refreshments and a safe haven to write down our articles and relax, but also with exclusive DVD copies of Doctor Who Series 9: Part 1 and the limited edition of The 10 Christmas Specials. We even had an area to try the new LEGO Dimensions game! If only other festivals and conventions would learn from them.
Now, let’s get to the crux of the matter! I did wander around the production village, where fans could take a glimpse at props from the show, like costumes, monster outfits, sets of houses and rooms and countless Daleks and TARDISes. After this, I moved on to the main theatre, where all the talks were going to take place.
Millennium FX Show
For this first talk, Kate Walshe, Millennium designer responsible for the creation of some of your favourite monsters, was joined on stage by Mark Gatiss, where they discussed the process that goes from the conception of a monster to its final design. Gatiss mentioned how fascinated he is by the fact that he has written several episodes in which monsters appear, and the description he includes in the scripts ends up becoming, thanks to Walshe, exactly what he wanted it to be. They were even joined by Mr Sweet, from ‘The Crimson Horror’ (which Gatiss suggested should be made into a commercialised toy), a very spooky sandman from yesterday’s episode and one of the Mire warriors from ‘The Girl Who Died’ (with Jon Davey, who has played several monsters on the show, inside).
Gatiss did explain some things about yesterday’s ‘Sleep No More’. Among other things, he told the audience that he had decided to make something innovative with the episode, hence the lack of the intro credits, and he obviously was looking for a horror film vibe. When asked about keeping continuity within the DW universe, he recognised that he likes to insert some little jokes that reference past things, but that he doesn’t want to be stuck checking absolutely every minimum detail, because the plot would get lost in it.
Oh, and, do you remember the mummy from ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’? The teeth they used for it, they bought them on eBay.
Meet the Writers
Before talking about this panel, I will quickly mentioned that I was waiting outside with the press and I saw Sarah Dollard, so I couldn’t help myself and approached her to tell her that I had been to her panel in MCM two weeks ago, where she was amazing, and that I was sure next week’s episode (written by her) would be brilliant. I also tried to get some intel into whether she will write for season 10, but that is top secret, of course. She was an incredibly nice person and she also has the coolest hair ever.
So, the writers’ panel was composed by Steven Moffat, Toby Whithouse (‘Under the Lake’, ‘A Town Called Mercy’) and Jamie Mathieson (‘The Girl Who Died’, ‘Flatline’). It was a delight to witness this, as a Doctor Who fan and as a writer.
Among the things discussed, Whithouse mentioned that he finds two-part stories easier, because with just one episode, you feel forced as a writer to jump into its conclusion, whereas with two, it allows the story to breathe, and you get to have your own cliffhanger.
Mathieson told the anecdote of how he tried to get hired for Doctor Who for years, always getting rejected, until he finally managed to get the script for ‘Flatline’ through in series 8. He gave one simple advice to all inspiring scriptwriters: write spec scripts constantly and send them out, because it is the only way to practise and to get noticed. Although he did mention something that upset the audience: he wasn’t a fan of the classic series –but he explained that it was because it scared him so much he couldn’t bear to watch it.
Moffat reminded us that, even though DW is a worldwide famous show, it still doesn’t have a lot of budget, and they are constantly struggling with this, stretching the money to see where it can take them. He also shared something about the story of the Doctor’s face and its relation with Capaldi’s characters. The story explained on the show a few weeks ago is what Russell T. Davies’ had planned all along, with the added thing that Capaldi’s character from Torchwood was also related. Moffat joked saying that Torchwood’s character was the end of the bloodline the Doctor had saved in ‘The Fires of Pompeii’, and that the Doctor taking that face was his way of saying, “screw you destiny, you ended it but I’m going to keep it’. Of course, Moffat said jokingly that that didn’t mean it was now cannon! To culminate the talk, he condemned those dreadful ranking lists in which the Doctors and companions are classified from best to worst, and merely said that, right now, Capaldi is the best Doctor, because he is the one playing the role.
Meet the Cast
Toby Hadoke moderated this panel, where Moffat was joined by Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Michelle Gomez and Ingrid Oliver.
One of the main topics was Coleman’s departure, of course. The actress was almost in tears when she reminisced about those days joking around with Capaldi and how much she was going to miss that, while he pointed out that he was going to miss her because she was someone who had welcomed him and taken care of him when he joined the show.
There was time for some anecdotes, though. For instance, Gomez mentioned that, during the famous scene in which she kisses the Doctor, she was holding Jenna’s hand the whole time, as she was terrified of being part of such a big show.
Capaldi was asked, of course, about the guitar. While being able to play, he recognised that the final take that we see on our screens sounds much better than what he does on the set, so there must be some meddling somewhere in between. Apparently, he sent an email to Moffat with plenty of ideas for series 9, and the guitar was one of them. Then they went to a second hand shop in Soho and bought it. That simple.
The women were asked about female characters and if it is difficult these days to find strong women like the ones they play. Oliver pointed out how delighted she was to see that in the Zygon episodes, all the main UNIT officers were women. Gomez simply said that, although she could obviously pass as a 27-year-old, she is proud to say that there is now a 48-year-old woman action figure you can buy, which received a great ovation.
There were also the usual questions, of course. When asked about the story from the classic series that they would like to do themselves, Capaldi said that he could not possibly choose just one, because then that would mean that he doesn’t regard the others as highly, but he did mention ‘The Ark in Space’, the first Dalek story, ‘The Daleks’ and even ‘An Unearthly Child’. So he did say in the end which ones, but he tried to mask it!
And the final question was about the scariest monster! Moffat had no doubts: the Autons! Ever since he watched ‘Spearhead from Space’ when he was a kid, he has found them terrifying. For Capaldi, the scariest one was the monster from ‘Listen’, because you couldn’t see it, which made it worse. And Jenna, who said Capaldi had stolen her answer, pointed out that the scariest monsters are the ones that walk slowly, because you don’t think they are going to get you, but they always do, and they know it.
All in all, it was a spectacular event, full of things to do and things to learn. Both the writers and the actors let us discover new elements of the show we all love, and I can only hope we get to have another one next year!
Oh, if you can’t wait to watch more of your favourite Time Lord, ‘Doctor Who Series 9: Part 1’ is available to buy on DVD and bbcstore.com