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Saturday, 23 November 2013

#SaveTheDay: Doctor Who Official 50th Celebration at ExCeL, London

Hello everyone! My name is Eva and I’m about to share with you some of my experience at the Doctor Who 50th Celebration event I attended the past weekend. I apologise it has taken me so long, but believe me, the whole gathering has left quite an impact in my head and it takes some time to put everything down into some coherent words and not just mindless babble.

As you may know, this event was held in London on the weekend 22nd till 24th November, in the congress centre of Excel. Due to the amount of people expected to come they decided to make it a one-day event (meaning that the same programme would be held each day, even though the star guests change according to the date) and divide them into two groups – Ice Warriors and Weeping Angels. I was assigned Ice Warrior on Friday, the first day of the celebration, so many of my objections may have been solved in the later days.

Anyway, on with the show… I’ve been looking forward to the celebration for months. I booked the ticket as soon as they went on sale (the got sold out in few hours) and was lucky enough to get an opportunity of photoshoot with Matt Smith. Arriving to the venue appeared to be an easy task, but underestimated the vastness of the place and little conversance of the place by the staff, so instead of West entrance I found myself in the East. Fortunately that turned out to be no problem at all. Before getting to the panel, the tickets were scanned by the staff and I received a card and lanyard that entitled me to enter the panels of my group, various shows and the arena. I decided to follow the first bigger group of people and unknowingly ended up at the first panel: SFX show.

The Arena was divided into several sections – there was the TARDIS console (screen-used one where the photographs were taken), Costumes sets and props (10 out of 11 Doctors’ costumes were there and many other from both New and Classic era), Make-up trailer (they had David Tennant’s wig there, hehe), Pub quiz (you could test your knowledge of Doctor Who there), Production trailer (a double-decker used as a canteen), visual effects (the actual models used before the CGI and you got to talk to Mike Tucker and Mat Irvine – specialists in the area), Millenium FX (where the shows about the prosthetics for DW monsters were held), Sound Lab (with all the ‘ancient’ equipment they used in early days of the show and you could chat with Dick Mills there as well). Of course there was the merchandise corner, always overflowing with crowds and there was a massive queue to enter the BBC merchandise store.

There were two more levels with DW goodness to raise a bit of panic about not being able to attend everything you’d like to (which was truly impossible). On the second floor they arranged a lounge for TARDIS ticket holders with refreshments. The third floor was more Con-like, with screening room that played Doctor Who episodes with actual live commentaries (so it was better if you’ve seen the episode before, because all the guests talked about the behind-the-scene and funny incidents and such); and with Classic lounge (which offered comfort to Classic Who fans to listen to stories and interviews of previous companions).

Okay, I hope the introduction is over and I didn’t put you off with all the information. But there’s still so much more to come…

My Experience

Now to the fun stuff. As I stated before, the whole convention was a bit confusing at first. I had no idea where to go and was just herded into the Theatre, where I sat down and prepared myself for the unexpected. It was really a huge space, filled with chairs and podium in the front. I could clearly see the screen as the BBC trailer for the Special episode was shown. I must admit, my mood went up the ceiling. That’s when I finally admitted to myself: I’m in London about to witness something unbelievable for sure!

They screened variety of clips for us while we waited for the SFX show to start, mostly the trailer and the opening tune. Then the presenter, Dallas Campbell (to be honest, this was the first time I heard of this guy, is he well-known in Britain?), started the show and invited the special effects guy, whose name I unfortunately never caught up. They talked about blowing up Daleks, how it’s important to have a break-up Dalek so they don’t fly away in pieces (which might hurt someone). Lot of things in Doctor Who nowadays are made in CGI, but the prosthetics and Visual Effects are always needed as well. Especially an explosion. He liked the explosion behind David Tennant in the "End of Time" (even though it was made higher through CGI). The Guy also mentions that he set David Tennant’s hair on fire (by accident, but I think he was just a little bit jealous, hehe).

Of course they had to involve the audience too. So after blowing up the Dalek, another bang was heard (which made me jump, it was so out of the blue!) and Cyberman stepped out the cocoon that was on stage. Dallas C. asked who’d like to learn how to kill a Cyberman and chose a kid to be the Doctor and a girl to be his companion (she does nothing but stand, really). Billie Piper’s gun ("The Stolen Earth") was brought and the kid got to shoot the Cyberman! They showed us the remote fire system duct-taped to Cyberman’s back. I thought it was quite clever. Then came the wind (I’m sure most of you have seen it, a huge fan really) and the snow (which didn’t quite work). The snow showed up to be a surprise to me. It’s made of paper! All the snow you’ve seen on set is made of paper! How this is humanly possible is beyond my capacity... The nicest thing was when Dallas pointed out a Dalek in the audience. It was a very nice costume. Well, the rest were question about the Anniversary episode and only one thing was revealed: that it’d be a show (as it turned out to truly be), with lots of explosions and it was the "trickiest one to make, physical effects-wise."

After a hearty applause we were rushed out the Theatre by Daleks' threat to be exterminated (it did the trick: we were all out in five minutes). My next stop turned out to be a photoshoot with Matt Smith! I hurry-scurry run through the venue in a search of a map to locate the photo studio. Fortunately all the visitors were helpful and with an aid from a German couple I found the studio, respectively the queue to the studio, in no time. With a time to spare, I chatted with the pair. Both coming to celebrate the Anniversary from Germany, enjoying the London along the way and both were pretty excited about the Special. We reached the studio in 20 minutes and let me tell you, when I first saw Matt, I wanted to run. I and the German girl had a bit of a fangirly moment. From all I could see, Matt was extremely polite to whoever he met, posed and chit-chatted a bit. When it was my turn, I gave him a smile, introduced myself, passed over the greetings from Czech Whovians and asked him to dance with me in the photo. It all lasted less than a minute, but it was a pleasure. What a bigger surprise awaited for me at home when I looked at the picture and noticed there’s another one. I got two pics with Matt and they already hang on the wall.

After leaving the German couple with the photos in my hands, I practically run to the Arena so I could have another picture taken, this time in the TARDIS console. What I wasn’t prepared for was the line that stretched throughout the Arena and I knew I’d end up there for ages. The queue slowly proceeded to the TARDIS, but it could have been miles away for all knew. Solid hunger forced me to buy a little snack (my first food that day for I woke up quite late to have any time for a proper breakfast) and waited and shifted and waited. As I was closing to the TARDIS’ door I remembered I also purchased an autograph from Sylvester McCoy. Being just few meters from my final destination, I had no other option then to ask the staff guy to hold my place for me so I wouldn’t miss Sylvester.

Sylvester was such a sweetie. I was one of the last to show up yet I had to wait at least 15 minutes because Sylvester talked to everyone who wanted to have a small talk with him. I let him sign my 50 Years edition book of Remembrance of the Daleks and thanked him for his performance as Witch Prime in Minister of Chance Sonic Movie (if you haven’t already, check this one out. Also starring Paul McGann, Julian Wadham, Jed Brophy, Lauren Crace among others. They just finished crowd fund-raising to make a Movie. The Sonic Movie is free to download here) and he even remembered him dancing with me at HobbitCon! Few photos with him and off I went, back to the TARDIS.

As I got back, I noticed with some horror that the guy I spoke to and who would let me back to the line where I was, was replaced by someone else. I tried very hard to convince him that I hadn’t my photo taken yet and I was promised to be let back into the line. And that’s when my ‘personal’ Doctor came in.

His name was Richard and he simply said that he knows me. I was bit confused but the guy said ‘oh, you know him, you can go’ and so I was back in line! I don’t think I would be mentally capable of waiting in the line from the start. I’d end up in a little ball of tears somewhere. Anyway, I finally had a company, a Brit living in the States and we had a very lovely chat. At that time I was getting quite confused whether any Brits actually were at the Event at all…

The time flies fast when you have a partner to chat and laugh with. He turned out to be a massive DW fan, who bought the family ticket because the single ones were sold out! And he built TARDIS out of Lego (which looked impressive, positioned by the sea with waves crashing around it) and knitted 4th Doctor’s scarf by himself. We got to the door in no time and then I entered the TARDIS though the main door and… I was taken aback. I was in the TARDIS. Everything was flashing and moving and I had to be moved to the position to have the pic taken. I tried the best pose I could master but all I could see was the wonderful machine. The huge grin that appeared on my face hadn’t left me till I was back in Purfleet, where my temporary base was set.

I bid goodbye to Richard, a little sad to leave such a good companion behind, and let out to explore the rest of the venue.  

I started with the Costumes, sets & props. There were 10 Doctor’s costumes (3rd Doctor’s missing), which were beautiful and you could examine the patterns on each of them real close. Then there were companions, Donna Noble’s dress, Martha’s outfit, Amy Pond’s Kissagram, Rory’s adorable shirt (with him and Amy in the heart on the chest of the shirt), Jack Harkness’ coat and so many more. There were placed Classic costumes and props as well. The one prop I remembered clearly was the Snowmen-making machine from the Snowmen episode. Quite cool thing to look at.

Next stop was the Make-up trailer.It’s just mirrors and chairs and frankly I couldn’t imagine sitting in those things for few hours. There’s David Tennant’s wig and I just kept on running my fingers through it. Think what you want, but it was a sensational feeling.

I kept on wandering through the crowd, stopping by Visual Effects, where I got to talk to people who build the miniatures and next to them we could touch glass-like shards, which were in fact made of some kind of jelly or touch the insides of the Dalek. I had to climb inside the Production trailer (even though it looked more like canteen) to see how far the whole place stretches. Awesome view, overlooking the crowds you knew where your people, people who shared the same passion for one Doctor we all call our own.

As mentioned at the beginning, there were three other stages in the Arena. I only caught glimpses at each of them. I listened, while waiting in the queue for the TARDIS photo, to Dick Mills talking about creation of the iconic opening tune of Doctor Who. He went layer by layer and revealed its complexity. Then I saw the Walk like Cyberman show, where they called children and taught them how to move and shoot like a proper Cybermen (we all shall be upgraded soon, no doubt about that). And the last one I saw was a stunt school, where they showed the audience various tricks, at times very impressive.

Of course, there was the merchandise corner, filled with T-shirt, Big Finish audiobooks…

Unfortunately I missed the Regeneration panel with Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Peter Davison and Nicolas Briggs. I nearly missed the beginning of Eleventh hour panel, starring Steven Moffat, Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman. I made just in time to get a decent seat and the talk began with discussion about the idea of Matt’s costume, which should have been all piraty, blazers, and wasn’t supposed to have the bowtie (Moffat didn’t like it) but upon seeing Matt in it, he changed his decision. Moffat was being sassy throughout the panel, throwing stuff like ‘old boffin’ which should have described the perception of Matt to Steven. There was actually a lot about casting the 11th Doctor, as you may have heard before, because Matt was taken almost immediately. It was about his eyes, which looked so old, yet set in such a young (lovely) face.
“People get all emotional, and they don’t even make it. Imagine how we feel about the end.” 
-Steven Moffat
They added that the saddest moment of filming was definitely the last scene of Matt (which comes this Christmas), the scariest monsters were the Weeping Angels for Matt, the Silents for the director. and for Jenna, the Whispermen. When the panel reached its end, all the guests earned a very long and heartfelt applause, it sounded as thank you from fans to Matt.

The last bit I decided to explore was the third floor with its screening room. I signed up for the screening of School Reunion. It was really commentary about the episode, here present were the producer and costume designer. A few fun-facts: they had 4 schools in which it was filmed, the best costume wore Rose (the school canteen worker), Mickey caught himself talking to the metal dog (K-9) instead of to the actor who voiced him instead.

After this, I bid my last goodbye and farewell to the venue, carrying unforgettable memories and warmth in my heart.

One more thing, I spotted quite a lot of cosplayers. Do some googling and find them. They are awesome.
If you made it this far, congratulations, and a huge thank you. It was an honour and privilege to be able to attend and I’m most grateful if I was able to pass some of the awesomeness along.

More photos can be found here.


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