Gallifrey One, 2023

Those who don’t know or don’t especially like Doctor Who may well query why a middle-aged Brussels lobbyist should devote any time at all to a family TV show which started the day after the Kennedy assassination. Query all you like; I have never made any excuse for seeking escapism. Brian Aldiss once said that good sf is not about asking “What if…?” but about saying, “My God, what if…!?” and Doctor Who at its best does that – whether it’s about schoolteachers trapped in the Stone Age or youths being kidnapped to be turned into cheetahs or a cosmic villain dancing to Boney M in the Winter Palace in 1916. It unites the consistent formula of the hero who is just a little more than human with the companions who represent the reactions of us, the viewers, to what is going on.

I’ve spent this weekend at Gallifrey One in Los Angeles, the biggest annual Doctor Who convention anywhere in the world. It was my fourth time there, and somehow I enjoyed it even more than the previous three occasions. Part of it was surely the presence of recently departed star of the show Jodie Whittaker, whose charm and enthusiasm captured everyone. I had a brief chat with her where I mentioned her role in the great Belfast film, Good Vibrations. “I love that film!” she exclaimed, and I noted the present tense. “But the accent was a bit hard.”

Let’s be honest, this was the point of the trip.

Having just flown in from Sydney, where she has been filming a new series after a year off, she did two interviews on stage, which were of course packed; and then charmed us at the closing ceremony by showing off her badge ribbons, a strip which must have been 15 metres long. A particular highlight which I missed, though my friend H was there, was her performing the script from her own last episode, taking on different roles.

There were some very good panel discussions and other interviews as well. Sophie Aldred (Ace) and Janet Fielding (Tegan), who both made reappearances last year, decades after they had been written out, did a hilarious double act on stage and then also provided commentary for the latest episode, which they are in, along with Chris Chibnall, the outgoing showrunner who wrote it.

Both are quite short so they insisted that fans getting photographed with them use a chair.

One particularly moving event was the screening of the film Doctor Who Am I by Matthew Jacobs. He wrote the script for the 1996 TV Movie, which turned out to be a false start, but had been into Doctor Who as a child – his actor father played Doc Holliday in The Gunfighters, a 1966 story which climaxes at the OK Corral. The film is about his personal reconciliation with Doctor Who through fandom, and particularly through an earlier Gallifrey One convention; so I had the weird experience of watching it while sitting in the room where several scene were actually filled (see eg 1:44 in the trailer). I had the pleasure of chatting to Jacobs a couple of times in the bar.

The other nice small event I did was a Kaffeeklatsch with Frazer Hines, who played the Second Doctor’s companion Jamie in 1967-69, and Michael Troughton, son of Patrick Troughton who played the Second Doctor. They have known each other since Michael was fifteen (“..and I was seventeen!” Hines quipped) and both in fact have performed as the Second Doctor in audio plays. They talked a lot about acting and a bit about Doctor Who. Hines also did photo shoots with his fellow companion Wendy Padbury, who played Zoe.

My other celebrity photoshoot was with Katy Manning who played Jo Grant in 1971-73, literally fifty years ago. Immediately in front of me in the queue was a small child dressed as the alien Alpha Centauri which appeared in two of her stories. I said to her, ‘That was awfully sweet, wasn’t it?’ Her eyes welled with emotion and she grabbed me for a hug.

Colin Baker, the Sixth Doctor, was also there, looking better than the last time I saw him in 2020, as was his companion Bonnie Langford – I did not go for a picture as I have one with both of them from a previous convention.

The Old Who team, somewhat blurry: Colin Baker, Bonnie Langford, Katie Manning, Sophie Aldred, Janet Fielding, Wendy Padbury, Frazer Hines.

That’s enough about me. The other big big thing about Gallfrey One is the cosplay. Some of the ones that caught my eye:

Loads of people dressed as the Thirteenth Doctor
There is more than one way to cosplay a Dalek.
A Drashig and Vorg, from the 1973 story Carnival of monsters
Three Tenth Doctors, or as someone put it on Twitter, the 0.3 Doctors
Martha Jones and the Fugitive Doctor
Third Doctor, Seventh Doctor, Fourth Doctor

And finally, H and I, who had travelled over together, were charmed to meet with S, a fellow fan and emigrant who lives in Gent. S and I turned out to have a lot of people in common, and we did a fair bit of hanging out together. It’s not just the old friends you meet, it’s the new friends you make.

An Irishman, an Englishman and a Scotswoman walk into a convention

I had a blast, and I will hope to go again.