I don’t have a time machine. I don’t fly around in the TARDIS. For those of you who are not Whovians, the TARDIS stands for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space and is the space ship of the Doctor. It is an innocuous blue London Police box from the 1950’s — appearing that way because of a “chameleon” circuit that disguises the ship as a contemporary structure of the place and time it is visiting. Only, the circuit got stuck in the early 1960’s.
The Doctor has been flying around the cosmos since 1963 and has been portrayed by eleven different actors — the twelfth debuting this coming fall as the “12th” Doctor. My daughter began watching “Doctor Who” about five years ago after the series was “rebooted” in 2005. She got me interested. I watched Doctor Who way back in the 1970’s when Tom Baker was the Doctor (and he is still the most popular and well known of the ‘classic’ Doctors). Soon, my entire family, with the notable exception of my wife who relies on the “Cliff Notes” version of the show, are dedicated Whovians. If you’ve followed my blog, you’ve seen and read posts in the past on this fascination.
Well, I finally bit the big one and signed up for a real, live comic-con, SciFi Expo in Dallas, Texas the weekend of February 8th. My wife politely dropped me and my daughter, Casey off at the Irving Convention Center for the day. It was extremely cold and drizzling rain when Casey and I stepped into the parking garage and joined thousands of science fiction and fantasy fans. Casey was “cos playing” the eleventh doctor wearing eleven’s purple coat and topped off her wig with a red fez. I went for the War Doctor from the recent 50th anniversary special. That “Doctor” played by John Hurt was closer in age and appearance to this old f**t so I figured I could pull him off better than any of the young actors playing recent Doctors with “big hair”.
I had no idea what to expect. Casey has been to a dozen or so Anime Conventions but this thing put them all to shame. It was like comparing the Death Star to the Millennium Falcon. As we rounded the corner of the Convention Hall and headed into the windy, freezing parking garage we were assaulted with the sound of a thousand souls crying out in anguish. Total, complete, chaotic bedlam followed and did not relent for the next six hours. I managed to find a convention security person in a bright orange shirt and asked him where to go to pick up our pre-ordered arm bands. His wild eyed, confused countenance did not instill great confidence. He whirled in confusion and finally pointed to a line of people snaking their way across the entire first level of the parking garage. “Get in that line.” We did. And we waited in the freezing cold for almost an hour.
Just waited and stood and walked a few feet at a time. The only consolation was the gasps of surprise and wonder as fellow conventioneers recognized Casey’s purple coat (turns out she was one of only two Doctor cos-players wearing the new purple coat) and recognized me as the War Doctor. I was the ONLY War Doctor that day. And, as I learned throughout the day, many of the attendees dressed as their favorite science fiction character. But, the vast majority of those who dressed up paid homage to Doctor Who. In all, we saw two first Doctors, several female versions of the fourth Doctor, one Fifth Doctor, one Seventh Doctor, a plethora of the Tenth Doctor and the Eleventh Doctor, but only one War Doctor. I must have been asked to pose for a hundred pictures with various characters from Doctor Who from the other Doctors to River Song to Martha Jones to K9 to girls dressed as Daleks and one young girl dressed as the TARDIS.
This was the only activity we engaged in except for waiting in lines. We finally made it into the building to receive our arm bands only to exit once more to stand in the huge line on the second level of the garage — this line to enter the convention hall proper!
Once inside, we were ushered into the massive merchandising portion of the convention where every conceivable product existed proudly proclaiming any one of hundreds of science fiction and fantasy story lines. It was here, we faced our second wave of picture takers. I had come for one reason only — to meet Karen Gillan, the actress who portrayed Amy Pond throughout Matt Smith’s tenure as the Eleventh Doctor. She was one of a dozen guests including Sylvester McCoy, who portrayed the Seventh Doctor and the wizard Radagast in the recent Hobbit movie. Also, Karl Urban, who portrayed one of my favorite characters, Dr. “Bones” McCoy in the Star Trek movies was there as well as Stephen Amell, the actor portraying Green Arrow on the current CW show, Arrow. I would have been happy to meet any of these people as well as Karen. However, as we soon learned, we were to have only one experience at our disposal. For, you had to wait in line to buy/pick up a ticket for a photo op with one of these celebrities. And, if you got in line for a ticket, forget making it to the Q&A sessions featuring the celebrities or getting in line to buy/pick up a ticket for an autograph from one of them. You had to choose and choose wisely.
Casey also wanted to get her picture made with Vic Mignogna, a voice actor and star of “Star Trek Continues” a web based continuation of the original Star Trek. And so, after passing through the merchandise on our own for about 20 minutes we headed up the escalator to the third floor to get in line to purchase a ticket for the photo ops. Once again, we found ourselves surrounded by total complete chaos and thousands of souls wandering about this confusing universe of imagination. I sighted an Orange Shirt and he tentatively pointed at one of a half dozen lines snaking around the interior halls of the third floor. “That line. I think.” We followed the line around the maze of rooms and hallways to the end and got in line. I was immediately behind a man dressed as the First Doctor. We spent two hours with him and our fellow line waiters. During the process, we were the subject of dozens of photo ops as hapless conventioneers wandered by looking for their particular line to wait in. I glanced at my watch a dozen times. We missed the Karl Urban Q&A. And, we were about to miss the Vic Mignogna photo op. When suddenly, while waiting in a nondescript line quadrupled on itself in a room, an Orange Shirt asked if any of us wanted Vic tickets. He assured us that the line for Karen Gillan was another two hours of waiting (which overlapped with the actually op session itself). So, we resigned ourselves to getting only a picture with Vic and I raised my hand. Casey and I were ushered to the very front of this eternal line and within five minutes we had purchased her photo op. The cashier asked if I wanted another photo op. Karen Gillan? I asked. Sure! If the others waiting in line had heard us, we would have been lynched!
Casey was rushed off to the Vic photo op and I held in my hand the golden ticket (actually a slightly faded cash register printout with a bar code and a pixelly picture of Karen Gillan). Casey was done in five minutes and she was the last person to get her picture with Vic.
Now, here is where it was worth it all for Casey. Vic asked to hold her fez and her picture shows this incredible man hugging my daughter for the camera. He actually spoke to her for a minute and gave her his email! More on that later.
We found a bench and sat down to eat some snacks I was smart enough to bring in my massive leather coat. We rested for about ten minutes and then is was time to get in line to have our picture made with Karen Gillan. We made our way back into the hallways and found the end of the line of those waiting for the photo op. Here is where it was very interesting. The photo ops had sold out shortly after Casey and I got our ticket and it made no difference if you had purchased your tickets online ahead of time or at the convention. We were all in the same line! It didn’t seem that the VIP tickets made that much of a difference!
An hour later, we made it into the photo op room. Soon, we were standing outside the purple curtains and just inside was the actress Karen Gillan, Amy Pond. “You’re on!” the Orange Shirt said and we rushed into the booth. Karen was standing before us and my first impression was how tall she was. In the show, she seemed short or of average height next to the very tall Matt Smith. I was surprised to have to look UP at her. Flash, our photo had been taken and we were ushered out of the booth. We spent a total of 3 seconds with Karen Gillan. I barely recall being next to her!
Now, we had officially met two of the Doctor’s companions. On a train from Cardiff, Wales back to London in 2009, we met Elizabeth Sladen who played the most celebrated and best known companion of the Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith. Sadly, she passed away two years later from a sudden illness but my daughter had the opportunity to do more than just have a photo op. We spoke with Elizabeth Sladen for almost ten minutes. She was so gracious and kind. I wrote about that post in the past.
At this point, we were done. I was done. No more Q&A sessions were left. No more autograph tickets were left. We cruised through the merchandise one last time and bought a few small things and then went outside to wait for my wife to return in the TARDIS, I mean, the car to take us on to Shreveport. While sitting in the warm sunshine on the steps of the convention center, we were serenaded by a very thin, slightly inebriated knock off of Elsa from “Frozen”. She was slurring “Let it glow, Let it glow . . .”
My take away from this?
Celebrity pays well if you want to pose for pictures and sign autographs. At $55 a picture and $50 an autograph, I’m sure the celebrities did very well. But, to stand there and smile and sign for hours on end? To have to hug thousands of rabid fans dressed as all kinds of strange creatures? To answer sometimes inane questions from those same fans? Maybe they deserve every penny they can earn.
Then, my daughter showed me an email she had sent to Vic. Vic is a professing Christian and Casey has met him once before at an Anime convention. She shared her life story with Vic in her email about her struggle with seizures and epilepsy and how 2013 was a horrific, but pivotal year in her life when she finally came out of the darkness into the light. She told him he was an inspiration to her.
Vic could have ignored her email. Or, at best, sent a canned reply. Casey told me he read every personal email he received and he responded to Casey. He remembered her as the last person in the photo op and he recalled holding her fez. He said he was encouraged by her life story and he was grateful he had inspired her, but in reality, her story inspired him! What a class act!
I know it was hard standing for hours. I know it was strange seeing so many obsessed fans, myself included, looking for something to give their lives meaning and purpose. I know it was hard to have to choose between so many good options and to fork over good, hard earned money for a single picture. But, to see the smile on my daughter’s face. To read her heart felt email and read Vic’s equally moving reply was worth every moment, every minute, every pain, every cent we spent.
Thanks, Vic. And, thanks, Karen.